The Devil’s Island and The Rock – two of the nicknames for the most famous prison island on the planet: Alcatraz.
The once-barren Alcatraz Island, located about a mile off the coast in San Francisco Bay, was named after resident pelicans by Spanish sailors.
It had started as a fort and military lock-up, before being made a federal prison in 1934.
Heavily guarded and surrounded by water with strong currents and sharks roaming about, plus jagged rocks, authorities believed Alcatraz was escape-proof, reserving it for America’s most dangerous criminals.
But this wasn’t always the case.
During its 29 years of operation, a total of 36 prisoners made 14 escape attempts, two men trying twice.
Perhaps the most famous attempt took place 60 years ago today – June 11, 1962.
Inmates Clarence Anglin, John Anglin, and Frank Morris tucked papier-mâché heads resembling their own likenesses into their beds, broke out of the main prison building via an unused utility corridor, and departed the island aboard an improvised inflatable raft.
The men were believed to have drowned, but remain on the FBI’s wanted list as they have never been found.
Their story was made into a film – Escape from Alcatraz, starring Clint Eastwood.
If they had been caught, you would imagine they would’ve been put in the prison’s most punishing room: The Hole.
That was a pitch-black solitary confinement cell, which prisoners who were acting up and causing trouble were thrown into. On other occasions it was used to try and get information from people who weren’t following orders.
Some of the most notorious criminals were chucked in Alcatraz – even Al Capone spent time in there.
Gangster Capone served four years in the 1930s, convicted of tax evasion. He played banjo in the prison band but later admitted: “It looks like Alcatraz has got me licked.”
His ghost is said to haunt the place.
Other famous inmates included mob boss James “Whitey” Bulger and kidnapper George “Machine Gun” Kelly.
Psychopathic murderer Robert Stroud, who had once killed a prison guard, spent 17 years inside. Known as the “Birdman of Alcatraz” for his avian hobbies, he was played by Burt Lancaster in a hit 1962 movie.
Over 29 years, 36 inmates made a total of 14 escape attempts. Of these 23 were captured, six were shot dead, two drowned with five missing and presumed dead.
On May 2, 1946, six inmates led by bank robber Bernard Coy overpowered a guard, got access to staff guns and took over the cellblock
But they failed to get hold of vital prison keys and tried to shoot their way out leading to the infamous ‘Battle of Alcatraz’
The siege only ended when US Marines were called in after a 46-hour firefight. Two guards and three escapees died in the battle with 19 injured. Warden Ed Miller was burned. Two culprits were later executed.