Original Article by Francine Brokaw – February 4, 2011

This film examines the possibility that three prisoners did escape from Alcatraz.

Alcatraz was called “America’s most secure federal penitentiary.” There was one guard for every three prisoners. The prison was surrounded on all sides by torturous water. Alcatraz was an island. The Rock. Vanished From Alcatraz is a new documentary that looks at the one incident that has baffled investigators for decades.

Planning the Escape

On the night of June 11, 1962 three prisoners began their elaborate escape from Alcatraz. They had meticulously planned every detail and had been working on the plan for a long time. They even made replicas of their own heads with real human hair brought up from the barber shop. They placed these heads on their bunks and covered them up to their chins because there were constant bed checks in the prison. All night long guards would make sure each prisoner was accounted for. But it was not until the next morning that they discovered three of the prisoners were gone.

Alcatraz is surrounded by icy rough water and strong currents. People who tried to escape from there in the past never made it due to the frigid water. The three prisoners planned ahead. They created lifejackets and a raft from raincoats. This gave them an advantage over those who tried before them. These three thought everything through to the minutest detail.

Did They Make it?

So, did they make it to freedom? No one is certain. In 1979 the FBI handed off the case to the U.S. Marshall’s office and they are still looking into the events of that night. A fourth convict who was supposed to join the trio never made it to the rendezvous site on time. He told officials that the group was going to head through the water to Angel Island, then to the mainland.

According to some records, a raft was discovered on Angel Island. But this fact was hidden from the officials for quite some time. There was also a report of a stolen car that night, which could have been used by the escapees.

Frank Morris and John and Clarence Anglin were career criminals and as far as the officials know, they have stayed off the grid if they did make it out alive. To some investigators this would have been a feat in itself as these three men were hard-core.

There was also a report of a body floating in the water that might be one of the escapees. Could DNA prove this theory? The U.S. Marshall’s office is still investigating this baffling case. They have been following leads through the years and will not close the files on these three escapees until their 100th birthday. Until that time, they are still being hunted.

So, did the three prisoners make it to freedom or did they perish in the icy water of the San Francisco Bay? This documentary examines both theories.

In 1979 Clint Eastwood starred in the movie Escape from Alcatraz in which he played Frank Morris. This renewed interest in the case. Over twenty years later it is still an open investigation.

Vanished from Alcatraz premiers Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at 9 pm ET/PT on National Geographic Channel