‘Alcatraz’ Premiere Sparks Interest in Real Escapees

Mike Krumboltz
Yahoo! TV

The two-hour premiere of Fox's "Alcatraz" drew an impressive 10 million viewers. The series, produced by J.J. Abrams, also inspired a slew of searches on Yahoo!. One related search caught our eye -- "Alcatraz real escape." So, did anybody ever escape the fortress? Or is "Alcatraz" (the TV show) just a science fiction fantasy?

While it's unlikely that scores of prisoners ever vanished at once (as they do in the show), the prison wasn't immune to a great escape. Back in 1962, three prisoners successfully escaped from their cells, out of the building, and down to the rocky coast, where they launched a makeshift raft made from raincoats. Their hope was to make it to San Francisco, roughly 1.5 miles away.

Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin were all long-term prisoners on the Rock. Morris had a history of escapes and was believed to have superior intelligence. The men's escape plan was incredibly complex. The three dug tunnels using crude tools and constructed "dummy heads" out of toilet paper and hair from the prison barbershop to fool the guards during night watch.

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It worked. The next morning, the prison went on high alert, attempting to track down the three prisoners. The men were on the FBI's "Most Wanted" list. Some believe they made it. But most experts contend that the men must have died in the rough waters of San Francisco Bay.

According to the Bureau of Prisons, several weeks after the escape, "a man's body dressed in blue clothing similar to the prison uniform was found a short distance up the coast from San Francisco, but the body was too badly deteriorated to be identified."

The story was made into an acclaimed 1979 film starring Clint Eastwood as Morris. Coincidentally, that was the same year the FBI closed its file on the escapees. The prison was closed in 1963. The realization that Alcatraz wasn't as formidable as authorities believed played a large part in the decision.

Watch the two-part "Alcatraz" premiere in full right here:

"Alcatraz" airs Mondays at 9pm ET on Fox.

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