Alcatraz – Episode 3: Escape! and Capone’s Last Years

Alcatraz, 1938

The tension in Alcatraz heats up in 1937 as the guards and prisoner’s clash. Escapes will be made, prisoner’s and guards will be killed. Al Capone spends his final years on the island. And another con’s reputation finally catches up to him in a shocking act. Alcatraz is beginning to live up to it’s reputation as the toughest prison in America.

Al Capone at Alcatraz.
Theodore “Ted” Cole and Ralph Roe – First two inmates to make a planned attempt at escaping Alcatraz.
Flooding of the Sacramento River added to the chaos and confusion to the 1937 escape plot. The weather caused not only rushing waters, but opaque fog that helped conceal the fates of the escapees. Front page of: Oakland Tribune December 12, 1937.
Alvin Karpis, Witness to the Roe and Cole escape. The longest serving prisoner of Alcatraz.
Daily Capital News March 25, 1938
Rufus “Whitey” Franklin criminal record. Part of the 1938 Mat Shop Escape.
Jimmy “Tex” Lucas, Leader of the 1938 Mat Shop Escape
Thomas Limerick, a member of the escape plan. Killed by a shot to the head by Officer Stites during the May 23, 1938 escape plot.
Officer Royal C. Cline, the officer on duty in the mat shop during the 1938 escape. Died of injuries sustained during the escape.
The tower which Lucas, Limerick and Franklin attacked in an attempt to seize tower-guard officer Stites’ weapons. San Francisco Examiner November 18, 1938
James “Tex Lucas (far left) and Rufus “Whitey” Franklin, being escorted to jail to be tried for the death of Officer Cline during the escape.
Officer Stites (far left) giving testimony on the May 23, 1938 escape plot.
“Capone’s Mind Fails at ‘Rock'” – The Ogden Standard Examiner Feb. 8,1938. Rumors of Al Capone’s mental decline makes its way to the press.
Photo of Carl Janaway, who spent time in the “bug cages” in the hospital ward of Alcatraz. From the McComb Daily Journal, Jan. 20, 1937.
Karpis and Barker from their kidnapping days. From – Pensacola News Journal Jan 19,1935.
The participants of the escape organized by “Doc” Barker in 1939. From The Courier Journal (Louisville, KY) Jan 14, 1939.
Henri Young on trial for the murder of Rufus McCain. Photo from the San Francisco Examiner Feb. 12, 1941.

Alcatraz References:

Books:

Bergreen, Laurence. Capone: The Man and the Era. Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Burrough, Bryan. Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34. Penguin Book, 2005.

Denevi, Don, and Philip Bergen. Alcatraz ’46;: The Anatomy of a Classic Prison Tragedy. Leswing Press, 1974.

Johnston, Warden James A. Alcatraz Island Prison And The Men Who Live There. C. Scribner’s Sons, 1949.

Karpis, Alvin, and Robert Livesey. On the Rock: Twenty-Five Years in Alcatraz. Musson Book Co., 1980.

Quillen, Jim. Alcatraz from the Inside. Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, 1991.

Newspapers (Historical):

  • Chicago Tribune
  • Daily News
  • McComb Daily Journal
  • Oakland Tribune
  • The Courier Journal
  • The Daily Capital
  • The Daily Oklahoman
  • The Evening News
  • The Indianapolis Star
  • The Ogden Standard
  • The San Fransisco Examiner

 

On the Rock: Alcatraz – Episode 2: The Incorrigibles


– Problem Wards with Tin Cups – A Death on the Island – “Who’s a Son of a Bitch?” – Milk Sugar and Eggs – Feeding Seagulls – Spanish Dungeons – Barbershop Sheers –

“A caged animal turns mean. If you taunt it deliberately, it becomes dangerous” – Alvin Karpis

There weren’t many ways off Alcatraz, especially in the short term. No prisoners were ever paroled out of the prison, the thought was: if you’re bad enough to be on Alcatraz, what business do you have being set loose on the public. Serving out a sentence was usually a long term prospect given the gravity of many of the inmates records.

Being stuck on Alcatraz was enough to drive a man crazy. Dreams of flight would inevitably cross a prisoner’s mind. The options were limited: get a medical transfer, serve your time, die or escape. With the additional pressures of the guards, the rule-of-silence, the threats of being locked away in a dungeon dramatically increased the thoughts of getting off the island.

Over the course of Alcatraz’s time as a Federal Prison 28 prisoners would be transferred by boats in body body bags to the morgue in San Francisco. The records kept, the guards, and those who survived sentences on Alcatraz would tell their tales.

Norman T Whitaker, Brains of the Mutiny Plot after the death of Jack Allen on January 17th, 1936.

Georg “Machine Gun Kelly” Barnes (AZ-117), Imprisoned on Alcatraz from 1934-1951.

Al Capone (AZ-85)

Jimmy “Tex” Lucas, Ring Leader of the 1936 Alcatraz Strike. Capone’s tormentor along with other “Texas Cowboys”

Former Alcatraz Dungeons

Joseph Bower (AZ-210)

“Capone Stabbed in Prison” Daily News June 24,1936

Alcatraz References:

Books:

Bergreen, Laurence. Capone: The Man and the Era. Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Burrough, Bryan. Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34. Penguin Book, 2005.

Denevi, Don, and Philip Bergen. Alcatraz ’46;: The Anatomy of a Classic Prison Tragedy. Leswing Press, 1974.

Johnston, Warden James A. Alcatraz Island Prison And The Men Who Live There. C. Scribner’s Sons, 1949.

Karpis, Alvin, and Robert Livesey. On the Rock: Twenty-Five Years in Alcatraz. Musson Book Co., 1980.

Quillen, Jim. Alcatraz from the Inside. Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, 1991.

Newspapers:

San Francisco Examiner. San Francisco 7-12 February 1936.

Moxon, Robert B. “What’s Coming at Alcatraz.” Los Angeles Times, 9 Jan. 1938.
Theme music“Speedy Delta” by Lobo Loco is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0

On the Rock: Alcatraz – Episode 1: The Warden and the Rock


– The Recurring Problem of Crime – Anastasia Scott’s 47 Minute Swim – The Bureau Takes Over the Island – A Kingpin’s V8 and the Cook County Sheriff – Kansas Union Transfer Massacre and Dead Public Enemies – Moving Furniture –

As dusk settled on the era of prohibition, the United States was in the midst of a crime wave that spread across the nation. Would be bootleggers turned their attention to other vice trades including holdups, bank robberies and kidnappings. The introduction of powerful getaway cars and high capacity Thompson submachine guns allowed criminals to outrun and outgun the law.

FDR’s New Deal program created public works projects with the hope they would help move the nation out of the Great Depression that hit the economy in 1929. A part of this program would be to focus on stopping cross-state crimes that were the calling card of the modern gangster and bank robbers. Laws were created for this purpose and their enforcement would be left to a small, then unknown agency, that would eventually become the Federal Bureau of Investigations.

As the Federal Prison population swelled and the prisoner’s names became more infamous, there was a clear need for a place to house the worst of the worst from across the nation. The opening of Alcatraz Federal Prison signified a major change in the way the U.S. Government handled mobsters and outlaws. The reign of gangsters bootlegging, running brothels, speakeasies, protection rackets, gambling wires and cold blooded gangland killings were coming to an end. Most of the criminals would not survive being hunted by the law, but many of those that did would find themselves in the state-of-the-art prison: Alcatraz.

Attorney General Homer Cummings. Along with FDR, helped push for the further the power of the FBI by creating a series of new laws that made kidnapping, crossing state lines with stolen goods and bank robbery federal laws. He would come upon Alcatraz in 1933 and convert the island to house the new class of federal inmates.

 

Alcatraz in 1920, thirteen years prior to being taken over by the Federal Bureau of Prisons.

Warden James A. Johnston. Warden of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary from 1933-1948.

After math of the Kansas City Massacre – June 17, 1933.

Al Capone and U.S. Marshall Henry C.W. Laubenheimer playing cards during prison transport from Chicago to Atlanta.

Map of Alcatraz Island.

Mess Hall (1950s) being inspected by a guard before prisoners are brought in.

The chow line in the mess hall of Alcatraz.

Inmates enjoying recreation time on the yard.

A guard looks over the yard.

A cell on Alcatraz

“It was the toilet paper I use first because , after the long trip, I need to sit on the “crapper”. I look across the corridor to see most of the guys doing the same thing. It’s a strange situation for all of us, takin a shit while staring at someone else a few feet away doing likewise, but just one of the things we will have to become used to.” – Alvin Karpis, “On the Rock”

Alcatraz References:

Books:

Bergreen, Laurence. Capone: The Man and the Era. Simon & Schuster, 1996.

Burrough, Bryan. Public Enemies: America’s Greatest Crime Wave and the Birth of the FBI, 1933-34. Penguin Book, 2005.

Denevi, Don, and Philip Bergen. Alcatraz ’46;: The Anatomy of a Classic Prison Tragedy. Leswing Press, 1974.

Johnston, Warden James A. Alcatraz Island Prison And The Men Who Live There. C. Scribner’s Sons, 1949.

Karpis, Alvin, and Robert Livesey. On the Rock: Twenty-Five Years in Alcatraz. Musson Book Co., 1980.

Quillen, Jim. Alcatraz from the Inside. Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, 1991.

Theme music“Speedy Delta” by Lobo Loco is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0