Tachtig jaar geleden had de tweede poging (*) tot ontsnapping uit de gevangenis van Alcatraz plaats. Theodore Cole (boven) en Ralph Roe (onder) zijn nooit teruggevonden, maar over het algemeen wordt verondersteld dat ze zijn omgekomen tijdens hun poging.
Cole and Roe, both convicted bank robbers in Oklahoma, had been caught during earlier, independent escape attempts from that state’s McAlester Prison. Judged to be escape risks, they were both incarcerated in high-security Leavenworth Prison, then transferred to higher-security Alcatraz in 1936. They were given jobs working in the prison’s Mat Shop, a facility at the northernmost point of the island, where discarded automobile tires were cut up and converted into rubber mats for the U.S. Navy.
On December 16, 1937, a dense fog swept through the San Francisco Bay, impeding marine traffic and reducing visibility on Alcatraz Island. Cole and Roe were working in a tire repair shop. A routine headcount at 12:50 p.m. showed all prisoners accounted for. At the next count, at 1:30 p.m., the two men were gone. Two iron bars and three heavy glass panes of a window in the shop had a hole 8 3⁄4 inches (22 cm) high and 18 inches (46 cm) long. Once through the window, they slipped down to the gate of a high wire fence, concealed by the fog. With a wrench taken from the tire shop, they forced the gate lock and dropped twenty feet to a beach. Their trail vanished at that point.
An exhaustive search of the island revealed nothing; guards found only the abandoned wrench. An extensive, multi-day search ensued; portions of the island were flooded with tear gas in an attempt to flush out the escapees, with no result. Subsequent investigation revealed that Cole and Roe had prepared for the escape well in advance, using a hacksaw blade to weaken the window bars, and disguising the damage with a mixture of grease and shoe polish. At the beach, the men presumably entered the water, relying on floats improvised from tires or fuel canisters. There was no evidence to suggest they had constructed or launched a raft.
Prison officials concluded that Cole and Roe drowned shortly after their escape. The swift ebb tides at the time, estimated at 7–9 knots, would have swept even an expert swimmer out of the bay and into the Pacific Ocean. The fog was so thick that it would have made it almost impossible for outside confederates to pick them up by boat, nor could the swimmers know whether or not they were swimming toward shore. It is most likely that Roe and Cole drowned, and that their bodies were swept out to sea with their flotation devices.
Despite their likely fate, police departments in the surrounding counties and the FBI followed up every tip and rumor. In the following days, months and years, there were various reports of sightings, but their validity is unknown. Two hitchhikers claimed to have seen Roe and Cole, and identified them to police by their photos. A 1941 San Francisco Chronicle report declared that the pair were living in South America, and a cab driver in Cole’s hometown of Seminole, Oklahoma told police he had been shot by men he recognized as the two escapees.
Op 11 juni 1962 zou er echter toch een succesvolle ontsnapping plaats hebben gevonden. Frank Morris en de broers John en Clarence Anglin ontsnapten volgens de verhalen op een opblaasbaar vlot gemaakt van aan elkaar gelijmde regenjassen. Frank Morris, de leider van de groep, had een bijzonder hoog IQ, en wellicht hebben ze het getij van de San Francisco Bay gebruikt om te ontsnappen. Enkele van hun spullen zijn teruggevonden op Angel Island, maar sommigen gaan ervan uit dat ze bij de Golden Gate Bridge aan land zijn gegaan en hun spullen via het getij naar Angel Island hebben laten drijven om de politie op een dwaalspoor te zetten. Van de mannen heeft niemand meer iets vernomen. Men is ervan uitgegaan dat ze verdronken waren, maar dat is nooit bewezen. Van deze ontsnappingspoging is in 1979 een film gemaakt: Escape from Alcatraz. Nog geen jaar na de ontsnapping werd op 21 maart 1963 Alcatraz officieel gesloten. (Wikipedia)

(*) De eerste poging was op 27 april 1936, slechts twee jaar na de opening van Alcatraz als gevangenis, door de bijna veertigjarige Joseph Bowers, veroordeeld na een overval met gijzeling die amper zeventien dollar had opgebracht. Bowers werd door een bewaker doodgeschoten.

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