Clarence and John Anglin started to rob banks in Georgia in the early fifties. They were arrested in 1956 and sentenced to the Atlanta Penitentiary with 15–20 year sentences where they first met Frank Morris, who had been convicted of his first crime at age 13.
Clarence and John made several failed attempts to escape the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary and were consequently sent to Alcatraz where they met back up with Morris.
By September 1961 Morris and the Anglin brothers were planning another escape. They sculpted dummy heads from soap, toilet paper and hair, and left them in their beds to fool prison officers making night-time inspections. They escaped by crawling through holes in the cell walls which they had dug with spoons over the course of a year. This put them into an unused service corridor.
From the service corridor they climbed a ventilation shaft to reach the roof. The trio then climbed down from the rooftop, scaled the prison’s fence and assembled a raft from raincoats and plastic bags and contact cement. They blew up the raft and at around 10 p.m. they shoved off and started paddling.
The next morning it was discovered that the trio had escaped. At first, guards thought that the escapees had been decapitated; only upon further scrutiny did they realize that the heads were part of a clever escape plot.
Police searched for the escapees on Alcatraz and Angel Island without success. Remnants of the raft, paddles, and a bag containing the Anglins’ personal effects were found on Angel Island. According to the FBI, while it was theoretically possible for the three inmates to have reached Angel Island, but the cold water temperature and direction of the ocean’s tides made this unlikely. The FBI also thought that the plans of the inmates were to steal clothes and a car once they reached land, although no car or clothing thefts were reported in the area following the escape.
The case was closed by the FBI on December 31, 1979, after a 17-year investigation. It was concluded that the prisoners drowned in the cold waters of the bay while trying to reach the mainland.
However, rumors persist that investigators found footprints on Angel Island leading away from the raft, and had identified a blue Chevrolet that had been stolen that night. As late as September 2009, the case was still being investigated by the U.S. Marshals Service, when Deputy U.S. Marshal Michael Dyke told NPR, “There’s an active warrant and the Marshals Service doesn’t give up looking for people,” he said. “In this case, this would be like saying, ‘Well, yeah, they probably are dead. We’re going to quit looking.’ Well, there’s no proof they’re dead, so we’re not going to quit looking.”