Mystery of Alcatraz escapees who FBI ruled dead before photo emerged years later

A confessional deathbed letter could hold the answers to the mystery of what happened to the only unaccounted-for escapees from the infamous Alcatraz prison.

John and Clarence Anglin, along with friend Frank Morris disappeared from the island penitentiary in 1962.

Not managing to find the escapees, prison officers and the FBI assumed they had drowned in the perilous San Francisco bay.

However, as set out by Estefania Hageman in the Deathbed Confessions podcast, a letter received by the FBI in 2013 which purported to be from John Anglin may have revealed that the trio survived their daring escape.

The Escape

John and Clarence Anglin were notorious career criminals, separated by only a year in age.

The pair began robbing banks as teens with their brother Alfred. They were frequently caught, but often escaped until they were both finally sent to a maximum security prison in Kansas.

Their subsequent failed breakout from their Kansas cells meant they were transferred to Alcatraz as a punishment, where they met their eventual partner-in-crime, Frank Morris.

And Estefania noted that, by the time the Anglins had arrived at the prison in 1960, “America’s hardest prison had softened”.

“The new warden was more focused on rehabilitation than punishment and gives the prisoners much more leeway than in previous years”, she suggested.

Unsurprisingly, John and Clarence again decided to escape, teaming up with fellow prisoner Frank Morris.

The prisoners began filing away at the concrete around a vent, hiding their work with instrument cases, and planning to create paper mache heads to fool the guards while they scuttled into their tunnels.

Over the course of six months, the trio managed to chip away at their vents using spoons, sawblades and even making an electric drill.

They created fake cardboard vents and papier-mâché heads, and used human hair from the prison barbers for their dummies.

Once they finally made it into the vents, the prisoners used an open space accessed via the vent’s pipes at the top of the cells to construct a raft which they planned to use to navigate the choppy waters off the prison island.

To do this, they gathered 50 prison-issued raincoats, sewing them together to create a 6x14ft raft, as well as life jackets.

On the night of June 11 1962, John, Clarence, and Frank made their escape. Evading the lighthouse’s circling flash, the group stayed low and slid down a drainpipe from the prison roof eventually making it to the shore.

The trio then pumped up and boarded their vessel, and were never seen again.

The Letter

With the guards eventually raising the alarm at the prisoner’s disappearance, it was assumed that they had perished on their perilous crossing.

However, now the Deathbed Confessions podcast has suggested that they might well have survived.

A large piece of evidence which is alleged to support this theory is an unverified letter received by the San Francisco police department in 2013.

This letter, purported to be from John Anglin, and revealed details about what had happened to the former prisoners in the 50 years that had passed since their escape.

Estefania described how the letter set out John’s situation and also noted that Frank Morris died in 2008, while claiming that Clarence passed away in 2012. John’s own situation was then outlined.

“I am 83 years old and in bad shape, I have cancer. Yes we all made it that night, but barely”, John allegedly wrote.

“If you announce on TV that I will be promised to first go to jail for no more than a year and get medical attention, I will write back to let you know exactly where I am. This is no joke.”

The podcast noted that the US marshals wrote the letter off as a hoax. However, Estefania suggested that there was other evidence which hinted that the escapees had survived their voyage across the bay.

The Photograph

The crucial piece of evidence which points to the prisoners’ survival, Estefania alleges, is a picture that supposedly depicts John and Clarence on a farm in Brazil in 1975.

This photograph, given to them by a friend of the family, was shared to police by Ken and David Widner, John and Clarence’s nephews.

Estefania claimed that when the photo was given to a forensic facial imaging expert Michale Street, the testing concluded that it is “highly likely” to be John and Clarence shown in the photograph.

Estefania continued to explain that the claim’s authenticity was tested again in 2020, when a machine-learning algorithm checked the photo.

She suggested: “The algorithm comes back with conclusive results; It’s a 100% match. The men in the photo, at least from a technological perspective, are John and Clarence Anglin.

“Neither the US Marshals nor the FBI have verified the letter police received from the man claiming to be John Anglin in 2013.

“But that’s not to say they have given up their search, the Marshals have pledged to continue to pursue the Alcatraz fugitives until they are arrested, presumed dead, or reached the age of 99.

“If John is still alive, he’d be 91 years old. Maybe in 8 years time, John Anglin will emerge from hiding after a lifetime running from the law, and finally reveal how he, his brother Clarence, and Frank Morris escaped justice for so long.”

The FBI officially closed their case on December 31, 1979 and turned over responsibility to the US Marhsals Service which, they say, “continues to investigate in the unlikely even the trio are still alive”.

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