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50 Years After They Escaped Alcatraz, US Marshals Are Still Hunting These Prisoners

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Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary occupies such a huge space in the American imagination that it can be surprising to learn it was open for less than 30 years. Between 1934 and 1963, more than a 1,500 of America's most dangerous and troublesome criminals were shipped to the infamous "escape-proof" island prison in the San Francisco bay.

Alcatraz was treated as a last resort, where only the worst of the worst federal prisoners were shipped. Some of the country's most famous criminals spent their time behind bars there, including mobsters like Al Capone, "Machine Gun" Kelly, Mickey Cohen and James "Whitey" Bulger, along with the famous bank robber Alvin "Creepy" Karpis.

Al Capone's mugshot from Alcatraz.PBS Newshour

But Alcatraz's most famous prisoners of all were 3 run-of-the-mill crooks who did what everyone thought was impossible: they escaped. Over the decades 36 men attempted to leave the prison before their time was up. 23 were recaptured while 13 died during the breakout or went missing after reaching the freezing and dangerous water surrounding the island.

Only 3 of the men still listed as "missing presumed dead" are believed to have made it off "the Rock" alive. Frank Morris was a bank robber who had escaped from his last prison, and was said to have ranked among the top 2% of the population in an IQ test.

From left to right: Frank Morris, Clarence Anglin and John AnglinNew York Post

Together with a pair of bank robbing brothers named John and Clarence Anglin, Morris planned a daring escape that involved tunneling out of the jail with spoons and saw blades at night while he played the accordion to drown out the noise. After 6 months of digging and preparing, the prisoners were ready to bust out on the night of June 11, 1962.

A guard examines one of the tunnels used in the escape.Bettmann/Corbis

But how did they get off the island?

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