Monday, October 12, 2015

Greenwood and the Alcatraz Escape: Anglin brothers sighted in Florida?

Greenwood, Florida
Home of the Alcatraz Escapees?
UPDATE: The History Channel aired a documentary on 10/12/2015 revealing a probable photograph of the Anglin brothers said to have been taken in Brazil in 1975. This new evidence in no way counters claims that the two men were living in Jackson County, FL 25 years later.

MORE: Informant claims one of Alcatraz escapees is still alive (6/20/2014).

In June 1962 three inmates slipped out of the United States Penitentiary, Alcatraz Island, in San Francisco Bay and carried out what many believe was the first successful escape from the federal prison that is still called "The Rock." The incident formed the basis for the Clint Eastwood movie "Escape from Alcatraz."

Alcatraz Island
Carol Highsmith photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.
No one knows whether Clarence Anglin, John William Anglin and Frank Lee Morris are alive today. If so, all three would be between 83 and 89 years old.  Alcatraz is now a national park and the escape is part of American history, but the U.S. Marshals Service continues to search for Morris and the Anglin brothers. A reward for information leading to their capture remains in place.

While many people have at least heard of the 1962 Alcatraz escape, most do not know that Jackson County was the scene of a major local and federal search for the escapees in 1989-1991. That investigation was launched after compelling evidence surfaced that two of the three men had not only been seen in Jackson County, but were living near Greenwood.

Much of what I am about to write has never before been disclosed. I am familiar with the story because I unexpectedly became part of it in the summer of 1990.

W.L. "Mac" McLendon
U.S. Marshal Retired
The news broke on Christmas Eve 1990 when the San Francisco Daily Journal reported that federal authorities had been investigating the possibility that the Clarence and John Anglin were in Jackson County. U.S. Marshal W.L. "Mac" McLendon told the Journal, "What we're looking at is the possibility that two of the three escapees, the Anglin brothers, who were raised in this vicinity, possibly escaped and came back to this area."

Despite the 1962 pronouncements of some federal officials that Alcatraz was "escape proof" and that the men had drowned, the U.S. Marshals Service has always known that the escape probably succeeded. The evidence was compelling. The makeshift rubber raft used by the men had been found on Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, along with  homemade paddles, life vests and footprints. Investigators had also interviewed numerous eyewitnesses who reported seeing the men, in the process trailing the escapees east across the United States. Then the trail then went cold.

Clarence Anglin in 1960 (FBI)
That all changed in 1989 when NBC television aired a special edition of the program "Unsolved Mysteries" that focused on the escape. To the surprise of U.S. Marshals, a woman they would only identify as "Cathy" called the show's tip line to report that she not only recognized a photo of Clarence Anglin, but knew him to be living on a farm near Marianna under an assumed name.

Authorities were initially skeptical of the woman's claims, but she provided incredible detail on the escape and correctly identified Clarence Anglin's height, eye color and other physical features not generally known by the public. She also described the farm where the man she believed to be Clarence Anglin was living, placing it in a rural area near Greenwood.

Clarence Anglin as he might
appear today (FBI).
According to "Cathy," the escape had been carried out with outside help. Her story, in brief, was that individuals with the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) in Alabama made contact with a former Florida sheriff to solicit his help. The former officer agreed and went to San Francisco. The escape was timed with precision and he was waiting with a car when the men reached shore. "Cathy" said the party was well away from San Francisco by the time the guards realized the men were missing. The three escapees split up, she said, with two eventually living in seclusion near Greenwood. She identified one of these men as Clarence Anglin and the other as likely being Frank Lee Morris.

Frank Morris in 1960 (FBI)
An investigative team from the U.S. Marshals Service quietly came to Jackson County and launched an extensive search for the farm described by "Cathy" but was unable to find it. Arrangements were made to fly the woman to Jackson County so she could direct authorities to the home she had described. At this point, however, she suddenly stopped talking, telling deputy marshals that her family had warned her to "keep her mouth closed." She was brought to Jackson County by plane but remained uncooperative.

I became aware of these activities in 1990 while I was working as Regional News Director for WJHG-TV in Panama City. With cooperation from law enforcement, I filed reports on the search and encouraged anyone with information to come forward. Due to a commitment I made to Marshal McLendon, I never reported on the events that followed.

Frank Morris as he might
appear today (FBI).
Almost immediately after news of the search hit the national news wires, I was contacted by a California writer who claimed to have information on the location of the escapees. He asked if I would be willing to speak with him in person and offered to fly to Florida from California.

I agreed to see him, but also notified then Jackson County Sheriff John P. McDaniel and Chief Deputy John Dennis of his claim. Marshal McLendon was alerted and a special surveillance team was brought to Marianna by the marshals service. By the time the writer arrived, this team was in place in Jackson County with a surveillance van, cameras, hidden microphones and more.

John Anglin in 1960 (FBI)
The meeting with the writer went downhill quickly after he told Sheriff McDaniel that he thought all Southern law enforcement officers were members of the KKK. The assertion was made after the writer became frustrated that neither the sheriff nor I would provide him with details on the investigation beyond those that had been made public. The sheriff rightfully was insulted by the claim, as were other officers in the room at the time. To the best of my knowledge the writer's claims of having information on the whereabouts of the escapees were false and I do not believe he ever learned that he was under federal surveillance throughout visit.

John Anglin as he might
appear today (FBI).
During my discussions with federal investigators as the writer's visit took place, however, I was given access to much of the information provided by "Cathy" before she ended her cooperation with authorities. I immediately recognized the home she had described and was able to point out its location to investigators.

Now operating with better directions, authorities visited the farm where "Cathy" said she had visited with Clarence Anglin. They found the house and barns to be exactly as described by the Texas woman with one exception - the home was empty. Neighbors reported that two men had lived there, but had moved away suddenly the previous year. Several indicated that one of the men did bear a strong resemblance to a photo they were shown of Clarence Anglin. It was determined that the departure of the men from the farm coincided with the dates when "Cathy" was known to be speaking with the U.S. Marshals Service.


Greenwood Town Hall in Greenwood, Florida
That was not all. It turned out that Clarence and John Anglin had been born in Donalsonville, Georgia, just 23 miles northwest of Greenwood. They had gone to federal prison for robbing the bank in Columbia, Alabama, another area town that is less than 40 miles north of Greenwood. Relatives of the men live in Southwest Georgia to this day.

Investigation also revealed that the retired Florida law enforcement officer named by "Cathy" was a real person, but had passed away between 1962 and 1989. He had a brother living in San Francisco and was related to an individual in Birmingham, Alabama, who was an avowed member of the Ku Klux Klan and a suspect in the Birmingham Church Bombing.

Christmas decorations at the Boys' School when
Clarence Anglin was serving time there.
State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection
Documentary research revealed that Clarence Anglin and Frank Lee Morris had previous history in Jackson County. Both had spent time as juvenile offenders at what later became the Dozier School for Boys.

Finally, eyewitnesses saw a man they described as John William Anglin write a check at the Red and White Food Store in Brundidge, Alabama, on January 4, 1963. The check was returned to the store by Brundidge Banking Company because it had been written on a non-existent account. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was notified and the Mobile office sent investigators to Brundidge. The eyewitnesses who saw the man pass the check firmly maintained that he "was identical" to photographs of John Anglin.

Wanted poster for John Anglin (FBI)
The check was sent to Washington, D.C., for examination by the Bureau's handwriting experts. These investigators compared the check with examples of John Anglin's handwriting and admitted they could not determine "whether ANGLIN did or did not" write the check. The handwriting, they reported, was very similar with only small differences.

The check is preserved as evidence by the FBI and remains an intriguing clue to the presence of at least one of the Anglin brothers in the Wiregrass region months after the Escape from Alcatraz.

So did two of the 1962 Alcatraz escapees spend years living on a farm near Greenwood? The evidence is compelling. Former Jackson County Chief Deputy John Dennis concluded in 1990 that "they were here."

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

I was aware of the Alcatraz Escape as most are. Never hears any of these stories. Very interesting. I certainly could not blame Sheriff McDaniel for being offended when accused of being a member of the KKK.

Anonymous said...

Nice post. One of these men is still alive, both have lived full good lives that did not include a return by either of them to a life of crime and have raised wonderful families. There are a few details you conveniently left out of your story that reveals more about them on a personal note and circumstances that landed them in Alcatraz. The conditions they experienced were horrible and when given a choice they took a chance as opposed to suffering. Neither ever made excuses for what they did but they have lived good Christian lives and done a lot of good in the world since escaping.
When both have passed on there are arrangements to tell there story for the benefit of others.

Dale Cox said...

Thank you very much for the note. Your comment echoes closely with what I know and understand about them. I am planning a second post soon that will deal more about their circumstances and early lives. Despite the claims of the Bureau of Prisons and FBI at the time, I have never thought that they were dangerous at all. To my knowledge they never hurt anyone and I would like to see President Obama grant them a pardon. If you are willing, please contact me by email at info@exploresouthernhistory.com. You may do so anonymously. I would just enjoy saying hello and learning a little more. Best, Dale Cox

predessed said...

Awesome post. Thank you!

David Gold said...

If you want to know what really happened to these guys after the escape then watch my videos on YouTube. I actually met these guys after the escape. I knew them for about 20 years. You are in for some big surprises!
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCU2YzAYRy6MyJQlyxQhP3wg

Anonymous said...

Do you think that Marie anglin Wildner her sons know the truth-
Since Marie had photos of clarence /john Anglin at her mother funeral in 1973-
RobertJr Anglin marie brother contact with them 25yrs near time of Father death 1989?
Is it possible -went Brazil -came back Usa -Spent rest life family /Friends?

Dale Cox said...

If I had to guess (and of course, this is all guesswork), I would suspect that you are absolutely correct.