Home of the Alcatraz Escapees?
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."
Carol Highsmith photograph courtesy of the Library of Congress.
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
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)|
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).
|Frank Morris in 1960 (FBI)|
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).
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)|
|John Anglin as he might|
appear today (FBI).
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|
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
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 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."