By Betty Yu

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — It is one of America’s greatest mysteries: What happened to three men after they pulled off a daring prison break Alcatraz in 1962?

UPDATE: Relative Of Escaped Alcatraz Inmates Speaks Out About Letter

Only the worst criminals were sent to Alcatraz. And for 29 years, it was the most secure federal prison in the country – surrounded by the cold, rough waters of the Pacific. But brothers John and Clarence Anglin and Frank Morris disappeared into the night and have never been found.

ALSO READ: 55 Years Later, Escape From Alcatraz Result Still A Mystery

The men have become folklore – fueled by Hollywood and popular shows. And in the last 55 years, theories about their fate have multiplied as new evidence surfaces.

A letter allegedly written by one of the escapees recently came to light. KPIX 5 exclusively obtained it from a source.

“My name is John Anglin. I escape from Alcatraz in June 1962 with my brother Clarence and Frank Morris. I’m 83 years old and in bad shape. I have cancer. Yes we all made it that night but barely!”  

The FBI says this is the most recent piece of evidence that forced the agency to reopen the iconic cold case. The letter was sent to the San Francisco Police Department’s Richmond station in 2013.

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“It’s interesting, I mean it’s obviously a very famous case here in San Francisco,” said KPIX 5 Security Analyst Jeff Harp.

Harp spent 21 years with the FBI, but did not work directly on this case.

“As a law enforcement person I’d like to think that their escape attempt was not fruitful for them. Personally, as someone who swims in the bay, and we have a triathlon that goes on every year, and there’s not a single person that doesn’t make that swim,” he added.

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This past summer, we got an exclusive tour of some never-before-seen parts of Alcatraz. After months of meticulous planning – on the night of June 11, 1962 – the trio of bank robbers squeezed through the vents in the back of their cells.

The FBI says they used a homemade drill made from a broken vacuum cleaner motor to widen the vents. Once they crawled through, they climbed up a network of pipes and plumbing in a commonly unguarded space.

They set up a secret workshop on the top of their cells, where they built and hid what they needed to escape. They eventually made it out through the ventilator that led them to the prison roof. They slid down the smokestack to the ground and launched their raft – made of more than 50 raincoats. They also created life vests and wooden paddles.

The next morning, guards found dummy heads made of plaster, paper mache, paint and real human hair in their cells.

According to the letter, Frank died in 2008 and John’s brother died three years later. The writer makes a deal – “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 U.S. Marshals, which is the sole agency investigating the case today, says the FBI lab examined the letter for fingerprints and DNA, and the handwriting.

The FBI’s results were inconclusive.

“So that means yes, and it means no, so this leaves everything in limbo,” said Harp.

The writer of the letter says he spent many years after his escape from Alcatraz living in Seattle. He also mentions that he lived in North Dakota for 8 years, and currently lives in Southern California.

In a statement to KPIX 5, the U.S. Marshals Service writes: “There is absolutely no reason to believe that any of them would have changed their lifestyle and became completely law abiding citizens after this escape.”

“The Federal Bureau of Prisons say that they drowned once they got off of Alcatraz and their bodies were swept out to the Pacific Ocean — end of story,” said National Park Service Ranger John Cantwell.

New evidence presented in a 2015 History Channel special shows a photo allegedly showing escaped brothers John and Clarence Anglin in Brazil – 13 years after the great escape.

If the men are alive today, Frank Morris would be 90 years old and John and Clarence Anglin would be 86 and 87.

“I didn’t believe that they made it, but that’s was because of what the officers were saying,” said author Jolene Babyak.

Babyak was 15 years old and living on the island with her family when the men broke free.

Her father was the acting warden.

“I was awaken by the siren, which I had never heard before, so I wasn’t really sure exactly what it was,” she said.

She has since written several books on Alcatraz. KPIX 5 showed her a copy of the letter.

“No evidence, lots of allegations, no real evidence, nothing you can follow up on,” she said.

As for the US Marshals, they tell KPIX 5 they consider this lead closed with no merit.

“They’re getting up there in age, someone knows, cause if they made it out they communicated with somebody, so somebody somewhere knows – that’s still alive,” added Harp.

Comments (202)
  1. Jorge Delia says:

    I had to pause the video to read the letter. Why didn’t CBS report on more of the details in the letter? The writer very specifically says the other two are dead, when each died, and even where Frank Morris is buried (although under a different name), yet you say in the piece, “If the men are alive today, Frank Morris would be 90 years old and John and Clarence Anglin would be 86 and 87.” That’s bad reporting given the context of the letter.

    Also, law enforcement is notorious for drinking their own Kool-Aid. Some officers made up a story 55 years ago, “they couldn’t have made it” with no proof, and LE even today just takes it at face value. The bodies were NEVER found. When does that ever happen? Swept out to sea, yeah right. Drone LE officers trying to pretend they are superhuman and other humans can’t outsmart them. Just like the D.B. Cooper case and the FBI denials.

    For my part, when I read the entirety of the letter and see the tone, matched with the fact that the guy was dying of cancer and apparently never sent a second letter, I’m inclined to believe the letter was true.

    1. harris9513 says:

      Excellent points – people don’t go far enough and actually READ the letter! And the lady who wrote all the books on it doesn’t want to be one upped by the escapee and makes the totally IRRATIONAL comment ““No evidence, lots of allegations, no real evidence, nothing you can follow up on,” – Well hell YEAH the letter could have been followed up on and the contents of it can still be followed up on! I hope it’s all proven true by a NEW author and all these liars trying to defend their pride are proven wrong. The prison system can fail, it has failed, it will fail. Denial cannot change that.

  2. Victor Smith says:

    The last statement is the trueist, if they made it out, they told someone. Someone they lived with in the years after, what would be the reason for not disclosing it now? Also if the letter mentions the brothers being buried under assumed names, why not investigate if there are any records on those assumed names?

  3. Sue Pickins says:

    Law enforcement officials often like to buy their own lies and then sell them to the public. Does anyone remember what happened on November 24th, 1971? That’s when DB Cooper went from being an anonymous man to a legend. The FBI said he became the “sultan of splat” but they just can’t seem to find the body anywhere now can they? Same old story. We have no idea who or where DB Cooper is, and we never will. Because the FBI doesn’t care about the truth. The only thing they care about is covering their own backsides and making themselves look good. They should have been disbanded a long time ago. They’re about as useful as a milk bucket under a bull.

  4. If supposedly, these guys were in touch with family members after the escape why hasn’t someone tracked these family members down and interviewed them?

  5. “Three can keep a secret, if two of them are dead”
    – Ben Franklin
    Nope, not buyin it.

  6. History Channel did a show on this and produced a picture of the Anglin Brothers living in Brazil…facial recognition technology says it was them, They got away by looping a cord around the rudder of the guard ferry and let it tow them away to freedom.

  7. Stu Pedasso says:

    If they successfully escaped and stayed out of trouble since 1962 then good on them. Beats burning tax dollars to keep them all locked up.

  8. Dave Fiebig says:

    Why not take the guy up on his offer? Put him in prison for a year and give him some medical attention and find out what really went on. For history’s sake alone. Unfortunately, the FBI has lost all credibility, so it won’t happen.

  9. harris9513 says:

    We’ve got people looking for Bigfoot, trying to contact UFO’s and still trying to disprove the moon landing – but no one is going to investigate THIS? Sounds like America today.

  10. Doug Davis says:

    Let’s see…believe the FBI….or a convicted criminal….given what we now know about our FBI…I’m gonna choose to believe the criminal.

  11. Ken Moore says:

    Dead bodies float, don’t they? And 3 dead bodies would be easier to find. I hope they all lead productive lives.

  12. Long Timothy says:

    I say give the guy a medal……LOL If he is 90 and has been unseen for all these years, debt paid folks. Its not like he is a war criminal.

  13. Julie Braman says:

    4208 KINGMAN LN, BAKERSFIELD, CA 93301-5906 – BOOM. Check that address for him. 😉

  14. Dbank JP says:

    The tone of the letter rings very true. Not dramatic but rather plodding and factual.