Saw Through Window Bar In Cell House
Trio Leave Island on Raft Made of Driftwood; Escape Discovered When Guards Check Up
S.F. Authorities Join in Manhunt; Police Boat Scours Bay Waters for Fugitives Without Result
Sawing off a bar of a window in the main cell house, three prisoners last night escaped from the United States military prison at Alcatraz Island and are believed to have made their way to the mainland on a raft made of driftwood.
The prisoners are C.H. Roberts, J.J. Howington, and R.E. Hanna. The latter is serving a ten year sentence for desertion while Roberts and Howington had less than a month to serve before completing their sentences.
The escape was not discovered until 8:30 o'clock, when guards who made a check of the prisoners reported them missing.
A hurried search of the island was made, but no trace of the prisoners was found. This led the officer of the guards to advance the theory that they escaped to the mainland.
Col. John B. McDonald, prison commandant, ordered that a thorough search be made of every possible place where the men might have taken refuge.
The police of San Francisco and the bay cities were asked to search for them.
The San Francisco police boat searched for more than an hour for the prisoners.
That the trio might have attempted to swim ashore also was advanced as a possible theory for their escape from the island.
When last seen each of the men wore brown woolen suits and block cloth caps.
ORIGIN OF SAW MYSTERY
How they came into possession of the fine tooth steel saw which they used to effect their escape from the cell house is a mystery, officers said.
The following are descriptions of the escaped men: Hanna, 26 years of age, five feet, eight inches tall; light hair and gray eyes, weight 160 pounds. Roberts, 27 years of age, five feet, eleven inches tall; sandy hair and gray eyes; weight 175 pounds. Howington, twenty-five years of age, five feet six inches tall; light hair and blue eyes; weight 155 pounds.
Up to 3 o'clock this morning no trace of the trio had been found by either army guards or the police.
Source: San Francisco Examiner, 12 October 1920, page 1.
Trio Picked Up in Exhausted Condition by Crew of Ferryboat Oakland After 9 Hours in Bay
John J. Howington, 19, Charles H. Roberts, 26, and Robert E. Hanna, 32, three prisoners who escaped from Alcatraz Island on Monday night, were picked up from their frail raft in the bay shortly before daylight yesterday by the ferry boat Oakland.
They were awaiting trial by court martial in the military prison on charges of jail breaking.
All Monday night the tide played with their improvised craft, consisting of twenty foot timbers lashed together with a rope, sweeping them almost to liberty when they approached within a few hundred feet of Oakland mole and snatching them back again to deep water again.
The strength of the three men, who were drenched by rain and spray and exposed to the buffeting of the waves for nine hours, was almost exhausted when they were sighted by the crew of the ferry boat. Their raft had started to go to pieces and they would unquestionably have succumbed to cold and exposure had not help arrived.
At the Harbor Emergency Hospital, where hot baths and warm blankets restored their vitality, they stated that poor food and cruel treatment had caused them to saw through the bars of their prison and make a dash for freedom.
The trio were returned to Alcatraz yesterday morning by Corporal L. T. Boland and Officer Rasmus Rassmussen of the harbor patrol launch, into whose custody they were placed by Capt. Harry A. Simpson of the ferry steamer Oakland.
Major E.V. Burrell, adjutant at Alcatraz, stated that the prisoners' stories of improper food and treatment were untrue.
Source: San Francisco Examiner, 13 October 1920, page 5.
Feared As Best Guarded Prison in World, Gates of Alcatraz Swung Open to Four Desperate Men
By John L. Considine
Few of the thousands who pass it daily on the ferry boat or steamship realize that Alcatraz is more a place of abandoned hopes, but that, as reconstructed of recent years, it has become a plant for the rehabilitation of men who have gone astray, a crucible for the elimination of the cross in the makeup of its inmates.
Formerly a dreaded prison, to which the worst military convicts in the United States were committed, it is now known as a disciplinary barracks, in which broken men are taught to stand erect and hold up their heads, worthless men are remodeled into useful citizens and helpless men are taught trades that will bring them a good livelihood when they are restored to liberty.
Yet it is not long since Alcatraz was dubbed "Uncle Sam's Devil's Island" —a phrase made poignant by the recollection of the sufferings of the hapless Dreyfus, whose archenemy, Major Esterhazy, passed away in England but a few weeks ago.
It was impossible that in this enlightened and humane Republic there should be a prison in any respect as bad as some of the noted penitentiaries of other nations—like that of Van Dieman's land, for instance, where the "silent system" drove men insane in three months; like the salt mines of Siberia, like Saghalien, or the real Devil's Island itself.
MOST SECURE PRISON IN THE WORLD
But even the Van Dieman prison, situated on a peninsula with the isthmus leading therefrom guarded on land by savage dogs and the waters on either side infested by hordes of sharks; even the Siberian salt mines, where a flock of ferocious wolf hounds were put on the scent of an escaping prisoner and when the hounds returned it was considered as certain that the fugitive had been overtaken and killed; even Devil's Island, remote from an civilized land; even Chateau d'If, which Dumas, with a gift for making fiction even stranger than truth, has immortalized as the prison-place of Edmond Dantes, Count of Monte Cristo—not one of them was more secure as a place of confinement than Alcatraz, a rock jutting out of the bay to a height of 135 feet and guarded by every precaution that could be taken to safeguard the confinement of the convicts.
And yet men have escaped from the other prisons I have mentioned, and once, but once only, men got away from the sea-girt rock of Alcatraz.
Not by sea, although there is record of a foggy night when a boat, in defiance of the still standing order warning all but United States craft not to come within 200 yards of the island, stole up to the side of Alcatraz, in waiting for a prisoner, who had been informed by cipher that the boat would be in waiting for him on that night. But that plot failed.
ESCAPE FROM ISLAND BY FORGERY
It remained for a long-term prisoner to escape from Alcatraz by the cleverest forgery in the annals of Federal prisons and to afford the most consummate example of nerve ever displayed by a Government prisoner.
It was not very many years after the close of the Spanish war, when 500 men were prisoners at Alcatraz, and hundreds of troops were detailed to guard them. Many of them were long-sentence men, some of them doing life terms for desertion, murder and other serious crimes. Now the soldier confined at Alcatraz for desertion has but a year to serve—ten months if he behaves himself. In those days a sentence to Alcatraz was held as being the most severe punishment a court-martial could inflict.
Then, as now, a permit from the commandant was necessary in order to secure transportation to the island and admittance to the island itself upon arrival there. One of the approaches to the headquarters was through an underground tunnel, and visitors who had been to Gibraltar declared that this was not the only point of resemblance common to the two strongholds.
PRISONERS CONFINED IN STRONG STOCKADE
All day long prisoners were confined within a stockade, twelve feet high. The prison yard at that point was but eighty feet above the sea, but, as one visitor of those days remarked, it might as well have been 8000, for any prospect of escape it offered. Just below the inner side of the stockade was a ditch, twenty-eight feet across guarded by four patrols in the day-time and three at night. This ditch constituted the "deadline."
Over this moat was the main prison building, a great two-story frame structure. None but a commissioned officer could grant permission to enter the yard. From the sentry box on one side of the lever operating the gate a speaking-tube extended to the sergeant of the guard, so the slightest suspicion of the sentinel might be verified. Never for an instant was this point left unguarded.
This intense vigilance was effective. No military prisoner ever got away from the island without written authority from the commandant of Alcatraz, and the escape previously referred to was made with such authorization.
There were four in the plot, and the head of the coterie, a prisoner like the rest, was chief printer of the Institution. He drew up and printed an official paper, such as was used in filing a prisoner's application for leniency, and to this be affixed the duplicated signature of the commandant of Alcatraz.
CUNNING WON WHERE STRENGTH FAILED
The plotters, who duties afforded them access to the mailbag that went forth from the prison headquarters daily, slipped those papers into it unperceived, and over to military headquarters at the Presidio went the spurious documents.
Once in departmental headquarters they traveled from bureau to bureau and finally into the hands of the departmental commander. On the assurances of their strong recommendations he approved them and ordered the release of the prisoners to whom they referred.
Back, then, the papers went to the headquarters at Alcatraz and into the prison office, bearing orders to set the men free.
Each of the four was provided with a suit of civilian clothing, underwear, a hat, a pair of shoes and a check for $5; put on the boat and taken to San Francisco and there turned loose.
But the leader of the band was not yet satisfied; $5 wasn't much to go on. So he forged the signature of the quartermaster of the department to four checks for $125, stating on the checks the reason for which they were issued—that the bearers had done work out of prison hours—and aware of the routine to be followed he was able to secure the money. Then, with the recollection of several dry years on Alcatraz behind them, the four proceeded to get gloriously full.
FRAUD DISCOVERED BY COMMANDANT
In the meantime the fraud was discovered at Alcatraz. An observant sentry in a casual way asked the commandant why these prisoners, of all others, had been approved for release. The commandant denied having made such a recommendation and ordered the prison office to produce the papers on which the releases were based. When he found his autograph had been forged he communicated with the San Francisco police.
One of the quartet had exceeded his capacity and was found dead drunk on a street. The other three got away and were never afterward heard of. The captive was returned to Alcatraz with an added sentence for forgery to be worked out.
When the earthquake of 1906 rendered it necessary that the inmates of the San Francisco County Jail be transferred to another place of security, permission was obtained from Washington to immure them on Alcatraz.
Among them was a noted San Francisco lawyer, who had committed bigamy and perjury, had escaped to British Columbia, was recaptured and tried, convicted and sentenced to fourteen years in State prison just five weeks before the earthquake.
He had been extradited from Canada for perjury, but was tried and convicted for an act of perjury committed after his return to this city. Contending that he could not legally be tried for any crime other than the one for which he was extradited, he had appealed to the Supreme Court. He was, therefore, still confined in the County Jail at the time of the earthquake.
WALKED AWAY, BUT WAS CAUGHT
Well dressed, of good address, suave in manner, bold and resourceful, he did not propose to remain on Alcatraz while these qualities might serve him to impose on his jailers. He made himself very agreeable to the overseers, with whom he conversed pleasantly for a few minutes and then started for the dock to board the boat for San Francisco. As the overseers had taken him for one of the San Francisco officials, no attempt was made to detain him. He reached the dock safely, but was there recognized. And that was the nearest that any other prisoner came to escaping from Alcatraz.
Alcatraz is rich in legendary lore and historical associations. The first European to see it was Lieutenant Bartolome Ferrelo in 1543, sixty-four years before the settlement of Jamestown and seventy-eight years before the landing on Plymouth Rock.
It had at different times been called White Island, Bird Island and Los Alcatraces. As early as 1797, Borcia referred to it as Isla del Alcatraz, "alcatraz" being the Spanish for "pelican," or "albatross." That bird today abounds in the vicinity of the island.
SPANIARDS GAVE NAME TO ISLAND
When Don Juan Manuel de Avaia explored San Francisco bay in August, 1776, he called it Isla del Alctraces, "alcatraces" being the plural of "alcatraz." He also called a neighboring island "Isla de Los Angeles." Every island, point of land and inlet of the bay was given a name at the time, but Alcatraz and Angel Island are the only two that retain even the English version of the original.
Others than white men have endured confinement on this rock. Among them were two privates of Company A. Apache Scouts, involved in a mutiny at Cibucu creek, Ariz., on August 30, 1881, in which Captain E.C. Hentig and six privates of the 6th Cavalry were killed. Later inmates were five Indians who mutinied at San Carlos, Ariz., in 1867. Several Indian chiefs were confined, among them Kae-tena, a Chiriqua Apache, friend of Geronimo. He was tried by a jury of his own tribe for fomenting a disturbance on the San Carlos reservation in 1884, and given a three-year sentence. General Crook sent him to Alcatraz for greater security. He was released in March, 1886.
MODOC INDIANS HELD PRISONERS
The first instance of Indians being incarcerated at Alcatraz was in the seventies. Captain Jack and a number of Modocs had been sentenced to death for the murder of General Canby and the United States Peace Commission. Because of their youth, the sentence of two of those Indians, Barncho and Sholuck, were commuted by President Grant to life imprisonment They arrived at Alcatraz in October, 1873. Barncho died about nineteen months later of scrofula, but Sholuck was still living in 1878, when he was transferred to Fort Leavenworth.
Alcatraz has been the theme of at least one distinguished singer, Ina Donna Coolbrith, but even the gentle poetess found no hint of softness in her subject:
"Bronzed of visage, he, Stern, resolute as Fate, Guard of the inner sea — Grim watcher of the Gate. And the fleets of all the world Salute him as they pass — Viking of seas empearled, The warrior, Alcatraz."
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 14 October 1923, page 48.
Procuring civilian clothes during a reception on Alcatraz Island last night, three military prisoners confined there mingled with the guests as they departed, boarded the boat with them and escaped according to Major E.J. O'Hara of the island disciplinary barracks.
How the three procured the clothes which prevented their discovery was an unsolved mystery last night, but authorities believe they may have entered the dressing rooms of the guests and stole overcoats and hats, which they donned over their prison clothing.
The fugitives, recently confined to the island are Edward Lay, 22; Basil Mann, 22, and Roy Kennison, 23. Lay is described as five feet seven inches in height, with ruddy complexion, blue eyes and brown hair. He speaks with a Southern drawl. Mann, five feet eight inches tall, has a dark complexion, brown eyes and dark hair. Kennison is said to be five feet six inches in height with ruddy complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair.
Prison guards were dispatched to San Francisco last night to conduct a thorough search of the waterfront in an effort to apprehend the three fugitives.
Source: San Francisco Examiner, 9 October 1924, page 1.
Boat Narrowly Misses Running Them Down as They Paddle for Shore
Two prisoners on Alcatraz Island made a dash for freedom yesterday by attempting to paddle a 12-foot plank to the Sausalito shore but a ferry boat picked them up, the captain recognized their black prison uniforms and they were returned to custody.
Both were army prisoners, sent to the disciplinary barracks from Hawaii. John D. Duckworth serving a sentence of five years for larceny, and John Kilgore sentenced to eighteen months for desertion.
MEMBERS OF GANG
They were allowed some degree of freedom by reason of good behavior. Small boats put out from end of the island yesterday morning. They gradually edged away from the other prisoners, jumped upon a plank that had washed into a cove of the island, and started to paddle their way across to Sausalito.
They got a ten or twelve minute lead before their absence was discovered. Small boats put out for Alcatraz, the alarm was sounded and army airplanes took off from Crissy Field to join the search.
Meanwhile, the prisoners paddled into the lane of the Northwestern Pacific ferry boat Redwood Empire and the big boat almost ran them down. The lookout reported two men struggling in the water and Captain K. V. Anderson ordered the ferryboat stopped and the men rescued. Wet and tired, they were hauled on deck and questioned for details of the "wreck."
Captain Anderson soon recognized their clothes, and the men confessed their identity. When the ferry boat reached Sausalito, they were turned over to Chief of Police J.P. McGowan, who held them until the arrival of the army authorities.
Captain Anderson gets a reward of $50 for each man, which is the standing reward offered by the Government for the capture of any prisoners escaped from Alcatraz. Colonel G. Maury Cralle is the commandant of the disciplinary barracks on Alcatraz.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 7 October 1927, page 3.
Found clinging to a ladder in the bay when their calls for help were answered by the tug Penguin Thursday night, two Federal prisoners who had escaped from Alcatraz Island shortly before, yesterday were facing trial and addition of an extra year to their ten-year terms. The pair, LeRoy Fowler and Edwin Cowan got away during the heavy rainfall from a squad bound for the gymnasium for boxing workouts. They had been sentenced at Honolulu for burglary.
They tried to head for Berkeley, they said, but made only a few hundred yards with the aid of a ladder. B.S. Potter, master of the Penguin, turned them over to Angel Island authorities, who notified Alcatraz of the capture about the time, the prison barracks alarm was sounded according to Colonel G. M. Cralle, commandant.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 20 April 1929, page 3.
Tide Traps Isle Convicts Swimming For Marin Shore
Prison Launch Picks Up Men Near Drowning After 45 Minute Fight
Foiled by swift currents of San Francisco bay, three soldier convicts of Alcatraz Island Military Prison narrowly escaped death last night in a desperate attempt to escape. They tried to swim to the Marin shore.
Stiff, numbed through and half drowned from an hour's battle with the tide, they were pulled from the swirling waters by the guard crew of the Alcatraz prison launch in the nick of time. One fugitive, unconscious, was clinging to a plank with the grip of a dying man when found by his rescuers. He was still in a serious condition at midnight.
THE THREE ARE William Smith, painter, serving a seven-and-a-half year sentence for escape, fraudulent enlistment, desertion; sentence expires in July, 1932.
Howard L. Mulson, painter, serving five years for highway robbery; sentence expires in July, 1932.
Donald O. Rinard, blacksmith, serving seven years for desertion, selling Government property and escape; sentence expires in June, 1932. Unconscious when rescued, in serious condition from exposure.
To Captain John C. Cook, officer of the day, Smith and Mulson confessed the story of their vain try for liberty.
Break Planned During Recreation Periods
All three are confined in the same cell block—a large rectangular room lined on both sides with individual cells. Prisoners are allowed the freedom of the building until the 9 p.m. lockup, Captain Cook said.
During the evening rest period the three prisoners planned their escape talking over details of their scheme night after night. They noticed they could gain entrance to the prison barber shop in the basement of the cell block and planned to make their attempt from there. To Rinard, the blacksmith, was assigned the task of smuggling in a crowbar with which to pry loose a bar of the barber shop window.
Smith and Mulson, employed part time in the prison carpenter shop, managed to obtain three large planks, which they hid near the rock bound shore of the island.
TRIO PRY OUT BAR, DROP TO LIBERTY
While their fellow prisoners were reading and conversing in the main building last night, the three stole to the basement and hid in the barber shop. Using the crowbar pick fashion, they loosened the cement at the lower end of a window bar and bent the bar upward.
Dropping through the window in the steep, rocky slope below, they crept to the water's edge and launched their planks. Still clad in their prison denims, they plunged into the chilling water that has thwarted many another convict's try for freedom. Boldly they struck out for the Marin county shore, a dark line, dotted by blinking lights far to the northward.
No sooner were they clear of the island than they found themselves in grave danger. A strong flood tide, swirling in from the Pacific caught them up and whisked them helplessly toward Berkeley. Fearful of being recaptured, the moment they set foot on that populated shore, they struggled vainly against the tide, still trying for the safety of Marin.
After forty-five minutes desperate struggling, Rinard lost hope and began calling frantically for help. His comrades soon joined in. Their cries were heard by the Alcatraz lookout, and by First Mate Robert Arthur and two sailors of the S.S. American, berthed at pier 45. The lookout notified Captain Cook and Arthur called the Coast Guard and the San Francisco police. Four rescue crafts were launched at once. Lookout Pat Lynn of the Marine Exchange also put out in a boat to join in the search.
The prison launch guided by the cries of the fugitives, picked them up with its searchlight, and soon had them aboard. Smith and Mullin shivering their appreciation at being recaptured, Rinard unconscious.
After treatment at the prison hospital, the two were taken to their cells. They will be at their usual tasks today, Captain Cook said.
All three will face a general court martial for attempted escape, and lose all good conduct credits. Maximum punishment for their offense is one year additional imprisonment. According to prison records, few men have escaped from Alcatraz.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 12 March 1930, pages 1 and 2.
Completely recovered from the physical exhaustion caused by the cold waters of the bay and the strong current that swept them from Alcatraz in the general direction of the Berkeley shore, the three soldier convicts who attempted to escape from the military prison on Alcatraz island Tuesday night, were back in the working gang yesterday.
Donald O. Rinard who was dragged unconscious from the bay by the prison boat, and his two companions in the attempted escape, William Smith and Howard L. Mulson, face a court-martial trial next week with a prospect of additional sentences of one year and the loss of all good conduct credits.
They were captured when they called for help as they drifted helplessly in a powerful current.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 13 March 1930, page 4.
Smearing his body with grease, a "trusty" army prisoner on Alcatraz Island slipped into the bay last night in an attempt to escape by swimming to the San Francisco shore.
That was the theory of Colonel G. Maury Cralle, commanding officer of the prison, when the man's clothing was found on the island at the water's edge. A small amount of grease still remained in a pocket of the convict's trousers.
The man is Jack Allen, alias Jasper Allen, 23, serving three years for housebreaking and larceny while attached to Schofield Barracks, Hawaii. He was received at Alcatraz May 27, 1929. He is believed to be wanted by civil authorities on burglary charges when his term expires.
Allen was a "parole" prisoner, working outside the walls, and required to report in by 8:30 p.m. Ferry boat crews were asked to keep a lookout for the man, while his description was broadcast to police and Sheriffs of nearby cities.
Colonel Cralle took charge of the search at Alcatraz, while the prison launch steamed around the bay through the night.
Allen has black hair, gray eyes, weighs 134 pounds and is 5 feet 4 1/2 inches tall.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 24 June 1930, page 1.