Roadhouse Owner Describes Pair Resembling Alcatraz Escape Artists
Search for Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe, escaped Alcatraz convicts, centered early today in fog-shrouded Sonoma county, where a roadhouse owner observed two men “closely answering the descriptions” of the pair.
Oliver Doss told highway patrolmen two men driving a gray coupe had stooped at his roadhouse about midnight to ask the way from Sonoma to Petaluma.
“They seemed tired and nervous,” Doss said.
Doss telephoned the license number and the car’s description to Highway Patrolman Fred Eberhardt in Sonoma. Eberhardt searched the Lakeview highway while authorities from Petaluma covered the other end of the road.
POSSES MISS CAR
The posses met midway between the town, but missed the gray coupe. Search was continued on other roads.
Meanwhile, both Department of Justice authorities in Washington, D.C., and Warden Johnston at Alcatraz announced new plans to make the island prison “escape proof.”
One was opened by the Department of Justice at Washington with a view to making the prison escape proof in fact.
The other was ordered by Warden James Johnston, who revealed that every guard and every civilian employee of the island prison was on the carpet for questioning in an attempt to ascertain how the saw with which the prisoners cut their way to liberty was smuggled into the prison.
NO ONE SUSPECTED
“I want to make it clear, however,” said Warden Johnston, “that no one as yet is under suspicion. The fact remains that the instrument with which Cole and Roe cut the bars of the machine shop was not, apparently, prison property. A careful check has revealed no such tool missing.”
The saw, if smuggled, to the island by a civilian employee, was brought in despite precautions against just such an occurrence, for all officers leaving or arriving at the island are always searched, the warden revealed.
In announcing an investigation by the Department of Justice, James V. Bennett, director of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, declared “we intend to make Alcatraz as nearly impregnable as the mind of man can conceive,” according to United Press dispatches.
He said Department of Justice engineers are cooperating with the procurement division in the investigation, which is expected to take several days. Improvements designed to diminish the chances of escape and to make the prison more easily administered will be recommended.
Bennett said the department never had claimed that Alcatraz was “escape proof,” and that he doubted if any prison could be made so.
FELONS BELIEVED DEAD
The director of prisons added he believed that Cole and Roe, who disappeared from the island fortress during a heavy fog last Thursday after cutting their way through bars in a machine shop, drowned after hazarding their lives in the cold waters of the bay.
In San Francisco Nat Pieper, local head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, directed by radio the activities of the agents on board Coast Guard cutters still engaged in searching the bay waters.
Particular attention was directed toward the eddies around the Golden Gate Bridge on a theory that if the men lost their lives their bodies may be found in that locality.
The lighthouse keepers at Mile Rock, Lime Point and even the Farallones, were also asked to be on the lookout.
While he shared the opinion of other investigators Cole and Roe lost their lives, Pieper investigated numerous tips from persons who reported seeing men looking like the escaped felons.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 22 December 1937, page 4.
Scores of tips were run down yesterday and came to nothing in the widening search for Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe, missing Alcatraz prisoners.
Among the “leads” that led nowhere was the report of a Sonoma tavern operator that two men who appeared tired and nervous and who drove a gray coupe inquired at his roadhouse about midnight regarding the best route to Petaluma.
This information was definitely eliminated as a clue, as was a report that a man answering the description of one of the men had held up a Crocket hotel late Tuesday night.
Still holding to their belief the prisoners drowned in the swift currents of the bay, Warden James A. Johnston and Chief G-Man Nat Pieper nevertheless were directing an energetic search on the possibility of the two having reached the mainland.
“We ask all citizens who believe they may have information regarding these two men to telephone the prison at once,” said Warden Johnston. “Every possible lead is being investigated thoroughly.”
Meanwhile, the island prison was being given another study by Warden Johnston and prison officials, with the aim of making future escapes as near impossible as can be.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 23 December 1937, page 3.
Ocean currents were such a week ago yesterday that the two escaping Alcatraz felons could not possibly have made their way safely to land by swimming in the opinion of Lloyd C. Whaley, assistant city engineer who makes local tides and eddies his study specialty.
“The day Roe and Cole made their get away was one of the exceptionally high tides,” Whaley said. “The run-out between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. was at a speed of about eight miles per hour. A strong swimmer starting at Alcatraz would have found himself going out the Golden Gate in the fog before he had expended sufficient energy to reach shore in still water.
“Small boats could not have bucked the current. Such a vessel as the Oakland garbage boat could not have entered the Golden Gate against it.”
If the two convicts drowned in an attempted escape, Whaley said there appeared to be an equal chance of the bodies being washed ashore north or south of San Francisco.
For several months, in cooperation with East Bay engineers, Whaley has been conducting float tests to determine where garbage and other debris would reach shore from points inside and outside the bay.
NORTH OR SOUTH
“Watersoaked pieces of wood coming down from the Sacramento river are just about as likely to be found on beaches north of the Golden Gate as south,” he said.
“If they are picked up by the current nearest shore they go northward and usually lodge at Stinson Beach, Marin county. If they get beyond that current they are likely to be taken southward by the Japan current. In that case they may go ashore anywhere between Fleishhacker Pool and Half Moon Bay.”
Whaley exhibited wooden blocks set adrift in the vicinity of the Farallones which had reached shore in two to four weeks. If the two men were drowned their bodies, according to his data, might be discovered either at Stinson Beach on the north or any one of a dozen beaches south of the city at any time during the next several weeks.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 24 December 1937, page 23.
Federal agents were closeted for hours at Sacramento yesterday with a man identified as Glenn Alton, 26, in connection with their search for Ralph Roe and Theodore Cole, escaped Alcatraz Island convicts.
He was released after being questioned at some length.
Alton was removed from a bus and taken to police headquarters on the basis of a story told by two boys at Rodeo, Contra Costa county.
The youths reported they had seen Alton spray gasoline upon a launch at the bay shore near Rodeo and then apply a torch. The launch was destroyed.
Alton explained that he burned his 18-foot sloop after it carried him out to sea for five days, saying, “It darned near killed me twice, so I decided to run it up on the mud-flats and get rid of it.”
Questioning of Alton, the Federal agents reported, was undertaken to learn whether the launch may have played a part in the convicts’ escape.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 25 December 1937, page 6.
Ralph Roe and Theodore Cole made good their escape from Alcatraz Prison on oil barrels, William Malcolm (“Runt”) Ritchey, released from the “rock” to face jewel-robbery charges in the East, said yesterday.
The two convicts used empty oil barrels stored on the island, he told Inspector William McMahon of the San Francisco Police Department. Immediately after Roe and Cole were reported missing, guards punctured all barrels remaining on the island, Ritchey said.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 18 January 1938, page 13.
Reports that Ralph Roe, 29, and Theodore Cole, 25, who escaped last December from “impregnable” Alcatraz Island Federal Prison here, had been seen in St. Louis were received here yesterday.
St. Louis police reported that two men closely answering the descriptions of the fugitives had been seen attempting to “bum” rides toward Chicago. Railroad police and highway patrolman kept a close guard on all lines of communication in an effort to apprehend the pair.
Warden Johnston said he had heard the reports with interest but had no official information about the supposed spotting of the desperadoes.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 25 March 1938, page 5.
BERRYVILLE, Ark., April 15 (AP) - Frank Boyd, farmer and former deputy sheriff, disclosed today a search had been made in this section recently for Ted Cole, one-time Arkansas convict, who escaped from Alcatraz Prison last December with Ralph Roe, 31, also originally from Arkansas.
Federal and local officers declined to comment. Some officials have expressed the view that Cole and Roe drowned in attempting to reach the mainland from Alcatraz.
Cole was reported to have relatives in Northwest Arkansas hills, and Boyd said he believed a man who slept in his barn one night three weeks ago was the fugitive.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 16 April 1938, page 3.
Solution of one of the greatest riddles of modern crime—the seeming escape from Alcatraz Penitentiary December 16, 1937, of Ralph Roe and Theodore Cole may be near, authorities hoped last night as they investigated a report the Oklahoma bad men were in Pueblo, Col., late Friday night.
Federal officials repeatedly have voiced the conviction that when the two convicts, cloaked by a thick fog, cut their way from a prison repair shop and made their way to the water’s edge, that was about the last of them. They must have met death in a swift ebb tide which carried their bodies to sea through the Golden Gate, Government men had agreed.
But yesterday, in Garden City, Kas., a man under arrest following the fatal shooting of a deputy Sheriff told officers he had played poker with Roe and Cole Friday night at Pueblo, according to Association Press dispatches.
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents were notified and an investigation was under way.
The man who started the new search for Roe and Cole was Earl McGuire, taken into custody near Syracuse, Kas., after Deputy Sheriff Ray Kumpf had been killed as he attempted to take two men from a freight train at Syracuse Monday. Officers said first degree murder charges would be filed against McGuire. Meanwhile search for the other man on the train continued.
It was while officials were questioning McGuire about his activities and the slaying of Kumpf that he volunteered the statement he met Cole and Roe at Pueblo.
At Seminole, Okla., McGuire’s home, officers said it was possible he knew the Alcatraz convicts, his fellow Oklahomans, for he was said to have served sentences in Leavenworth and the Oklahoma penitentiaries and it was from Leavenworth the two desperadoes were taken to Alcatraz.
Roe and Cole are listed as the only men ever to disappear from the rocky prison island in San Francisco bay. Cole, of Stroud, Okla., was serving 50 years for the kidnaping of James Rutherford December 5, 1934, near Cushing, Okla., and taking him to Illinois.
Roe, Duncan, Okla., was serving 99 years for robbery of the Farmers’ National Bank of Sulphur, Okla., September 10, 1934.
At Shawnee, Okla., where Roe lived several years, officers have investigated recurrent reports he has been hiding in the vicinity and had been sighted by old acquaintances.
Nat J. Pieper, chief of the San Francisco FBI office, said the bureau is “still investigating the case.”
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 6 July, 1939, page 1.
Ralph Roe and Theodore Cole have been “seen” again.
This time, the escaped Alcatraz desperadoes were roaming through Oklahoma, near Tulsa, armed and looking for a bank to rob, two hitchhikers told Tulsa police yesterday.
The hitchhikers identified a picture of Roe as a man who told them he and his companion had escaped from “The Rock.” They did not see the companion—he was following the car driven by “Roe,” who had picked up the hitch-hikers.
Roe and Cole, serving life on Alcatraz, disappeared from the island in a fog on December 16, 1937. Prison authorities and G-men believe they drowned trying to swim to the mainland.
Last July, Earl McGuire, Colorado killer, assured police that he played poker with the two convicts in Pueblo, Col.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 3 April 1940, page 5.
Police blocked all roads out of Tulsa, Oklahoma last night after a critically wounded taxi driver assured them he had been shot by Ted Cole and Ralph Roe, Alcatraz bandits who swam into the fog and oblivion one December day in 1937.
“Ted Cole shot me,” the driver George Calvin said. “I knew him because of the pictures I’ve seen in the paper.
“He and the other man held a gun on me all the way up here from the hotel and shot me when they told me to stop.”
Cole and Roe were reported in the vicinity, their home country, Tuesday by two hitch hikers. The hitch hikers were picked up by an armed motorist who wanted them to help in a bank robbery and told them he escaped from Alcatraz while under a 99-year sentence. Roe was under such a sentence from Oklahoma for bank robbery in 1935.
The hitchhikers identified his picture.
“The guy driving the car behind me escaped from the Rock with me and he was sentenced to 50 years,” the motorist told them. Cole was serving 50 years for kidnaping in Oklahoma.
Calvin told police he picked up the two men in a Tulsa hotel and was held up by them. They made him drive to the outskirts of town, told him to get out, and shot him when he protested.
He is in critical condition.
Nat Pieper, local FBI chief, had not been officially informed of the shooting when he was called by The Chronicle last night.
The two escapees were supposedly drowned in the bay when they swam away more than two years ago. There have been rumors of their appearance in various places, but police gave the reports no credence.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 4 April 1940, page 7.
Two Fugitive Convicts, Roe and Cole, Are Now Living in South America!
Four Prisoners on the Rock See Letter Saying Pair Is Safe; An Oil Can Raft Saved Them
By John U. Terrell
Ralph Roe and Theodore Cole, who escaped from Alcatraz Prison in December, 1937, are alive.
They are now living in South America; have resided for periods in both Peru and Chile.
The only prisoners ever to stage a successful break on “The Rock,” they have eluded all the law enforcement agencies engaged in one of the Nation’s greatest manhunts.
Roe and Cole made good their escape with two large air-tight oil cans. The cans were strapped together, and sealed into one of them were civilian clothes. It was in these clothes that the two Oklahoma desperados fled northward on the Redwood highway.
They contacted the automobile of a confederate on a Marin county road, but they drove away alone.
THEY HAVE MONEY, LIVE COMFORTABLY
The notorious fugitives are reported to have “plenty” of money today, to be living comfortably in their South American hideouts.
One the day of their escape, one of the densest fogs on record blanked the Bay Region.
Two of the most desperate men ever incarcerated in the island prison, Roe and Cole, long planned their break. Other convicts were aware of their plan, [and] aided them from time to time.
Into their confidence Roe and Cole took two inmates whom they had known in the days when they were blasting banks and shooting it out with posses throughout the Southwest.
They told these two confidants:
“If we make it, a letter will come back to one of you. That letter will say business was good in the month in which the letter was written.”
That letter came back approximately seven months after the escape.
It was written in July of 1938, and it said “business was good in July.” It came from a woman.
Roe and Cole by that time had left the United States. By that time Warden James A. Johnston and other officials of the Federal Department of Prisons had expressed the belief that Roe and Cole had perished in the icy, swift tide of San Francisco bay.
But the Federal Bureau of Investigation has never relented in the hunt. That hunt still goes on today.
Cole was 25 years old and Roe was 32 at the time of the escape. The first was serving 50 years for kidnaping, the latter 99 years for bank robbery—terms tantamount even with good time off, to life imprisonment.
Both men had been at times friends or associates with the most desperate and notorious gangsters and bandits of the era—"Doc” Barker, Underhill, “Pretty Boy” Floyd, Richetti—a number of others active in the front page crime news.
For months they carefully planned their break. They studied possibility after possibility, at last striking upon a scheme they considered satisfactory. But it was at best a desperate chance. No prisoner had ever made good his escape after Alcatraz became a Federal prison in 1934. The name of Alcatraz was virtually synonymous in the mind of the public with the words “escape proof.”
The day they were waiting for came. At noon an impenetrable fog covered the Bay and the island. One could see only a few feet. The tide was exceptionally high. It was running between six and eight miles an hour—outward.
SAW THEIR WAY OUT OF BLACKSMITH SHOP
Roe and Cole sawed out from the blacksmith shop of the prison. It did not take long. They cut through bars and glass. Warden Johnston at the time reported the men jimmied the lock of a gate, [and] leaped down to the narrow beach.
On that beach were discarded rubber tires. And it was there that the oil can “raft” was waiting for them.
The oil cans were securely strapped together. They floated lightly on the swirling waters. All Roe and Cole had to do was hold onto the straps on the cans, one of them on each side of the tossing raft.
They had a few minutes start before a guard discovered they had vanished. But it was enough. They vanished at once as they pushed off, concealed from all eyes by the friendly fog.
A number of small craft were known to have been in the vicinity of Alcatraz at the time of the escape. Cole and Roe had a large cache of money on the “outside.”
THEY COULD HAVE PAID HANDSOMELY FOR AID
They could have paid handsomely for aid from the outside. There is an indication they were aided by a small boat, taken to a designated spot on the Marin county shore.
But if that is all true, they have never disclosed the fact even to their closest friends. They did not tell the woman who wrote the letter to the convict in Alcatraz.
They first made known their safety several weeks after their escape.
And contrary to the usual case, the first person they told was the girl friend of a notorious gangster. Even this was done by pre-arrangement.
The girl—following the scheme—told another woman. It was the latter who wrote the "business was good in July” letter to an Alcatraz inmate.
At least four convicts were shown the letter in the prison. All of them were men who had been on the inside of the escape plan. They were men who had helped Roe and Cole to smuggle messages in and out of prison. . .a thing that was not extremely difficult to do, despite the efforts of officials to cut off the inmates from all touch with the outside world.
Time and again Roe and Cole were reported seen in various places. FBI agents concentrated in the Bay Area. A robbery in Muir Woods in which a quantity of food was taken was investigated.
Reports they were sighted along the Redwood highway were received. Other reports came in from Sonoma and Contra Costa county, from Pueblo, Col., from St. Louis and Tulsa, Okla.
Roe and Cole stayed out of the Southwest area in which they were well known.
Cole avoided any contact with friends in his home town of Stroud, Okla., and they did not get in touch with persons in Duncan, Okla., Roe’s home. Known hideouts in Shawnee, Okla., where Roe lived for a time were watched, but the trail was cold.
As near as their route can be traced from the fragmentary information available, Roe and Cole met a friend at a point on the Mexican border. The friend brought them a large sum of money.
They purchased their passage to Central America from a Mexican port, [and] were smuggled out.
Federal officials still express the opinion Roe and Cole perished, but the hunt for them still goes on, and in the words of one official:
“It will go on until they are found—dead or alive.”
They are alive, they are living in safe surroundings, unknown to their South American intimates as two long-sought badmen from the United States.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 29 April 1941, pages 1 and 12.
In 1934 the U.S. Government took over Alcatraz as the most likely spot to dump troublesome prisoners from other U.S. prisons. Prisoners were housed in separate cells and allowed to exercise but twice a week. Newspapers were forbidden, and a rule of silence was enforced except for the twice weekly recreation periods. Some men went mad, some were merely broken. The penitentiary was popularly described as “escape proof.”
Into Alcatraz was shipped such unsavory characters as Al Capone, Alvin (Old Creepy) Karpis, Arthur (Doc) Barker, Dutch Schmidt, George (Machine Gun) Kelly. Then late in 1935 little known but tough, six-foot Ralph Roe, 32, and his pal, Theodore Cole, 25, were transferred from Leavenworth Prison in Kansas to “The Rock.” Roe was to spend 99 years and Cole 50. Both were ticketed as “escape artists” having broken out of Oklahoma State Prison at McAlester and sundry Oklahoma jails.
For two years Roe and Cole waited and planned. On Thursday, December 16, 1937, fog blanketed the San Francisco Bay Area. Motorists inched along the highways, unable to see beyond their radiator caps. On Alcatraz, guards checked prisoners at 1 o’clock that afternoon, found all accounted for. Then Roe and Cole went to work. With a hacksaw, they cut through the bars of the tire repair shop, smashed heavy plate glass windows and crawled out. Hidden by the fog they crossed the yard and reached the outside gate, used a monkey wrench to jimmy the lock. From there it was a 15-foot drop to the rocky beach and into the fog-hidden bay.
At 1:30 p.m. guards checked prisoners again, and sounded an alarm. But the fog had already swallowed Artists Roe and Cole. Warden James A. Johnston was convinced the men had been swept out to sea by the seven mile per hour outgoing tide and would be washed ashore. Nevertheless, police and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents checked every tip and swore to continue the case until both turned up dead or alive.
Last week The San Francisco Chronicle’s Reporter John U. Terrell broke the case wide open again. After three days of intensive checking by Terrell and The Chronicle’s city desk, Reporter Terrell wrote:
“Roe and Cole made good their escape in December, 1937. . .are alive. . .are now living in South America. . .have resided for periods in both Peru and Chile. . .are reported to have plenty of money today, [and] to be living comfortably in their South American hideouts.”
Apparently a “raft” of two large, air-tight oil cans (one containing civilian clothes) had been planted on the beach and on these the two had paddled out to a waiting boat. At the Marin shore they were met by a confederate in an automobile. They fled up the Redwood highway and into hiding.
Just before the escape Roe and Cole had confided to two Alcatraz pals: “If we make it, a letter will come back to one of you. That letter will say business was good in the month in which the letter was written.” In July of 1938 a business letter from a woman was received by one of the pals (unidentified for obvious reasons) and stated: “Business was good in July.”
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 4 May 1941, page 9 (This World)