Two Swim Away in Dark; One Makes It to S.F. Shore
Second Convict Is Found Clinging to Rock in Bay—They Used Water Wings
Two tough long-term convicts broke out of crumbling Alcatraz Prison at dusk last night but were stopped short in their bid for freedom by the stronger prison of San Francisco Bay.
The two, Darl Lee Parker and John Paul Scott were first missed at 5:47 p.m. as a routine cell check was being made.
Parker was recaptured by prison guards 25 minutes later as he clung half-drowned and trembling from exposure, to a cluster of rocks known as “Little Alcatraz,” a scant 100 yards west of the prison.
Scott persisted longer but was near death when he washed ashore at Fort Point, just inside the Golden Gate Bridge and nearly three miles from the prison shortly after 7 p.m.
In fact, the full report to the Military Police at the Presidio from a pair of teenagers was to the effect that there was a “body” on the rocks.
When the MPs and the Army fire department arrived at the scene, the “body” began to stir, however, and Scott was rushed to Letterman Hospital “unconscious and in a state of shock,” Presidio officials said.
Scott was revived, and his condition improved rapidly under treatment at Letterman. Alcatraz authorities returned him to the prison dispensary last night.
Alcatraz officials said Parker and Scott made their escape from the basement of the “culinary unit” beneath the kitchen at the west end of the main cell house.
They said the pair wriggled to freedom through a window but added, “The method of opening has not yet been determined.”
Scott reportedly told questioners at Letterman that he and Parker had sawed through the window bars using household cleanser as an abrasive.
Then the two apparently made their way through the drizzle, fog and growing darkness to the low but rugged cliffs on the island’s western side, descended and slipped into the water.
The precise time that the convicts actually entered the water was still undetermined last night, but the tides around the island were increasing from slack at 4:41 p.m. toward a maximum ebb flow toward the Golden Gate of three knots at 7:49 p.m.
Parker apparently lost his nerve quickly and took his precarious refuge on “Little Alcatraz,” but Scott, buoyed by make-shift water wings, made of blue denim clothing, swam on.
The water wings were fashioned from the sleeves of a prison shirt and several rubber surgical gloves. The gloves were inflated, tied off at the cuff and stuffed inside the sleeves, which Scott had tied around his waist.
The Coast Guard said the seas were “fairly calm” at the time of the escape, but even so the relentless currents, icy water and endless swells were too much for the desperate man.
Finally caught by the Fort Point back eddy—well known to the Bay Area’s small boat sailors—Scott was washed onto the rock and lay naked except for his socks and completely helpless until the authorities came to his rescue.
Three 40-foot Coast Guard cutters, an 82-foot patrol boat and the Coast Guard’s harbor tug criss-crossed the area between Alcatraz and the Golden Gate constantly during the 1 1/2-hour search.
But Scott apparently drifted right through their network in the murky darkness, a Coast Guard spokesman said.
Scott, a short, stocky man of 35, was serving a 30-year sentence at Alcatraz for bank robbery and possession of unregistered firearms. He was sentenced at Lexington, Ky., and was scheduled for release in 1977. His home town is Leitchfield, Ky.
Parker, who is 31, was serving a 50-year sentence for bank robbery, attempted escape and kidnaping. He was sentenced in the Northern Federal Court District of Indiana. His home town is Canton, Ohio.
Yesterday’s escape showed some similarities to the breakout last June 11 when the brothers John and Clarence Anglin and Frank Lee Morris fled into the bay under cover of fog.
The three are still missing. Prison officials maintain they drowned. But the FBI still lists them as “wanted,” and will continue to until there is proof they died in the icy currents of the bay.
Using spoons honed to razor sharpness, the three bank robbers dug their way out of a thick concrete cell block and made their way in the darkness past guards and gun towers to the rocky shoreline of the isle.
It is known they had made makeshift water-wings from materials stolen from prison stores.
It is known they managed to make it off the island.
What remains a mystery to this day is whether they died in the depths of the bay—or swam to freedom.
Morris, 35, the toughest and smartest of the three, is credited with masterminding the escape.
He found eager accomplices in the Anglins, John, 32, and Clarence, 31, who were serving long terms for bank hold-ups in the south.
Evidence indicates they worked for many months, with help from other prisoners, to gain exit from their cells.
As far as Alcatraz officials are concerned, the effort was in vain.
“They drowned,” said Warden Olin Blackwell. “I am certain this is what occurred.”
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 17 December 1962, pages 1 and 16.
John Paul Scott’s spectacular but futile swim from Alcatraz Island to Fort Point destroyed once and for all the official position that escape from the Federal Prison is impossible.
And it added strength to the supposition of sailing men—men who know the waters of San Francisco Bay—that other escapers have made it safely to shore.
Escapers such as Frank Lee Morris and John and Clarence Anglin, who are known to have entered the water last June 11. Escapers such as Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe, who were last seen Dec. 16, 1937. These five have never been found.
As far as Alcatraz officials are concerned, all five of them drowned. But the FBI has never stopped the search for them.
There is no question that the waters of San Francisco Bay are treacherous.
John Paul Scott’s condition—severe exposure and shock—proved this.
For the 35-year-old bank robber also proved that a man can swim from Alcatraz—and survive.
“His condition is not too serious,” said Colonel James Mackin of the Letterman Hospital Staff. “You might just say that he’s damn cold.”
As far as could be determined late last night, Scott suffered no bodily injuries during his battle against the cold currents of the bay.
When Scott was revived, he shook so convulsively that he could not speak. His body temperature had dropped to 94 degrees, 4.6 degrees below normal, which a doctor called “not dangerous, but not healthy.”
However, after a half hour inside a thermo blanket, a device somewhat like a rubber sleeping bag through which warm water is circulating, Scott was able to speak.
He wore a wan smile as he was taken from Letterman at 10:45 p.m. for his ride back to Alcatraz.
Prison officials have said in the past that even if a man did swim to the shore, the waves would batter him to pieces on the rocks.
Scott was found clinging to the rocks off Fort Point—with numerous small cuts and scrapes on his body, but scarcely tattered to pieces.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 17 December 1962, pages 1 and 16.
Their break from Alcatraz proved it surely, but long before last night there was no doubting the boldness of Darl Lee Parker and John Paul Scott.
Both had first run afoul of Federal law in 1957, and both for robbing banks at gunpoint—Parker at Fort Wayne, Ind., and Scott at Camptop, Ky.
Parker made off with $50,000 in company with a companion. They wore Halloween masks, flourished pistols, and threatened to “blow the head off” anyone who moved.
Scott and two others were not so lucky in their robbery attempt, foiled when a watchman heard falling glass breaking and summoned police.
One officer was shot in the legs, and Scott was found two days later, suffering from gunshot wounds in the mouth and arm.
He and his companions had been armed with guns stolen from a nearby National Guard armory.
Not long after Parker was imprisoned at the Allen county, Ind., jail for his bank robbery, he shot his way out and kidnaped a mail carrier as hostage.
In the escape, an accomplice of Parker had climbed to the jail roof and lowered a cigar box containing a pistol to Parker’s cell window.
Parker had meanwhile sawed the bolt off his cell door, and, when a jailer brought him lunch, Parker pulled the gun on him and took his uniform. Then he forced a dispatcher to unlock the jail’s outside door and fled.
But he was captured five hours later at a roadblock across the state line in Ohio.
Just two years before that, Parker had left a West Virginia reformatory after serving a term for auto theft and housebreaking. He later married, and opened a restaurant in Ohio.
Now 31, Parker was serving a 50-year sentence in Alcatraz on charges of bank robbery, attempted escape and kidnaping. He was born in Canton, Ohio.
Scott, 35, was serving a 30-year sentence at the island prison, for bank robbery and possession of unregistered firearms. His home is Leitchfield, Ky.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 17 December 1962, page 16.
Federal Prison Chief Here for Investigation—Mixup on the Alert?
The Federal Director of Prisons arrived late yesterday to investigate Sunday’s break-out of two Alcatraz convicts, pledging a probe of prison procedures but expressing “great confidence” in the warden and staff.
Director James V. Bennett also said he would investigate how promptly word of the break was sent to San Francisco police—who said they hadn’t heard of it until after one convict already had reached shore here.
It was the first confirmed occasion in the 28 years since Alcatraz became a Federal prison that any convict escaped and reached the mainland. Bennett called the feat “incredible.”
A prison disciplinary board will consider soon the cases of the two convicts who made the abortive escape attempt—John Paul Scott, 35, of Leitchfield, Ky., and Darl Lee Parker, 31, of Canton, Ohio—Warden Olin G. Blackwell said yesterday.
Unites States Attorney Cecil Poole said the Federal Grand Jury here will consider the case tomorrow. “We’ll be charging both men with escape,” he said. The charge could add five years and $5000 fines to their present sentences.
Scott was serving a 30-year term, and Parker a 50-year term for bank robbery. Warden Blackwell did not say yesterday whether they were still in the prison hospital or in solitary confinement. Normally, he said, “they would be in D Block,” where isolation cells are located.
Both men had been checked in a routine prisoner count at 5:20 p.m., Sunday and again at 5:30, the warden said yesterday. At 5:47, in a special count, they were missed.
Why the special count?
“Well, when you see that somebody is out of pocket (away from the spot in which he should have been) you start counting,” the warden said.
Within a half-hour, he said, searchers found the cut window bars through which the two had wriggled their way to freedom.
At 6:10 p.m., Parker was found, shivering and dripping wet, on a cluster of rocks known as Little Alcatraz, only 100 yards west of the prison isle itself. There was, at the time, no trace of Scott.
The subsequent timetable:
At 6:38 p.m., the Coast Guard reported, it was notified by Alcatraz of the escape. “No, we didn’t notify anyone else—any civilian agencies, that is,” a Coast Guard spokesman said. “The Coast Guard doesn’t, when it is assisting another service or another government agency.”
At 7:15 p.m., Military Police in the Presidio—according to their log—were informed by MP headquarters on Angel Island of the Alcatraz escape. “We got no direct word from Alcatraz,” a Presidio spokesman said yesterday. “The Coast Guard evidently notified Angel Island and they notified us.”
At 7:40 p.m., Presidio Military Police were told by telephone that teen-agers had found “a body” on the rocks at Fort Point, inside the Golden Gate. It was not known how long this “body” had been there, but it turned out to be Scott, still alive, who was revived by treatment at Letterman General Hospital.
At approximately 7:45 p.m., San Francisco police learned for the first time of the Alcatraz escape, officers said yesterday.
A teletype alerting police was timed at 7:50, and Captain of Inspectors Dan Quinlan said “We got the first call from Alcatraz less than five minutes before that.” This was after Scott was already ashore at Fort Point.
Warden Blackwell said that so far as he knew, there had been no unnecessary delay in making the telephone calls to police and other agencies.
San Francisco police learned at 8:38 p.m. that Scott had been taken into custody by Military Police. Officers went out to verify the report, and the police search was officially canceled at 9:07.
Blackwell said that on the prison island, “We started looking real fast,” as soon as the men’s absence was noted at 5:47 p.m.
It was 25 years to the day since the escape of Ralph Roe and Ted Cole—first inmates to get off the island—and about whom nothing has ever been heard since. Three others, Frank Lee Morris and Clarence and John Anglin, escaped last June, and they too, have never been heard from since.
Federal prison officials have concluded that all five of the previous escapees had drowned in the cold, swift tidal currents of the bay—and Blackwell said yesterday “That is still my opinion. I have not changed it even on the basis of this new development.”
Scott and Parker, he said were part of a 28-man culinary detail, and they sometimes worked in a storage room below the prison kitchen. One of the room’s barred windows, four feet wide and six feet high, was not within sight of the guard towers outside.
Working on those bars, possibly for months, the two men had cut out a 14-inch length of steel bar 1 1/2 inches in diameter—perhaps with no more effective tool than pieces of moist string dipped in an abrasive kitchen cleaner—and cut out a horizontal flat steel bar 1/2-inch by 3 1/2 inches in cross section.
The hole, it was learned, was nearly teen feet above the floor—difficult to work on, but for the same reason difficult to detect until the cutting had been completed.
Squeezing out through the small hole in the bars, perhaps almost nude and dragging clothing after them, they dropped five feet to the ground, then climbed a 14-foot cyclone fence topped by four strands of barbed fire. From there, they crawled and slid down a steep slope to the water.
No cutting tools were found, the warden said.
Scott, when found half dead on the rocks at Fort Point roughly two hours after the break, was wearing a makeshift pair of water wings. Rubber surgical gloves had been inflated, tied shut at the cuffs, and stuffed inside the sleeves from a denim jacket which he tied around his body.
“I thought it would be pretty difficult to get those gloves,” the warden said yesterday, “but apparently it wasn’t too difficult.”
Blackwell said the prison population at the time of Sunday’s break was down to 206 men, from its 336 capacity. It is to be closed after a new maximum security Federal prison is completed in Marion, Ill, in 1963, and the “phasing out” (gradual removal of men) is already under way.
“Apparently,” the warden said, ironically, “we weren’t phasing out fast enough.”
Prison Director Bennett, who arrived from Washington by air yesterday afternoon accompanied by an assistant, Noah Alldredge, said the “phasing out” would continue at its present pace and there would be no speedup as a result of Sunday’s break.
Telling newsmen at the airport here that he had “great confidence in Warden Blackwell and in his whole staff,” Bennett also noted that he would consider the possibility of “wrong procedures” at the island prison.
Warden Blackwell himself well into his second day without sleep, said he did not believe the break resulted from any shortage of supervisory personnel. He said three men were on duty “in the area” from which the escape was made.
Were there any plans to discipline any guards as a result of the break?
“No, we have no immediate plans,” Blackwell said. “There is an FBI investigation under way, as well as our own, however. And if there was any personnel failure and we’re sure of it, we will take action.”
Scott himself had only two comments on his achievement in being the first Alcatraz convict known to have reached shore in an escape attempt.
Reviving a bit when he reached the Army hospital, he asked: “Where am I?”
And, on his way back to the prison island, he called to newsmen:
“I wished I could have made it.”
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 18 December 1962, pages 1 and 16.
By Scott Thurber
Sunday’s “incredible” Alcatraz escape was described in step-by-step detail yesterday by the Federal Director of Prisons—and the longer he talked the more incredible it all seemed.
For more than a year, James V. Bennett conceded, relays of prisoners have been quietly sawing away at the barred window through which John Paul Scott and Darl Lee Parker started their dash to freedom.
And in the planning, timing and execution of their breakout, he said, the two imaginative bank robbers simply outsmarted the entire staff of the Nation’s toughest prison.
Bennett, who flew here from Washington to find out what happened and why, insisted there had been no lapses in guarding, no breakdowns in post-escape procedures.
And he emphasized that no disciplinary action is planned against an prison officials on the basis of the evidence now at hand.
* It was more than a year ago that a prisoner, since transferred to another prison, began surreptitiously sawing away at the double bars guarding the high window to the storage room below the prison kitchen.
* Since that time, at least four other prisoners have worked in relays to keep the project going—climbing atop a table, then using the lattice-like, inner bars as a “ladder” to their sawing-point, then scrambling back down at the sound of a guard’s footsteps.
* Through it all, the sawing and its results went undetected—even though prisoners in the storeroom are supposed to be under “constant observation” and bars throughout the prison are “regularly” checked for soundness.
* When they finally made their break, Scott and Parker shinnied up an outside drain to the roof of the main cellblock, sprinted the length of the roof, then lowered themselves to the ground—hand-over-hand down a 50-foot length of electric cable they carried with them.
* Then they fled through the darkness to the cliffs at the island’s west edge, slid down the incline, and ducked into the water—undetected by anybody and up to then not even missed.
* From there they embarked to freedom on improvised floats supported by inflated surgical gloves stolen from the prison—floats which carried Scott all the way to Fort Point, although Parker was less successful.
“Ingenious,” Bennett declared. “These guys are no numbskulls. They anticipated everything.”
Their route reflected their ingenuity, he said—describing it as one which exploited “blind spots” not visible from the main gun towers.
Not all the towers were manned, Bennett conceded—but he emphasized that some of them almost never are manned under normal procedures.
Maps and photographs of Alcatraz, however, indicate the escape route would be in clear view of a main gun tower which the official prison brochure says it “perpetually” manned—a fact confirmed for The Chronicle by a former Alcatraz official.
Earlier prison versions had suggested an escape route entirely different from that described yesterday by Bennett.
The Federal prison chief gave his version of the escape at an hour-long press conference in the Main Post Office Building here—following lengthy conferences with prison officials and the escapers.
Alcatraz Warden Olin B. Blackwell stood silently nearby—chain-smoking nervously—as Bennett coped with a barrage of often pointed questions.
Bennett discounted Scott’s story that he sawed through the bars with a string probably from a banjo and an abrasive cleaning powder.
Some of the sawing may have been done that way, he said, “but not all of it.” He said prison officials had found a spatula—its edges knicked to sawtooth roughness—concealed in a drainpipe inside the basement storage room.
How did the bar-sawing continue for more than a year without detection?
Bennett at first said the storage room—where normally one prisoner at a time is assigned to work—is “under constant supervision.”
But he conceded later that often a prisoner is locked inside by himself for comparatively long intervals. The sawing probably was done in 10-minute stints when no guard was near.
“Scott went when he did,” Bennett said, because the bars he was sawing were about due to be checked and he feared the sawing “would be detected.” He feared this even though the sawed portions were carefully painted over, with paint from an unknown source, when the sawing wasn’t being done.
When Scott—alone in the downstairs room—started out through the sawed-through bars, “He yelled ‘come on’” Bennett said and Parker tumbled down a dumbwaiter shaft from the kitchen to follow him out.
Bennett refused to concede that Scott’s successful three-mile swim to Fort Point—he’s the first Alcatraz convict ever known to have reached the mainland through water—was any indication that a previous escape attempt might have succeeded.
Three prisoners fled the island last June and their bodies were never found. Prison officials have steadfastly contended that they drowned in the attempt.
Bennett said he had “no assurance” the June trio didn’t reach the mainland, “but I can’t see how they made it.”
He admitted, though, that Scott “did pretty well” in reaching the mainland Sunday night. Parker, he said, gave up early because he was cold and suffering from cramps. (He was captured on “Little Alcatraz,” a rock outcropping several hundred yards from the island.)
Bennett said plans will continue to “phase out” Alcatraz and gradually remove its prisoners. A maximum security institution to replace it is being built in Illinois and should be finished “by next spring.”
Has Alcatraz outlived its usefulness?
“Yes, I think so,” he said—but because of its crumbling condition and not because an institution of its type is not “an effective deterrent against crime.”
Are any changes in guarding procedures planned as a result of Sunday’s escape?
“Yes,” said Bennett. He declined to elaborate.
Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 19 December 1962, pages 1, 14 and 15.