Two Dangerous Felons Escape Alcatraz Cell

Calvarymen With Bad Records Elude Pursuit From Military Prison

Two prisoners, Thomas Franey and Michael Mullin, escaped from their cells in the military prison on Alcatraz Island Saturday night and are now at large.

Both were calvaryman, with bad records. While confined in Leavenworth prison under sentence of court martial they assaulted a guard and endeavored to break jail, but were recaptured and sentenced to serve ten and eight years respectively, for that offense, being transferred to Alcatraz for those terms.

It is believed by Colonel R. C. Van Vielt, commandant at Alcatraz, that the men fled on a raft that was lying on the shore of the island. Immediately upon the discovery of their absence a futile search of the island was made. The police of San Francisco, Oakland and other neighboring cities were notified and given good descriptions of the men, and a general alarm was wired throughout the state.

The army authorities are anxious to recapture the men, as they are regarded as dangerous criminals.

Their escape is considered particularly daring and evidently was ingeniously planned. Escapes from Alcatraz island have been exceedingly rare, especially escapes from the cells. There have been one or two instances in which the prisoners got away by evading the guards and escaping in boats provided by confederates outside, but most of the escapes have been while the prisoners were in working parties, under guard, at the Presidio or other ports about the bay.

A few years ago a prisoner escaped by forging papers directing his release. He had been employed in clerical work in the offices of the prison. He presented the forged order of release in a regular way, walked carelessly to the steamer plying between the island and San Francisco and disappeared. The escape was not discovered until too late to effect his capture.

The difficulty of escape is due to the strong cordons of sentries maintained all about the island, which is isolated and has a rockbound shore. Musters and inspections are frequent and the cells are supposed to be particularly strong.

Source: San Francisco Call, 18 November 1912, page 4.

Alcatraz Fugitives Both Desperate Men

Army Records Show They Were Seasoned Criminals

LEAVENWORTH, Kan., Nov. 18. — Thomas V. Frayne [sic] and Michael Mullins, military convicts who made their escape Saturday from the prison at Alcatraz island in San Francisco bay by sawing the bars from their cells and leaving the island by means of a raft, were two of the most desperate men ever confined in the military prison here, according to Lieutenant Colonel Slavens, warden of the prison. The men were transferred from Fort Leavenworth to Alcatraz last January.

While confined here Frayne was tried 13 times by court martial and 134 times by the executive officers of the prison. Mullins was tried five times by court martial and 200 times by executive officers. Frayne once tried to make his escape by hiding in a boiler.

Both men were brought to Leavenworth from Fort Jay, N.Y. Frayne was to serve a sentence of five years and six months for desertion, escape and assault. Mullins was convicted of fraudulent enlistment, desertion, escape and assault. His sentence was 13 years.

Source: San Francisco Call, 19 November 1912, page 11.


Weakened in flesh and spirit by two deadly foes, hunger and thirst, Thomas Franey and Michael Mullin, the desperadoes who were supposed to have escaped from Alcatraz late Saturday night, were captured that night when Mullin was forced from a hole he had burrowed in the driftwood under infantry barracks to procure water for his dying companion.

A sentry on guard at a point several hundred feet from the mouth of the cavern saw Mullin on all fours emerge from the hole, covered with slime and nearly famished. He covered him with his rifle, ordered his hands above his head, and called for help.

Within a few seconds a score of guards had arrived. Mullin, with his mouth frightfully swollen from lack of water, pointed to the hole under the driftwood. Search revealed Franey lying full length in the mud, apparently dying. Both men were rushed to the hospital, where they were given medical attention. Doctors spent nearly an hour on Franey before he was able to take nourishment.

Since Saturday night the men, both dangerous military prisoners, had lived in the little hole without a morse of food or a drop of water having passed their lips. Dying by inches while waiting a chance to escape from the rock hound island on a boat, Mullin knew the game was up when his companion sank speechless in the cave.

The details of their escape from the dungeon in the bottom of the great prison on the island, from which escapes have been almost unknown for a score of years, form a narrative like a chapter from "The Count of Monte Cristo." Both men were in solitary confinement in the dungeon for having refused to work and both were shackled with ball and chain.

Saturday night the men were left in the dungeon while many of the other prisoners and a majority of the guards went as usual to see the moving pictures that are shown weekly. They accepted the opportunity to escape offered and without great difficulty sawed through the bars of their dungeon, finding entrance into the main corridor of the prison. Where they secured saws or files has not yet been ascertained. No guards were encountered and they succeeded in reaching the outside of the prison yard.

Not daring to swim the treacherous channel between the island and San Francisco, they decided to hide on the island until an opportunity was found to get away. A spot under infantry barracks, where driftwood was piled high, offered the best place of concealment.

Sunday morning Mullin found an opportunity to break into a deserted carpenter shop near their hiding place and procured a file, with which they severed from their ankles the heavy balls and chains that had bound them up to that time. They filed the chains close to their ankles, but were unable to remove the rings which the chains had been fastened.

Cunning as the convicts proved themselves to be, they had not counted on food or water supplies. Since Sunday morning, when the alarm of their escape was flashed to the San Francisco police, not a single opportunity to procure either of those necessities was found. The men were forced to face either death by hunger and thirst or run a chance of capture. They took their chance and failed.

Both were calvarymen with bad records. While confined in Leavenworth prison they assaulted a guard and endeavored to break jail, but were caught and given heavy sentences.

They will be kept under strong guard in the hospital until they are well enough to be sent again to the dungeon, and for their attempt to escape, many years will be added to their unexpired sentences, which were originally 5 years for Franey and 10 years for Mullin.

Source: San Francisco Call, 20 November 1912, pages 1 and  2.

Prisoner Drowns Trying to Flee Alcatraz in Fog

Companion Has Narrow Escape as Log He Rides is Caught in Swirling Tide-Rip.

One prisoner is believed to have lost his life and another narrowly escaped drowning while attempting to escape from the military prison at Alcatraz island in the heavy tule fog which shrouded the bay early yesterday morning.

The man believed to have been drowned is Claude Eley, a private who was serving a short sentence for infraction of military rules. The name of the other man the officers on the island refused to divulge. He was captured.

According to the story given out each man obtained a pile and started to float to the mainland from the west side of Alcatraz. The logs and their human burdens were caught in the ripping swirl between the main island and Little Alcatraz, a rock about two hundred yards from the large island and both decided to leave the piles and swim for the rock. Eley was unable to make it and sank while the cries of his companion attracted the attention of guards and he was rescued.

The launch Alcatraz patrolled the bay between and the island and the mainland but no trace of Eley was found.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 20 February 1916, page 12.

Alcatraz Fugitive Found in Boathouse

Claude Eley, who was serving a one-year term on Alcatraz for selling government property, jumped into the bay last Saturday night in an effort to escape. It was thought he was lost. It was learned yesterday that he had been hiding in a boathouse. He was discovered there Monday by guards. Confederates in the barracks had been feeding him, and he was waiting for a chance to get away.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 25 February 1916, page 7.

3 Fugitives Seize Launch At Alcatraz

Pilot of Newspaper Boat, at Gun's Point, Forced to Aid Soldiers In Early Morning Escape

Poking a revolver under the nose of Martin Jesterson, pilot of a newspaper delivery launch, a corporal and two soldiers escaped from the military prison barracks on Alcatraz Island early yesterday morning and were captured at Sausalito by Patrolman C. G. Ashoss of that place and armed guards who pursued them in another boat.

Jesterson had just dumped his bundle of newspapers at the landing on Alcatraz shortly after 8:30 a.m. when a man in uniform whom he had mistaken for a sentry, approached him, drew a revolver and demanded that he take him to Oakland. Two other men in uniform emerged from the shadow and joined the man with the revolver.

Jesterson declared that he did not have enough gasoline to go to Oakland, whereupon the soldiers, he says, told him that they would have to be taken to Sausalito. At the point of the first soldier's revolver, Jesterson started the launch for Sausalito.

A sentry on duty saw the holdup, and reported it. Seeing the launch under way with a quarter of a mile start, officers got in communication by telephone with the Sausalito police and told them to arrest the three men.

A high-powered launch was manned by an armed guard and sent in pursuit in the meantime.

When Jesterson's launch put into Sausalito, Patrolman C. G. Ashoss, met it at the wharf and arrested the three men. Before they had time to show resistance the pursuing launch with the armed guard from Alcatraz came up.

Major Charles Howland, commandant of Alcatraz, said last night that the three men were not military prisoners, but that they had violated regulations in leaving the island without passes and would probably be court-martialed. According to Major Howland, the officer whom he detailed to investigate the escape reported that the men had not threatened the pilot of the newspaper launch with a pistol. Both Jesterson and Michael Lange, his employer, however declared that the weapon was used to coerce him.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 10 March, 1917, page 3.

2 Prisoners At Alcatraz Make Escape

Military Convicts Rob Quarters of Officers, Don Uniforms and Boldly Leave Island on Boat

Disguised as Lieutenants, Armed With Stolen Weapons, Fugitives Pass Guards, Come Here

Disguising themselves in the stolen uniforms of lieutenants, L'Estrange Bach and Carl J. Zirker, military prisoners at Alcatraz Island, escaped last night after rifling the officers' quarters of $500 in Liberty Bonds, $225 in cash, two automatic pistols and other property.

Walking boldly aboard the United States tug General McDowell, the fugitives mingled with other officers and disembarked at the Presidio.

It was more than an hour later before their flight was discovered. A detail of ten soldiers was then dispatched from Alcatraz Island to assist the police in searching for the prisoners, a general alarm for the apprehension of whom had been sent out by the military authorities.

Broken lockers in the officers' quarters and the rifled trunks Lieutenants J. J. Meskill and Gail Fehrensen led to the discovery of the escape of the two men. They had been employed as trusties at Alcatraz and were held in such confidence that they had no trouble in getting the uniforms which enabled them to board the tug without being questioned.

It was shortly after 7 o'clock when they left Alcatraz and they landed at the Presidio less than a half hour later. By the time the police were notified of their escape the fugitives had nearly two hours start.

Bach, who is 24 years old, was sent to Alcatraz from Camp Lewis under a two and half year sentence and dishonorable discharge from the army for the theft of $31. He is described as a man 5 feet 11 1/2 inches tall, weighing 170 pounds, and smooth-shaven, with blue eyes and light hair. His home is at 351 East Forty-second street, Portland, Ore.

Zirker, who is 22, was sent to Alcatraz from American Lake to serve five years after being dishonorably discharged from the army for the theft of $75. He is about 5 feet, 9 inches tall, weighs 150 pounds, is smooth-shaven and had brown eyes and dark hair. He is a married man and before joining the army lived at 1802 North Main Street, Los Angeles.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 18 November 1918, page 9.

Alcatraz Fugitives Returned to Island

L'Estrange Bach and Carl J. Zirker, military prisoners at the disciplinary barracks on Alcatraz Island, who escaped Saturday night after donning uniforms stolen from the officers' quarters at the prison, were returned to custody at 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon.

Their preliminary hearing on charges of grand larceny, prison breaking and impersonating officers of the United States army is called for this morning, when the date for their trial well be set.

Bach is said to have confessed that he took $500 in Liberty bonds.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 21 November 1918, page 6.

Raft Carries 4 Convicts To Freedom

Long Termers Elude Guards During Thanksgiving Festivities and Paddle Away on S.F. Bay

Patrol Boats Scour Harbor in Vain Search for Fugitives; Police Aid U.S. Men in Hunt

While Thanksgiving festivities were being held at the United States disciplinary barracks on Alcatraz Island last night four military prisoners evaded the guards and boarding a hastily constructed raft paddled their way out on San Francisco bay.

On account of the ebbtide army authorities believed the men would be unable to make land and patrol boats promptly were dispatched to search of the escapes.

Throughout the night the entire bay was searched and lights from forts and bay craft played on the waters, but no trace of the missing men was found.


The escaped prisoners were: Herbert Koenig, 21 years, serving a two-year term. Paul N. White, 23 years, serving a two-year term. Fritz K. Isell, 20, serving a five-year term. Andy Armen, 23, serving a three-year term.

It was not until the close of the celebration at Alcatraz island that the men's disappearance was discovered. Officers found that the prisoners had constructed a raft from a supply of timber which had been left on the south side of the island for the purpose of building a new pier.

Pieces of the same timber are believed to have been used by the escapees as paddles.

When the patrol boats left on a search of the bay, captains of all ferryboats were notified of the escape of the four men and asked to keep a sharp lookout for a floating raft.


Police of Marin county and Alameda and Contra Costa counties also were instructed to be on the alert for the fugitives, who might possibly succeed in battling against the strong ebbtide and make shore.

A reward of $50 each was offered for the apprehension of the prisoners.

Koenig was born in Breslau, Germany, and was sent to Alcatraz from Fort Mills, P.I., where he had been found guilty by court martial of burglary. White is a California boy, and prior to his imprisonment was stationed at Fort MacArthur. He had broken his parole. Isell was serving his sentence for embezzlement. He came from a Southern California camp. Armen was a native of Austria. His crime was burglary.

Federal officials at Alcatraz Island expressed confidence last night that the men would be captured when daylight came.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 29 November 1918, page 13.

Death Ends Flight of 4 Prisoners

Alcatraz Captives Come to Tragic End After Desperate Flight From Prison, Is Belief

Lighthouse Keeper Hears Cries Grow Faint and Die Out While Storm Rages; No Bodies Found

Cries for help far out of the mighty ebb tide assailed the ears of the lighthouse keeper at Mile Rock, off Land's End, as he kept midnight vigil straining his eyes expectantly for a glimpse of the raft on which four military prisoners escaped from Alcatraz Island during the Thanksgiving festivities. Again and again the cries were repeated, ever growing more faint in the rising tempest.

The lighthouse keeper informed the lifesaving station at Fort Point and at dawn a crew dispatched to scour the strait found pieces of a wrecked raft. The officials at Alcatraz believe that this tells the full story of the desperate attempt at escape.

Despite the evidences of tragedy the search is being continued for four men—Herbert Koenig, 21 year olds; Paul N. White, 23; Fritz K. Isell and Andy Armen, 23.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 30 November 1918, page 11.

2 "Drowned" Men Appear Seeking Food

Alcatraz Prisoners Who Escaped Supposed to Have Been Lost When Storm Wrecked Raft

Fugitives Come Out of Sutro Forest and Appeal for Nourishment at Hospital; Again Get Away

Driven by starvation from the wilderness of Sutro Forest, two of the four escaped military prisoners from Alcatraz barracks, believed to have perished in the ocean off Mile Rock lighthouse, appeared early Sunday at Franklin Hospital appealing for food.

The quartette had fled on Thanksgiving night from the Island on a makeshift raft built of wharf timbers.

The lightkeeper had heard cries for help. The life-saving station crew, summoned, found wreckage of the craft.

Like ghosts from the "vasty deep," the men showed at the hospital. But when an attache sought to relieve them, and then, suspicious of the uniforms they wore, telephoned for the superintendent, the men fled.

They left behind a coat, identified yesterday as an army prison garment.

The hospital superintendent notified Chief Deputy United States Marshal George Burnham, who sent Deputy F.J. Ralph to the hospital. Captain Edwin V. Morris, from Alcatraz, yesterday sent a detail, while other details from the provost guard and the military intelligence department took up the search after the fugitives.

The police said they were informed of the men's hiding place in the forest, which was combed in the hunt.

Captain Dudley, adjutant at Alcatraz, received a report from the hospital that a watchman had been asked by the men for food and had suspected their appearance and thus aroused them to flee.

The four are: Herbert Koenig, 21; Paul N. White, 23; Fritz K. Isell, 20; Andy Armen, 23. One of them was said to have a brother employed at the hospital. The two who went to the hospital spoke German and were supposed to be Koenig and Isell.

The military authorities said they would quickly capture the fugitives now that it was determined they had not all been drowned in their flight from the island.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 3 December 1918, page 11.

Alcatraz Fugitive Caught; Tell Story

Wrecked and cast away on a stormy coast without food for days and hunted for weeks, finally to be captured is the story of Herbert Koenig, one of the four military prisoners who escaped on a raft from Alcatraz Island during a stormy day last November.

Koenig was arrested yesterday at Sixth and Harrison streets by Policeman J.J. Muldoon and turned over to the military authorities to be returned to jail to finish the term of his imprisonment. Three other men who escaped at the same time are still at large; they are Andy Armen, Fritz K. Isell and Paul N. White. The men, after their escape from the island, landed on the Marin shore and came to San Francisco.

The finding of the wrecked raft led the authorities to believe the prisoners had been drowned. But later it was learned that they applied for food at Franklin Hospital and had been seen in Sutro Forest.

"There was where we had the trouble," said Koenig yesterday. "It was bad enough escaping the storm on that raft, but the troubles in Sutro Forest were worse."

"White knew of a cave on the summit of the hill and we went there and stayed two days. We knew few people went there. I am a pretty good shot with a rock. I managed to kill two quail. We built a fire and cooked them. We laid around there in the cave during the stormy weather planning on how we would get away."

"Isell had caught a chicken near the clearing one night. We dressed it for breakfast. During the night we were awakened by a lot of growling. We were just in time to see three raccoons making away with the fowl. Next morning we separated. I went to Los Angeles. I don't know what became of the other three. I just returned yesterday."

Alcatraz authorities said yesterday Koenig will be tried by special court martial in a few days. He was serving a three-year sentence for striking an officer.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 6 February 1919, page 4.

War Slackers Try To Escape Alcatraz

4 Conscientious Objectors Who Charged Cruelty Captured In Attempted Flight From Prison

Two of Men Get Aboard Government Boat; Others Found Hidden Beneath Wharf on Island

Breaking into the commissary department and providing themselves with civilian clothing, four conscientious objectors, held on Alcatraz Island, attempted a dash to liberty on Sunday night and were caught by Capt. George Hornsman of the government tug “General McDowell.”

Two of the men were captured on board the “General McDowell” after it had left Alcatraz en route to the immigration station on Angel Island. The other two were found hiding beneath the pier at Alcatraz on the return trip from Angel Island.

The four men who attempted were recently brought to Alcatraz Island from Fort Leavenworth and are said to have been among those whose friends recently made complaint to the war department concerning alleged unsanitary conditions and harsh treatment at the prison, which resulted in a military investigation of conditions at the camp.


After the General McDowell left Alcatraz Island on the 6:15 trip on Sunday night Captain Hornsman discovered two men aboard whose trousers were wet around the ankles. He questioned them as to their presence on board and asked them for their passes.

The men replied that the officer of the day told them they would not need passes and that their trousers had become wet when they attempted to get a drink of water at a fountain at the prison.

Captain Hornsman pretended to accept their explanation, but when the vessel arrived at the cast garrison on Angel Island he sent word to the officer of the day that he had two suspicious persons aboard. Guards were sent to seize the men. They were found hidden beneath coils of rope on the afterdeck. They refused to give their names, and were silent to all questions.


Returning to the prison, Captain Hornsman found two other men crouched under the pier. He signaled with the boat’s whistle to the officer of the day at the prison. A launch was dispatched to the landing and the prisoners captured.

Colonel Joseph Garrard, commandant of the island, said last night that the names of the conscientious objectors who took part in the attempted break have not been obtained. “The men are known here only by numbers,” he said. “We have as yet made no effort to compare these numbers with the names on the records in the prison.


“I believe the men attempted to escape in the belief they could secret themselves on board with the members of a visiting baseball team which came to the island on Sunday. There is little possibility of men getting away from the island without proper credentials. Everyone coming and going is required to display a pass. Lack of this was responsible for the apprehension of these men.”

Since coming to Alcatraz about two weeks ago the conscientious objectors who were transferred from Fort Leavenworth have consistently refused to work or obey prison regulations, the officers in charge say. Because of this it has been necessary to place some of the men in solitary confinement, but, according to Colonel Garrard, no cruelties have been practiced.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 19 August 1919, page 1.

Seven Escape Army Prison

Men Later Recaptured While Hiding Under Wharves of Alcatraz Island

Seven military prisoners who escaped early in the evening from the prison building of the Alcatraz Island Disciplinary Barracks were found late last night concealed under the wharves of the island.

The discovery of the men followed several hours of man-hunting by both the guards of the prison and police of the bay cities, who were notified of the escape.

The men who participated in the attempted escape are Curtis K. Islei, John J. Howington, William J. O'Day, Abe Green, Frank M. Hess, Morris Elby and James Mitchell.

Prison officials discovered the absence of the men at 8:30, when, according to the custom of the prison, the verification of prisoners was made preparatory to locking them in their cells for the night.

When the absence of the men was ascertained the alarm was sounded and a search made of both buildings and grounds. There was nothing to indicate how the men had got out of the building. In the meantime, the police of the bay cities were notified to be on the lookout for the men in the event that they succeeded in getting off the island.

Some of the men participating in the escape were prisoners recently transferred from Fort Leavenworth, according to the prison authorities, and had previously participated in attempts to escape.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 25 September 1919, page 1.


Return to San Francisco Genealogy
Public Commons License