Alcatraz Felon Killed, One Shot, Third Seized As Guards Foil Escape

Custodial Officer Near Death From Beating With Hammer

A convict was killed, another wounded and a prison guard slugged in an attempt by three convicts to escape from Alcatraz Federal Island Prison yesterday afternoon.

Thomas R. Limerick, under sentence for bank robbery and kidnaping, died in the prison hospital late last night from a bullet wound in the head. He was shot by a guard as he made a desperate break for freedom with two convict companions.

Critically injured was R.C. Cline, senior custodial officer at Alcatraz, who was slugged over the head with a hammer as the desperadoes came upon him on the top floor of the prison’s factory building. He was removed to Marine Hospital after receiving emergency treatment at the prison.

Rufus Franklin, serving 30 years for bank robbery, violation of national motor vehicle act and assault, was shot in the shoulder.

The third convict involved in the attempt was James C. Lucas serving 30 years for bank robbery and violation of the Dyer act. He fled under the fire of prison guards, hid behind a wall and finally surrendered, his hands in the air.

Lucas gained notoriety two years ago when he stabbed “Scarface” Al Capone with a pair of shears in the prison laundry.

The outbreak occurred shortly after 2 p.m. Warden James A. Johnston announced.


The three prisoners, all known as desperadoes and with charges still hanging over their heads in other States, ranging from parole violations to murder, made their way from the woodworking shop where they were working to the top floor of the factory building.

They carried with them a hammer, lead weights and pieces of iron obtained in a manner Warden Johnston had not determined late yesterday.

Cline was on duty on the top floor. He was unarmed.


Without warning the three convicts fell upon him, striking him down with blows over the head.

As the guard fell the three went through a window and climbed to the roof the building, apparently intending to seize one of the armed guards on duty at that point.

One of the officers, whose name Johnston had not divulged late yesterday, opened fire, sending a bullet from his rifle into Franklin’s shoulder.

Limerick hurled an iron weight at the officer, who shot Limerick in the head, critically wounding him.

Lucas, as the officers rushed up, fled and dodged behind a wall on the roof.

He came out soon with hands up.

The two wounded convicts were removed to the prison hospital.


Warden Johnston said the convicts, apparently had planned to capture the arms of at least one guard, and with these weapons attempt to disarm the other guards.

“They probably figured they could seize the prison boat and make their getaway from the island,” he said.

“Whether other prisoners may have been involved is under investigation.

“The alertness of the guard on the roof and other guards who joined him prevented what may have developed into a major disturbance, with possible heavy loss of life. Our men were too fast for them.”

Lucas was described as one of the most dangerous criminals in the country. In his attack on Capone two years ago he seized a pair of scissors in the prison barber shop, lunged 10 feet across a passageway and stabbed the former Chicago lord in the back.

Capone wheeled, struck him and sent Lucas reeling. A guard separated the two. Lucas went into solitary confinement.

It was reported the stabbing was an outgrowth of resentment of prisoners against Capone for his refusal to join in a prison mutiny six months earlier.

Franklin is wanted as a parole violator from Kilby, Ala., where he was serving a life sentence for murder. Lucas is wanted by the Texas State Prison, where he was sentenced for life for escape, bank robbery and assault to murder.

In 1935 Limerick was known to Kansas City, Mo., police as the “No. 1 bank robber of the Northwest,” and had confessed leadership in five bank holdups.

Limerick, a former resident of Council Bluffs, Iowa, entered Alcatraz in October, 1935. Franklin was sentenced from Sioux Falls, S.D., in August, 1936. Lucas was received at the island in January, 1935.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 24 May 1938, pages 1 and 5.

Alcatraz Guard Dies; Felons Up For Murder

R.C. Cline, senior custodial officer at Alcatraz Island Penitentiary, died yesterday afternoon at Marine Hospital from wounds inflicted by three convicts in Monday’s frustrated prison break attempt.

With his death Government officials moved to bring to justice the two convicts who survived the battle with an unnamed tower guard on the roof of the prison factory building.

First degree murder charges were ordered filed against Rufus Franklin, 24, Alabama murderer and robber, who was shot in the shoulder, and James C. Lucas, 26, Texas bank robber, who surrendered as his companions fell under the guard’s fire.

The third member of the trio, Thomas R. Limerick, 36, life termer and Midwest bank robber died late Monday night from a bullet in his head.

Prosecution of Frankin and Lucas for the murder of Cline will be pressed immediately in Federal Court, said U.S. Attorney Frank J. Hennessy. As the laws of the State in which such crimes occur apply, the two are expected to die in San Quentin’s lethal gas chamber.

If the death penalty is their fate they will be the first Federal prisoners to be executed by gas.

Assistant U.S. Attorney A.J. Zirpoli, in charge of criminal prosecutions, said a special session of the Federal Grand Jury will be called and indictments asked.

Cline, who was 36, leaves a widow and four daughters, the eldest of whom is 15, to mourn his loss.

“I greatly regret,” said Warden Johnston, “that one who was so attached to duty should meet such an end.”

Sighted by a tower guard, a drifting outboard motorboat, the motor missing, was picked up by a prison launch as the tide swept it toward the island yesterday afternoon. Warden Johnston said there was nothing to indicate the find was significant in connection with the prison break attempt.

As the machinery to speed justice was set in motion Johnston revealed that shatter-proof glass in the guard tower on the prison building roof played a large part in upsetting the plans of the conspirators.


“The men were at work on the top floor of the factory under supervision of the unarmed Cline,” said Warden Johnston. “After beating Cline down with a hammer, they opened a window which swings outward and climbed to the roof.

“Then they let loose a barrage of lead weights and pieces of iron they carried. Their aim was to disable the guard in the glass tower and they showered missiles at him from three angles. But the shatterproof glass was a protection and examination of the glass shows that only one of the weights went through, slightly injuring the guard on one leg.”

The plan, officials said, was apparently to overpower the guard on the roof, then, using the guard’s firearm, to fight their way to the prison wharf and attempt a getaway in the prison boat.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 25 May 1938, pages 1 and 13.

Cline Dies As Wife Prays

Death for R.C. Cline, prison officer fatally beaten with a hammer by convicts in the attempted break at the Federal Penitentiary on Alcatraz island, came yesterday while his wife, mother of his four children, prayed for his recovery, her hand in his.

Dressed in black, Mrs. Etta Cline, had stood with folded arms in a small room off the main corridor of the Marine Hospital. She remained there for hours, hardly moving. As long as the doctors would permit it, she had remained at his bedside through Monday night.

To questions she responded: “I cannot talk about it, please. Warden’s orders.”

Many hours later she was summoned to the room upstairs. Her husband died soon after she had been escorted to a chair at his bedside. Then she returned to the cottage on the island she and her children had occupied with Cline since Alcatraz became a Federal prison.

Cline was 36, was specially trained in prison work and held a high rating for efficiency.

He entered the Federal prison service November 24, 1931, attending the Government’s guard training school in New York.

His first assignment was to the U.S. Detention Farm at La Tuna, Texas.

He was transferred for duty to the Alcatraz penitentiary May 13, 1934, a few weeks before it opened to receive prisoners.

He advanced from junior guard to the position of senior custodial officer.

As a civil service employee, Warden Johnston believed it probable that funds from the Civil Service Association’s liability compensation fund would be available to Cline’s widow and children.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 25 May 1938, page 13.

CRIME - Revolt on the Rock

By penal authorities and convicts alike, Alcatraz is considered the hardest U.S. penitentiary to crack. (Though Ralph Roe and Theodore Cole cut their way through a barred window and disappeared from the island in a thick fog last December.)

Discipline is strict: Last September convicts rebeled against what they termed unjust severity. And the revolt was climaxed by life-termer Burton Phillips slugging Warden Johnston.

But disorders have merely led to further restriction of privileges, solitary confinement for ringleaders, installation of costly protective equipment.

Three long-termers with nothing to lose but their lives were prisoners Franklin, Limerick and Lucas. Rufus Franklin had been sent to The Rock for 30 years beginning in 1936 for bank robbery, violation of the national motor vehicle act and assault. When finished with his Federal term he could look forward to finishing a life sentence for murder in Alabama.

Thomas A. Limerick had been sentenced to life in 1935 for bank robbery and kidnaping. Last, and reputedly toughest of the trio, James C. Lucas, began a 30-year stay for bank robbery and violation of the Dyer act in January, 1935. Still waiting him is a Texas State warrant for life on charges of escape, bank robbery and assault to murder. At Alcatraz his record was bad, for it was he who stabbed Al Capone with a pair of scissors two years ago.

Last week these three decided to attempt a break. At 1:35 p.m. senior Custodial Officer R.C. Cline started his routine inspection of the woodworking shop on the top floor of the factory building. He was unarmed, intent upon checking progress of the convicts.

Working in a far corner of the shop were Franklin, Lucas and Limerick. Officer Cline worked slowly down the line, passed by the office. Then, without warning the trio surrounded Cline, beat him with a hammer and weights, left him where he fell.

Fellow prisoners suddenly showed an unusual interest in their work. The band-saw screeched madly. Through the open window the three worked their way, climbed the wire mesh up to the overhanging barbed wire which circled the roof. With wire cutters they quickly opened a hole and climbed to the roof.

The guard in his shatterproof glass tower did not see them. As Franklin inched around the wall of a raised portion of the roof the guard sensed something wrong, turned, shot him through the shoulder sent him spinning. Lucas and Limerick rushed the tower, hurled their iron weights at the guard. But the glass held. The guard fired at Limerick, drilled him through the head.

Tough-boy Lucas fled for cover. A few moments later he came out with his hands above his head.

That night Limerick died in prison hospital. Officer Cline was given emergency treatment at the prison hospital, then moved to Marine Hospital where he died next day. Franklin lay wounded but not in danger in the prison ward, and Lucas was sent to solitary.

First degree murder charges were filed against the two surviving convicts and were ordered pressed immediately by U.S. Attorney Frank J. Hennessy.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 29 May 1938, page 10 (This World)

Alcatraz - Bullets Foil Escape of 5; One Killed

Five men attempted to escape from Alcatraz island yesterday.

Only one succeeded. He was Arthur “Doc” Barker, notorius kidnaper. He left feet first.

Barker was mowed down by bullets of guards who detected the five attempting to steal to freedom in a dense fog. He died a few hours later in the prison hospital.

Dale Stamphill was also shot and the three who attempted the break with them were recaptured.

Stamphill, another kidnaper, shot in both legs and with a major artery severed, was in a critical condition as prison officials continued to profess wonder at the manner in which the men got out of their cells.

The slain Barker was one of the four sons of “Ma” Barker led out of the Ozarks into a career of outlawry that saw her killed as she lay behind a machine gun in Florida battling Federal agents with her boy Fred, who also died.


The attempted break brought Prisons Director James V. Bennett speeding westward from Washington to make a thorough inquiry.

The short-lived flight of the quintet meant they had broken out of five separate cells. Warden James A. Johnston said they had been locked in for the night and the break came about 4 a.m.

Bars of the cells were not sawed, prison sources declared, but bars of an outside window had been sawed and pried apart.

The cell doors are electrically controlled and the entire cell block, guarded by most intricate devices, has been considered “escape proof.”

After leaving their cells and forcing their way through a corridor window, the five men fled to a tiny island beach as the plot was discovered.

The prison’s siren screamed above the roar of the bay’s fog horns, sounding through a “wool thick” atmosphere.

Coast Guard and police boats joined the Alacatraz launch.

Piercing lights against the blanket of white that shrouded the island revealed the five men huddled on the beach, nearly nude, striving desperately to fashion bits of drift wood into a raft, using their clothes to bind it.

Shots from the launch follwed the light into the dim group. From the other direction guard’s rifles blazed.

Barker, one of the most notorius of the island’s more than 300 “hard boiled” convicts, fell with a bullet through the back of his neck that came out near his right eye and another bullet in the thigh.


Stamphill, sentenced to life, dropped with a bullet through his left leg above the knee and another in the right leg near the ankle. The upper bullet was believed to have severed a major artery, and he bled profusely. His condition was critical.

Cut and bruised by rocks and possibly suffering other injuries, William Martin, Negro, a postoffice robber, also was taken to the hospital.

Rufus McCain, serving 99 years for kidnaping, and Henri Young, national bank robber, surrendered as they saw their comrades fall.

Bennett left Washington by train and planned to board a plane at Chicago.

He said prison officials had “no idea” where they convicts obtained the saw or saws.

Every prisoner’s clothing, shoes, bedding and cell, he said, was to be subjected to the closest examination.

The break was discovered by the officer in charge of the cell block at about 4 a.m. Immediately the siren was blown.

San Francisco police were notified at 4:14 a.m. and the police boat D.A. White sped to the island. Coast Guard cutters joined it. Ashore soldiers at the Presidio patroled the beach in the event the men were carried in by the swiftly swirling tides. Fifteen police radio cars cruised back and forth along the water’s edge.


Within approximately an hour after the escape was discovered all were captured. All normal activities of the prison were suspended and prisoners locked in their cells.

The first attempted escape from the Rock since it became a Federal prison was by Dutch Bowers, killed trying to climb a wire fence. Ted Cole and Ralph Roe reached the water and disappeared. No trace of them has been found. That was in December, 1937.

Last May three convicts broke from a prison shop and reached the roof. Guard Royal Cline and Convict Thomas Limerick were slain.

In a cell only a short distance from that of Barker was Alvin Karpis, Barker’s former partner, who was led into big time crime by “Ma” Barker and her boys.

Barker died of his wounds at 5:45 p.m. His body was brought to San Francisco in the penitentiary cutter more than an hour later and was turned over to Coroner T.B.W. Leland.

About 10 persons were at the dock when guards carried the body on a blood-stained stretcher from the launch to the ambulance.

One of the guards remarked:

“Well, he’s a lot better off now where he is than where he was.”

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 14 January 1939, pages 1 and 3.

Woolly Night

At 4 a.m. Friday, the 13th, an Alcatraz guard checked through his cell block, found five men had sawed out, [and] gone over the wall. He telephoned the switchboard and operators roused guards, [and] called the police on the mainland. The distress siren wailed. Prison searchlights made tiny pools of light in the dense fog and police boats, muffled in the woolly night, crept around the island, [and] could locate none of the convicts.

At 4:47 a.m. two shadows were spotted on the rocky, Gate side of the Rock. “Halt!” shouted a guard. The shadows ran, [and] slipped over the rocks. There were two shots and both came down. At 4:55 a.m. another was found and by 5:35 the other two had been located, shivering in the bay’s icy water.

Arthur (Doc) Barker, son of Kate (Ma) Barker and leader of the Barker (Old Creepy) Karpis kidnap gang was critically injured, with a slug in his left leg and in the right side of his head. Oklahoma bad man and life termer Dale Stamphill was hospitalized with slugs in both legs. Less desperate Rufus McCain, Henry Young and Negro William Martin returned to their cells.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 15 January 1939, page 10 (This World).

‘Rock’ Break - Prison Guards Seek Clues With Electric Eye

Prison grapevine and a portable, electric eye—the old underground method of convict communication and the newest scientific device—were centers of interest yesterday as efforts continued to solve the mysteries behind Friday’s attempted break from Alcatraz Island.

While investigation continued of the manner in which five convicts obtained saws, cut bars in their individual cells and pried apart bars in a corridor window without being detected, plans were being made for a Coroner’s inquest in the death of Arthur “Doc” Barker, killed in the attempt.

The inquest probably will be held Thursday.

Warden James A. Johnston announced that Dale Stamphill, who was also shot while the five men were building a driftwood raft on the shores of the island, was still in a serious condition.


He was shot in both legs and a major artery severed.

Barker, one of the island’s most notorious convicts, was shot almost between the eyes.

The bullet smashed against the bridge of his nose, glanced through the right eye and came out near the right ear, an autopsy by Dr. Sherman Leland showed. Another bullet struck his left thigh.

Coroner T.B.W. Leland said he was awaiting a report from Johnston before making final plans for the inquest.

Saying routine at the prison had been resumed, Warden Johnston announced the “magnetic detector” or portable electric eye was being used in investigating the attempted escape. The device in intended to show any bits of hidden metal in clothes or cells.

Although the inquiry has not yet revealed anything definite, the warden said it was expected the full story would be developed eventually in a “fragmentary fashion.”

Possibility that the five might have expected outside aid caused guard cutters to make careful study of all craft in bay yacht harbors. Officials said they were not overlooking a possibility that quick apprehension of the men may have thwarted would be confederates.


Other sources revealed officials are relying considerably on the prison grapevine for news as to how the break was prepared and accomplished.

Prisons Director James V. Bennett was expected to arrive Monday to direct the remainder of the investigation.

Johnston said the director had contemplated a trip previously and at his request had advanced his plans.

The warden explained that the five men had sawed the lower ends of bars in each of their cells and then pulled the bars apart. They gathered in the cell block corridor shortly before 4 a.m. while a guard found their cells empty and sounded the alarm.

They were discovered on a small beach of the island by the searchlights of boats and the prison. Rifles were trained on them and the two who refused to surrender were shot.

Barker and Stamphill were both kidnapers. Other participants in the attempt were Rufus McCane, kidnaper; Henri Young, national bank robber, and William Martin, postoffice robber.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 15 January 1939, page 3.

U.S. Prison Head Due Today To Probe Alcatraz ‘Break’

Its impregnable reputation tottering, Alcatraz Prison, from which five long term convicts attempted escape Friday, was to be visited today by Federal Prisons Director James V. Bennett.

While guards on “the Rock” continued a search for the mysterious saws which the convicts used to rip through the “file proof” bars of five cells, the investigation of the escape was expected to be intensified with Bennett on the scene.

Bennett, whose offices are in Washington, D.C., had planned a trip here for some time, Warden James A. Johnston said, but decided on the immediate visit because of the escape attempt, at the request of the warden.


Johnston said he believed Bennett would make his headquarters on the prison island throughout his stay here.

An exhaustive examination was slated for the modern “fool proof” escape preventive devices specially arranged by prison authorities for Alcatraz when it was made the penitentiary for the Federal Government’s most dangerous “cons.”

For the five prisoners who were found on the shore of the island building a drift wood raft to carry them to possible freedom had sawed their way from cells electrically controlled and supposedly visited every 30 minutes by guards.

Of greatest concern to authorities was how the convicts obtained the saws and stripped the bars in the five separate cells without detection.


Constant searches are carried on by guards, aided by photo-electric eyes, to detect the presence of metal objects on the men or in their cells.

All prisoners and cells on the island have been closely examined since Friday without the disclosure of any of the instruments used in the escape attempt.

Dale Stamphill, kidnaper, who was shot down in the abortive escape, in which Arthur “Doc” Barker was killed, remained in a critical condition in the island hospital.

Barker, killed when he sought to outrun the guards’ gun fire, was a member of the desperate Southwestern gang of bandits led by his own mother, “Ma” Barker, and which met its doom as the result of the kidnaping of Edward G. Bremer, St. Paul banker, in 1934.

The others who surrendered when discovered and escaped gunfire were Rufus McCane, kidnaper; Henri Young, bank robber, and William Martin, postoffice robber.

Coroner Leland said an inquest on Barker’s death would probably be held Thursday.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 16 January 1939, page 5.

U.S. Prison Director Arrives At Alcatraz for Break Probe

Federal Director of Prisons James V. Bennett arrived at Alcatraz Island yesterday from Washington, D.C., and immediately began direction of an investigation of Friday’s attempted convict break in which the notorious Arthur (Doc) Barker was shot to death.

Boarding a motor launch at the water front upon arrival of the ferry boat connecting with his train, Bennett hastened to “The Rock” and immediately went into conference with Warden James A. Johnston and Associate Warden Edward J. Miller.


It was stated that Bennett stirred by the shattering of the prison’s reputation for impregnability by the fact that five inmates were able to cut their way out of supposedly escape-proof cells, was determined to find the answer to the mystery.

Bennett said last night he was investigating all phases of the attempted break and would spend today at the island.

“We have found nothing here today,” he said, “to cause us to lose any confidence in the prison personnel or to make us feel that any change should be made in prison policies.

“No saws have been found and we are not sure that saws were use to sever bars in the attempted escape. Bars could not have been severed by the use of thin strips of metal and abrasives.”

He added that satisfaction with present policies did not mean that “we are not going to continue to check up continuously to discover any conditions which might need improvement or correction. It does not mean that we are not going to continue to perfect apparatus to prevent escapes.


“The Department of Justice has never called Alcatraz ‘escape proof,’ although I believe thus far it has been virtually escape proof.”

Bennett sought to find the answer to the following questions:

1—How did the convicts obtain the saws or other instruments with which they sawed the bars of their cells?

2—Why the supposedly fool-proof electrical alarm did not apprise guards of the fact the bars were being severed.

3—How the saws were disposed of after the break from the cells.

4—What improvements and additions to the scientific devices designed to prevent breaks are need to guarantee against some future similar occurrence?


Bennett, it was said, planned to question the four survivors of the attempted break—Dale Stamphill, reported improving in the prison hospital from two bullet wounds; Rufus McCain, bank robber and kidnaper; Henri Young, bank robber; and William Martin, Negro, postoffice robber.

During previous questioning of these men by prison officials they were said to have remained secretive.

The body of Barker, slain by a guard’s bullet as he and his companions attempted frantically to improvise a rude raft upon reaching the island’s beach, remained at the morgue here, awaiting a claim from his father, George Barker of Joplin, Mo. He was serving life for the $200,000 Bremer kidnaping.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 17 January 1939, page 7.

Alcatraz Break Probe - Use of Saws by Felons Proved by Prison Chief

Any doubt that saws were used to cut the bars of the five Alcatraz convicts who attempted a break for freedom last Friday was set at rest last night following a second day of on-the-scene investigation led by Director of Federal Prisons James V. Bennett.

Bennett had previously entertained the possibility that other instruments had been employed—such as banjo string and valve grinding compound, piano wire or watch springs, or any thin strips of metal and abrasives.

Bennett, who had been scheduled to return last night to Washington, D.C., decided to remain at least another day. Much of his time yesterday was spent in questioning prisoners in an effort to learn how wide-spread was advance information regarding the escape plot.

He was endeavoring also to learn how the escape saws were obtained and to find others believed hidden in the prison. The saws used by the plotters were believed to have been cast into the bay when the fleeing men reached the island shore.

Reiterating his personal inquiry had disclosed no reason for anything approaching a “shakeup,” Bennett said yesterday that if further investigation by himself and Warden James A. Johnston indicated a need for change in the methods of handling prisoners or supervision, these changes would be made.

The prison, he mentioned, houses the country’s most cunning and nerviest escape artists who have plenty of time to think up ways of getting out.

“And when they go through our first line of defenses, we have to rebuild them,” he said. “That is what we are doing.”

Inquest into the death of Arthur (Doc) Barker, notorious Oklahoma criminal slain in the attempted break has been set for Tuesday by Coroner T.B.W. Leland.

Barker’s body was buried yesterday in a Government-owned cemetery plot south of San Francisco. The prison chaplain, a prison clerk and four pallbearers from an undertaking parlor were the only persons present at the brief services.

Subpoenas for the inquest will include one for the slain convict’s father, George Barker of Joplin, Mo. Subpoenas might be issued, it was said, for one or more of the four survivors of the break—Dale Stamphill, who was shot in both legs; Henry Young, Rufus McCain and William Martin.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 18 January 1939, page 3.

Alcatraz Escape Try - U.S. Ends Inquiry

Federal Prison Director James V. Bennett last night completed his immediate investigation of last week’s escape attempt by five Alcatraz island penitentiary prisoners and left to look over conditions at Terminal Island, the new Federal prison off San Pedro.

Then he will proceed to Washington, D.C. where he will enlist the services of engineers in an effort to make Alcatraz and Terminal islands as more nearly escape proof as science can possibly make them.


In forcing their way from their cells, the Alcatraz desperadoes used some sort of powerful jack, probably prison made, Bennett said.

This jack wrenched and tore the bars apart. It was believed also to have been used in breaking the bars on a first floor cell block corridor, through which the prisoners dropped eight feet to another floor and made their way to the island beach. No trace of the hack saws, which may also have been used has been found.


Next chapter in the story of the escape attempt will be next Tuesday, when Coroner T.B.W. Leland will hold an inquest into the death of Arthur (“Doc”) Barker, Oklahoma kidnaper, who was shot by guards as he led his four companions in their move for liberty.

With no mourners and only the prison chaplain and four hired undertakers’ assistants present, Barker’s body was consigned to an unhonored grave in South San Francisco Monday.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 19 January 1939, page 6.

Debunked - Alcatraz Just Another Jail House

Alcatraz’ highly publicized impregnability is largely a matter of the water around it, it was revealed in a “debunking” session before Coroner T.B.W. Leland yesterday.

For the Rock’s assistant Warden, Edward J. Miller, appearing as sole witness at the inquest into the death of Arthur “Doc” Barker, killed in an escape attempt January 13, admitted:

The water is a “great help.”

The so-called electric eye system which detects metal hidden in clothing works about 60 per cent of the time.

But three guards, two in gun galleries and one on the floor, were on duty in the cell block when Barker and four companions made their break. “Possibly” they might have been asleep, but they definitely “were not alert.”

The flat, soft-iron bars of the five adjoining cells can be cut with a two-inch length of hacksaw blade.


The sawing had been done during a “long period of time” and not discovered despite examinations by guards experienced in the ways of escape tries.

The “foolproof” steel bars of the outside windows were forced with something heavier than a crowbar despite the Rock’s reported eternal vigilance.

When the five convicts made their way from the cellblock, there wasn’t a searchlight on the island strong enough to pierce the fog.

But two guards patrol the shoreline, passing any given point about once every half hour.


Miller’s reputation-blasting testimony brought the following verdict from the jury:

“We, the jury, find that the said Arthur R. Barker met his death attempting to escape from Alcatraz Prison from gunshot wounds inflicted by guards unknown.

“From the evidence at hand, we the jury, believe this escape was made possible by the failure of the system for guarding prisoners now in use at Alcatraz Prison, and we recommend a drastic improvement by those in authority.

“Further, that a more efficient system be adopted for illumination of shore and waters immediately surrounding the prison; and that the citizens of San Francisco unite in an effort to have a more suitable location chosen for imprisonment of the type of desperadoes at present housed at Alcatraz.”


Miller had recounted how a guard had found one cell vacant and turned in the alarm. Three of the convicts surrendered at the water’s edge. Barker and Dale Stamphill refused to halt and were shot, Barker fatally.

Questioned by Leland on whether the guards were asleep, Miller admitted it was “possible,” but said they were required to report by telephone every half hour. He said, in his opinion, the prison is well-manned.”

Miller testified no saws had been found, no trace of filings or any material which might have been used to smear the sawed bars to conceal the progress of work on the iron. Neither was the instrument used to force the “toolproof” outside bars found.

Coroner Leland’s report showed that save bullet wounds in the head and leg, Barker was “well nourished and well developed.”


United States Attorney Frank J. Hennessy asked that the record of Barker, a pal of Alvin Karpis, Midwest desperado and participant in the $200,000 Bremer kidnaping, be introduced into evidence. On the Barker record of transfer in 1935 from Leavenworth to Alcatraz was this notation: “To break up prison gangs.”

In closing his case, Leland said of Alcatraz: “We don’t like it and we don’t want it. The citizens of San Francisco resent Alcatraz, and criminals of that type should be placed elsewhere.

“However, as long as it is here, and not a beautiful park as I’d like to have it, we can but hope it will be open for inspection by the public.”

Hennessy said he did not consider the prison a “blot on San Francisco,” and added proximity to a big city is better for a prison because law enforcement agencies are well organized in such areas.

Barker was buried in a South San Francisco potters field.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 25 January 1939, pages 1 and 11.

The Alcatraz Trial

Young: McCain Menaced Me—My Mind Went Blank—Later I Heard of Killing

Henri Young talked yesterday afternoon of the day on which Rufus McCain, kidnaper and robber, was fatally stabbed in the tailor shop at Alcatraz Prison.

For that slaying, Henri Young is charged with murder and is being tried before Federal Judge Roche. . .Young was asked to tell about the years preceding the murder of McCain. . .A plan by eight men to escape was hatched. Among the eight were McCain and Young.

“McCain held a great deal of animosity toward me,” said Young. “He wanted to use the wives of the guards as shields in the break, but I wouldn’t do it. I obstructed the plan. I told McCain freedom wasn’t everything, but he wouldn’t listen.” . . .Five men broke out of their cells on January 13, 1939. They were on the beach. They got separated.

“We were supposed to be one for all and all for one,” said Young. “Like the three musketeers,” said Hennessy.

“On the beach McCain said, ‘They’re going to kill us. Let’s run to the houses. They won’t shoot us there.’ Then the boat came around, and the flashlight struck us. Officers began shooting. He told McCain and me to come to him. He had two pistols. McCain begged him not to shoot him. They took us back to our cells.” . . .

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 29 April 1941, page 12.


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