Four Foiled In Daring Try To Escape ‘Rock’

Cretzer, Kyle, 2 Others Bind, Gag 4 Guards, but Fail in Long Attempt to Cut Through Bars

Four Alcatraz life termers, including the notorious Joseph Paul Cretzer, had one small corner of the island prison all to themselves for two and one-half hours yesterday after overpowering four officials—but still couldn’t beat the Rock.

They were persuaded by one of their captives to abandon their escape attempt when their furious labors failed completely to dent tool-proof steel bars that alone stood between them and the Bay for those two and one-half hours.


Convinced at last that it just couldn’t be done, they freed their captives and were led dejectedly away, thus ending what Warden James A. Johnston described as a “daring” escape plan without so much as a shot fired or a head bruised.

With 28 year old Cretzer in the attempt were Arnold Thomas Kyle, 27, his brother-in-law who once teamed with him to form the most daring bank robbing team in the Nation; Lloyd H. Barkdoll, Oregon bank robber who was moved to Alcatraz because authorities feared McNeil Island wouldn’t hold him, and who was described by the warden as the leader of the quartet, and Sam R. Shockley, an Oklahoma bank robber.


One after another over a period of two hours, the four overcame and bound Clyne E. Stoops, guard; C.J. Manning, superintendent of prison industries; Lionel Johnston, yard officer, and Paul Madigan, captain of the yard.

And with the four officers herded in one room and eight other nonparticipating convicts herded into another room of the four room mat shop at the northwest tip of the island, the desperadoes labored in vain from 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. to crack through just one window.

This was the complete story, told last night by Warden Johnston:

“Right after lunch the four men lured Stoops into one of the rooms of the mat shop on the pretense that a machine was out of order. Then they fell upon him, bound him hand and foot with heavy bundle twine, and gagged him.


“Then they herded other convicts into a separate room and went to work on the window, using a piece of pipe to pry off the reinforced inside casement.

“They had worked at it about half an hour when Manning, who wasn’t expected, entered the shop on a routine inspection tour. They had a lookout posted. When Manning entered one grabbed him on each side and one from behind, and they hustled him into the room with Stoops, binding him but not gagging them [sic].

“Then they went back to the window. By this time they had pried off part of the casement. They dragged over a small motor driven emery stone and began grinding away at one of the toolproof bars.

“One of the convicts remained posted at the door as a guard, and when Officer Johnston entered he was hustled in with the other officers. So far as I can gather they at no time used any weapons on the officers, just overpowering them by surprise and strength of numbers. Barkdoll is a big, husky man and took the lead.


“Finally Captain Madigan entered the shop. They overpowered him too. But Captain Manning pointed out to them that it was time for the officers to ring in to the administration building, and that an alarm would be sounded if the officers failed to ring in. They were about ready to give up anyway. They had to cut through at least and probably three of the bars before they could drop down to the outside and they hadn’t even cut through one.

“So they freed Madigan. He phoned the administration building, and by the time we got there he was leading them away.”


Cretzer started his crime career in Oakland, and rose to become “Public Enemy No. 5” on the G-men’s list before a Los Angeles bank robbery led to his downfall and that of Kyle. They were given life for killing a marshal at Tacoma during an escape attempt outside a courtroom.

Shockley is an Idaho ex-convict who got life for kidnaping a cashier and his wife during a bank robbery at Paoli, Okla., in 1938.

Barkdoll, sentenced to life for an Oregon bank robbery in 1937, was a witness for Henry Young in that convict’s recent trail for the slaying of a fellow convict there.

Source: San Francisco Examiner, 22 May 1941, pages 1 and B.

Alcatraz—Four Convicts Try Escape; Give Up

Four Alcatraz convicts, all classed by Warden James A. Johnston as men “who would go in a second,” were foiled late yesterday afternoon in a desperate attempt to escape from “The Rock.”

Following carefully laid plans, the convicts broke through the inside detention sash of the mat shop, in which they were working, and were attempting to pry open the room’s outside tool-proof steel bars, when a captured guard finally convinced them of the futility of their efforts.

The four prisoners, all serving life terms, without hope for pardon or parole, were:

Lloyd H. Barkdoll, sentenced to life in 1937 in Oregon for national bank robbery.

Sam R. Shockley, serving a life sentence for bank robbery and kidnaping in Muskogee, Oklahoma.

Joseph Paul Cretzer, one-time “Public Enemy No. Five,” serving consecutive terms of five years, 25 years and life for escape, bank robbery and murder.

Arnold Thomas Kyle, Cretzer’s brother-in-law, serving identical sentences for the same crimes. Before their capture in 1939, Cretzer and Kyle were considered the number one bank robbing team in the Nation. They had made spectacular escapes from other Federal penitentiaries.

Warden Johnston, who announced the attempted escape, said the four prisoners had been placed in solitary, and that any punishment was an indefinite consideration, since “none have any credits to forfeit.”

He recounted the scene in the mat shop, where the prisoners seized four officials making their customary inspections.

As each official entered the room alone, he was pounced on by the four, gagged and bound hand and foot.

The prisoners tied C.J. Manning, superintendent of industries; Clyne E. stoops, officer assigned to the mat shop, and Lionel Johnston, work area yard officer.

The fourth officer seized as he entered the room, Captain Paul Madigan, convinced the prisoners they could not make a break, and by that time they were pretty thoroughly convinced of this themselves, the warden said.


Captain Madigan talked the prisoners into giving themselves up, and then gave the alarm which brought other guards. The four prisoners were taken to solitary cells.

Johnston said none of the prison officials were harmed in any way. He also said that although one of the prisoners, Barkdoll, was a witness at the Henri Young murder trial, the escape attempt had no connection with the Young case.

Warden Johnston said every man in the group would seize upon the slightest opportunity to make a break.

He said this with special emphasis in regard to Barkdoll. This prisoner’s sole purpose in coming over for the Young hearing was to make a break if possible, according to Johnston.

There were eight other convicts in another room of the mat shop, but they were not involved in the escape attempt.

Johnston said he believed Captain Madigan was able to convince the prisoners they should give up, because it was nearly time for the captured guards to report to the administration building. Failure to report would have brought an immediate investigation.

Kyle and Cretzer escaped from McNeil island in April, 1940. They were captured. During trial in Tacoma for that escape they killed a United States Marshal. Both were wanted for Bay Region holdups in 1936.

Cretzer and Kyle are the husband and brother, respectively, of Kay Wallace, who served six months in Martines on white slave charges several years ago.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 22 May 1941, pages 1 and 12.

Convict Tries To Escape Alcatraz

An attempted escape from Alcatraz under cover of fog failed yesterday afternoon when guards noticed the absence of one prisoner before he had time to do more than wade a few yards into the bay.

He was identified by Warden James A. Johnston as John R. Bayless, 27, serving a 25 year sentence for a bank robbery committed in Missouri.

According to the warden, Bayless is a member of the garbage detail, which works outside the prison. When the detail was lined up at 3:45 p.m. yesterday to be checked before they were taken inside the walls for the night, Bayless was missing.

A guard found him moments later in the water on the south side of the island. He returned to shore at the guard’s command, offering no resistance.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 16 September 1941, page 1.

Break at Alcatraz

Escape Fails After Four Leap Into Bay; Two Shot And Drown, Two Captured

Former Public Enemy No. 1 and Bank Robber Killed; Karpis Mobster Found Hiding in Cave

Four freedom-hungry desperadoes cracked out of Alcatraz in a thick fog early yesterday.

They all gambled their lives and two of them lost, riddled as they swam; the other two were recaptured, one in the water, the other cowering in a cave on the island’s northernmost tip.

It was the worst and bloodiest break in the history of the Rock, a fortress for the Nation’s most dangerous tough guys. And it came at a time when chance for success was slimest—when bay shores were abristle with the guards and guns of war.

Recaptured were Harold Brest, handsome, cold-blooded Pennsylvania bank robber, hauled stark naked out of the frigid waters, and Fred Hunter, stoop-shouldered and 43, member of the defunct Alvin (“Old Creepy”) Karpis gang of kidnapers.

Wounded by rifle slugs from the Rock’s gun towers and drowned were James A. Boarman, Indianapolis bank robber, and Floyd G. Hamilton, erstwhile henchman of the notorious Barrow-Parker-Hamilton outlaw gang that flourished in the Southwest.


The quartet made its abortive bid for liberty after slugging, gagging and binding Captain of the Guards Henry Weinhold and Custodial Officer Smith.

Two of them wielded “shivs” or prison-made knives and in a quick, terrific battle to overpower the guards Weinhold’s hands were slashed. Neither guard was stabbed, neither hurt badly.

And then, clad only in their underwear, armed with the improvised daggers, the convicts leaped out a window at the rear of the model building on the northwest tip of the island.

They miraculously escaped grave injury in the bare-footed plunge of some 30 feet down a sheer cliff to the rock-strewn shore.

But they left behind two of four empty cans designed to keep them afloat in the tide rips and stuffed with Army uniforms with which they hoped to make good their escape.

Weinhold wriggled free enough to blow an alarm whistle.


Almost simultaneously, Officer Frank Johnson outside saw the men hurtling through the air and sounded an alarm.

Seconds later the guards on the high gun towers trained powerful rifles on the escape vicinity, aiming at the bobbing heads.

Fusilade after fusilade spattered the waters with deadly slugs, peppering the surface with tiny geysers.

The convicts had negotiated about 30 yards when the first rain of bullets winged Hamilton. He shuddered and sank beneath the choppy waves.

Meantime, the island’s sirens were wailing shrilly in the eerie fog; other inmates were herded swiftly into their cells for a count of noses; the Rock’s launch set out.

Recapture of Brest furnished the most dramatic single episode in the boldest of Alcatraz’s breaks.

Brest, now naked, was floating on his back, desperately holding up the wounded Boarman, when the prison launched pulled alongside.

Boarman, riddled through the head, tinctured the green waters with his blood. As Brest reached up for a guard’s grip he loosened his hold on Boarman and the unconscious desperado slipped like a lead weight beneath the surface.

“We’re positive,” said Warden James A. Johnston, “that Hamilton is dead. He was shot, and we saw him go under.”

“Brest was nicked by a bullet before he was captured. Boarman is gone.”

Slight built Hunter, shivering in his shorts, was discovered in an island search later, hiding in a dank cave eroded in the cliff wall around the point from the escape scene.

Hamilton was a member of the Southeast outlaw gang of stogie-smoking, shotgun-toting Bonnie Parker, while Hunter was a cohort of Karpis, the Midwestern crime chieftain.

Their mad, futile dash for freedom again upheld the theory that the Rock is escape proof.

Factors that made their life-gambling bid for freedom go awry were the marksmanship of the tower guards, the vicious tide rips that spent their strength, the lifting of the fog, and failure to get their get-away raft cans out of the shop window.


These cans, the warden said, were the escapee’s “ace card,” but they wouldn’t go through the window. With them they might have drifted out of the raking rifle shot, shielded by the floats, and might have escaped the undertow that defies the strongest of swimmers.

Recounting the moments that preceded the window leap of the desperate inmates, Warden Johnston said Captain Weinhold was inspecting the prison shop when he first noticed that Guard Smith was not at his station. Hamilton and Hunter were at their jobs. Brest was not in sight and Boarman was “definitely where he did not belong.”

“Captain Weinhold,” the warden related, “walked over and, as he stepped in the doorway, Brest and Boarman seized him. Hamilton and Hunter jumped on him from behind. There was quite a fight, with Hunter and Boarman using shivs.

“As they struggled, Captain Weinhold saw that Guard Smith was bound and gagged on the floor. The convicts bound Captain Weinhold’s wrists and ankles and stuffed a handkerchief in his mouth.

“Then the four went out the window. Brest was rubbing himself with grease (for protection against the cold water) as he slipped over the sill.

“Smith managed to work one hand into a pocket and get his police whistle in the captain’s mouth. The captain blew it.”

Hunter hurt his back and chest in his leap and also cut his hands, Warden Johnston related. He gave up trying to swim, entered the cave and covered himself with debris to avoid discovery.

“Guards took a boat to the entrance of the cave, where they found bloodstains on the entrance—as if someone had been leaning on the rocks for support,” the Warden said. “One of the guards called for Hunter to come out. He refused.

“Then the guard fired a pistol shot and Hunter came out.

“Both the recaptured men disclaim knowledge of leadership in the attempt. Each says he ‘just got in on it a couple of days ago.’

“We will probably never find the bodies of the other two. Sometimes bodies come up in the bay after nine days, sometimes after 30 days—but usually they don’t come up at all.”

At the time of the break about 9:30 a.m., the tide had barely begun to ebb through the Gate. This would have been by rare luck in the favor of the escaping swimmers, because according to the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, the outgoing tide at the Gate at that time was running only 1.26 miles per hour, very slow.

However, chances normally for a successful escape from the Bay stronghold are slim, prison authorities said, because vicious tide rips whip about the Rock—powerful, clutching arms beneath the surface that only the strongest of swimmers could buck.

A Chronicle reporter toured the bay in the search area aboard a Coast Guard patrol boat and, as the fog ceiling lifted, watched the small fleet of armed hunters criss-cross the waters in the wave-by-wave combing.

There were few signs of life on the somber Rock as the press craft passed within 200 yards of the island.

Efforts to reach the island by telephone immediately after the escape’s flash were futile. Finally, a call got through and brought this crisp response from the prison clerk: “Too busy to talk.”

Later, Warden James A. Johnston cleared the first official news on the spectacular break in a wire to The Chronicle. The wire tersely related:

“Four long term prisoners, Brest life and 50, Hamilton 30 years, Hunter 25 years, Boarman 20 years sensational break from Alcatraz. They overpowered Captain of Guards Henry Weinhold and Custodian Officer Smith. Jumped into bay. Were seen by Officer Frank Johnson who gave alarm started shooting. Our launch was immediately dispatched. Two men were seen in water. It appears launch has picked up one or more, but that is uncertain as launch is still patrolling bay assisted by Coast Guard boats.”

Yesterday’s bloody break recalled the mysterious escape of Ralph Roe and Ted Cole in 1937. They filed their way out, leaped to a pile of old rubber tires on the rocky shore and swam away in a soupy fog.

Their fate was swallowed up in that fog. They may have reached safety, but prison authorities generally believe they met death in the frigid waters and in the millrace currents that swept past the Rock in a seven-mile-an-hour ebb tide.

Alcatraz has been the Isle d’If for America’s worst desperadoes—the unromantic, machine-gunning outlaws of modern times, kidnapers, robbers and gangsters—and has housed Al Capone, “Old Creepy” Karpis, “Doc” Barker and other warped killers of the underworld.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 14 April 1943, pages 1 and 14.

The Manhunt

Coast Guardsmen Patrol The Icy Waters of the Bay

By Jay Rosenburg

The water was so cold as an iced summer drunk and goose-pimping wind whipped the surface of the Bay into short, chopped waves.

The helmsman of the Coast Guard patrol boat from which a battery of photographers and reporters watched the search for the Alcatraz escapees pointed to an orange tank buoy anchored a few yards off Alcatraz Island.

“See how fast that tide’s going out. The float is stationary so you can see the water moving. It’s going out the Golden Gate at five knots an hour. It won’t change until 1:55 this afternoon,” he said.

“Those men must have jumped from this end of the Island. You can see for yourself which way they would go no matter which way they were trying to swim.”


As the patrol boat with the newsmen made sweeping circles around the Island a number of other Coast Guard, Alcatraz and police craft systematically searched the area immediately surround the Island.

Starting form a distance, the boats would circle, coming closer on each loop until they came within a few yards of the “Rock.”

Visibility was excellent since the mild fog had lifted about an hour after the escape. For example, a stick of driftwood or a bird on the surface could been seen easily for 150 yards.

When the Coast Guard boat was nearing the “Rock” it was possible to see clearly men on the steep embankment of the Island searching for the escapees. The patrol boat breaking into the waves splashed spray over the bow of the boat. The spray was ice cold.

Later, when the boat returned, special officers, military police and others searched along the shore in an attempt to discover the convicts.

Patrolmen walked along the rocky formations near St. Francis Yacht harbor to ascertain if their bodies had been washed ashore.

When the tide shifted and started moving inward from the Golden Gate, special details of military police equipped with field glasses kept a careful watch on drifting objects in the water.

Throughout the afternoon a handful of small boats watched the shoreline. Military police in jeeps stopped every 100 yards or so to look out over the water, and to climb down into the rocky cliffs of the San Francisco side of the bay.

In addition, several carloads of officers were parked at likely places where a man swimming might land or where the tide would wash a body.

Word of the escape spread rapidly, and scores of curious people parked their cars along St. Francis Yacht Harbor and at points in the Marina to watch the bay waters.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 14 April 1943, page 9.

Convicts Pinned Hopes on Stolen Army Uniforms

With the abortive prison break of the four Alcatraz desperadoes yesterday police discovered an ingenious plan which the convicts hoped to secure their freedom, a plan that hinged on four one-gallon cans.

The cans were described as wire-handled and containing articles of clothing stolen from the prison—an army shirt, a pair of shoes and an army overseas cap. It is apparent that the prisoners intended to don these garments when they reached shore and pose as soldiers.

Two of the cans have been found and the others are sought by police and Army authorities.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 14 April 1943, page 9.

The Men Who Tried Escape

Tough Careers Lie Behind ‘The Rock’ Break

Three of the quartet who attempted to escape form Alcatraz were ranked among the most dangerous criminals in the United States, one of them, Floyd Hamilton, 36, having held the Nation’s crime crown as Public Enemy No. 1.

Hamilton held the FBI designation only briefly, for he was captured in Dallas, Texas, August 21, 1938, after shooting his way out of an Arkansas trap earlier. He was shot in the foot in attempting to flee arrest.

He was a brother of the notorious Raymond Hamilton, executed for murder after terrorizing the Southwest in 1933-34 as head of the notorious Barrow-Parker-Hamilton gang. Two of this gang, Clyde Barrow, and his “moll,” Bonnie Parker, were slain by Texas officers in am ambush on May 23, 1934.


All of the quartet had been involved in bank robberies, two of them kidnapings. Hamilton was serving a sentence for bank robbery. he had escaped jail once before.

Fred Hunter, 43, oldest of the quartet and last man captured, was arrested with the then No. 1 Public Enemy, Alvin Karpis, in Cleveland in May, 1936. He was sentenced for harboring Karpis, the “creepy” criminal implicated in the Hamm and Bremer kidnappings. He was a suspect in the $46,000 Garretsville mail robbery in November, 1935.

James A. Boardman, first victim of the prison guards’ gunfire, was the baby of the outfit. He was 24, of Indianapolis, and had been sentenced from Denver in October, 1940, for bank robbery.

The remaining member, Harold Martin Brest, 31, was captured while attempting to assist the wounded Boarman. He had the distinction of having been one of the only two convicts to win release from Alcatraz by habeas corpus, but it was a short-lived privilege.

Upon his release, he was re-arrested and tried in a Pittsburgh, Pa., bank robbery and kidnaping, and received new sentences of life imprisonment plus 55 years.

He had claimed that he had been deprived of counsel when convicted in 1937 for a bank robbery and sentenced to life and two terms of 25 and five years.

His crime record included auto theft, blackmail, kidnaping and bank robbery. he had been accused of the attempted murder of a police chief in Zeeland, Mich., in 1936.

Although Hunter and Hamilton had been considered among the most desperate criminals then at large, both had surrendered without a struggle in their final arrests before imprisonment on Alcatraz. Hamilton was unarmed when captured in Dallas, having lost his weapons, he said, and having hid in the woods for 10 days after escaping earlier capture.

Both Hunter and Karpis gave up without a struggle in New Orleans in 1936 when faced by a cordon of guns trained on them by FBI agents.

Before his arrest with Karpis, Hunter had been known to police in his home town of Warren, Ohio, as a professional gambler. He had left his home town a few years before to join the big-time criminals.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 14 April 1943, page 14.

Alcatraz Break

Hunter Faces 15 Years More, Loses Parole

For less than eight hours of liberty—a brief swim in rushing cold water and long hours of shivering in shorts under slimy debris in a dank cave—Fred Hunter may have to pay heavily, in years of confinement.

Hunter, 43-year-old desperado, was one of the quartet of Alcatraz convicts who overpowered two guards Tuesday morning and broke out of the Rock in a mad dash for freedom that ended in death for two, recapture for two.

If Hunter, member of the erstwhile Alvin (“Old Creepy”) Karpis band of robbers and kidnapers, had controlled his urge to escape and had continued good behavior, he would have been eligible for parole in a little more than two years, September, 1943.

Now, according to U.S. Attorney Frank J. Hennessey, he faces another 15 years—five for attempted escape and 10 for attacking an officer with a deadly weapon, a prison-made shiv or knife. In addition, he faces fines on those counts totaling $15,000.

As for the other recaptured convict, Harold Brest, Pennsylvania bank robber, Hennessey had this to say:

“I see no purpose in prosecuting Brest, because he has forfeited all good time he may have accumulated, and he’s already serving life and 50 years. However, that will be left up to Washington.”

Search continued for the bodies of the luckless members of the escape quartet—James A. Boarman, Indianapolis bank robber, and Floyd Hamilton, Southwest outlaw—riddled by tower guards’ bullets and either killed outright or drowned.

Brest once before “escaped” Alcatraz on his own initiative and was sorry for it. He instituted and won a habeas corpus proceedings, was sent back to Pittsburgh for a retrial, only to have his original sentence of 45 years boosted to life and 50.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 15 April 1943, page 7.

Alcatraz Fugitive

Last Convict of Escape Quartet Found on Island

Like a bad little boy who ran away from home and came crawling back in trembling fear of a spanking, Floyd Hamilton sneaked back to his Alcatraz home under cover of night.

Ironically, he came back to his home on the Rock via the same bar-spread window through which he and four fellow desperadoes leaped Tuesday in a spectacular, freedom-crazed break.

And when he was found cowering under a pile of material in a storeroom of the model building, Hamilton presented a pitiful spectacle, a far cry from the erstwhile swaggering scourge of the Southwest in the days of the bizarre Bonnie Parker and her band of killers and robbers and kidnapers.

Hamilton, once the Texas badman scornful of life—other’s live, that is—cringed in abject terror in his hiding place. His makeshift prison garb was in tatters. His face and body were lacerated and crimson streaked from the jagged rocks of the cave where he crouched for four days and from falls on the rocky cliff up which he scrambled—back to the haven of a cell. Dried salt from the surf’s spray in the cave caked his hair and eyebrows.

Hamilton’s discovery was revealed in a terse wire from Warden J.A. Johnston that read:

“Have just found Hamilton, who says he was in a cave. Never got far because he couldn’t make it. Says he’s sick, sore, wet, hungry.”

Two others of the quartet that overpowered two guards and leaped, most of them clad only in underwear, through the model shop window and down 30 feet to the rock strewn shore in a mad dash for freedom, were recaptured. The fourth is listed as dead.

Hamilton’s hide-out cave on the northernmost tip of the Rock was the same refuge taken by Fred Hunter, 43, onetime member of the notorious Alvin (“Old Creepy”) Karpis kidnap-killer mob. Hunter, shivering and remorseful, was found by guards late Tuesday afternoon.

The other two were Harold Martin Brest, 31, Pennsylvania bank robber and kidnaper, hauled out of the chill bay waters by a prison launch, and James A. Boarman, 24, Indianapolis bank robber, who made good his escape—in death. Boarman, riddled by bullets of the gun tower guards, slipped from Brest’s grasp and slid beneath the waves as the launch came alongside.

Hamilton had previously been listed as dead by prison authorities, who said eyewitnesses saw him sink after being winged by rifle slugs. In the prison hospital, he told this story:

“When I got down to the water, I grabbed a plank for a getaway. I got out a ways and saw I couldn’t make it with the plank, but was afraid to let go. When the shooting started (fusillades poured out of the high guard towers), I did let go, made it back to shore and crawled in the cave with Hunter.


“I thought I’d suffocate, I was wet and cold all the time. The water came up around me when the tide came in.

“Last night I saw I couldn’t make it. There wasn’t a chance any more. So I crawled out and back up the rocks and into the building through the same hole we got out of.”

By coincidence, it was Captain of the Guards Henry Weinhold, one of the two officers slugged and gagged by the quartet in the break, who found the cringing desperado in the model shop.

Weinhold was inspecting the shop, still searching for the implement used in the escape, when he discovered Hamilton half hidden under a pile of materials. The one-time outlaw, who had already surrendered to the cold and hunger, readily gave himself up to the guard captain. He had not been wounded by gunfire.

An explanation as to why the guards had not found Hamilton in the cave Tuesday when Hunter was recaptured was this: The cave, one of many honeycombing the sheer cliff walls of the prison island, has a series of rock-jagged passageways negotiable only by crawling, and is piled up with concrete blocks and materials to prevent further tidal erosion.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 17 April 1943, pages 1 and 7.


In 1910 an Alcatraz prisoner, doing drab clerical work, brightened a dull day. He forged his release papers, presented them according to rule, departed through the island gate, boarded a San Francisco ferry, noiselessly disappeared. By last week the spirit of escape had changed. Jail break met murder-thriller standards; sirens, blood, and machine-guns had their role.

“The Rock” as a whole had changed. An early Spanish fortress, a Civil War military prison, the island was made a Federal penitentiary in 1934. It had one purpose—to punish. The grim, bleak island had no ladies’ club visitors. The rules were not designed to reclaim a man for society or rehabilitate a soul. They were spirit-breakers. Separate cells, a ban on radios and newspapers, one visitor per month, and a hated silence were the worst aspect of an Alcatraz sentence.

It was the abode for top public enemies, Nos. 1 to 10, and rebellious or sullen trouble makers of other prisons. Noted guests: “Scarface” Al Capone, “Doc” Barker, and “Old Creepy” Karpis.

Escape was not tempting. The barriers were tough guards with good aim, a rock cliff, and a cold, swirling current. Officials boasted it was “escape proof.” Attorney General Frank Murphy paid a visit and called it a “medieval blot.”

A few desperate breaks were attempted. None proved definitely successful. Ralph Roe and Theodore Cole, Oklahoma badmen, hacked bars, jimmied gate locks, and disappeared into a soupy Bay fog one day in 1937. Whether they went ashore in a boat, out with the tide, or down with the undertow, nobody ever knew. But last week’s details were definite.

Suddenly, the captain of the guard was slugged, gagged, and bound. Four prisoners grappled with officers and stopped them with “shivs,” prison-made knives. Clad in underwear, shorts, the four leaped barefooted 30 feet from a window to the rocky shore. Two of the four cans that would have kept them afloat, and which contained Army uniforms, would not go through the window.

A whistle blew. An alarm sounded. Sirens wailed. Rifles in high guntowers spurted bullets. Inmates were herded to their cells. The prison launch churned. In the icy water a body sagged, wounded, went down. It was Floyd Hamilton, onetime public enemy No. 1, gun pal of the Southwest’s Clyde Barrow and his cigar-smoking moll, Bonnie Parker. He was serving 30 years for bank robbery.

The launch pulled up alongside Harold Brest, floating on his back, naked, and clutching wounded James Boarman, Indianapolis bank robber. Brest, doing “life” for bank robbery and kidnaping, reached for the launch, dropped Boarman. The criminal sank.

Eight hours later a boatful of guards saw blood on a shore rock. They got out and peered. Fred Hunter was in a cave, wounded from the leap and shivering from the cold. There was little protection in the dank debris he had hidden in. He came out, skinny and stoop-shouldered. In a few hours the cohort of “Old Creepy” Karpis, eligible for parole in two years had lengthened his sentence by 15 years.

Three days later after the break Hamilton, given up for the dead, showed up in the prison “sick, sore, wet and hungry.” At week’s end guard patrols were waiting for Boarman’s body to float to the surface.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 18 April 1943, pages 9 and 10 (This World).

Guards Seize New Fugitive From Alcatraz

Alcatraz foiled another prison break yesterday when Ted Huron Walters, 30, Arkansas bank robber, was captured an hour after he escaped from the prison laundry, hiding on the island beach.

Walters was found on the beach opposite the laundry, on the Golden Gate side, where his planned getaway was balked by the cold tide, said Warden James Johnston.

Walters is a former associate of Floyd Hamilton, one-time No. 1 desperado, who less than five months ago was captured when he and three other prisoners attempted an unsuccessful break from “The Rock.” Hamilton hid out for three days in a rocky cavern on the beach of the prison before his capture.


Walter was missed shortly after he had sneaked through a laundry door and over the fence, the Warden said. Five Coast Guard boats joined the prison launch in a search of the waters about the prison before Walters was captured by the prison’s beach patrol.

The prisoner was serving a sentence of 30 years for three crimes, bank robbery, violation of the Dyer act (auto theft) and assault. He had been transferred to Alcatraz in June 1940, from Leavenworth prison where he had been confined after sentence at Fort Smith, Ark., in 1938.

With Hamilton, Walters had been captured near Dallas, Texas, after a four-month search. And with Hamilton, he had pleaded guilty to robbing the Bank of Bradley, Ark., of more than $600. The pair was sentenced simultaneously.

Warden Johnston said Walters had escaped from the Texas State Prison in 1936.

The break came less than five months after four prisoners, three of them top public enemies, failed to make good their attempted escape. One of the quartet James A. Boardman, 24, drowned after being shot while attempting to swim away from “The Rock.”

The other three: Hamilton who was captured after hiding for three days in a cold, rocky cave in the island; Fred Hunter, one-time cohort of “Old Creepy” Alvin Karpis, big-time kidnaper, was captured in a cave eight hours after break; Harold Brest, 31, kidnaper and bank robber, was captured in the water trying to swim with the wounded Boarman.

Boarman sank when Brest released his hold after being overtaken by the prison launch. The escape attempt was made April 13.

No one is known definitely to have escaped the grim prison since it became the place of punishment for Federal convicts in 1934.

Ralph Roe and Theodore Cole, Oklahoma badmen, jimmied their way out in 1937 and disappeared into a gray fog that surrounded the bleak island. Whether they went ashore in a boat, or drowned in their desperate bid for freedom is not known.

But Alcatraz officials have long placed confidence in the cold, swirling waters about the prison as an effective barrier to freedom, despite the fact that in 1933 two girls swam from the San Francisco shore to Alcatraz and then around the island.

In 1938, Thomas R. Limerick, Rufus Franklin and James C. Lucas, all bank robbers, slugged the senior custodial officer to death in an attempted escape. Limerick was killed, Franklin and Lucas were tried for murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 8 August 1943, pages 1 and 11.

Alcatraz ‘Break’

Prisoner Makes The Boat—but Goes Right Back

Alcatraz Prison, San Francisco Bay’s so-called “impregnable fortress,” lost one of its star boarders for half an hour yesterday when John K. Giles, 50, mail robber and four-time loser, assembled an Army uniform, hopped aboard an Army launch and rode comfortably to Fort McDowell.

He was captured as soon as the launch, the General Frank M. Coxe that plies between Alcatraz and Fort Mason, docked at Fort McDowell.

Giles, catalogued by Alcatraz Warden Johnston as a “shrewd, scheming fellow,” apparently had been planning his desperate bid for freedom for some time.


Sentenced to Alcatraz May 11, 1935, for an attempted robbery of a Denver and Rio Grande Western mail train in Salt Lake City, Giles has worked as a prison dock stevedore for the last eight years.

At 10:40 a.m. yesterday, when the General Coxe pulled into the Alcatraz pier Giles, wearing an Army Staff Sergeant’s uniform, was stationed under the dock armed only with a flash light.

According to Corporal Paul Lorinz, sergeant-at-arms aboard the launch, the convict jumped aboard the boat through a freight hatchway below deck and located amidship.

A count of the soldiers aboard, Lorinz said, disclosed one extra serviceman and this information was relayed to the guard on the Alcatraz dock.

Almost simultaneous a count of the Alcatraz dock workers revealed that one convict was missing. Informed of this, Assistant Warden E.J. Miller hurried to the pier, followed the General Coxe in a small speed boat and was on hand when the Coxe pulled in to Fort McDowell.


Unaware for the whole of his brief ferry ride that he was under close surveillance, Giles gazed nonchalantly out to sea, passengers reported.

During conversations with servicemen he said he was a “lineman working on the cable” that stretches through that area of the bay.

As he strode down the gangplank Giles was questioned closely by Lieutenant Gordon L. Kilgore, officer of the day, who on his own initiative tabbed the convict because he was not wearing a “Class A” uniform.

Lieutenant Kilgore inspected Giles’ passes, detected they were crude forgeries and forthwith turned him over to Assistant Warden Miller.

Giles’ brief moment of freedom ended at 11 o’clock and by noon he was en route back to Alcatraz, where he was placed in detention for questioning and examination.


Warden Johnston said that Giles automatically forfeits his good conduct credits that would have reduced his 25-year term to 16 years and in addition faces prosecution on a variety of charges, including impersonating a soldier, escaping from a Federal prison, and boarding a Federal boat without authority.

FBI Chief Nat Pieper said the matter would be turned over to U.S. Attorney Frank Hennessy.

Still in a flurry over the ease of which Giles departed “The Rock,” prison officials expressed belief that the convict collected various pieces of his uniform from the large cargoes of service items that are cleaned and laundered at the prison.

The bags are always shaken down on the dock to insure that no contraband makes its way through the prison gates.

Just where Giles collected a pair of dog tags found around his neck is not known.


Unconcerned over his apprehension, Giles informed Sergeant Shirley W. Casey, a guard on the Alcatraz dock, that he “had his chance to get away—and had nothing to lose.”

He said he had no idea he was suspected of being an Alcatraz convict until Assistant Warden Miller loomed out of the crowd on the Fort McDowell dock and snapped a pair of handcuffs on him.

Known to police for more than half of his 50 years, Giles served a term in Walla Walla Penitentiary in 1915 for robbery and in 1919 was sentenced to life imprisonment in Oregon for murder. he escaped from Salem Prison in 1934 and made his next spectacular appearance on February 2, 1935 when, with six confederates, he attempted to rob the Denver and Rio Grande mail train as it was pulling out of Salt Lake City.

He and two others, suspected of counterfeiting, were taken into custody in St. Paul on February 20 of that year and were returned to Salt Lake for trial.


Records disclose that with two others Giles halted the mail train, climbed into the cab and forced the locomotive crew back to the locked mail car.

Firing three times into the air, Giles signaled four accomplices to gather on the other side of the car, and the seven then attempted to get the mail car door open. When their bullets went wild they tossed a bottle of ammonia through the car window but the reinforced window failed to shatter. With that the mail clerks returned the desperadoes fire and the seven fled in a waiting truck.

Giles was found guilty by a U.S. District Court of placing the lives of Government mail clerks in jeopardy and with assaulting and interfering with mail clerks during performance of duty. The first count carried a 25-year term and the second, a 3-year term, the two running concurrently.

Five of the group were captured and as far as known two members of the gang are still at large.


Alcatraz’s last attempted prison break occurred in August of 1943 when Ted Huron Walters, an Arkansas bank robber, was captured an hour after he escaped from the prison laundry and hid on the island beach.

Five months earlier four top ranking public enemies including Floyd Hamilton, failed to make good their escape. One of the quartet, James A. Boardman, drowned after being shot while trying to swim away from “The Rock.”

Hamilton was captured later after hiding for three days in a rocky cave on the island. Fred Hunter was retaken after hiding eight hours in another cave, and Harold Brest was captured in the water trying to swim with the wounded Boardman.

No one is known definitely to have escaped the island prison since it became the penitentiary for the country’s incorrigibles in 1934.

Ralph Roe and Theodore Cole, Oklahoma bad men, jimmied their way out in 1937 and disappeared into a dense fog that surrounded the island.

Whether they went ashore in a boat or drowned in their efforts to swim to the mainland has never been determined.

In 1938, Thomas R. Limerick, Rufus Franklin and James C. Lucas, all bank robbers, slugged the senior custodial officer to death in an attempted escape. Limerick was killed. Franklin and Lucas were tried for murder and sentenced to life imprisonment.

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 1 August 1945, pages 1 and 9.

Giles Planned Alcatraz Break for 10 Years

John K. Giles’ brief moment of freedom from Alcatraz was the result of 10 years’ planning.

This was the disclosure yesterday of Warden Johnston, who said that the four-time loser who escaped from the bay prison by the simple expedient of donning an Army uniform and walking aboard an Army launch Tuesday morning is now in a “desperate situation.”

Recaptured by Army and prison officials as he stepped off the Army launch General Frank M. Coxe, Giles is now being held in detention where, said the warden, the convict is meditating.


Warden Johnston said that in addition to serving a 25-year sentence for an attempted robbery of a Denver and Rio Grande Western mail train, Giles has hanging over his head a life sentence for an Oregon murder. He said Giles served 15 years of this term in the Salem prison and then escaped.

Whether the Government will prosecute Giles for violation of several Federal statutes in his bid for freedom Tuesday has not yet been determined, FBI Chief Nat Pieper said.


Giles, he explained, could be tried for impersonating a solider; for boarding a Federal vessel without authority and for violating the Federal escape law.

Pieper said the facts of the Giles escape are now being investigated and a file will be presented to U.S. Attorney Frank Henness, who will determine what legal steps will be taken against the 50-year-old felon.

Giles, Warden Johnston said, is in a “philosophic frame of mind.”

“He told me,” the warden said, “that time means nothing to him—that he had everything to gain by trying to escape and nothing to lose. And he also said he had been planning a getaway since his imprisonment here in 1935.”

Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 2 August 1945, page 9.


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