On this date in 1945, inmate John Giles escaped from the federal prison at Alcatraz. Giles, a convicted train robber, worked on the prison’s dock loading and unloading military uniforms that were cleaned in the prison laundry. Over a period of time, Giles managed to steal a complete uniform, which he hid from guards. While dressed in the uniform, he boarded a ferry carrying a forged pass and left the island, headed for freedom. Or so he thought.
Luck and math weren’t working in Giles’s favor. The guards at Alcatraz soon realized they were one inmate short on their dock detail. And the senior officer on the ferry saw that he had somehow picked up an extra soldier. When the ferry arrived at its destination, nearby Angel Island (not San Francisco, as Giles had hoped), Giles stepped off the boat and into the hands of Alcatraz guards.
On this date in 1975, former (and wannabe future) teamster leader Jimmy Hoffa disappeared. Hoffa was scheduled to have a sit-down at the Machus Red Fox restaurant in Bloomfield, MI with Detroit mobster Anthony “Tony Jack” Giacalone and New Jersey labor leader Anthony “Tony Pro” Provenzano. Tony Pro, by the way, was also a made member of the Genovese crime family.
Hoffa’s plan was to mount a court challenge to a federal ban on his participation in union activities that would have kept him out of the Teamsters until 1981. With that out of the way, he could challenge his successor Frank Fitzsimmons for control of the Teamsters. Sadly for Jimmy, it looks like the mob had other ideas. He was last seen leaving the restaurant parking lot in an unidentified car.
On this date in 1976, an unidentified man shot two women, 18 year old Donna Lauria and her friend, 19 year old Jody Valenti, while they sat in a car in the Bronx. Lauria died from her wounds, while Valenti survived. These were the first shootings attributed to the “.44 Caliber Killer,” who would later be known as the “Son of Sam.” A year and two days later, postal worker David Berkowitz would be arrested for the crime. Prior to being caught, Berkowitz would go on to kill five more victims and wound another six. Berkowitz was convicted of the crimes and is currently incarcerated at Sullivan Correctional Facility in Fallsburg, NY. His next parole hearing is scheduled for May 2016.
On this day in 1996, a bomb was detonated at the Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta, GA during the 1996 Summer Olympics. One person was killed by the blast. Another died of a heart attack at the scene.
The bomb, actually three pipe bombs in a military-style pack, was discovered by security guard Richard Jewell. Jewell managed to clear most of the spectators away from the area before the detonation. In addition to the two fatalities, 111 people were injured.
Jewell was hailed as a hero. At first. Within three days of the bombing, the FBI leaked to several media outlets that Jewell was a “person of interest” in the investigation. Jewell was painted in the media as a failed wannabe cop who planted the bomb in order to play hero. NBC talking head Tom Brokaw said, “The speculation is that the FBI is close to making the case. They probably have enough to arrest him right now, probably enough to prosecute him, but you always want to have enough to convict him as well. There are still some holes in this case.” As it turns out, there were more holes than there was case.
By October, the FBI had given up on Jewell for lack of evidence. The US Attorney went so far as to send Jewell a letter informing him that he had been cleared of any wrongdoing related to the bombing.
Jewell sued the media outlets that had libeled him. He reached settlements with NBC, CNN, the New York Post, and his former employer, Piedmont College. A lawsuit against the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was dismissed in 2007 after Jewell died at the age of 44.
After clearing Jewell, the investigation into the bombing stalled out until early 1997, when two more bombings occurred in the Atlanta area. While investigating the bombings of an abortion clinic and a lesbian nightclub, investigators noted similarities between those bombs and the one detonated at the Olympics. Evidence from the 1997 bombings led the feds to a new suspect: Eric Robert Rudolph.
In May 1998, Rudolph was added to the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. He was believed to be hiding somewhere in the Appalachians. Multiple searches were unable to locate him. He was finally arrested in May 2003 in Murphy, NC. Officer Jeffery Postell spotted him behind a Save-a-lot store at four in the morning. Suspecting a burglary in progress, Postell arrested Rudolph, who was unarmed.
In exchange for not receiving a death sentence, and for revealing the location of a large cache of dynamite, Eric Rudolph pleaded guilty to all charges. He is currently incarcerated at the federal supermax prison in Florence, CO. He will never be eligible for parole.
On this date in 1980, rock band AC/DC released the album Back in Black. It was the band’s seventh studio album, and their first with lead singer Brian Johnson, who replaced the late Bon Scott. It has been certified as the second best-selling album of all time. Back in Black, in my humble opinion, is tied with Led Zeppelin II as the greatest rock and roll album of all time. Hard to believe it’s been 35 years already. Time flies when you’re alive.