this day in crime history: january 13, 1939

On this date in 1939, five inmates, including Arthur “Doc” Barker of the infamous Barker-Karpis gang, attempted to escape from the federal prison on Alcatraz Island. The men escaped from the cell house after sawing and bending the bars on a window. They made their way to the shoreline and attempted to escape on a makeshift raft. When they were discovered, three of the inmates, William Martin, Henri Young, and Rufus McCain surrendered. Barker and inmate Dale Stamphill were shot by guards. Barker died later from his wounds.

Further reading:

Alcatraz Escape Attempts

Alcatraz – Escapes

Alcatraz – Arthur “Doc” Barker

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this day in crime history: december 16, 1962


On this date in 1962 – the 25th anniversary of the Cole/Roe escape attempt – Alcatraz inmates John Paul Scott and Darl Lee Parker took a shot at busting out of The Rock. After bending the bars on the kitchen window, they made it to the shore and swam for it using inflated rubber gloves as makeshift water wings. Parker made it about 100 yards and stopped on a rock formation near the island. He was found there half an hour after the escape was discovered by prison officials. Scott was found an hour and a half after Parker, unconscious and suffering from hypothermia. He had made it to Fort Point, underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. After a stint in a nearby hospital, Scott was returned to Alcatraz. John Paul Scott is the only Alcatraz escapee who ever successfully swam to the mainland… that we know of.

Further reading:

Utica Observer“2 Escape from Alcatraz; Freedom Short Lived”

Alcatraz History – Escape Attempts

this day in crime history: december 16, 1937

On this day in 1937, Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe decided they needed a change of scenery. The two Oklahomans were inmates at the infamous federal prison on Alcatraz Island. Over a long period of time, they had filed through the bars on one of the windows in the prison mat shop, where they worked. They waited for a stormy day, when the guards in the towers would be less likely to see them leave the prison. When the time was right, they crawled through the window and disappeared. When prison officials discovered that the men were missing, they conducted an exhaustive search of the island, but there was no sign of the two men. It’s believed that the men tried to swim to shore using empty five gallon oil cans as floatation devices, and that the current – stronger than usual due to the storm – carried them out to sea, where they drowned.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Alcatraz Escape Attempts

Alcatraz History – Escape Attempts

this day in crime history: december 13, 2000

Texas7

On this date in 2000, seven inmates escaped from the John B. Connally Unit, a maximum security prison near Kenedy, TX. The inmates, who came to be known as the Texas Seven, overpowered corrections officers and civilian employees in the prison maintenance shop. They stole clothes, guns and a vehicle that they used to make their getaway.

After switching cars, the gang went to Pearland, TX, where they robbed a Radio Shack on December 14th. Five days later, they robbed a sporting goods store in Irving, TX. Their haul included cash, guns and ammunition. Before making their getaway, the gang was confronted by Irving Police Officer Aubrey Hawkins. Hawkins was ambushed by the gang, who shot him eleven times, then ran him over as they fled the scene of the crime. Hawkins later died of his injuries.

The gang made their way to Colorado, where they purchased a motor home and set up house at a trailer park in Woodland, CO. On January 21, 2001, the owner of the trailer park, tipped off by a friend who saw the group profiled on America’s Most Wanted, called police and reported the whereabouts of the fugitives.

A police SWAT team was deployed to the park. Officers cornered five of the men. Four of them eventually surrendered after a brief standoff. The fifth committed suicide rather than going back to prison.

Two days later, police tracked the two remaining fugitives to a hotel in Colorado Springs. After a short standoff, during which the escaped convicts gave a telephone interview to the news media, the men surrendered.

All six of the surviving escapees were tried and convicted of capital murder. Three of them have been executed. The remaining three are currently on death row at the Polunsky Unit prison in West Livingston, TX.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Texas Seven

The Dallas Morning News‘Texas 7’ escapee executed for killing Irving police officer

Irving Police – Officer Aubrey Wright Hawkins #830

this day in crime history: november 2, 1979


On this date in 1979, three members of the Black Liberation Army broke fellow BLA member Assata Shakur (aka Joanne Chesimard) out of the Clinton Correctional Facility for Women in Union Township, NJ. The escape began when the BLA members, posing as prison visitors, drew .45 pistols and took two guards hostage. They seized a prison van and used it to flee the prison with Shakur. Once outside the prison, they switched cars and made their getaway. The two hostages were released unharmed.

Shakur, step-aunt of the late rapper Tupac Shakur, was serving a life sentence for her role in the murder of New Jersey State Trooper Werner Foerster in 1973. After escaping prison, she lived as a fugitive in the U.S. She eventually fled to Cuba where she was granted asylum by the government.

Further reading:

FBI Podcast – JOANNE DEBORAH CHESIMARD

Wikipedia – Assata Shakur

this day in crime history: september 26, 1933

This one’s a two-fer. September 26, 1933 was a big day for crime stories.

MGKelly

On this date in 1933, George “Machine Gun Kelly” Barnes was arrested by FBI agents in Memphis, TN. Kelly, who was asleep when agents burst in on him, surrendered without incident.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Machine Gun Kelly

Amsterdam Evening Recorder – “Machine Gun” Kelly, Notorious Desperado, Captured in Memphis

ISP

Also on this date in 1933, ten inmates escaped from the Indiana State Prison in Michigan City. The inmates took hostages using three pistols that had been smuggled into the prison. The escapees included Dillinger associates Harry Pierpont, Charles Makley, Russell Clark, and John Hamilton.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Harry Pierpont

JohnDillinger.com – September 1933

this day in crime history: july 31, 1945

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.

Further reading (and viewing):

Alcatraz History – Alcatraz Escape Attempts

Video – John Giles 1945 Escape Attempt