The FBI, the Coast Guard, San Francisco police and other lawmen searched the cold waters of San Francisco Bay and surrounding shorelines the morning of June 12, 1962, seeking three men who had escaped from fabled Alcatraz federal prison. Their flight the previous night became the basis for a popular Clint Eastward movie, "Escape from Alcatraz," released in 1979. Two of the elusive convicts -- whose fate remains a mystery -- started their journey to "the Rock" in Hamilton four a half years earlier.
Seven FBI agents nabbed three Anglin brothers -- one sought for bank robbery and two escapees from a state prison in Railroad, Fla. -- in adjacent apartment buildings on Dayton Street Wednesday, Jan. 23, 1958. Freedom for John, 27, Clarence, 26, and Robert, 23, ended that morning in buildings that occupied the present site of a parking lot opposite Mercy Hospital.
John Angolan of Buskin, Fla., was wanted for a $19,000 bank robbery in Columbia, Ala., six days earlier. He and a Hamilton woman and her child were apprehended at 109 Dayton Street. Clarence Anglin was arrested later when he walked into the dwelling. Agents found Robert Anglin and his wife in an apartment at 105 Dayton Street.
The FBI also recovered about $18,000, weapons, ammunition and tools.
Unexplained was why the fugitives came to Hamilton. "The Anglins," the Journal-News emphasized, "are no relation of Hamilton people by the same name."
From Hamilton, the brothers were taken to Cincinnati by FBI agents. Later, after an escape and recapture, John and Clarence were sent to Alcatraz, an island prison reserved for the most troublesome and most dangerous criminals from July 1934 to March 1963.
Swift currents, dangerous undertows, the distance to the mainland and reports of sharks in the cold water discouraged escape by the 260 to 302 prisoners usually confined there. But those obstacles didn’t deter every one of 1,545 inmates who spent time on "the Rock.".
During the 29 years Alcatraz operated, 36 prisoners (including two who tried to escape twice) were involved in 14 separate escape attempts. The fate of 31 is known -- 22 captured, seven shot and killed, and two drowned.
John Anglin, Clarence Anglin and Frank Lee Morris (played by Eastwood in the movie) were involved in the 13th escape attempt.
Before June 11, 1962, with help from other inmates, they prepared an escape route through vents and utility conduits to the roof of the cellhouse. From there, they are believed to have climbed down a drainpipe to reach the water’s edge.
The key to their flight was a convincing ruse left behind in their cells. It fooled guards making early rounds and perhaps gave the convicts a head start of more than nine hours on their pursuers. With soap and other materials, they had fashioned dummy heads, including human hair. The realistic skulls were placed on their bunks. When the fakery was discovered, the three men were already in the water.
Uncertain is how they planned to cross at least a mile and a quarter of San Francisco Bay. Evidence indicates the trio may have tried to build a pontoon-type raft fashioned from prison-issue raincoats.
Their survival is questionable. Officially, the Anglins and Morris are considered "missing and presumed drowned."
Evidence includes the discovery several weeks after the Morris-Anglin flight of a body so badly decomposed that it couldn’t be identified. Searchers also found items believed to have belonged to the fugitives.
The 14th and last try to escape Alcatraz came six months later. John Paul Scott and Daryl Parker fled the island Dec. 16, 1962, but both were captured.
The temporary success of one of the pair has helped to foster the idea that one or more of the Anglin-Morris threesome may have survived. Scott made it safely to the mainland near Fort Point before collapsing from exhaustion and hypothermia.
Three months and a week later -- March 21, 1963 -- Alcatraz closed as a prison. Since 1973, it has been a national park. One of the features of the tour of the island is a visit to the cells of the Anglins and Morris, complete with an explanation of their June 11, 1962, plot.