Alcatraz Prisoners Who Almost Escaped Alcatraz Prison

A panoramic view of Alcatraz Island.
A panoramic view of Alcatraz Island. | Source

Is Alcatraz Haunted?

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Alcatraz Island is home to the historical prison most well known for holding many ghost tales and mysteries. Many of these mysteries will never be uncovered, for instance, did the convicts that died while trying to escape this massive hell truly stick around the prison haunting visitors of today? Although no one will know for sure, we do know that there were many men who sought to escape the prison and very few who survived such great feats. Fortunately, through these men's attempts we have learned how to better protect our modern maximum security prisons. Three stories regarding attempted escapes are Arthur 'Doc' Barker, John Paul Scott, and Bernard Coy and his accomplices, which can be observed through the National Geographic documentary: Alcatraz: Living Hell, and retold here.

Alcatraz Prison Photo

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Arthur 'Doc" Barker: One of the Inmates of Alcatraz

In 1909 when the military prison was built they used traditional steel bars that could be sawed through. But in 1934, when it became a maximum strength prison, they replaced some of the bars with heat treated, tool resistant bars. The tool resistant bars would never have allowed a hacksaw to get through, instead it would have only ruined the saw without leaving a dent in the bar. Regrettably, due to the Depression, they were not able to upgrade all the bars, there was one segment that did not have the treated metal and had the original flat steel bars that were originally built in 1909.

Arthur 'Doc' Barker was imprisoned in one of these cells and successfully broke through his bars with a hacksaw. Once he and his five accomplices cut through the bars, they worked on the next segment of their plan. While they devised this plan, they hid the cuts they made through their cell walls with paint, so no one would notice they could escape. Unfortunately for the men, there was the treated metal around the windows once released through, but they discovered they could use a bar spreader on these, which would place pressure between the bars bending them apart until they would eventually break. He and four other men eventually broke through both sections of bars. Once done, they started building a makeshift raft. Unfortunately for 'Doc' and his gang, the guards caught them. 'Doc' was shot in the head, and the other men surrendered.

Some believe Arthur Barker has never left the island even after his burial? Hmm...

Alcatraz In San Fransisco

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John Paul Scott: One of Alcatraz Escapees

Twenty-four years later, John Paul Scott decided to stake his own hand at an escape. He was imprisoned near the kitchen basement where there was not as tight security. He and one other man worked on the bars that blocked the windows by using a piece of string dipped in wax and coated with scouring powder. The men methodically sawed at the bars a little everyday. It took them over a year using this method, but eventually cut through the bars. Once they escaped they used floats made of rubber gloves. His accomplice did not make it through the sea before being caught, but Scott made it all the way to San Fransisco. Unfortunately he was hypothermic, and barely made it out alive. He was then returned to prison there.

Alcatraz Prison Photos

The three men in the morgue, after their attempted escape.
The three men in the morgue, after their attempted escape. | Source

Coy, Hubbard, and Cretzer: Famous Alcatraz Inmates

Guards learned a way to open the doors away through a sliding door locking system that allowed the correctional officer to open and unlock doors from a secure location. This became a much more secure way for both the inmate and officers in charge. Although, despite the new system, there was a key that they would use that was highly secured. But there was one man who unsuccessfully escaped after getting a hold of that key by the name of Bernard Coy, a convicted bank robber. He earned the guards trust by doing jobs at the prison, delivering library books to the inmates.

One of his jobs was to clean the prison floor. He had his accomplice make a lot of commotion distracting the guards away from the main cell door. When the guard approached Coy's accomplice, Coy's accomplice Marvin Hubbard knocked the guard unconscious. Then Coy stole the key from the guard, released the other two accomplices. Coy stripped down to make it easier to escape. With a bar spreader he widened the bars so he could get through. He then knocked the guard out that guards the gun gallery, and began stealing their guns. He then passed the guns and the key to another accomplice, by the name Joe Cretzer. He captured guards and locked them in a cell.

Once they arrived at the main door, they went to use the main key, but there were a lot of keys. They tried many of the keys but none of them worked. By the time they found the correct one, the lock was jammed, but it was too late, because the marines were called. The three men decided that they would rather die than be captured and were eventually killed.

Through many of these attempts, our maximum security prisons learned a lot about what we need to have high security. For one, they now use the heat treated, tool resistant bars always. They also now have a complete keyless system that is entirely controlled by buttons in a control room, and so guards can never be attacked for the key, for there is never a key to be used. Today we also have learned that bars are not always the safest and most secure way to restrain prisoners. Since the time Alcatraz has been active, they have come up with mesh steel walls, as well as bullet proof windows that allow inmates to be imprisoned with very little opportunity to escape.

© 2011 Angela Michelle

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Comments 10 comments

angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 4 years ago from United States Author

I am jealous, I have always wanted to visit San Fransisco, although if I go, Alcatraz would be one of my primary destinations!


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 4 years ago from Houston, Texas

Interesting story about how they learned from prisoner escapes of how to make our prisons more secure. We have visited San Francisco several times but have yet to visit Alcatraz Island. Voted up and interesting.


angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 4 years ago from United States Author

I'm glad you enjoyed it!


sacredlilac profile image

sacredlilac 4 years ago from Canada via England

Very interesting read. Thanks for sharing!


angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 4 years ago from United States Author

MLJDgulley, thank you!


angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 4 years ago from United States Author

Marwan, glad to hear it!


mljdgulley354 profile image

mljdgulley354 4 years ago

I am glad to hear that lessons are learned in these events. Well written hub, easily read and made an impression as to what happens in places that you are not familiar with.


marwan asmar profile image

marwan asmar 4 years ago from Amman, Jordan

Good read


angela_michelle profile image

angela_michelle 5 years ago from United States Author

I find Alcatraz absolutely fascinating.


moiragallaga profile image

moiragallaga 5 years ago from Lisbon, Portugal

Interesting stories. Alcatraz is quite well known and had quite a reputation. Thanks for sharing this piece of information.

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