Escape Artist – The Amazing Craftsmanship of the most Famous Fugitives

I always been fascinated by the adventurous and amazing escape from the Alcatraz Prison by Frank Lee Morris, and the brothers Clarence and John William Anglin on 12 june 1962. A fourth man Allen Clyton West failed the escape.
The film starring Clint Eastwood has often accompanied my thoughts to imagine the emotions and sufferings of the men who have succeeded in a purpose deemed impossible by many peoples. Everyone of us knows the story in detail but it is so surprising to find photographs of the work that they have improvised searching to get the freedom.

I am especially fascinated discovering  the details of the dummy’s faces that they have placed into their beds during the nights to simulate their presence to the guards. During night time they working at the opening of the air intake of the cells, which would run away. The plaster heads deceived the guard thought they was sleeping. They organized the escape with makeshift tracking materials fee. The heads were made with very little equipment and materials, I think that one could not do better. They was not sculptors as well as people with artistic skills, but their handmade heads were modeled and painted so effectively that the guards never discovered during preparations of the prison break. The photo on the right was taken in the Clarence Anglin’s cell the morning of discovery. In this way have fooled the guards during the turn.

Frank Lee Morris fake head, 1962 ca.

Wire, cotton bandage, human hair and plaster painted.

H 25, W 25, D 17. Golden Gate National Recreation Area, GOGA 407.

Two images of Clarence Anglin’s fake head, 1962 ca.

Wire, cotton bandage, soap, human hair and plaster painted.  H 23, W 21, D 14.  The head was restored in 1981 when was added the cement on the back.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, GOGA 405.

John Anglin’s fake head, 1962 ca.

Wire, cotton bandage, human hair and plaster painted.  H 23, W 21, D 14.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, GOGA 406.

Allen Clayton West’s fake head, 1962 ca.

Wire, cotton bandage, human hair and plaster painted.  H 23, W 13, D 11.

Golden Gate National Recreation Area, GOGA 404.

Studying in detail the heads we will discover many interesting things. As reported by the FBI official files (n°7626295 vol.1, 12 june 1962) drawn up immediately after the event, three heads were modeled with a high thickness of Portland cement with sand and a thin layer of white cement with a realistic paint flesh-colored, (in another paragraph they says generically plaster cast dummy heads). The head of Clarence Anglin was made with soap packed over bundle of white cotton rugs and then painted in the same way.
In truth the Portland cement with sand was used only in one of the four heads and only to fill the interior.  It would have been too elaborate, the cement hardens too slowly: the hardening begins after one hour and ends after six or seven hours minimum. Working and modeling the various layers these are too long times for a prisoner who works in secret. The material had to be more faster, quick and easy to use.

If they taken the cotton bandages in the infirmary, is more likely have used plaster for plaster casts or dental cast. On sixties there were boxes of quick-setting Plaster of Paris for medical use such as the Gypsona. Also is interesting to note that to simplified the work they have modeled only half of the heads, in one case only the part sticking out of the blankets. This also demonstrates the limited time for escape and the economy of the materials obtained corrupting and paying other inmates. The half heads  gave the impression of its weight in the pillow. The ears are modeled separately and then applied, in this way the work was much easier.

Original photo of the four fake heads.

It is also recognized that the heads were modeled by two different ‘hands’. The first and the third from the left (above) have more realistic sizes and better proportions of anatomy. The ears seem modeled separately and then added to the heads.
The second and last on the right are very similar in profile, have long nose and larger ears with the same design. These two also show the same technique of execution. A structure of wires make a detailed internal reinforcement, which also supports the ear outline.
Human hair were found under the bed of Clarence. The locks of hair were tied up like a ponytail and then glued on the heads overlaying each on other for a very realistic aesthetic effect. The same human hair, taken from the barber, were used for the eyelashes and eyebrows as a very definite work..

Nothing was ignored and everything was prepared with care and detail. In the photos below are show the secure place chosen as workshop where the inmates assembled their materials which they used to escape from the prison walls and the sea crossing to reach the mainland. The tools that inmates made from readily available objects. It’s amazing how the spoon handles (bottom centre) are very similar to sculptor’s spatulas.

The escape remains one of the mysteries of the history of Alcatraz Prison. No one has ever seen or sighted Morris and the Anglin brothers, although the sightings all over the country were so many.
The case was closed on 31 Dec. 1979.
Recently, on the occasion of the 40th anniversary of evasion have appeared in newspaper articles and interviews that have strengthened the hypothesis of the success of the escape. I have always believed in this.