You know what will always make a nice evening? A cool evening, pizza, a can of beer, friends and a load of prison break movies to watch. Man, the suspense and the crazy ideations packed in such movies will glue you to your seat all night.
Hollywood has become a master of making these thrilling movies look so fictitious and impossible, but in truth, they are mostly inspired by real-life prison escapes. Right, some convicts have at different points in time made some daring moves in a quest for liberation.
Let’s take a look at some of the most famous prison escapes in the history of the United States, from back-in-the-days to recent times.
1. John Dillinger
John had all the flairs a notorious armed robber would need in the 30’s; robbing numerous banks in ways that establish juicy stories for newspapers. After an initial prison escape, Dillinger was caught in Tucson, Arizona on January 25 of 1934. He was thrown into the Crown Point jail, which the local boasted of as being escape-proof. To that end, they added more guards on their roll to ensure that the bad boy stays put.
His next escape was certainly nothing the local police wants to talk about, as it had conflicting reports which are quite funny. FBI reports indicated that Dillinger escaped the jail using a fake pistol carved using a potato. A trustee that Dillinger took hostage during the escape Sam Cahoon said he used a gun carved from shelving. The local police insist that was never the case, stating that Dillinger’s attorney smuggled a gun for him into the jail.
Whichever the story might be, it was confirmed that Dillinger took the sheriff’s brand new V-8 Ford during his escape. In what turned out to be a yearlong top priority manhunt, Dillinger was shot dead by FBI agents in Chicago.
The 2009 film “Public Enemies” retold the story of Dillinger to the letter
2. The Escape from The Alcatraz
What’s a prison escape list without the mention of the escape from the Alcatraz? The management and developers of Alcatraz take pride in its existence as being the only escape-proof prison in America. But in 1962, Frank Morris, Clarence Anglin and John Anglin posed the question, “Say what now?” After which we have to assume they laughed it off and got inspired to prove the system wrong by all means.
And they did just that.
Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary is located in San Francisco Bay, and it holds the most notorious of all criminals other federal prisons can’t handle. When the trio decided that the prison walls can’t handle them as well, the lifetime criminals devised one of the most fascinating prison escape means of the century using simple materials sourced within the prison.
Reports alleged that the men dug through the walls of their cells using a drill fashioned from a stolen vacuum cleaner and a metal spoon reinforced with silver from a dime. Such escape requires ingenuity, and they didn’t lack in that aspect. They drilled during music hours – to muffle the noise from the drills – and leaving behind paper dummies made using toilet paper and hair stolen from barbershop to fool prison officers during night-time inspections.
After over a year’s toil on the night of June 11, 1962, they successful dug through to an unused service corridor, from where they climbed a ventilation shaft gain access to the roof of the prison. From the roof, they climbed down to the prison compound and scaled a fence off the premises. The trio assembled a raft using raincoats and contact cement.
…and sailed away to the unknown.
Till date, they were never found, and FBI records imply they might never have made it across the water. The escape inspired the 1979 movie Escape from Alcatraz, which featured Clint Eastwood.
3. Frank Abagnale
You know what will make an excellent prison escape? Doing it successfully without having to sweat profusely for over a year. Nowadays, we say, “Work smart, not hard.” In 1971, Frank Abagnale a notorious con-man gave those words life by manipulating the trends of the time to convince prison guards that he is a prison inspector working undercover for an investigation.
That was quite believable because, at that time, some civil rights were condemning prison management, and congressional committees were carrying out investigations. In what counts as a stroke of luck, a US Marshal forgot his detention commitment papers, and Frank maximized the opportunity to plan his escape from the Federal Detention Center, Atlanta, Georgia.
After convincing the prison guards that he was an undercover investigator, he started getting preferential treatments which helped him build his alibi over the following weeks. With the help of his accomplices outside the prison he was able to obtain forged business cards of law enforcement officers including that of the FBI agent handling his case. He provided them as proof to show that he was indeed an investigator. On calling the number on the business card, his accomplice posing as “Sean O’Reilly” an FBI agent demanded to schedule an unsupervised meeting with Frank in a car outside the prison walls.
Once outside and in the car with the assumed FBI agent, they drove out, and the prison guards never saw him again. He fell into the net of NYPD some weeks later.
Today, Frank Abagnale advises companies on legal fraud and works with FBI on fraud prevention programs across the country. His story as an international fraudster was told in the 2002 film Catch Me If You Can.
4. The Texas Seven
In what stands in history to become the biggest prison escape in Texas, the John B. Connally Unit was unfortunate to house a group of seven criminals on 13 December 2000, who would do anything to escape prison. Through what we assume to be months of serious planning, the group devised an elaborate scheme which saw them overpowering prison supervisors, officers and maintenance men, locking them in a utility closet. They took the personal effects of the maintenance crew which included credit cards and identity cards which they used to pose as civilians. Subsequently, a call was made to the tower guards to distract them while some of the offenders snuck up to raid the guard tower and steal weapons.
The offenders later dubbed the Texas Seven drove out of prison using a maintenance truck. They proceeded to leave a trail of crime spree from San Antonio to Colorado before their capture. One of them loathed prison so much he committed suicide rather than being thrown into the prison again. The remaining six were placed on death row, and three executed so far.
5. T.J Lane
For whatever reason T.J Lane shot and killed three of his schoolmates during a school shooting, he decided it was a bad idea when he landed in medium-security Allen Correction Institute, Lima, Ohio. With all the cool things he is missing out on as 19-year old in this era, he couldn’t stop yearning for freedom.
Along with Lindsey Bruce a convicted murderer and Clifford Opperud a convicted kidnapper, Lanes started strategizing on how to escape the prison using a ladder. The trio discovered a crawlspace from which they were able to gain entry into a padlocked warehouse just by the recreation yard. They sourced materials from the warehouse which they used to assemble a crude ladder within a few months.
On the night of 9th September 2014, they used the ladder to climb to the roof of a building and made a 15ft jump over the prison walls to escape on foot. Their escape was short-lived as they were all captured within nine hours of the escape.