A while ago, I did a diary here on the story of the “escape from Alcatraz” by three small-time bank robbers, Clarence and John Anglin and Frank Morris:
It has always been concluded by most researchers that the three drowned in 1962 while trying to cross San Francisco Bay in rafts glued together from stolen raincoats. Since then, however, some new information has come to light that has reopened interest in the case.
After 50 years of silence, the Anglin family, which lives in Florida, has now come forward with what it says is new evidence that at least the two Anglin brothers did successfully escape. They have what they say are Christmas cards from the brothers, delivered to the family after the time of their escape. More importantly, they have what they say is a photograph of John and Clarence Anglin taken in Brazil in 1972, ten years after their escape. The photo had been delivered to the family in 1992 by Fred Brizzi, a low-level drug smuggler who had grown up in Florida and had known both brothers when they were kids. According to Brizzi’s story (which was tape-recorded by the family), he had just happened to see one of the brothers in a bar in Rio de Janeiro and was taken to their farm outside town, and took the photo to show the family that the brothers were still alive and well. Brizzi claimed to have been in contact with John and Clarence as recently as 1992. Brizzi died in 1993.
Meanwhile, the family claimed, another of the brothers, Robert, had told them on his deathbed that he had secretly been in contact with the two in Brazil during the 70’s and 80’s.
Oddly, the “Brazil” theory was not new: the FBI had received information back in 1965, just a few years after the escape, that at least one of the Anglin brothers was living in Rio under an assumed name, and sent agents to South America to look for leads. They came up empty.
According to the family story, the brothers had married local wives and still had children living in Brazil. But so far no one has turned up claiming to be related to them. Legally in the US, the two brothers are still fugitives and subject to arrest. However, under Brazilian law, foreign nationals who are married to Brazilian citizens cannot be extradited without permission.
So, what are we to make of all this?
Sadly, the credibility of the Anglin family’s story is tarnished by some silly conspiracy theories which they have offered. One of these revolves around another brother, Alfred, who was killed during his own escape attempt from a jail in Georgia when he inadvertently touched a high-voltage wire and electrocuted himself. The family has declared that he was actually beaten to death by prison officials because it was suspected that he knew where the brothers were. Another conspiracy theory opines that Mafia gangsters Whitey Bulger and Mickey Cohen, both of whom served time in Alcatraz, had arranged for outside help in the escape, including a waiting boat.
Brizzi’s story offered some new details on the escape. According to him, the brothers said that the homemade rafts had not been used to cross the Bay, but instead to paddle around the island to the boat dock, where they then escaped by tying a length of electric cord to the rudder of the prison ferry boat and were pulled along behind it as it sailed to the mainland.
But Brizzi has some credibility issues. His widow has declared that she never heard him mention ever seeing the Anglin brothers in Rio, and she frankly admitted that he was “a con man” who was prone to making up stories.
To the Federal Marshals, who still hold the Alcatraz file as an open case, the real interest lies in the physical evidence—the Christmas cards and the photo.
The cards turned out to be useless. Although they did contain John and Clarence’s actual signatures, they had not been mailed, but had been placed directly into the family’s mailbox, so there was no way to establish when or where they had been signed or sent.
The photo was more interesting. It shows two men standing by a large termite mound, who seem to have at least a resemblance to John and Clarence Anglin. The photo itself appears to be many years old, though there is no way to definitively establish when it was taken, nor is there any way to determine from the photo where it was shot.
As part of the filming for a TV special, the photo was brought to an expert for facial recognition testing, in which various measurements are compared with a potential match. But there were problems: both men in the photo are wearing sunglasses, which obscures many of the facial landmarks used for measurements, and the graininess and deterioration of the photo made other measurements difficult. The expert told the TV show that it was “highly likely” that the two men in the photo matched photos of John and Clarence Anglin. However, when the US Marshal Service did its own facial analysis, they concluded that some of the measurements differed, and it could not be established that the photo actually depicted the brothers.
So there the matter rests, and the “escape from Alcatraz” remains as much a mystery as it was in 1962.