Exactly 80 years ago today, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary officially opened its gates to some of America's most violently incorrigible criminals—after all, it was the most escape-proof prison ever built. Escape-proof, that is, for everyone except three prisoners in 1962 and their trusty arsenal of brilliant, hacked-together gadgets.

While we're almost certain that Clarence Anglin, John Anglin, and Frank Morris did manage to exit the jail in history's most notorious escape attempt, no one has seen them since. The most likely conclusion is that the three men drowned in the icy waters while attempting to reach the mainland. But even if they never made it to dry land, the complexity and planning of the escape itself is a marvel to behold.


Here's everything they used to pull off one of the most insane escapes in prison history.

A Drill

The Anglin Brothers and Frank Morris fabricated a drill out of this vacuum cleaner motor. They used it to break holes in the walls of their cells.

via US Department of the Interior

A Wrench

For wrenching things.

via Us Department of the Interior

Shivs and Scrapers of All Sorts

This photograph shows the various tools and equipment the inmates fashioned from readily available objects. The identifiable ones include: (lower center) sharpened spoon handles used in penetrating cell walls; (center) a motor removed from a vacuum cleaner and used as a drill; (top center) a housing to fit over the vacuum cleaner motor to mute its noise during use; (upper right) pieces of electrical cord; (middle left) bolts with nuts, shafts, and sleeves that may have been used to apply pressure in spreading bars; (upper left) two-cell flashlight made from two penlight batteries. The other items appear to be tools for scraping, digging, cutting, and gouging. All of these objects had been discarded in a five-gallon paint bucket (found in the inmates' workshop) that had been filled with cement in an effort to avoid protection.

via the Federal Bureau of Investigations

A Spoon Key

Possibly using machine tools in one of the prison workshops, an inmate carved the teeth of a key into the handle of this spoon. Officers had to keep keys covered with metal sleeves, so that inmates could not see and copy their distinctive patterns.

via US Department of the Interior

Camouflage Materials for Your Man-Sized Hole

These bottles contained the green paint that was used to paint wall sections and ventilator grilles in cells as part of 1962 escape plan.

Throw in some careful cutting, and the cover of that binder turns into the false ventilator grilles you see below.

via US Department of the Interior

via the Federal Bureau of Investigations

Real Human Hair

The mat and small swatches of human hair shown here were located under the bed of Clarence Anglin. Note the manner of tying the hair in swatches with fine thread, resulting in a "ponytail" effect, which enabled the inmates to glue the hair to the dummy heads in an overlapping fashion to give the appearance of a lifelike head of hair.

via the Federal Bureau of Investigations

Dummy Heads With Weaves from Real Human Hair

The Anglin Brothers, Frank Morris and Allen Clayton West made fake heads of cotton, soap and human hair. They placed the painted heads in their beds to cover their escape.

Let's say that one more time: real. human. hair.

via US Department of the Interior

via the Federal Bureau of Investigation

A Periscope

While working on their escape plan from the roof of their cell block, the inmates took turns keeping watch for the guards in the evening using this homemade periscope.

via the Federal Bureau of Investigation

Remnants of the homemade periscope that was fabricated from canvas board, tape, and mirrors.

via US Department of the Interior

Escape Boat Instructions

The Anglin Brothers and Frank Morris consulted this "Popular Mechanics," for information on how to build the rubber raft that they used in their 1962 escape attempt. The magazine was recovered from the cell.

via US Department of the Interior


For—surprise surprise—paddling.

via US Department of the Interior

A Raft Made of Raincoats

A close-up view of a life preserver made by the inmates out of raincoats. The seams appear to be vulcanized, or sealed with the application of heat and pressure. The heat was available from an exposed copper hot water pipe, and the pressure was applied with a large, heavy plank.

This raft, constructed by the inmates out of raincoats, was apparently abandoned as impractical. The [bottom] photo shows the wooden plug used as the valve to inflate the raft.

via the Federal Bureau of Investigations