San Francisco lures tourists from all over the country and world. It’s a magnificent city, with the crooked Lombard Street, sea lions barking and bathing at Pier 39, the trollies riding up and down the hills, the Golden Gate Bridge, Ghirardelli Square and, for me, friends and family who have moved there.
And then there’s Alcatraz. There’s something about that famous prison where Al Capone, among many others, spent difficult years of their lives, that draws people to this famous prison. Like Liberty Island and Ellis Island, Alcatraz Island has a spectacular view of its nearby city.
It also offers numerous stories about the prisoner and their routines. I’ve been to the island three times, the last one with my wife and children. One of the details that stuck with me over the years was a testimonial by a prisoner who said the December holidays were always the most difficult time of the year, not only because the inmates missed their families, but also because they could hear the voices carried over the water of women and children singing Christmas carols.
The prison also recounts some of the noteworthy escape attempts. The Battle of Alcatraz, which occurred in 1946, was a bloody two-day siege in which prisoners and guards died.
The most famous escape, however, was the 1962 flight by brothers John and Clarence Anglin and Frank Morris, which was recreated in the 1979 movie, “Escape from Alcatraz,” starring Clint Eastwood. The trio, who were convicted of bank robberies, made fake heads, complete with their own hair, that they left in their beds, giving them time to head to a raft constructed out of raincoats.
The official version of the events of that night suggests that the three drowned in the bay. I’ve never been convinced of that perhaps because I was influenced by the Eastwood movie and also because it seemed like an unlikely ending for three men who had so meticulously planned their escape.
This past Monday, the History Channel shared a photo from relatives who said it showed the two brothers in Brazil in 1975. The show suggests that it could be these men, who would be in their 80s today. The investigation is reportedly considered open until the escapees reach 100 years old.
Is it them? Is this another step toward solving a mystery that’s 20 years older than the disappearance of Jimmy Hoffa?
There’s a part of me that would like to think it’s them and that, after that incredible planning, they started their lives again in another country, hopefully without causing harm to anyone else while keeping a low profile for all these years.
This is not the same as murderers David Sweat and Richard Matt, whose recent escape from an upstate New York prison terrified the nearby areas because they might threaten or hurt people.
Armed robbers can and should be punished, even if they are clever enough to have managed to escape from one of the most famous prisons in the world.
Their escape, however, raises compelling questions about the routes people take in their lives. If these three men were that clever, that tolerant of high risk and that prepared to outmaneuver even the most escape-proof prison, imagine what they could have done with their lives if they had decided to contribute to society?
They didn’t discover a new technology, cure cancer or make the country safer from a possible terrorist attack. What they did, however, was remarkable and dramatic, with enormous high stakes. They may have defied the odds, survived and lived for decades in Brazil. It connects the dots on a story that had blank pages filled with mystery for all these years.