The 20 Most Secretly Brilliant Stupid Criminals

#11. Escape From Alcatraz By Way of Accordion

Frank Morris' long history of jail breaks prompted authorities to move him to a more inescapable place. Not surprisingly, they decided to go with Alcatraz, the San Francisco prison with tough iron bars, 12 cell checks per day and, oh yeah, the frigid waters of the Pacific on all sides. Thanks to movies, today we tend to equate Alcatraz with escapes. At the time Morris was moved there, it was famous for killing anyone who tried to escape -- a crucial difference that was apparently lost on Morris and his fellow inmates Allen West, and Clarence and John Anglin.

Deciding that all those other guys probably weren't giving it their all when attempting not to drown, they immediately began exploring a utility corridor just behind their cells. The corridor housed a ventilation shaft, which led to the roof. In need of digging tools, West placed stolen drill bits and a vacuum cleaner motor under a napkin, waved his hand and poof, out came a drill somehow.

Made of a toothbrush, drill bits and magic!

They used the drill to loosen the air vents at the back of their cells, making closely spaced holes around the cover so the entire section of the wall could be removed. Proving they were no dummies, they masked the sound of the drill with the equally ear-grating sound of an accordion, which apparently kept the guards at bay enough to make up for the fact that it is the least inconspicuous instrument ever.

The Anglin brothers fabricated crude paper mache replicas of the their own heads, with real human hair from the prison barber shop. Over 50 prison-issued rain coats were either donated by or stolen from fellow inmates and were meticulously glued together to form a 6 x 14 foot inflatable raft. Morris even modified one of his many accordions into an air pump for inflation.


On June 11, 1962, after two years of planning and resolutely ignoring the definition of the word "inescapable," Morris decided he'd kept a low enough profile to make with the breaking out. Who was going to pay attention to a famed escape artist and his accordion playing cellmates?

When West, who was preoccupied with making life preservers and rowing paddles, failed to finish the holes in his cell's air vent, Frank decided he didn't give a shit and went ahead with the plans. They placed their dummy heads in their beds and set off through the air vent holes with one member of the gang totally unprepared to hold up his end of the bargain.

When the got to West's cell, they realized he wasn't ready and their plan was screwed ...

The Secretly Brilliant:

... or at least the part of the plan that involved bringing West. They opted to flip him off, laugh, high-five and move on without him. They scaled 30-feet of plumbing to the roof and shimmied down 50-feet of piping to the freedom fortified dirt below.

In an interview, West later said that the rest of the plan would have involved paddling to nearby Angel Island, resting and then riding the tides to shore where they would go their separate ways. No one knows if Morris and the Anglin's completed that portion of the plan, but many experts pretty much agree that they did. Why?

Because before they came along, every escapee that had made it to the waters of around Alcatraz was later found with a bad case of the deads. The bodies of Morris and the Anglin's, however, were never found.

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