Two convicted murderers made an unlikely escape from Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York on Saturday.
The dramatic flight, which included cutting through steel walls and pipes, immediately drew comparisons to famous movies like “The Shawshank Redemption” and “Escape from Alcatraz.”
Prison breaks have been Hollywood fodder for decades, but even some of the craziest fiction was inspired by events in real life.
Here are five of the most famous prison breaks in United States history:
1. John Dillinger and the wooden gun
America’s public enemy No. 1 had been on a yearlong crime spree across the midwest where he and his gang reportedly robbed a dozen or so banks as well as a few police stations — killing 10 men in the process. The audacity of his crimes had won him the national spotlight as well as the scorn of every law enforcement officer in the nation.
He was finally arrested in Tuscon, Arizona in January 1934 and brought to Lake County Jail in Crown Point, Indiana on charges that he killed a police officer during a bank robbery in 1933. The jail at the time was deemed “escape-proof,” but Dillinger was about to change that.
On March 3, 1934, Dillinger, along with another inmate, allegedly used a fake gun carved out of wood and blackened with shoe polish to force his way out of the facility. Just for good measure, he used the sheriff’s brand-new V-8 Ford as his escape vehicle.
“If I ever see John Dillinger, I’ll shoot him dead with my own pistol,” Crown Point Sheriff Lillian Holley said, according to Time Magazine. “This is too ridiculous to talk about.”
Later that year, FBI agents shot Dillinger dead in Chicago.
The escape is dramatized in Michael Mann’s 2009 movie about Dillinger, “Public Enemies,” which was actually filmed inside the jailhouse the real Dillinger broke out of 75 years earlier, according to Slate.
2. Escape from Alcatraz
On June 11, 1962, lifetime criminals Frank Lee Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin escaped from “The Rock” in San Francisco Bay.
To do this, the trio fabricated heads out of a mixture of soap, toilet paper and real hair, and left them in their beds to fool prison officers making night-time inspections, according to the BBC.
Over the course of a year, they had used crude tools to carefully dig a tunnel in their adjacent cell walls that led them to an unused service corridor. From the service corridor, they climbed a ventilation shaft to reach the roof.
The three men then climbed down the roof and scaled a fence and assembled a raft out of raincoats and contact cement they had stolen from the prison’s supplies cache. They pumped up the raft and shoved off from the island at around 10 p.m. Nobody had discovered they were missing until the next morning. The FBI never found any trace of the men on Alcatraz or nearby Angel Island, where they were supposedly headed, according to NPR.
After a 17-year investigation, the FBI concluded that the three men must have drowned in the bay.
On its website, the FBI refers to the escape plan as “ingenious.”
The famous escape was chronicled in the 1979 film “Escape from Alcatraz” with Clint Eastwood playing the role of Frank Lee Morris.
3. Catch me if you can
Notorious con-man Frank Abagnale escaped from the Federal Detention Center in Atlanta, Georgia in 1971 by
convincing the prison guards that he was a prison inspector and not a prisoner, according to The Telegraph.
When a US Marshal forgot his detention commitment papers upon arrival to the facility, Abagnale worked with an accomplice on the outside to convince the guards he was actually an undercover prison inspector posing as an inmate who was there to spy on the guards. (In 1971 prisons were being condemned by civil rights groups and investigated by congressional committees).
Over the course of several weeks he built up his fake alibi until the guards trusted him enough to meet his accomplice outside the prison walls in a car. Needless to say, once Abagnale walked out of the prison, the guards never saw him again.
Abagnale evaded authorities for two months before being arrested in Washington, DC. He would serve four years in Virginia before being paroled. Today he advises the FBI on white-collar crime.
Frank Abagnale’s story (although not his prison escape) is detailed in the 2002 Steven Spielberg film “Catch Me If You Can”.
4. A 19-year old breaks out of prison
In September of 2014, a 19-year old who was serving three life sentences for killing three of his classmates during a school shooting in 2012
broke out of prison.
T.J. Lane, along with convicted murder Lindsey Bruce and convicted kidnapper Clifford Opperud, broke out of medium-security Allen Correctional Institute in Lima, Ohio by using a homemade ladder to scale the prison walls.
The prisoners found entry via a crawlspace to a padlocked warehouse adjacent to the recreation yard where they spent months fashioning together a ladder from whatever materials they could scrap together, according to NBC News. On the night of September 9, 2014 they used the 13-foot ladder to climb on top of a building and then jump 15 feet over the prison walls and escape on foot. All three were corralled within nine hours of their escape.
5. The Texas 7
The biggest prison break in Texas history occurred in December of 2000 when seven inmates forced their way out of maximum security prison John B. Connally Unit in the isolated town of Kenedy. Led by George Rivas, 30 at the time, who was serving 18 consecutive life sentences for burglary and kidnapping, seven men (including two convicted murderers) overpowered two guards and eight maintenance men and stole their cloths and keys to a truck and locked them in a utility closet. They then fooled several other guards into letting them take weapons from one of the watchtowers before tying them up and fleeing in a truck.
The Texas 7, as they have come to be known, went on a crime spree from San Antonio to Dallas and into Colorado where they were eventually captured, but not before killing 29-year old police officer Aubrey Hawkins in Irving, Texas. One of them killed himself before being captured and the other six were taken back to John B. Connally Unit. Since then, three of the other seven, including Rivas, have been executed.
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