ALCATRAZ ISLAND, Calif. – For 20th century crime buffs, few capers match the intrigue and ingenuity of the “Escape from Alcatraz,” the 1962 prison break three inmates pulled off with stolen spoons, dummy heads and a raincoat raft.
For Marie Widner and Mearl Taylor, the fabled flight from the Rock is all about family.
The two Florida women are the younger sisters of John and Clarence Anglin, who, along with fellow prisoner Frank Morris, disappeared from the federal prison on Alcatraz Island 50 years ago. Whether the three men perished in chilly San Francisco Bay, as prison officials and federal agents insisted at the time, remains a subject of heated speculation because their bodies were never found.
Out of the 36 Alcatraz inmates who tried to flee before the prison was closed in March 1963, the three are the only ones who remain unaccounted for, according to the U.S. Marshals Service, which maintains active arrest warrants on Morris and the Anglins.
“I’ve always believed they made it, and I haven’t changed my mind about that,” Widner, 76, said Monday while visiting the former penitentiary to commemorate the anniversary of her siblings’ daring getaway.
The U.S. Marshals Service took over the manhunt from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1978.
U.S. Marshal Michael Dyke, who inherited the unsolved case in 2003, does not disagree with the sisters’ account. Dyke doesn’t know whether any of the trio is still alive. However, he’s seen enough evidence to make him wonder, which makes tracking down some 250 tips and reported sightings – even the wackier ones – necessary. He gets tips every one or two months.
The clues he considers the most tantalizing are credible reports that the Anglins’ mother, for several years, received flowers delivered without a card and that the brothers attended her 1973 funeral disguised in women’s clothes despite a heavy FBI presence.
A statistical perspective also lends authority to the idea that at least one or two of the escapees survived the treacherous bay crossing, Dyke said, because the bodies of two out of every three people who go missing in San Francisco Bay are recovered.
“We have to operate under the assumption they made it,” he said.