What Did Alcatraz’s Most Dangerous Prisoners Do?

Alcatraz island, where the notorious prison
was based, is located about 1.25 miles (2.01 km) off San Francisco Bay. It started as a home to a lighthouse, became
a military base and then a military prison in the 19th century before becoming the location
of one of America’s most talked about lock-ups in 1934 that lasted until 1963. This small island, measuring just 1,675 feet
(511 meters) by 590 feet (180 meters) is still home to a prison today, but only as a kind
of somber museum. Known as ‘The Rock’ it housed some of
the U.S.’s most dangerous criminals. It was said no one could ever escape this
island, but history tells us two men may have, or they may have died in the water. Many others tried and failed. Al Capone
When it comes to names associated with the Italian Mafia perhaps Al Capone is the name
most people remember. You may have seen him depicted in numerous
movies and TV shows, and if you have you’ll know he seemed to have a very light and very
dark side. He robbed from the rich and sometimes gave
to the poor, and he also killed or ordered killed many people. It seems he had a very fiery temper at times. He was also behind the St Valentine’s Day
Massacre, and after this he became more of a reviled figure. He was first jailed in 1929 for carrying deadly
weapons, but the sentence was a short one. But in 1931 he was charged with tax evasion
and prohibition charges and after a stint in jail he ended up in Alcatraz. He was released in 1939 but in the ensuing
years he suffered many health problems due to complications of syphilis. He lost his mind and died in 1947. James ‘Whitey’ Bulger
From an Italian American gangster to an Irish American gangster, and someone who again has
been depicted in films and TV shows. Not surprisingly he too was said to have a
very short temper and sometimes a lust for blood. He ruled with an iron fist, but was also an
FBI informant. For this, well, likely for this, he was beaten
to death as an old man while in prison in 2018. Was he dangerous? Very much so, and while he was only charged
with 11 murders there are those that say he killed and ordered killed scores of people. He was imprisoned in Alcatraz many years before
his downfall, in 1959. He had served time in an Atlanta prison before
that. That was for old school-type bank robberies,
and he got 20 years. That sentence was reduced when it was discovered
he had taken part in the not-so ethical MK-Ultra LSD trials. It’s said he read classics and mostly kept
his head down, but escape was never far away in his mind. He was one of the friends of the men that
maybe did escape, and he believed all his life that they got away. He once wrote. “The morning of the escape was one of the
happiest moments of my life. I can still remember it as if it were yesterday.” One month after their escape he left the island
and served another three years in another prison, and was released in 1965. He would go on to become a much more prolific
and vicious criminal and in the 90s one of the biggest manhunts ever was conducted in
his name. He evaded arrest for 16 years, and you know
what happened to him in his ageing years while imprisoned. Robert Stroud
You might better know this man as “The Birdman of Alcatraz”. While US authorities called him one of the
most dangerous men in the USA, he was hardly as bloodthirsty as the first two guys we have
talked about. He was, however, a career criminal and was
diagnosed as a psychopath. He also assaulted fellow prisoners while incarcerated,
prison staff, and one time stabbed a prison guard right through the heart with a homemade
shiv. The guard died and the authorities had had
enough of this violent prisoner. In 1942 he was transferred to Alcatraz, and
he would spend at least 6 years of his time in solitary. He died at a medical center while still serving
a sentence. They called him the birdman as he had cared
for and raised birds while serving time in prison. Does he deserve to be on this list? Yes, of course, just for the number of people
he hurt while imprisoned. Machine Gun Kelly
Nope, that’s not the name his parents gave him after he was born. This man was christened George Kelley, and
as an adult he became one of the most feared men in America. You can probably guess by his moniker that
he had a fondness for using a machine gun, and the FBI once called him an “expert machine
gunner.” His weapon of choice was a Thompson submachine
gun. You’ve all seen one of these things in those
old gangster movies. It’s the gun with a large circular cartridge. In Alcatraz, he was said to be a model prisoner,
despite what the public thought about him. He was prisoner 117 and spent 17 years at
The Rock. He was transferred off Alcatraz in 1951 but
died of a heart attack in 1954 while still imprisoned. He committed many robberies throughout his
career, as well as kidnapping, and had a lot of stand-offs with authorities. He was never actually charged with murder,
though it’s believed he may have committed a few. The FBI seemed to think so. Morton Sobell
This former engineer was by no means a cold-hearted killer. However, he was accused by FBI director J.
Edgar Hoover of committing the “crime of the century.” What did he do? Well, it’s said he was part of a small group
that spied on the U.S. and supplied the Soviet Union with information pertaining to nuclear
technology and other military advances in the U.S. Many said he was innocent, but he was still
sentenced to 30 years in 1951 on charges of espionage (he served almost 18 years in total). He stayed at Alcatraz until it closed in 1963
and was said to be a model prisoner. In his 1974 book, “On Doing Time”, he
maintained his innocence saying his crime had been cooked-up for political purposes. In Alcatraz he even got a room with a view
of the Golden Gate Bridge, and spent most of his time reading books. Some sources say he got along with fellow
prisoners, being a mild man and also for the fact that he was considered an enemy of the
state. Did he really supply the Soviets with information
that could have been extremely dangerous to the USA? That’s for you to investigate. Alvin ‘Creepy’ Karpis
This gangster in the time of the American depression got his nickname not because of
what he did, but the fact that his friends and associates thought he had a very sinister
smile. He gained the accolade of being one of four
of America’s Public Enemy Number One’s during the 1930s when he led the Barker–Karpis
gang. An interesting fact is that he was the only
survivor of so-called public enemy numbers ones, as the rest were all killed before they
could be imprisoned. Can you guess who the other three were?…They
were John Dillinger, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Baby Face Nelson. Karpis also held the number one position for
the person that spent the most time in Alcatraz, serving 26 years in total. His crimes were many, and included robbery,
kidnapping, burglary and murder. It’s also said he was incredibly intelligent. He helped Charles Manson learn guitar while
serving time in another prison, once describing Manson as a man with a “pleasant voice and
a pleasing personality, although he’s unusually meek and mild for a convict. He never has a harsh word to say and is never
involved in even an argument.” He went on to write a book after he was released,
and it’s said he might have committed suicide while he was writing another book while living
in Spain. Others say he more likely accidentally overdosed. Henri Young
This is another case of a man being dangerous not only for what he did on the outside but
for what he did while serving time. Mr. Young was a convicted bank robber who
was said to have taken hostages and not always been very nice to them. He spent time in various prisons, but ended
up in Alcatraz in the 1930s. In 1939 he and four others tried to escape,
which ended with two of the men surrendering, two running (one shot and killed) and Young
also giving himself up. It’s said while in Alcatraz he was treated
very harshly, spending many years in a small cell all alone. After one stint in solitary he murdered one
of the men he had tried to escape with. His defense said the brutal way he had been
treated was partly to blame for this murder. He described what solitary was like, saying,
“You have no shoes, no bed, no mattress-nothing but the four damp walls and two blankets. The walls are painted black. Once a day I got three slices of bread-no-that
is an error. Some days I got four slices.” He also said there was no way you could have
a bath. He was finally released from another prison
in 1972. He jumped parole and was never seen again. John and Clarence Anglin
Ok, so these two may not have been that dangerous but we just can’t finish this show without
talking about them. Why is that? Because these are the guys that supposedly
escaped from Alcatraz. The brothers did this along with a third man,
Frank Morris. It was a long and meticulous build up to the
escape, with the men taking months to fashion tools that would help them escape through
shafts and get out of the prison. This took a lot of effort, with the men concealing
those tools cleverly and knowing how to hide noise when they were making things. They even stole human hair from the barber
shop so that the dummies they left in their beds would look real. For their heads they used soap that they had
stolen and then made to look like a face. But they needed to cross the water, and to
do that they built an inflatable raft made partly from stolen raincoats. All were career criminals before their incarceration,
with Morris imprisoned for many crimes mostly related to stealing things. It’s also said he had a very high IQ for
a prisoner at 133. The brothers were both bank robbers, but reports
say they did their stealing when people were not around as they never wanted to hurt anyone. They also said if people were around, they
used only a toy gun. Nonetheless, they were successful and robbed
many big banks. As they were kind of nice-guy criminals, much
of the public when hearing about their escape are happy they got away. The authorities would like to think all the
men died, but there are many people that think they beat the system and found their freedom. Whatever you think, their story has gone down
in history. Want to know more about alcatraz? Check out our other video, What Was It Like
to be Jailed at Alcatraz? See you next time!

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