U.S. marshals still hunt Alcatraz prisoners 50 years after notorious escape

SAN FRANCISCO Mon Jun 11, 2012 5:10pm EDT

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Fifty years after three convicts used spoons to burrow out of Alcatraz Island's federal prison and escaped on a raft made of raincoats, their relatives will pay their first visit to the scene of America's most famous jail break.

Frank Morris and brothers Clarence and John Anglin, all serving time for bank robbery, vanished from the prison in San Francisco Bay on the night of June 11, 1962.

Although many historians think it's likely they perished in the frigid treacherous currents surrounding the maximum-security island prison, their bodies were never found and some believe it's possible they made it to freedom.

The trio's Houdini-like breakout from the supposedly escape-proof prison spurred the biggest manhunt since the 1932 kidnapping of aviator Charles Lindbergh's baby, and even inspired a 1979 Hollywood drama, "Escape from Alcatraz," starring Clint Eastwood.

Half a century later, the search for clues to the fate of the three men continues.

"No matter where the leads take us, or how many man hours are spent on this historic case, the Marshals Service will continue to investigate to the fullest extent possible," said David Harlow, assistant director of the U.S. Marshals' investigative unit.

Authorities have pursued thousands of leads in nearly every state in the union, he said. In 2010, for example, they exhumed a body from an unmarked grave believed, mistakenly it turned out, to contain the remains of one of the escapees.

If they survived, Morris would be 85, John Anglin would be 82, and Clarence Anglin 81.

For the first time in 50 years, the Anglins' relatives planned to visit the scene of the crime on Monday. Two sisters and two nephews want to see for themselves how the escapees used mess-hall spoons to gradually dig a small passageway through concrete walls to a ventilation shaft, how they left papier-mâché heads under their blankets to fool guards, and how they glued 50 raincoats together into a raft.

To mark the anniversary at the prison, now a tourist attraction owned by the National Park Service, the Anglins' relatives also were scheduled to take part in a panel discussion with a former prison guard, the daughter of a warden and a federal marshal who continues to search for the escapees.

"We're remembering the escape of 1962," said Alexandra Picavet, a Park Service spokeswoman. "We are not celebrating it."

'THE ROCK'

Over the years, the mystery has captured the imagination of a public seemingly sympathetic to the villains. Nevertheless, federal marshals pledged to keep pursuing Morris and the Anglin brothers until they are arrested, are determined to be dead or turn 99.

U.S. Marshal Don O'Keefe said the investigation "serves as a warning to fugitives that regardless of time, we will continue to look for you and bring you to justice."

Alford Ray Anglin, John and Clarence Anglin's brother and co-defendant in the bank robbery that sent them to prison, died in 1964, when he touched a high-voltage security wire while trying to escape from an Alabama jail, according to a news story at the time.

Alcatraz, also referred to as "The Rock," opened as a federal civilian prison in 1934 to house some of the nation's most incorrigible criminals, and its better-known inmates included Al Capone, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, James "Whitey" Bulger and Robert Stroud, better known as the Birdman of Alcatraz.

The prison was closed in 1963 by then-Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy, citing the high cost of running the prison and badly needed repairs.

(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

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