The Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, operational from 1934 to 1963, stands as an iconic symbol of the American criminal justice system. This formidable institution housed some of the most dangerous and infamous prisoners in United States history. In this article, we delve deeper into the captivating stories of a few of Alcatraz’s most notorious inmates, shedding light on their crimes, personalities, and their experiences within the prison’s formidable walls. Join us on this journey through history as we explore the lives of these individuals who became legends during their time at Alcatraz.
1. AL CAPONE: The Infamous Mobster
Al Capone, synonymous with organized crime during the Prohibition era. He sold liquor illegally and outwardly bragged about his activities to the press. It was suspected that he was murdering his enemies using hitmen but it could never be proven
Al Capone became an inmate at Alcatraz on charges of tax evasion and an attempted escape from another prison. Known for his involvement in illegal liquor sales, Capone’s reputation for violence preceded him. Although suspected of numerous murders, he was never convicted. His time at Alcatraz marked a significant chapter in his criminal career.
U.S. Federal prison officials, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
2. MACHINE GUN KELLY: From Kidnapper to Model Prisoner
Machine Gun Kelly, notorious for his involvement in kidnappings and skilled use of firearms, surprised many when he transformed into a model prisoner at Alcatraz. Prior to his incarceration, he had gained notoriety for high-profile crimes. However, the strict regime at Alcatraz seemingly instilled discipline in him, leading to a change in behavior.
Memphis Police Department, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
3. ARTHUR ‘DOC’ BARKER: The Criminal Collaborator
Arthur ‘Doc’ Barker, in collaboration with his brother, engaged in a series of criminal activities, including murder, kidnapping, and robbery. However, his time at Alcatraz was cut short when he met his demise during a daring escape attempt. Barker’s story serves as a reminder of the dangerous lengths some inmates were willing to go to regain their freedom.
United States Department of Justice, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
4. ROBERT STROUD: The Enigmatic ‘Birdman of Alcatraz’
Robert Stroud, popularly known as the ‘Birdman of Alcatraz,’ gained fame for his affinity towards birds while serving time at Leavenworth prison in Kansas. Despite his reputation, Stroud did not continue raising birds during his Alcatraz tenure. Both feared and disliked by both guards and fellow inmates, he preferred the company of birds over people.
Department of Justice, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
4. JAMES ‘WHITEY’ BULGER: A Career in Crime
James ‘Whitey’ Bulger started out his criminal career with armed robbery. He was sent to the Atlanta Penitentiary and while he was there he volunteered for a CIA experimental program and was given LSD amongst other harmful drugs. When it was found out that he was planning a prison escape in 1959, he was sent to Alcatraz. Following his release from prison in 1965 he was convicted of a total of 11 murders and was sent to the Florida Coleman Penitentiary to serve out 2 life sentences.
Federal Bureau of Prisons, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
6. CLARENCE ANGLIN & 7. JOHN ANGLIN: The Great Escape
These brothers were both sent to Alcatraz following a bank robbery and attempted escapes from other prisons. Once there, they planned an escape and used spoons and saw blades to burrow into the cement near the back of their cells. They constructed a raft using raincoats and on June 11, 1962, the brothers along with fellow inmate Frank Morris made their way to the bay. This is the last place they were seen. While it’s unlikely that they survived the frigid cold weather of the water, there are legends of their escape survival even today.
US Federal Government, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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