The sun rose before 6:00 a.m. over the forbidding structures of Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary on June 12, 1963. The maximum-security prison sat on an island in the middle of San Francisco Bay, and was reputed to be escape proof. The day started off routinely enough for the warders in charge of the jail, but that normality was soon shattered. Three prisoners were found to be missing from their cells and were nowhere to be seen.
Escape from the Alcatraz Island facility was supposed to be an impossibility – that was the whole point of its isolated location. It was more than a mile away from San Francisco and surrounded by deep water that was dangerously cold and subject to strong currents. The high-security jail was reserved for a special category of inmate – those felons who had caused the most problems elsewhere within the federal prison system.
Alcatraz opened for its reluctant clientele in 1934, but there had actually been a military prison on the island site since the 1860s. After it became a federal penitentiary, the jail became home to some of the most infamous gangsters in the U.S. Disreputable characters such as Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Robert Franklin Stroud – also known as the Birdman of Alcatraz – all enjoyed its hospitality.