Alcatraz: Looking Back at the Rock, 50 Years Later

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In operation  from 1934 through 1963, the federal prison on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay was once considered the world’s most secure, holding notorious criminals like Al Capone, Robert “Birdman of Alcatraz” Stroud, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and James “Whitey” Bulger.

Over the years, 36 prisoners made more than a dozen escape attempts from The Rock. (Two men tried twice.) Twenty-three men were caught, a half-dozen were shot and killed, two were confirmed drowned and five are listed as missing and presumed drowned. The most famous escape scheme was hatched in December of 1961 and culminated on June 11, 1962, when brothers John and Clarence Anglin followed fellow inmate Frank Morris through vents and vanished into the night, using life preservers and a six-by-fourteen foot raft fashioned from more than 50 raincoats.

Although inmate Allen West made the raft, life preservers and the wooden paddles for the escape, by the time he got the grill off of his cell vent and climbed to the roof, the others had already disappeared, leaving West behind to tell the story of these bank robbers-turned-escape artists. The Anglins and Morris left behind dummy heads made of flesh-colored plaster, topped with real human hair from the prison barber shop to fool guards making the rounds and the requisite dozen head counts per day. There is no evidence that any of the three survived, but if they did, they would be in their mid-eighties now. Federal marshals vow to continue to hunt for the Anglins and Morris until they are found, or turn 99 years old.

Here, TIME’s photo editors look at the Great Escape from Alcatraz, 50 years after the penitentiary finally closed its doors.

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