Unearthed (2016–…): Season 6, Episode 11 - Alcatraz's Hidden Secrets - full transcript

Narrator: Alcatraz... the most
famous prison in the world,

Where america's most notorious
criminals are incarcerated.

Harp: When you break the rules,
you go to jail.

When you break the rules
in jail, you go to alcatraz.

Narrator: Known as "the rock,"
designed to be inescapable...

Komas: This place was built
like a fortress.

You have to wonder how anybody
ever escaped from here.

...Only the most fearless
would dare to try.

All these layers of security,
the thick concrete walls...

This was a place for the hard
of the hardest criminals.

Narrator: Now investigators use

radar scanning equipment

To uncover
the island's secret past.

Komas: These prisoners
are telling us

Something about their time here.

What really lies behind

The prison's
unbreakable reputation?

Wow. It's completely destroyed.

Narrator: To solve the mysteries
of alcatraz,

We'll break into
this iconic jail,

Blowing up its cell doors

And stripping away
its barbed wire-topped walls

To reveal what finally breaks
the rock.

EP - 11 - Alcatraz's Hidden Secrets

Alcatraz stands more than a mile

Out into the waters of
san francisco bay,

Its iconic prison block a beacon
of crime and punishment.

For decades, this island is home

To the most wanted men
in america...

Al capone, machine gun kelly,

Robert stroud, "the birdman."

The convicts that came here
couldn't be held anywhere else.

What engineering secrets

Lie behind
its legendary reputation?

The rock is designed as a prison
inside a prison.

The outer wall
is over 2 feet thick.

Inside are over 300 cells
stacked three stories high,

And a 2-ton steel door
blocks the only exit.

Outside, 12-foot-tall fences
topped with razor wire,

All surrounded
by six tall watchtowers

With guards who shoot to kill.

Alcatraz is the original
supermax penitentiary,

But why is the world's
first maximum security prison

Built here?

In the 1800s, alcatraz island
is home to a military fort.

Historic buildings expert
tanya komas wants to find out

If this mysterious structure
influences the later prison.

She uses
ground-penetrating radar

To search
for its hidden remains.

We've been able to scan
the wreck yard here,

And this scan shows us something

That we sort of knew
might be there,

And the science
was able to confirm it.

What we're looking at here
is the recreation yard.

The steps are here.

There's the stairs
and the cell houses up above.

There is an actual structure

Running east-west
right beneath the wreck yard.

Narrator: The scan locates
a long earthen mound.

Running beneath it
is a masonry magazine,

A structure used
to store ammunition.

This scan shows us that
right under our feet here

Is the historic
military fortress.

It's a part of a much bigger
system of structures

On this island.

Narrator: In its prime,
200 soldiers operate

The extensive arsenal of
alcatraz's military fortress.

Tanya thinks this
earlier occupation of the island

Shapes the development
of the modern prison building.

Buried under the main cellblocks
lie the most substantial remains

Of the military fort
embedded into the bedrock.

Bare rooms,
some just 4 feet wide,

With thin rifle slits
for windows,

Look out to a dry moat.

This compound is made entirely
from brick,

But intriguingly,
scratched out graffiti, names

And dates reveal that these
rooms once held people captive.

Does alcatraz's reputation
as a brutal lockup

Go back much further
than we think?

Built in 1859,
this underground basement

Is part of the main
defensive stronghold.

Tanya has unique access
to explore this dungeon.

Komas: It would have
been horrific

To be in a cell like this.

There are stories of people

Sleeping on their hands
and knees

To avoid too much contact
with the cold concrete.

You wouldn't even know
what time of day it is.

This would not have been
the place to be.

Narrator: Laser scanning reveals

The true extent
of this hidden world.

Built directly into the rock,

The citadel is an incredible
feat of engineering.

This 3-d laser scan
takes us down

Into what's beneath
the modern prison.

This brick structure

Was the largest structure
on the island

At that point
in the island's history.

This model is a great way
to visualize

Not only how the basement of
the citadel was used,

But these three spaces were
among the first prison cells

On alcatraz island.

During the military occupation,

Engineers realized that
the citadel is

Much better suited
as a military prison.

By the end of the century,
these small brick rooms

Are filled
with nearly 50 prisoners.

The island's function as
a prison is firmly established.

How does alcatraz go from being
a tiny military prison

To the huge federal penitentiary
we see today?

The answer could lie with
the darkest chapter

In san francisco's history.

In 1906, a massive earthquake,

7.9 on the richter scale,
destroys most of the city.

But it leaves alcatraz standing.

Tanya thinks this is a key
to what makes alcatraz

The prime location
for a maximum security prison.

To find out more about
what happens during the quake,

Tanya heads
to meet geologist jack mayer.

So why did alcatraz
stand so strong

When the rest of the city
shook and fell?

Well, this was the problem.

This is the bay mud
under san francisco.

We know it's bay mud
because of these shells.

This stuff is extremely soft.

When it's wet, it liquefies.

Put under pressure, it shakes,

And it shakes violently
and unpredictably.

That's the foundation
of san francisco.

That's amazing.

No wonder the devastation
of the earthquake.

This is the stuff that fell
apart when the earthquake came,

And the buildings on top
really didn't stand a chance.

Narrator: Most of san francisco
stands on land

Reclaimed from the ocean.

The bay mud
allows the city to grow,

But this soil is wet and soft.

The 1906 quake turns the ground
into quicksand.

More than 28,000 buildings
are destroyed,

Including four
of the city's prisons.

Lines of evacuated convicts
walked the streets,

But the citadel in alcatraz sits
directly on hard rock.

The shock waves pass through it,

And it survives the quake
with barely a scratch.

Alcatraz is the last functioning
prison in san francisco,

So the city ships its prisoners
to the rock.

This is the geology of
alcatraz... no sand, no mud.

It's solid rock.

It's easy to see
how this would have performed

In the earthquake.

It would've stayed strong
the entire time.

Narrator: The island's bedrock
lays the foundations

For its unbreakable reputation.

Soon after the quake, the iconic
prison we see today is built.

In 1934, the island becomes
a federal penitentiary,

Home to convicts
no other prison can hold.

But in the rush to build

The world's first super prison

Do engineers
make fatal mistakes?

Narrator: Alcatraz island
in san francisco bay...

Convicts who have broken out

Of every other prison
in the u.S. Are brought here.

To get ready for them,

Engineers overhaul the building
to maximum security.

Harp: They completely revamped
the place.

It was fortified like
a modern-day prison.

Narrator: They install
new hardened steel bars

On every window and door,

And a mechanical locking system

With no keys
for prisoners to steal.

Harp: It's that whole mind-set
of control.

Once you're on alcatraz,
they own you.

Narrator: They arm the guards

With the most up-to-date

This new super prison is said
to be escape-proof.

[ door clanks, bird calls ]

You get on this island,
there's no getting off.

Narrator: But in 1937,
just three years after it opens,

Two convicts,
theodore cole and ralph roe,

Find a chink in its armor.

Rather than targeting
the main cellblock,

They turn their attention
to the industries building.

It's the block
where the prisoners work,

And it sits on the edge
of the island.

The men get to work
in the blacksmith's workshop.

After many weeks of sawing
through the steel,

Cole and roe tear out two bars

And punch out
unreinforced glass.

Squeezing through
the 9-inch gap,

They drop down
behind a 10-foot fence

Topped with barbed wire

And follow it to a small gate.

[ metal clangs ]

They smash the lock
with a stolen wrench,

And, the theory goes,
they use old car tires

To cushion the 20-foot jump
down onto the hard rock

And old fuel canisters
to float off the island.

How could they escape
the most secure jail on earth

In broad daylight?

Retired fbi agent jeff harp
has spent a career

Putting bad guys behind bars.

He investigates alcatraz's
escape attempts.

Harp: You had to be
a very determined prisoner

To get out of this place.

Narrator: He wants to find out

If the prison's
famous reputation

Hides a fatal flaw
in its construction.

Jeff believes that the workshop
is a weak spot

That helps cole and roe
to escape.

Harp: They had access to
all sorts of tools and equipment

To build things
while they were thinking about

How they might be able
to escape.

Narrator: A 3-d model reveals

How the men turned the block's
floor plan to their advantage.

So as you can see from
the design of the this building,

Prisoners had
a lot of places to hide.

As the guard's making
his pathway up this wall here,

He can't see into these rooms

Until he's directly in front
of the doorways.

Narrator: The industries
building is l-shaped,

The ground floor
divided into eight sections.

It's poorly designed.

It's not functional from
a law enforcement perspective.

Narrator: The workshop itself
provides the tools the men need.

They slowly saw through window
bars using stolen hacksaws.

So each time the guard had
his back turned,

The inmate would be able
to go back to the window

And cut on the steel bar
little by little.

Narrator: The prisoners jump out
of the window.

What they do next seems

The breakout point
is just 30 feet away

From the guards on the roof,

So the escapees creep along
the side of the building

To hide from view.

But once they reach the coast,

The guards on
the western watchtower

Should easily spot them,

So how do they manage to
stay out of view?

Jeff thinks that the bay's
unusual weather

Helps to conceal
the men's escape.

From the case files,
we found out

That the fog on that day
was unusually thick,

So it's quite possible that cole
and roe deliberately waited

That day for the heavy fog
to come into san francisco.

Narrator: San francisco
is one of the foggiest cities

On the planet.

Sea mist can become so dense
that it hides

Even the gigantic
golden gate bridge.

Jeff visits an outdoor
weather simulator to find out

If fog is the key
to cole and roe's success.

Between these two piers,
we have a fog simulator

That spews out seawater

To simulate the fog
in san francisco.

Narrator: Jeff is going to carry
out a test to try to replicate

What he thinks happens
during the escape.

Harp: Once the fog starts,
we'll be able to determine

How effective it was
at concealing their movement.

The fog machine fires up.

Jeff's test subject
walks down the bridge.

After a dozen paces,
she vanishes.

Harp: She has completely
disappeared on the bridge.

We're going to measure that out
and see what that distance is.

15.4 meters.

This would be a really effective
concealment and cover

For the individuals
who were trying

To escape from the prison
that day.

Narrator: The test reveals
how fog could render

The prison's watchtowers

But the same weather
that helps cole and roe

Escape the rock
soon turns against them.

The fog was effective
at concealing their movement,

But once they got out to sea,
it was their enemy

Because they could not see
where they were going.

Narrator: Back in 1937,

Fbi investigators conclude
that the men drowned.

The case is closed.

Alcatraz quietly gets
a new industries block

With no dead corners
and new harder steel bars.

This time, authorities think
there really is no way out.

But do they make
another simple design mistake

In trying to outwit
america's toughest cons?

Narrator: Alcatraz...

The toughest place to do time.

After an overhaul,
the prison is ready

To hold the worst criminals
in america.

These guys are outlaws.

As soon as they step foot
on this island,

They've got to be thinking
about escape.

Narrator: Historic buildings
expert tanya komas investigates

How engineers try to seal
every weak point in alcatraz.

But building on a rocky island
is a real challenge.

Tanya discovers
how the workers cut corners.

Komas: Construction on an island

Meant that materials are
hard to get.

When the cell bars
were replaced in the prison,

Rather than discard them,
they were used

As reinforcing
into the concrete.

Good old prison labor,
right here.

Narrator: Despite this, alcatraz
is still a formidable fortress.

The guards step up security to
unprecedented levels.

There was three guards
for every one prisoner,

Which is unheard of
for that time.

In 1937, the island gets

A more secure
industries building.

Now authorities think
they finally have

The ultimate
escape-proof prison.

Well, when the inmates
walked on this island,

They saw this place.

They knew that it was going
to be a challenge

To ever break out of here.

Narrator: What few know is that

The new alcatraz
still has a fatal flaw.

And on Friday the 13th, 1939,

Five men exploit this weakness,

Led by one of america's
most dangerous men,

Arthur "doc" barker.

When the guards aren't looking,

The five men target
their cell bars.

[ doors clank ]

They use blades
to cut through the steel

And swing the bars open.

All five inmates are now able
to escape to their cells.

In the corridor,
they face a concrete wall

With thick steel grilles
covering the windows,

But they break
a 1-inch-thick bar clean off

And smash through
the iron window frame.

[ metal clanks ]

They've broken the block.

How do they manage to beat

The unbreakable steel
of alcatraz?

Jeff harp examines the evidence.

Harp: These five guys were
in the isolation block, d-block.

It was supposed to be
the most secure block

In the whole penitentiary.

Narrator: The notorious d-block

Houses convicts
who break the rules.

Here, they spend 24 hours a day
in isolation.

But the evidence shows
that the cells aren't as tough

As they should be.

When I read the fbi document,

I see that d-block, where
the worst prisoners are kept,

Is made of ordinary steel bars.

Narrator: When engineers upgrade
the prison to maximum security,

They fit most cells with
strengthened tool-proof bars.

But incredibly, those in d-block
retain the original steel,

A hangover of the prison's
military past.

Over time, little by little,

These guys would've been able
to saw through these bars

Because it was so soft.

Narrator: The men use
smuggled hacksaw blades,

Working undetected
night after night.

But this is only stage one
of their escape.

So after they broke out
of their cells,

They had a new challenge
they had to face,

And they came up against
the windows with hardened steel.

Unlike their cell bars,

The windows in the main block
do get the upgrade.

Thick, tool-proof bars now block
their route to the outside,

Yet still,
the men find a way out.

Harp: It looks like they had
some sort of a tool,

Where they had pried open
the window

And were able
to snap those bars.

Narrator: Fbi documents reveal
that the men create

A homemade screw jack,

Essentially a large screw
with a bolt on the end.

They turn the screw
until finally,

The bar snaps right off.

Just after 3:00 a.M.,

The men attempt
the last part of their plan.

They squeeze through the window
and sprint for the cliffs,

Avoiding the gaze of the guards.

Then they split up.

Mccain and young
start work on a raft,

Making it from 3-inch timber,
driftwood, and a chair.

They tie it all together
with torn bedsheets.

Barker and stamphill
head around the coast

To collect more driftwood,

While martin scales the cliffs
at the point

Facing san francisco
and starts swimming alone,

But at 4:00 a.M., the guards
notice they're missing

And launch a manhunt.

Three men surrender,
but two try to swim...

[ rapid gunfire ]
...And the guards open fire.

Only four men eventually return
to the cells.

Doc barker dies in a hospital
from gunshot wounds.

After the failed escape,

D-block finally
gets its security upgrade.

Engineers put hardened
steel bars on every cell,

Convinced it's now impossible
to escape the prison cellblock.

Over the next 23 years,
20 more convicts try and fail

To break out of the prison.

Each winds up dead
or back in their cells.

But in 1962, three men hatch
a plan to pull off

The most audacious prison break
in history.

Komas: This is right where they
were able to dig out

And then climb right up there.

Narrator: Some people claim
it takes them to freedom.

Are they the only men
to escape from alcatraz?

Narrator: In the 1960s,

Alcatraz is the most secure
prison in the world,

Home to convicts that
no other penitentiary can hold.

Dozens try to escape.

All fail to break the rock.

But on the morning of
June 12, 1962,

One daring prison break

Threatens to ruin
its perfect record.

During a routine head count,
guards sound the alarm.

Frank morris
and john and clarence anglin

Are missing.

The escape begins at lights out.

To fool the guards,

The prisoners
use dummy heads with real hair

Stolen from
the prison barbershop.

Under the sink,
a fake cardboard vent

Reveals a gaping hole
in the concrete

Carved out of over months.

into the utility corridor,

They climb 30 feet up the pipes

And bend the bars
on a ceiling grille

To break onto the roof.

Sliding 50 feet down a pipe
and scaling a barbed wire fence,

Morris and the anglin brothers
reach the ocean,

Never to be seen again.

Historic buildings expert
tanya komas

in working with concrete.

She thinks a key to
this breakout

Lies with a structural flaw
in the walls themselves.

She has come to
the engineering laboratory

At the university of california
in berkeley,

Which specializes in testing
different types of concrete.

Komas: Concrete is a simple mix

Of sand, cement, rocks,
and water.

It's very important that they be

In the right proportions,

You put in a little too
much water

To make it easier to work with,

And you've greatly reduced
its strength.

Narrator: First, she needs to
look at the evidence.

Komas: We're looking at one
of the vents that the prisoners

Chiseled their way out of.

Now if you're
one of the visitors

Who walk by this cell
in alcatraz,

This might look like
normal concrete.

But looking closer,
you can see large stones,

A lot of them,
very close together.

Narrator: Alcatraz-style
concrete looks rough and ready.

Tanya uses a compression machine

To compare it
with a modern sample.

Komas: I have two concrete
samples here.

One is a good proportion
of materials properly mixed,

And the other,
we know to be a poor mix...

Not well-blended materials
and not the right proportions.

Narrator: The compression
machine will steadily

Apply pressure
to the concrete sample

Up to the point
where the concrete fails.

First, the modern concrete.

Let's start the test.

Narrator: The pressure applied
is measured in pounds.

[ whirring ]

You can see, it's already
climbing pretty quickly.

We're now at 75,000 pounds
of pressure on this sample,

And it's still holding strong.

Okay, we're at 120,000 pounds
of pressure now.

[ cracking ]

We're starting to see
a little bit of crumbling.

It's starting to fail.

Narrator: The sample withstands
an incredible 128,000 pounds.

Komas: That's really
high-strength concrete.

That is approximately
40, 42 automobiles of pressure.

Narrator: And now the type of
concrete used at alcatraz.

[ whirring ]

Komas: 40,000 pounds.


[ cracking ]

It's already shown some failure.


Whoa. There we go.

Wow. Look at this.

Only about half of the force
of the other sample,

And it's completely destroyed.

Narrator: This sample fails
and crumbles

At just 70,000 pounds.

So if you're a prisoner
on alcatraz,

This would be the kind
of concrete

You would want in your cell.

The guys were able
to use homemade tools...

Spoons, chisels, and a very
small, kind of crude motor

From a vacuum cleaner.

That was enough to
chisel your way to freedom.

Narrator: It is prisoners,
not engineers,

Who build the cellblock in 1909.

Over half a century later,

Prisoners during the escape
were potentially assisted

By their predecessors
who created this structure.

Poor construction means

The concrete is weak
from the start,

But tanya is convinced

That it should still be able
to withstand

The convicts chipping it away
with just homemade tools.

She has special access
inside alcatraz

To examine the original hole

That one of the anglin brothers
escapes through.

Komas: This is cellblock b.

So what we're looking at
is the hole

That one of the escapees
broke out of.

You can see that the concrete
has just been

Completely destroyed.

This is one of the sounds
we love to hear

In the concrete world
when you're doing repair is...

[ hollow tapping ] that hollow,

The sound of cracking
inside of that concrete.

That would've made it
much easier for them

To chip away at it
and get the grate out

And then climb right up there.

Narrator: Tanya thinks
the problem with the concrete

Lies with the sea air
that surrounds the prison.

Steel reinforcements embedded
in the walls

Are slowly being exposed
to the elements.

Tanya and her team

From the concrete preservation

Are in a race to preserve
the island's structures.

Komas: If you look here,
this bar has corroded,

Popped the concrete right off.

We're in this very aggressive
seaside environment.

The salt gets in, and you just
have steel corrosion.

Narrator: Saltwater gets into
the smallest of cracks

And corrodes steel five times
faster than fresh water.

Komas: The steel rusts,

And it can expand
up to six times its size.

What that does is put internal
pressure on the concrete,

Causes cracks, and pushes
the concrete right off.

Narrator: Salt attacks alcatraz
from all angles.

Alcatraz uses seawater
to flush the toilets.

It trickles from leaky pipes
and seeps into the walls.

The salt rusts
the reinforcing steel bars.

They expand,
cracking the concrete.

Officials believe
an island location

Is one of the prison's
greatest advantages.

No one anticipates it is,
in fact,

One of its biggest weaknesses.

Komas: The design and
construction of this building,

The unbreakable alcatraz,

Is what ended up being
a key factor

In one of the most notorious
prison escapes ever known.

Morris and the anglin brothers

Don't just spend their time
chiseling away at the concrete.

They also find an ingenious way

To execute the rest
of their escape.

During their daytime
cleaning duties,

They hang sheets
on the top floor

To stop dust
falling into the prison,

Cleverly obscuring
the guards' view.

Every night for six weeks,

The inmates take turns
to escape their cells

And climb to the workshop
to work on the escape equipment.

Inspired by
an engineering magazine,

They design a raft
made from 50 raincoats.

They use steam from pipes
to bond them together.

They make life jackets

And transform an accordion
into a pump,

Ready for a quick getaway
on the big night.

Once again, the cellblock's
design aids an escape,

But morris and
the anglin brothers

Still have to
get off the island.

As they race to the shoreline,

Their hopes are now pinned
on their homemade raft.

The waters around alcatraz
are its last line of defense.

Prison authorities believe
no one can conquer

San francisco bay.

But is relying on the island's
isolated location

Their greatest mistake?

Narrator: In 1962,

The federal penitentiary
on alcatraz

Holds more than 250 convicts.

No one has ever
successfully escaped.

But on June 11th,

The rock's unbreakable
reputation hangs in the balance.

Three escaped convicts...

Frank morris and brothers
john and clarence anglin...

Stand at the water's edge.

They have an improvised raft
made from raincoats.

Freedom is within reach,

But these are
treacherous waters.

Draining away the bay
reveals hidden dangers.

Across the rocky seafloor

Are caverns and peaks
the height of houses

That churn the tides into fast,
unpredictable currents

Around alcatraz.

Averaging just 17 feet deep,

The tides sweep the water
out towards the bridge,

Where a perilous ravine
plummets 360 feet.

It forces 20 times more water
through the narrow channel

Than cascades
over niagara falls.

Do the inmates
overcome these deadly currents,

Or do they get washed out
into the open ocean?

Physician dr. Tom nuckton
is an authority

On swimming in the bay.

He knows just how dangerous
these waters are.

Tom is going to use
this huge scale model,

Built by the u.S. Corps
of army engineers,

To chart the men's escape route.

This simulator, just outside
the city in sausalito,

Replicates the currents
in the entire san francisco bay.

This model is really impressive.

You can see alcatraz here,
the shallow areas.

Narrator: Tom investigates
the tides around alcatraz island

At the time of the escape.

So we can put this boat...

In the water

Right about where we think
the prisoners got in the water,

And we can squirt a little dye.

Okay, we have a boat
that represents

The raft of the prisoners,

And some dye that shows
the outgoing tide

That the prisoners would have
had to contend with.

The currents push the boat

Towards the golden gate bridge.

Nuckton: They'd be swept right
out into the pacific ocean,

And you can still see the dye.
Look how quickly it's moving.

Narrator: The model shows
the most likely scenario...

The currents sweep the little
raft straight out to sea.

But these waters
can be unpredictable,

Depending on
the exact time of day.

Tom thinks there is a window
of opportunity

When a changing tide could help
steer a raft to safety.

So the san francisco bay has
flood tides coming in

And ebb tides going out.

From this simulation,
if they got in the water

At the precisely right time,
about 11:30 at night,

They could've ridden the ebb
out toward the golden gate

And then paddled
toward horseshoe bay

In the marin headlands.

Narrator: If frank morris
and the anglin brothers

Time it exactly right,

They could use the shifting
tides to paddle to shore.

But tom thinks it's likely
the men have to swim

At least part of the journey.

If that homemade raft failed,
if it didn't work,

And they ended up in the water,

They would've been in
serious trouble.

Narrator: Plunging into
the icy water instantly triggers

A gasping response,
drawing water into the lungs.

You can drown instantly.

At the same time,
your blood vessels constrict,

Pushing your heart rate up,

Risking cardiac arrest
within 2 minutes.

If you survive that,
within 10 minutes,

The blood stops flowing

To the muscles
in your arms and legs.

You lose coordination,
and swimming becomes impossible.

Just one in three people
survive to this stage.

After an hour,
the heart slows down,

Starving the brain of oxygen,
and you pass out.

The official report concludes

That the men drown
after their raft fails.

The rock retains
its perfect reputation,

But the case remains open.

Many wonder, "do the men
beat the odds and survive?"

An extraordinary discovery
more than 50 years later

Could hold the answer.

Narrator: In 1962,

Three prisoners set off
in a makeshift raft

From alcatraz island.

Most investigators assume
the men drowned,

But the bodies of frank morris,
john anglin,

And his brother clarence
are never found.

57 years later,
the case remains open,

And there's one man left
on the job...

U.S. Marshal michael dyke.

I still get some leads
called in,

People believing
they came across one of them

Or that their next door neighbor
could be one of them.

So there's all kinds of theories
that you could possibly imagine.

Narrator: It's michael's job

To keep an open mind about
the escape.

One theory is that the men
drowned just off angel island.

So approximately 24 hours
after the, we believe,

The escapees left the island
on the night of June 12th,

Right around the corner
up over here on angel island,

They found a paddle
that was floating

About 100 yards off the shore.

Narrator: A homemade life jacket

And photos belonging to
the anglin brothers

Are also discovered
drifting in the bay.

Dyke: Possibly,
the escapees drowned,

And as they were drowning,

They discarded items
just to lighten their load

To try and swim better.

But another possibility

Is that the men fake
their own deaths.

According to an accomplice,

Angel island is where they plan
to come ashore.

People believe the escapees

Might've discarded these items

To make it look like
they possibly did drown,

'cause if they were believed
to be dead,

Why keep looking for 'em?

[ wind whistling ]

Narrator: For more than
50 years, the trail stays cold.

But in 2013, a letter sent

To the san francisco
police department

Claims to be
from john anglin himself.

So when this letter
first came out,

A lot of us speculated

That the escape
might've been successful.

And this letter, basically,

Is written by someone
claiming to be john anglin.

He's claiming to be
83 years old, in bad shape.

The letter is intriguing.

If genuine, it would blow
this cold case wide open.

I'm always skeptical of
most of the stuff

That comes across my desk
regarding this case,

'cause so much stuff
I've seen has been made up.

But I don't ever
discount things, either.

Narrator: Certain statements
in the letter sound convincing.

Dna and fingerprint analysis
proves inconclusive,

So fbi specialists
examine the handwriting.

Does it match that
of the young john anglin?

Dyke: Most people when they age,

Their handwriting stays
pretty much the same as it was.

It just becomes less smooth.

Narrator: The closer
michael looks at the letter,

The more he's convinced
it's a fake.

Dyke: So this j is
absolutely nothing like the way

John anglin writes his letter j
when he writes his name down,

'cause we have
numerous examples of that.

The phraseology doesn't match
john anglin's examples.

It's not even close.

For michael, the search
for the truth goes on.

It's a mystery
because nobody really knows

What happened to these guys.

Narrator: Some believe that
the escape ruins

The rock's
unblemished reputation.

But in 1962, the prison is
already living on borrowed time.

Dyke: There's some that say
it made alcatraz look bad

Because of the escape,
but at the time,

There was already rumors
among the guard staff

That alcatraz would close
probably in the near future

Because it was so expensive

To upgrade it
to modern prison standards.

Narrator: In 1963,
a year after the escape,

Alcatraz closes,

Its reputation no longer able to
mask its crumbling architecture.

Today, teams work to rebuild
and protect alcatraz.

Alcatraz's greatest battle
has always been with itself.

Komas: Alcatraz island...
This is an iconic building.

The roots of its brutal history
are buried right underneath it.

Narrator: For 160 years,

Alcatraz is a jail
like no other.

During the civil war,
it locks up prisoners of war.

In the 1930s, it holds
america's most wanted criminals.

But after being hailed as
escape-proof, it cannot survive.

Alcatraz, this icon
of crime and punishment,

Is a victim of its own success.