As con artist Steven Jay Russell once said, "I don't think I'm cleverer than the police, but I managed it because they think anyone who is a criminal is stupid, and they're complacent. I think anyone can escape from anywhere." Sure enough, the most elaborate escape schemes in prison history involve decoys, knives smuggled in hunks of frozen meat, and helicopter hijackings.
Upon recapture, escapees typically face tighter security, harsher restrictions, and even longer sentences. Authorities, meanwhile, rarely elaborate on the details of escape attempts for fear of inspiring others. Many criminals, however, end up escaping again.
Some convicted criminals who escaped sought the adrenaline rush, while others say they needed a way to kick the boredom of prison life; many merely want their freedom. Though criminals on the loose and breaches in "maximum" security may concern those on the outside, many prison break stories are so smart you can't help marveling at their ingenuity.
Seven Men Pulled Off The Most Daring Escape In Texas History
Many elaborate prison breaks often end in recapture simply because the planners didn't devote enough time to what exactly they'll do if the escape works. Staying out is far more difficult than getting away in the first place, as was the case with seven convicted felons in the state of Texas. Dubbed "The Texas Seven" by national media, their prison break was one of the most brazen ever in Texas.
On December 13, 2000, seven men inside the John B. Connally Unit, a maximum security prison located in southern Texas, set their daring plan to escape in motion. The mastermind and acknowledged ringleader was George Rivas, a man serving 18 consecutive life sentences for multiple armed robberies. The group began their multi-stage escape plan during the prison’s lunchtime. While officers oversaw the various duties involved in feeding 2,500 inmates, Rivas and the others remained behind in the maintenance unit where they worked.
One of the inmates distracted the maintenance unit supervisor, allowing another inmate to strike him on the head from behind and rendering him unconscious. The escapees stripped the supervisor's clothing, gagged and tied him, and locked him inside a utility room - where eight more employees and guards soon joined him.
With complete control of the maintenance unit, Rivas called the central Guard Tower that controlled the exit gates. Posing as the maintenance supervisor, Rivas informed the tower he was sending out his workers to install cameras. The ploy worked, and the group took control of the Guard Tower and a variety of weapons. From there, they climbed into the maintenance truck and drove away through the gates. The father of one of the inmates placed an SUV in the parking lot of a nearby mall, and the "Texas Seven" exchanged vehicles at the location.
Their freedom lasted just over a month. The owner of an RV park in Woodland Park, CO, where the seven fugitives laid low, recognized the men from an episode of America's Most Wanted and contacted authorities. Realizing they were surrounded, the escapees surrendered peacefully - except for Larry James Harper, who opted to commit suicide rather than return to prison.
Richard Matt And David Sweat Smuggled Hacksaw Blades Into Prison Using Frozen Meat
Sweat wrapped the tools in cloths and towels to protect his hands from the bare blades and proceeded to carve tunnels through the walls and ceilings - eventually finding a route to the outside. No easy task, the hacksaws needed to cut through concrete walls, piping, and other sturdy materials, and the tunnels often came to a dead end. Sweat reportedly worked every night for months, even hand-rigging a fan when toiling in the walls became too hot.
After a few weeks on the lam, Matt was shot and killed by police. Two days later, they recaptured Sweat. Upon his return to prison, Sweat admitted he and Matt planned to kill their outside assistants. Sweat remains incarcerated in New York and is allowed only one hour outside his cell each day.
Alcatraz Inmates Created Dummies Of Themselves
Thirty-six Alcatraz inmates tried various methods of breaking out of the remote prison over the years, but were shot dead, drowned, or quickly recaptured. The prison's reputation of being escape-proof came to an end with Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers.
Morris, an intelligent, seasoned criminal, drifted in and out of prison his entire life - and escaped on seven different occasions. Even more than his crime sprees, Morris's propensity to flee from custody earned him a trip to Alcatraz. He arrived at the island on January 18, 1960.
Brothers Clarence and John Anglin made repeated attempts to escape a federal prison in Atlanta, before landing in Alcatraz for robbing banks. Given their similar backgrounds, it was only a matter of time before Morris and the Anglins hatched a plan to leave the island together. Inmate Allen West assisted the trio with their enterprise, but did not embark on the escape itself. In the aftermath, West confessed the entire undertaking to investigators in exchange for leniency.
Part of the plan included using lifelike dummies to fool the guards during the nighttime headcount. Crudely constructed, the models consisted of toilet paper and soap wax. Oil paint and hair from the barbershop lent enough of a realistic appearance in the dim lighting that a guard, in theory, might not even glance twice.
The escape plan began in December 1961, but not until May 1962 did the inmates manage to chip away at their vents enough to crawl through and start working on the one above their cell block. They operated in rotating shifts, with one inmate working the cement while another kept lookout. Morris eventually built an inflatable raft out of prison-issued raincoats, supposedly based on a schematic found in Popular Mechanic.
On June 11, 1962, the trio of bank-robbing escape artists placed the dummies in their beds and pulled up the blankets. Slipping from their cells through the enlarged vents, they made their way down to the mist-shrouded waters of the San Francisco Bay and vanished. They have never been recaptured, nor heard from by anyone. And while the FBI closed their case in 1979, the US Marshals Service continues the search for the three escapees.
Steven Jay Russell Posed As A Doctor And Faked An AIDS Diagnosis
Stephen Jay Russell's many elaborate prison and jail escapes inspired a book about his life and crimes, and a movie starring Jim Carrey. Russell's first escape occurred on May 13, 1992, in the midst of a six-month sentence. Somehow, he obtained a walkie-talkie and street clothes and walked right out of jail. Russell fled to Mexico, where he stayed for two years.
Upon his return to the US, Russell was promptly arrested and sent back to jail with an added three-year sentence. Russell then met the love of his life, a prisoner named Phillip Morris. But when Russell was released, Morris stayed in jail.
Soon after leaving, Russell was arrested again on embezzlement charges. He escaped jail by impersonating a judge and lowering his bail amount, which he paid off using a bounced check. Russell was eventually arrested again and sent to a maximum security prison in Huntsville, Texas. From there, he stole green felt-tip markers and dyed his prison clothes the color of scrubs - allowing him to walk by several correctional officers and head out the door.
In an interview, Russell admitted his Achilles heel turned out to be his love for Morris. "I did those things because I wanted to be with Phillip. I was out of control," he told The Guardian. The article expanded on this, saying, "And therein lay his fatal flaw; despite managing repeatedly to outwit the federal authorities, Russell was always caught because, each time he escaped, he would end up beating a path to Morris's door."
Russell's final escape proved his most brazen yet. Russell took laxatives, stopped eating, and lost a considerable amount of weight. He then doctored his prison medical records to claim he was HIV positive. Russell faked AIDS symptoms, leading to special parole at a nursing home for terminal care. Once in the facility, Russell impersonated a doctor and called the prison board to tell them Russell died from AIDS-related complications.
The plan worked for a little while, but Morris remained in jail. Russell visited, posing as a lawyer. Police eventually apprehended Russell in 1998 and sent him back to maximum security prison in Texas. Reportedly, Russell is rarely allowed to leave his cell for fear he'll attempt another escape.