Escaped Prisoners: The Most Outrageous Jail Breaks, From Alcatraz To The Maze

Fugitives On The Run: The Most Outrageous Prison Breaks

An international manhunt has been launched after convicted murderer John Anslow escaped from a police van following a "well-orchestrated armed ambush" earlier this week.

Anslow, also known as ‘Skitz’ has not yet been found, athough a 44-year-old man has been arrested in connection with ambush. He is the first category A prisoner to escape since a breakout from Parkhurst jail on the Isle of Wight in 1995 and £10,000 has been offered for information leading to his arrest.

Matthew Williams was another prisoner who tried to escape the law. He was serving a life sentence for planting a bomb and administering poisons and arson also at Parkhurst jail on the Isle of Wight and was among three men who escaped from the forbidding looking jail on the island.

Williams, along with murderer Keith Rose, and Andrew Rodge, planned their escape meticulously, making their own key, copied from memory, before using it to gain entry to the prison gymnasium.

One of the prisoners was a qualified sheet-metal-worker who used his skills to make steel ladder out of stolen goalposts, labouring unsupervised in the gym. The three men also managed to get hold of a gun.

The trio had arranged to have ammo and cash brought in by visitors. Staying behind after exercises, they used cut through the mesh perimeter and used the ladder to scale the walls.

Walking eight miles to the town of Newport, they hailed a taxi to Sandown where the men then tried to steal a plane. It’s believed their plan was to steal a Cessna, as Keith Rose was a qualified pilot.

When that plan failed, the trio slept rough on the east of the island. They were captured less than three miles from the prison, five days after the initial escape, when they were spotted by an off-duty prison officer.

HM Parkhurst was a Victorian prison, and its security was lambasted by the Learmont inquiry set up to investigate how the men were able to escape. However the Maze prison in Northern Ireland was a maximum security institution, and hosted one of the most violent breakouts in modern memory.

An aerial view of the Maze prison, showing its labyrinth layout

Many prisoners convicted of taking part in armed paramilitary campaigns during The Troubles were held in the County Antrim jail, and on 25 September 1983, almost 40 inmates staged a mass breakout.

During their violent run for freedom, one prison guard died from a heart attack and 20 others were injured. Thirteen were kicked and beaten while four were stabbed with a craft knife. The inmates had managed to smuggle in a hand gun, and two prison guards were shot, although not fatally.

A cell at the Maze prison

It was less than 24 hours before 15 escapees were captured, after the IRA miscalculated timing of the breakout and the escape trucks were late, forcing the prisoners to flee on foot.

The following two days saw four more captured, while the remaining escapees were transferred to an IRA safehouse. They were given the option of a new job and identity in the US by the militant organisation.

Another audacious escape was perfected by intrepid thieves Vassilis Paleokostas and his Albanian compadre Alket Rizai, who staged a helicopter hijack, not once, but twice to escape from prisons in Greece.

During the first escape, the criminals organised a helicopter to land in the exercise yard. Stunned prison guards believed it was a suprise inspection, until the prepared bandits jumped inside. The second time, while they were awaiting trial to be convicted for their first escape, a rope ladder was thrown to the men from a helicopter that had landed on the prison's roof, who then clung on as it took the men to safety.

Alcatraz prison perched on the rocky island off the California coast is notorious for its failed escape attempts. Since the San Francisco jail opened in 1908, more than 36 incarcarated prisoners have dreamed up ingenious attempts to make it across the freezing currents of the bay area. Of the 14 attempts at escapes, all 36 men were either shot or recaptured, although some bodies have never been officially found.

Alcatraz island is one and a half miles from the mainland.

Among the most imaginative attempts included inmates who smeared their bodies in grease to slip through the bars. The men had hidden army uniforms in paint cans, but their escape didn’t go according to plan and they had to run in just underpants, to the towers.

The most famous attempt, made legendary by film Escape From Alcatraz starring Clint Eastwood saw inmates Frank Morris, John Anglin and Clarence Anglin and Allen West make their escape attempt.

The four prisoners, two of them brothers, were reunited at the Alcatraz prison, and two years into their incarceration began to formulate an escape plan.

They chipped away to make a makeshift tunnel out of vents in their room, using a metal spoon and a drill from spare parts of a vacuum cleaner.

The prisoners reportedly made dummies of themselves to leave in their bed, using hair clippings from the barber shop to avoid being spotted during the nightly headcount. Unlike many failed prisoners before them, they constructed a raft made from rubber raincoats, as they knew it would be difficult to swim.

Allen West didn't take part in the escape, as although the others had loosened grilles in their room, West's vent was stuck. However this is just one theory. He may have abandoned the plot altogether, believing it to be too dangerous. Nevertheless, he was the only prisoner to be seen again. It is believed the others drowned, although their bodies have never been found.

Solitary confinement cells at Alcatraz


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