Seventy years ago today, on May 2, 1946, a violent escape attempt was made from one of the most well-known prisoners in the United States – Alcatraz. Located on a lonely island in the midst of San Francisco Bay surrounded by strong currents, the prison had a well-founded reputation for being inescapable, but that did not prevent desperate convicts from trying. Six inmates successfully gained access to a guards-only area through overpowering a guard and get hold of guns and other weapons. They were unsuccessful, however, in getting the keys to the exercise yard and, thus, were stuck in the cell-block.
Rather than surrender and subject themselves to certain long extensions to their prison terms, the cons decided to hold out against the guards in the long shot that they be able to fight their way to freedom. After the guards were unable to retake the cell-block, the warden called for help and was assisted by two platoons of marines. The marines and guards sent mortar shells into the main cell-house and dropped live grenades at strategic points to force the failed escapees into a corner. Three of the cons returned to their cells – deciding there was no hope of escape. The other three (Bernard Coy, Joe Cretzer, and Marvin Hubbard) all were killed when the marines breached the cell-block. Casualties among the guards and marines numbered two – William Miller and Harold Stites, both guards. Two of the cons who returned to their cells, Sam Shockley and Miran Thompson, received death sentences for their roles in the guards’ deaths and were executed in 1948. The youngest attempted escapee, Clarence Carnes, received a life-sentence for his role.