Top 5 Unsolved Mysteries Involving Alcatraz

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Alcatraz has enchanted tourists, conspiracy theorists and paranormal investigators with its exciting and mysterious history. Is it true that prisoners went insane? Is it true that the dead prisoners still haunt the empty cells? Is it true that as many as five escaped prisoners may still live among us? These are just a few of the questions that steep the foggy atmosphere of one of the most successful—and horrific—prisons in the United States.

5 Is Alcatraz Haunted?

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Ghost tours are available at Alcatraz, and for good reason. Caretakers, tourists and night watchmen have reported hearing strange sounds in the night. Screaming, clanking noises, moaning and even echoes of gunfire have been reported. These mysterious noises could be remnants from violent attempted escapes, or last gasps of tortured inmates’ souls. Paranormal investigators visit Alcatraz and claim definitive readings of whispered words and restless ghosts. Take a trip to the aptly named “Devil’s Island” yourself for an encounter of your own.

4 Did Silence Drive Prisoners Insane?

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When Alcatraz was transformed from a military prison into a federal prison in 1934, rules got stricter and silence became mandatory. Prisoners complained that this was the worst torture they experienced at the prison, and that it caused several of them to go insane. One day, while working in a prison shop during that horrible silence, inmate Rufe Persful picked up a hatchet and chopped off the fingers of one hand. The warden relaxed the silence policy, and the claims of insanity decreased. It’s possible, but never proven, that taking away all speech and sound was driving the men to madness.

3 Did Native Americans Set Fire to Alcatraz?

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In November 1969, the closed-down prison was occupied by 79 Native Americans representing several tribes, in order to draw attention to Native American issues. Law enforcement drew the ire of the country when they tried to remove the squatting group. The 19-month occupation arguably caused President Nixon to revise federal policy concerning Native Americans. However, the effort quickly lost public approval after a large fire broke out that destroyed the warden’s quarters, doctor’s quarters and part of the lighthouse. Law officials blamed the occupiers, who in turn claimed that a small group of white infiltrators had landed on the island and set the fire. We’ll never know who destroyed the historical buildings.

2 Is the Swim Even Survivable?

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Perhaps Morris and the Anglin brothers got the idea to make a raft because of the unsolved mystery of two men who escaped in 1937, Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe. The two men filed away the bars of a window and made a break for the water. But it’s not an easy swim. Harsh currents, frigid temperatures and sharks await the ambitious escapee. They have never been found; officially they are ruled as drowned. But could they have survived the swim? Once a year the Sharkfest Swim invites intrepid athletes to try. However, the few and the proud who make the swim use wet suits and are greeted with hot chocolate when they reach land. 

1 Did the Most Famous Escapees Make It?

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Of the five prisoners with unknown whereabouts who may have escaped Alcatraz, the three who get the most attention are Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers. Having cleverly dug a tunnel using vents in their cells — and tricking the guards with papier-mache dummies in their beds—the three men braved prison walls, searchlights, and shark-infested waters to attempt an escape in 1962. But did they make it? The raft that they used—a cobbled-together craft of raincoats—was found on a nearby island the next day. Officials originally believed that the condition of the raft and the absence of any car thefts in the area proved that the men didn’t make it to land. However, one prisoner who didn’t make it out with the group told the press that a family member had planned on picking them up. Either they made it and are laughing at their captors to this very day, or they became shark food. We may never know.

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