Ask anyone their favourite movie and The Shawshank Redemption is nearly always mentioned. People remember that final scene with the Shawshank tree, and Morgan Freeman reuniting with his friend Andy on the beach in Mexico.

Couldn’t happen in real life, right?

The movie was based on Stephen King’s novella, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. So, it’s all pure fiction…


There’s a famous island in the San Francisco Bay called Alcatraz. During its almost thirty years of service as a federal penitentiary, it housed some of the country’s most ruthless criminals, including Al Capone, George “Machine Gun” Kelly and Whitey Bulger.

It was said to be escape-proof. On the official figures, 41 inmates tried to get out: 26 were recaptured, 7 were shot dead, 5 drowned. That’s 38.

So… what happened to the other three?

They were Frank Morris and the Anglin brothers.

Frank was an orphan who had spent most of his childhood in foster homes and got his first conviction at 13. By the time he got to Alcatraz, he had spent most of his life in and out of jail. Which was a pity, as Frank had an IQ of 133, which put him in the top 2% of the population.

The Anglin brothers had been raised by inveterate farm workers and had a history of armed robbery – though they only ever used a toy gun. They were also expert cold water swimmers.

By chance, Frank and the Anglins were assigned adjacent cells in Block D.

On the night of June 11, 1962, the three convicts were locked down as usual. Guards checked on them regularly and saw them fast asleep in their cells.

Next morning, they were gone.

But how?

Turning over their bunks, guards found lifelike papier-mâché heads on their pillows. The alarm was raised and what followed was the largest manhunt since the Lindbergh kidnapping.

Like Andy in Shawshank, the three prisoners had planned their escape over many months, with meticulous attention to detail. Frank had discovered that behind their cells was an unguarded utility corridor. Using spoons stolen from the dining hall, and a drill “borrowed” from a vacuum cleaner, he and the Anglins chiselled through some crumbling air vents to get to it. Frank Morris played the accordion every night to hide the noise of the digging from the guards.

Once they’d gained access, they used it to get to a duct shaft leading to the roof, where they built a workshop on top of their cell block. They went up there every night for weeks, making what they needed for their escape; they built a raft, made from stolen rubber raincoats, and sealed the seams with heat from nearby steam pipes.

They created the dummy heads from plaster and toilet paper, even using hair clippings from the barbershop to make them more realistic.

On the night of the escape, the three men shimmied down a smokestack to the shoreline, taking their raft with them. They climbed two 12-foot, barbed-wire perimeter fences to reach a spot out of range of the searchlights and inflated their raft with a stolen concertina.

They then disappeared into a dense fog.


The police, FBI and the military combed San Francisco Bay and much of Northern California looking for them, in the following days. But all they found was some shreds of the raft, washed up on nearby Angel Island and a wallet they believed belonged to one of the Anglin brothers.

The bay is notorious for its swirling currents and frigid temperatures at that time of year. Federal officials concluded the three had certainly drowned, their bodies swept out to sea.

Or did they?

The US Marshall’s case file remains open on the case and will remain so, until all three escapees reach their 100th birthdays, in a few years’ time.

Because doubts remain.

Robert Checchi, a San Francisco police officer, said that he saw a boat in the bay near Alcatraz at one o’clock that morning. A few minutes later the boat departed, under the Golden Gate bridge. Could the three have had outside help?

What if there was a cover-up, not only to save Alcatraz’s reputation as an “escape-proof” prison, but to hope the escapees would relax and then become easier targets to find?

And what if the debris found on Angel Island was released deliberately to float with the tide and throw the authorities off their trail?

You’d have to have an IQ of 133 to think of doing something as ingenious as that.

The Anglins’ mother received flowers anonymously every Mother’s Day until her death. Two unusually tall women in heavy makeup were seen at her funeral.

And a photograph of two men resembling John and Clarence Anglin surfaced in 1975. The picture was taken in Brazil.

Taken not too far, perhaps, from their own Shawshank tree?

Nah. It couldn’t happen. It’s all fiction.


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When a priest is found crucified in a derelict North London chapel, it makes a dramatic change for DI Charlie George and his squad at Essex Road. The brutal murder could not be further from their routine of domestic violence and stabbings on the estates.

And that’s only the beginning . . .

On Christmas Eve, a police officer goes missing and his colleagues can’t help but anticipate the worst. It turns out they’re right to when eventually the body is found and they discover he’s been stoned to death.

As tensions rise, it’s up to Charlie and his team to venture into the city’s cold underbelly to try and find an answer to the madness . . . before anyone else dies a martyr’s death.

‘Dripping with authenticity. Packed full of characters you genuinely care about . . . An absolute triumph’ M. W. Craven


Colin Falconer

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  1. Wondering, what is the Shawshank “tree” you mention? Since Red had to take a bus far south to get to the tree that Dufresne sent him to….. so I am afraid I have missed something?

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