View follow me a cell block in Alcatraz Penitentiary, san Francisco, California, in march 20, 1911. Photo: PhotoQuest/Getty images
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The Gruesome killing at Alcatraz

AuthorAdam Janos

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The Gruesome killing at Alcatraz



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October 30, 2021


A+E Networks

In the annals of American crime, Alcatraz commonwealth Penitentiary—aka “The Rock”—is the quintessential maximum-security prison. A fortress on one island amidst the cold churning waters of mountain Francisco Bay, it to be the de facto destination for America’s most dangerous convicts.

But if you fill a prison fortress v the nation’s many dangerous people, the prison—naturally—will it is in a dangerous place. And even v Alcatraz’s notoriously strong security, those civilization occasionally strike with sensational violence.

 A&E True Crime watch at few of the many gruesome murders the took location at the hands of Alcatraz inmates.

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Officer imperial C. Cline (1938)

Although there were no evidenced successful escapes indigenous Alcatraz, plenty of inmates tried. And also when they did, the skirmishes that followed were frequently lethal. On may 22, 1938, corrections officer royal Cline was supervising the prison’s hardwood workshop once he make the fatal failure of turning his attention away indigenous the detainees briefly to take inventory the supplies. Follow to David Ward’s publication Gangsters the Alcatraz, inmates cutting board Limerick, James Lucas and also Rufus “Whitey” Franklin test to an outbreak of the workshop by climbing v a home window while Cline was in an adjacent office. When the officer went back mid-escape, Franklin bludgeoned him v a hammer. Cline never regained consciousness.

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The guys made it onto the roof, where they were confronted by jail guard Harold Stites. They threw scrap steel they’d gathered native the workshop at the guard when he returned fire. 2 of the guys were shot—Limerick fatally—and the to escape was placed down. The surviving detainees were given life sentences because that Cline’s murder.

Rufus McCain (1940)

Like Cline’s murder, the killing of Rufus McCain traces ago to one Alcatraz to escape attempt. But whereas Cline was a guard, McCain was an inmate. He’d tried to escape Alcatraz through two other inmates ~ above January 13, 1939—but similar to all Alcatraz escape efforts, the setup failed and also one that his co-conspirators (Arthur Barker) to be shot and also killed by guards during the attempt.

Less than a year later, the other surviving escapee—Henri Young—fatally stabbed McCain v a sharpened spoon. He never explained his motive.

In 1995, McCain’s killing (and Young’s subsequent trial) became the premise because that Murder in the First, a movie starring Christian Slater. Follow to writer David Ward, Young’s defense team test to claim that the conditions at Alcatraz to be so inhumane that they drive him come murder.

They “put the school on trial,” Ward says, both “in that case and subsequent cases.” In Young’s case, that defense failed: He was convicted the manslaughter.

Maurice Herring (1942)

Other Alcatraz murderers found an ext sympathetic juries. One noteworthy case affiliated the killing of Maurice Herring, who battled in the showers through inmate Cecil Snow. Follow to witnesses, Herring—the stronger of the two—had knocked eye to the floor and also was straddling him and also hitting that in the head as soon as Snow, brandishing a knife, stabbed his assailant in the chest and also thigh, the latter injury leading to a severed artery.

Bleeding profusely, Herring stumbled away and collapsed from loss of blood. In ~ a fifty percent hour, he to be pronounced dead in the prison hospital.

In federal court, inmates testified top top Snow’s behalf, claiming that Herring had actually been a hot-tempered assailant and also had made numerous threats. Snow was acquitted that the murder, but was nevertheless punished through the prison staff with nearly three year of disciplinary segregation.

“The jury bought it,” claims Ward that the verdict. Together for disciplinary segregation—also referred to as “isolation”—Ward says that jail officials take it a lot of criticism from world who saw the conditions as inhumane.

“It’s a cell v nothing in it, and a ban door,” Ward says. “When they gained criticized, they began calling that the ‘behavior modification unit.’”

Claude Branch (1945)

Like Herring and McCain, Claude Branch to be a sinner murdered by a fellow inmate—Ralph Greene, who delivered the deadly blow v a metal stand in the jail barbershop. Uneven the previously detailed victims, Branch looked at very first as despite he can survive, just succumbing come his injuries after 2 days. However during his moment of consciousness, he to be so unwilling come rat someone the end to the government—even his own killer—he refuse to Alcatraz officials the the fight take it place.

Ward watch Branch’s refusal together emblematic the the “convict code” of habits that to be the norm of Alcatraz.

Ward describes the tenets of the code: “You don’t perform anything to interfere through some various other inmates’ video game or activity. You never ever do something to help the staff. You keep quiet and to yourself. And you don’t ‘roll-over’: give up information on other inmates.”

After Branch’s murder, inmates safeguarded his killer by claiming the Branch was homosexual and regularly tried come rape other inmates such as Greene. Together in the case of Herring, a jury discovered Greene “not guilty,” after which the prison staff sent him to isolation because that four and also a half years.

Officers william Miller and Harold Stites (May 1946)

It to be the bloodiest confrontation between officers and also prisoners in Alcatraz’s history: the battle of Alcatraz, a three-day occurrence in which Alcatraz inmates hosted prison safety hostage in prison cells and exchanged lengthy gunfire with a rescue team.

The takeover attempt to be masterminded by bank robber bernard Coy, who—working with other inmates—overpowered one guard and then easily gained access to the prison’s supply of guns and ammunition, allowing them to effectively take end the prison.

The plan, as originally devised, forced using a key to acquire out that the cabinet block and also out come the docks, where prisoners would have taken a boat to san Francisco—and freedom. Officer Miller, that was being held hostage, hid that vital from the detainees in the holding cell toilet.

Miller and several other prison guards to be shot and also tortured through inmates in the pursuit of the key. Miller gave in to his injuries, however not before positively identify his killer as inmate Joseph Cretzer.

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Officer Harold Stites—who had helped neutralize the escape attempt the took Officer imperial Cline’s life—was fatally shoot in the gunfire in between guards and convicts. Coy was additionally killed, together with two other inmates. Three enduring conspirators were tried and convicted for the murders—after which they attempted to escape again.