Prison Break

There’s this guy that was born in my hometown in rural Kansas. He was born in April of 1912 in Pittsburg. It’s a small college town with only about 20,000 residents and not of any huge significance to the world. A lot of people around here don’t know about him now. So many years have passed. He was considered a career criminal starting at the early age of 16 arrested for grand larceny. At 17 he attempted and failed to rob the Dr. Pepper Bottling Works in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He was sent to the state prison in McAlester, Oklahoma.

He was a smart guy and performed several prison breaks and more crimes until he was sent to Leavenworth in 1935. And from there, he went to the most notorious prison of all, Alcatraz. He was “considered vicious and in need of maximum security and discipline.”

This man was named Theodore Cole and with his accomplice, Ralph Roe, became the second prison break attempt in the vivid history of Alcatraz. He broke out of Alcatraz sometime around December 16, 1937 and the warden recounted, “The prisoners were counted at 1 pm and again at 1:30, when Roe and Cole were found to be not at work. Somehow, in that half-hour, they disappeared into a fog which made it nearly impossible to see any distance.” (Warden James Johnston, December 17, 1937)

They started their breakout by studying the routines of the guards and discovered that one particular guard was more lax than the others on watch. They used a stolen hacksaw blade to saw through the iron bars of one of the blacksmith shop windows were they worked. They replaced the missing pieces of metal with grease and shoe polish. They were speculated to have created floats from lightweight fuel cans. They planned to squeeze through the window, drop to the ground, cut the chain link fence surrounding the area, and make a mad dash over the cliff to the water.

On the day of their escape attempt, there was a deep fog over the San Francisco Bay area. They did manage to make it to the water and disappeared. They were never found but many speculated that they did not survive the waters. Still, others insisted as late as 1941 that the two were living comfortably in South America and were wealthy criminals there. The FBI continued to search for Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe up until the 1960s.

Did they survive? The truth is still out there.

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