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The 1946 Battle of Alcatraz

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
March 22, 2023 3:01 am

The 1946 Battle of Alcatraz

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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March 22, 2023 3:01 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, on this day in History in 1963, Alcatraz closed... The History Guy shares the story about an escape attempt in the infamous Alcatraz Federal penitentiary in San Francisco, California, that led to a standoff. The penitentiary the inmates called "the Rock,” was supposed to be escape-proof, but that did not keep some prisoners from trying.

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See terms and conditions at That's U-N-E-S-T dot C-O. And we continue with our American stories. And up next, comes a man who's simply known as the History Guy. Today, the History Guy shares the story about an escape attempt in the infamous Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in San Francisco, California, that led to a stand-up attack by the U.S. Army. The penitentiary, the inmates called The Rock, was supposed to be escape-proof, but that did not keep some prisoners from trying. We're telling this story because on this day in 1963, Alcatraz closed after 29 years of operation. Here's the History Guy with the story of the 1946 Battle of Alcatraz. Here's the History Guy with the story of the 1946 Battle of Alcatraz. Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary, built on an island in San Francisco Bay, was opened in 1934 to house America's most dangerous criminals. Built literally on an island surrounded by shark-infested waters, the prison was considered to be escape-proof, but that didn't keep the prisoners from attempting to escape from the infamous prison that was most often called simply, The Rock. There were 14 escape attempts in the 29 years that the prison was in operation, and among those, one was particularly notable both for its daring and for its violence. The 1946 Battle of Alcatraz deserves to be remembered. 46-year-old Bernard Barney Coy had been convicted by a federal jury for robbing the Bank of New Haven, Kentucky in March of 1937.

He and a cousin held a bank teller at gunpoint with a sawed-off shotgun made off with $2,175. Sentenced to 25 years, he was transferred from Atlanta to Alcatraz in 1938. Nonetheless, Coy had, by 1946, earned the position of sellhouse orderly, a prison janitor, a position that allowed him relative access around the prison. From that position, he had observed lapses in the security of the notoriously strict prison that he thought he could exploit, and he became the ringleader of a group determined to escape the escape-proof prison. Coy had a plan to overwhelm one guard and gain access to a weapons locker, but he needed help to overwhelm another guard who he thought would have the keys that he needed to escape.

It was a daring plan, and it required more men. His list of accomplices started with 33-year-old Marvin Franklin Hubbard. At Alcatraz, he was a kitchen orderly, and late cleanup in the prison kitchen made him a crucial part of Coy's plan.

But Coy figured that he would also need some muscle for his plan to work, and so he recruited some other prisoners to his plan. 29-year-old Mirren Buddy Thompson was an armed robber who showed skill at both getting caught and at escaping. In March of 1945, he was arrested by an Amarillo, Texas, police detective.

Thompson had hidden a gun and shot the detective. Clarence Carnes was just 19 years old, the youngest man in Alcatraz. A Choctaw from Oklahoma, he was known as the Choctaw Kid. He'd been given a life sentence at just the age of 16 after killing a garage attendant during an attempted holdup. 35-year-old Dutch Kretzer had done his first stint in prison at the age of 16. In the 1930s, he'd been part of a gang of West Coast bank robbers called the Kretzer-Kyle gang that had earned him a spot as number four on the FBI Most Wanted list. Kretzer then demanded that another prisoner, a friend of his, be included.

37-year-old Sam Shockley had been sentenced to life imprisonment for bank robbery and kidnapping. Sent to the federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, he was found to have an IQ of just 54 and be prone to violent outbursts and an unstable personality. Coy's plan started with guard Bert Birch. Birch patrolled an elevated gun platform that overlooked the C and D blocks.

Birch was armed with a Springfield rifle and.45 caliber pistol. But Birch had a routine so precise it could be timed. He would leave the C block for a few minutes at specific times and then go look over D block.

That meant that there were a few minutes when C block was not observed. Coy had fabricated a bar spreader, a device that would push two bars apart by turning a screw with a pair of pliers. His plan was to use the time when Birch went to D block to strip off his clothes, shimmy up the bars, use the bar spreader to make a gap big enough to slip through and waylay Birch as he came back in, taking his guns and getting access to D block to release his co-conspirators.

Coy had been starving himself for weeks in order to make it easier to slip through the gap in the bars. But he also needed to waylay guard William Miller, who watched the C block door because Miller had a key to the prison yard. By prison rules he wasn't supposed to keep the key but pass it to the guard in the gun cage every time he used it. That was intended to make it impossible for the prisoners to take the key that would let them out into the yard, exactly what Coy hoped to do. But Coy noticed that Miller often did not follow the rule because keeping the key allowed him to let out the kitchen staff without disturbing the gallery guard during lunch. As Hubbard worked in the kitchen he would have to overpower Miller when he let him out of the kitchen. Thus getting the key that Coy hoped would allow them to escape the yard and get to the prison dock where, using the guns from the locker, they would hijack the boat that carried supplies to the prison and make their escape.

It was a convoluted plan and much could go wrong, but men serving life sentences are desperate men. They made their move on May 2nd, 1946. Coy was in the main block sweeping up. When Miller opened the door until it hovered out, having finished his kitchen duties, he and Coy jumped Miller, clubbing him over the head. Miller had no gun but he did have a gas billy, a billy club that could also dispense tear gas.

They threw Miller in a cell. They then hurried to where they had stashed the bar spreader and pliers. When Burch made his normal trip to D Block, Coy managed to strip down, shimmy up the bars and use the bar spreader to make a gap wide enough to slip into the gun gallery. Coy attacked Burch immediately as he opened the door. Caught by surprise, Burch was quickly subdued. Coy yanked the rifle from his hands and beat him unconscious with it.

The plan was working so far. Coy went along to the gun gallery to D Block and threatened guard Cecil Corwin with his rifle. He forced Corwin to open the door to the main block, letting in Carnes, Hubbard and Kretzer. They then opened the D Block doors and freed Thompson and Shockley. Other D Block prisoners were also released but they wisely decided to stay in their cells. The prisoners were convinced their desperate plan was working but in fact, it was already doomed.

Guard Miller had figured out what they wanted and had managed to slip the key to the cell yard off the ring and hide it. The gang had no way to get out of the cell block. The escape attempt had failed, now it was a hostage situation. The group slowly waylaid other guards as they came in for regular duties or was sent to check on the other missing guards. Eventually they had nine guards stashed in two cells.

But present authorities were now well aware of what was going on. The group decided that if there was no means for escape, they would go down fighting. The groups started arguing with the guards that they had waylaid. When one of the officers told them they had no chance of escape and would die if they tried, Kretzer told them that the guards would die as well. He shot into the cell. Then Shockley yelled to kill all the hostages, saying they wouldn't have anyone to testify against them.

Kretzer emptied the 45 into the two cells. Six of the officers were injured. Officer Bill Miller later died of his wounds. The guards playing dead were terrified that Kretzer would come in and finish the job but he walked away. Desperately one of the guards managed to write the names of the six prisoners involved on a cell wall. Warden James Johnson sent in a large and heavily armed force in the afternoon. They managed to drive the prisoners back and rescue the hostages but a second guard, Harold Stiles, was killed and three more wounded in the melee. The warden now shut off the power and water to the block which was surrounded with floodlights and wailing sirens. Guards shot tear gas through the windows to keep the men pinned down. Carnes, Shockley and Thompson decided the jig was up and went back to their cells, hoping their involvement would be missed.

But Coy, Hubbard and Kretzer decided to fight to the death. Then Johnson took it up a notch and called in the United States Marine Corps. The Marines used tactics developed to the Pacific against Japanese soldiers in bunkers, drilling holes in the roof and dropping in hand grenades to drive the prisoners to a spot where they could be captured. Three boxes of rifle grenades and 150 hand grenades later, the three prisoners found a phone and called asking about terms for surrender.

Johnson told them that the only terms would be to throw out their guns and give up. When a guard peeked into C block, they shot at him. That was their answer to the warden's demand for surrender. Guards moved in and fired a dozen shots into the utility corridor where the three were thought to be hiding.

In response, they heard three shots. They were the last shots of the Battle of Alcatraz. Coy, Hubbard and Kretzer had chosen suicide over capture. In an odd twist, Marvin Hubbard had filed an appeal to his conviction and the hearing for that appeal was held the Monday after he had committed suicide.

A prosecutor in the case said that Hubbard had a fair chance that his conviction would be overturned. Clarence Carnes, Mirren Thompson and Sam Shockley had gone back to their cells, hoping to remain anonymous. Their hope was that Kretzer had killed the hostages who could identify them as being part of the attempt. But all but one of the hostages had survived. Thompson and Shockley were executed in the gas chamber of nearby San Quentin Prison, December 3rd, 1948.

A judge found sympathy for Clarence Carnes, owing to his age and the fact that the hostages reported that at one point he had refused an order by Kretzer to shoot them. His death sentence was commuted, but another life sentence was added to his term. Despite that, he did manage to eventually earn release in 1973, but he couldn't make it on the outside and violated the terms of his parole. He died in 1988 in the Federal Penitentiary in Springfield, Missouri. Alcatraz Prison would see several more escape attempts, including the famous incident in June of 1962, where prisoners Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin escaped and were never found. Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary closed March 21st, 1963. The buildings were simply rotting due to all the exposure to the salt air and was too expensive to repair, but was already the most expensive prison in the federal system to operate. The former prison was turned into a tourist attraction and today attracts more than one and a half million visitors a year. And great job as always by Greg Hengler. And again, thanks to the History Guy for being a regular featured contributor here on Our American Stories.

The story of the 1946 Battle of Alcatraz told because on this day in 1963, the infamous penitentiary closed after 29 years in operation here on Our American Stories. And I dropped my phone. Download the Roto app or check out when you're not playing a sport. The easiest way to buy or sell a car right from your phone. Buying a home? Rocket Mortgage will cover 1% of your rate for the first year at no cost to you with Inflation Buster.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-22 04:24:53 / 2023-03-22 04:30:49 / 6

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