Alcatraz: The "Worst of the Worst" Doing Hard Time on the Rock

March 19, 2007


March 19, 2007, San Francisco: SAN FRANCISCO, March 19, 2007: During its 29 years as the toughest and most feared federal penitentiary in America, Alcatraz was “home” to many of the most notorious criminals and gangsters in U.S. history. Between 1934 and 1963, Alcatraz housed a total of 1,576 inmates; here’s a line up of a few who were considered the “worst of the worst.”

• Alphonse “Scarface” Capone
Offense: Violating Income Tax Laws. Sentence: 10 years. Capone began gangster activities in early teens and by 1929 had amassed a fortune in bootlegging, gambling, prostitution and other criminal activities from his Chicago headquarters. He fed Chicago’s poor in free soup kitchens, and at first was thought by the public to be a “Robin Hood;” later he was seen as a national menace. He died at his family compound in 1947 of syphilis.

• George R. “Machine Gun” Kelly
Offense: Kidnapping. Sentence: Life. Born into a wealthy family, left home at 17 and became a small-time criminal. He fell in love with Kathryn Thorne, a bootlegger’s mistress and seasoned criminal, and received Public Enemy No.1 status. Kelly kidnapped a banker and transported him across state lines, making him the first to be tried under the Lindbergh Law that made kidnapping a federal offense if more than one state was involved.

• Robert Franklin Stroud, “The Birdman of Alcatraz”
Offense: Murder. Sentence: Life. Spent 30 years at USP Leavenworth before being transferred to Alcatraz. While at Leavenworth, he developed a passion for birds and their diseases and published two internationally acclaimed books. His story was immortalized in the 1962 film starring Burt Lancaster, although he was never permitted to have birds during his 17 years on Alcatraz.

• Frank Lee Morris
Offense: Burglary of Bank. Sentence: 14 years. A lifetime criminal, Morris was first convicted at the age 13. He and fellow inmates John and Clarence Anglin took seven months to design their Alcatraz escape plan. On June 11, 1962, the inmates escaped from their cells through enlarged air vents dug with stolen kitchen spoons and tools. The FBI and U.S. Marshalls still consider the case of their escape open and continue to follow leads to this day.

• Alvin “Creepy” Karpavicz
Offense: Conspiring to Kidnap and Transport. Sentence: Life. A habitual criminal, “Creepy Karpis” served 26 years on Alcatraz, the longest tenure of any Alcatraz inmate. He was released from the Federal Prison system in 1969 and deported to Canada; ten years later, he committed suicide in Spain.

• Sam Richard Shockley
Offense: Bank Robbery and Kidnapping. Sentence: Life. Shockley had the mental equivalency of a 10-year-old child and experienced hallucinations resulting in violent outbursts. He was part of the 1946 escape attempt that raged for three days and resulted in the deaths of two Alcatraz guards and three inmates. Often put in the isolation, confined without clothing in a totally dark environment, he was sentenced to death and executed for his role in the Battle of Alcatraz.

• Arthur “Doe” Barker
Offense: Conspiring to Transport Kidnapped Person. Sentence: Life. Kate “Ma” Barker taught Arthur and his brothers to live the life of crime, and lived very well from their labors. By adolescence, Arthur had graduated from petty crimes to deadly armed robberies. Barker spent four years on The Rock and was killed in 1939 after being shot by guards during an escape attempt.

For more information on the history of Alcatraz, please visit the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy website. To purchase Alcatraz tickets and tours, please contact Alcatraz Cruises at