10 Most Famous Prison Escapes in History

Friday, January 25, 2013

10 Most Famous Prison Escapes in History

Prison escapes are spectacular, especially when they are deemed impossible, or when they are especially bold. The escapees may be criminals sometimes, but we cannot stop ourselves from admiring their cleverness or their courage, when trying to regain freedom.  Here are the most famous prison escapes in history:

1.  The Taliban tunnel

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This amazing prison escape took place on April 25. That morning, 480 imprisoned Taliban rebels escaped through an underground tunnel that they had dug over the past 5 months. Unnoticed, the Taliban prisoners crossed the 320 meters distance to freedom in 20 minutes. Their escape was so easy that many people believe that they had the help of the guardians or of the government.

2.  The Alcatraz escape

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Alcatraz was one of those prisons from which an escape was deemed impossible. However, it was not quite so: on June 12, 1962, 3 men simply disappeared from the fortress which is located on a little island in the San Francisco Bay.  Apparently, the three men used metal spoons as well as a drill improvised  from a vacuum cleaner they had stolen.  As in a Hollywood movie, they covered their drilling sounds by working during music hours and they even left behind dummies of themselves, gifted with hair stolen from the barber shop! Even though officials claim that the three inventive men drowned during their escape, no evidence, and more importantly, no body, was ever found.

3. The great Escape

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This  is one of the most famous prison escapes in the world, especially after the moment when  the story was illustrated in a movie with the same name.  The great escape is one of the most interesting incidents of World War II: Allied prisoners of war tried to escape from Stalag Luft III, a Nazi work-camp which proved great security measures. The number of prisoners who took part in this escape is impressive: more than 600 were implied in the action, in one way or another. The plan was to dig 3 tunnels and set the prisoners free, with fake papers to help them deceive security. However, only one tunnel could be completed and it was soon proved to be too short as well. Thus, only 76 people were able to escape before their attempt was discovered. The plan ended in complete disaster when all but 3 escapees were caught and 50 of the men were killed by Gestapo.

4. Escape from Imrali Island

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Billy Hayes was a 23-year-old American student who was caught while trying to get hashish out of Turkey and was sentenced to 4 years in prison. However, when he was weeks away from freedom, Billy received an additional 30 years punishment. Thus, he would have been condemned to spend most of his life in prison, for a minor mistake which can be attributed to his young age. Since he was given a job on the docks, he escaped in a rowboat to Istanbul, where he disguised and managed to get back to America.

5. The Maze

One of the most interesting prison escapes of all time took place in 1983, when 38 IRA inmates managed to make their way out of the maximum security prison called “The Maze”, considered to be one of the few escape-proof prisons in the world. Their escape was  a violent one: the prisoners used guns  that was delivered to them in order to take over H-block 7 and killed one of the guardians. They hijacked a van used to deliver the food provisions in order to leave the place and took the people inside the van hostages. Nineteen of the insurgents managed to escape.

6. John Dillinger’ prison escapes

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The famous gangster escaped prison not once but two times: First, he escaped Ohio jail where he was serving time for a bank theft. He was caught in Arizona and sent to Crown Point, in Indiana, a prison which was considered much safer than the first. Not safe enough, apparently! On March 1934,  Dillinger tricked the guards by using a wooden gun (at least this is what he claimed) and locked them into a cell, using the sheriff’s car to escape in style.

7.  The Libby Prison escape

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In 1864, Libby prison, in Richmond, was the scene of a mass prison escape: 109 Union soldiers escaped by digging a tunnel from the basement outside the prison’s walls. However, many were recaptured and some also died while trying to reach North.

8. The escape of Pascal Payet

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Not only did this Frenchman escape prison several times, but he also escaped in style every single time: in 2001, he left prison (without permission) in a helicopter. In 2003, he came back and helped 3 friends to escape by means of a chopper.  As if it wasn’t enough, Pascal Payet was able to escape a third time in an unusual manner: Three men hijacked a copter in Cannes and landed it on a prison roof, in Grasse, where Payet was imprisoned. There, the armed criminals threatened the guards and  managed to  deliver Payet to freedom once again. He was not lucky this time either, and was caught three months later. I am sure he is preparing another movie-like escape as I am writing this article!

9. John Gerard escaped from the tower of London

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Even though times have changed and the prisons of these days seem much more secure than they used to be centuries ago, this is not quite true: back then,  authorities had their ways of keeping criminals inside prisons, and the crossing moats is one of those methods. John Gerard, a Jesuit Priest, became famous in 1597, after having escaped from the tower of London where he was tortured for his religious believes. With the help of his friends and of his own imagination, he succeeded to climb down on a rope and escape in a boat.

10.  Napoleon’s escape from Elba

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How could anyone exclude Napoleon’s own getaway from a list concerning famous prison escapes? The emperor was condemned to exile on the small island called Elba. However, he did not stay there long and returned to France with his remaining troops. He was counting on the French people to stay by him, and so they did. However, it was not enough to regain sovereignty  and Napoleon was defeated for good in 1815, at Waterloo.
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