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On The Run: 5 Of The Most Brazen Prison Escapes In U.S. History
As searches continue for murder suspect Casey White and corrections officer Vicky White, here are some notable escapes that captured the nation's attention.
The search continues for Vicky White, the fugitive corrections officer who allegedly helped murder suspect Casey White escape custody in Alabama last week.
New details are steadily being released about the Whites (who are not related), including an alleged romantic affair between Vicky and the man facing trial for the 2015 stabbing death of 58-year-old Connie Ridgeway.
As the U.S. Marshals Service offers a reward for the missing pair, take a look at some notable escapes in years past.
1. 2015 Clinton Correctional Facility Escape
It’s hard not to think of the events surrounding the Dannemora prison escape as news continues to emerge about the Whites. The plot also involved an alleged love triangle between prison seamstress Joyce Mitchell and two murder convicts, Richard Matt and David Sweat.
Matt was found guilty of breaking his employer’s neck with his bare hands before dismembering him and disposing of him in the Niagara River back in 1997. In a separate incident, Sweat participated in a 2002 robbery before he helped shoot a Broome County Sheriff's deputy 15 times and ran over him with his car while the victim was still alive.
Despite the viciousness of their crimes, Matt and Sweat were model prisoners and were permitted certain freedoms, including wearing civilian clothes. Joyce Mitchell, who forged a relationship with both men, supplied them with tools in order to make their escape. On June 6, 2015, Matt and Sweat escaped through a steam pipe before fleeing for the forests of northern New York, where Mitchell was supposed to bring the men supplies before she got cold feet.
On June 16, 2015, authorities found a drunken Matt and shot him to death when he refused to drop his shotgun, which he stole from an empty hunting lodge. Two days later, authorities chased Sweat down and also shot him, but Sweat survived.
Sweat had three to seven years added to his sentence.
Joyce Mitchell pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting. She was released from prison in 2020.
The case was adapted for the 2018 Showtime mini-series "Escape at Dannemora," directed by Ben Stiller. It was also documented in Oxygen's 2018 special "Dannemora Prison Break."
2. The Mecklenburg Six
On May 31, 1984, six death row inmates at Virginia's Mecklenburg Maximum Security Center corralled 14 prison employees, changed into their uniforms, and tied them up before putting them behind bars, according to the LA Times. It would be the largest death row inmate escape in U.S. history.
The plot to escape was led by brothers Linwood and James Briley.
As featured in Oxygen’s “Killer Siblings,” the Briley brothers – including a third brother who was serving a life sentence for his crimes – were notorious in Virginia, having been suspected of killing as many as 20 people between them.
One judge called the brothers’ crimes the “vilest rampage of rape, murder, and robbery the court has seen in 30 years,” according to the LA Times.
Joining Linwood and James Briley for the escape were four other inmates: Derick Peterson, who was convicted of fatally shooting a grocery store manager during a robbery; Willie Jones, who confessed to shooting an elderly couple in their home for their life savings; Lem Tuggle, who was awaiting execution for the rape and murder of a woman while on parole for a separate murder; and Earl Clanton Jr., who had stabbed and strangled a neighbor for $8.
The prison break shocked locals in the tobacco-farming region, and lapses in prison security were fiercely scrutinized in the aftermath. Peterson, Jones, Tuggle, and Clanton were all captured days after the escape, while the Briley brothers were apprehended several weeks later in Philadelphia.
All six men have since been executed, and the Mecklenburg Correctional Center closed its doors in 2012.
3. Alcatraz Escape
It would be difficult to revisit some of the most notable prison escapes in U.S. history without mentioning the infamous Alcatraz escape.
On the morning of June 12, 1962, guards found brothers John and Clarence Anglin, along with fellow inmate Frank Morris, missing from their prison cells, according to the FBI. Morris was incarcerated at “The Rock” for a number of crimes, including bank robbery and repeated attempts to escape various prisons. He knew the Angolan brothers from previous stints behind bars.
Officers found dummy plaster heads in the three men’s beds. Investigators from multiple agencies discovered the three convicts plotted their escape by using crude tools to help them slip through the air vents, which led to an unguarded section of the prison. They used more than 50 raincoats to jury-rig a six-foot by 14-foot raft. They escaped through a kitchen smoke stack that led to the roof before embarking on the bay’s waters, about 1.5 miles from land.
The men were never seen again.
Theories have abounded over the years. Some believe the men made it to the shore, despite the cold and rough currents of the bay. Some believe they died in the water.
More than 55 years later, officials announced that they discovered a letter, allegedly penned by John Anglin, claiming he and the two others were successful in their escape. Per the letter, Clarence Anglin and Frank Morris had previously passed away.
The FBI closed the case in 1979 and turned it over to the U.S. Marshals Service.
4. Glen Stewart Godwin: Two-Time Escapee
Glen Stewart Godwin escaped California’s Folsom State Prison just five months into this 26-years-to-life sentence back in 1987, according to CBS Sacramento. Often compared to the events depicted in Stephen King’s “The Shawshank Redemption,” Godwin managed to descend a 1,000-foot storm pipe that ran underneath the prison to make his bold escape. He used an inflatable raft to cross the American River, where his wife waited for him.
According to the Sacramento Bee, Godwin was serving time for stabbing a man 26 times before using explosives to blow up his body.
Godwin’s wife was later arrested for her role in Godwin’s escape.
Months after the getaway, Godwin – who was fluent in Spanish – was arrested on drug charges in Mexico and sentenced to prison. In 1991, he murdered his cellmate and escaped five months later, according to the FBI.
Many, including Godwin’s wife, believe that Godwin is still alive. The FBI stated they believe he uses and distributes illegal drugs and may be living in South or Central America.
There is a $20,000 reward for his capture. He would be between 64 and 78 years old today.
5. Ted Bundy
Of course, Ted Bundy is known as one of the most violent serial killers in American history, but some might not know that he escaped custody, not once but twice, with deadly consequences.
In 1977, Bundy was awaiting trial in Colorado for the murder of 23-year-old nurse Caryn Campbell, as previously reported. Well-liked by his handlers, Bundy was permitted to roam freely around the Pitkin County courthouse, often checking out books from the law library as he was serving as his own lawyer. Until May of that year, when he leaped from a courthouse window, landing 30 feet below, before heading towards the Raging Fork River.
Bundy found shelter in several nearby hunting lodges on Smuggler Mountain until he was apprehended days after his escape.
On the last day of 1977, however, Bundy escaped again, this time from the Garfield County Jail after shimmying up a one-foot square light fixture hole in the ceiling of his cell that led to the closet of a jailor’s apartment.
Bundy then traveled across the country to Florida, where he killed two women in a sorority house, brutally beat two others, and murdered a 12-year-old girl before finally being captured in 1978.
Ted Bundy sexually assaulted and murdered at least 30 women in the mid-70s and is suspected of killing many more. He remains one of the most prolific serial killers in the county.
He was executed in 1989.