10 Infamous Alcatraz Inmates
Between 1934 and 1963, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary housed America’s most dangerous prisoners. Next to the death penalty, a ticket to Alcatraz was the most severe punishment for hardened criminals.
In the 1930s, crime was out of control in the United States. In 1932, for example, there were 631 bank robberies. Gangsters would rob a bank, hold a teller hostage, blow up the safe, and make their getaway. In the rural Midwest, the Barker-Karpis gang robbed dozens of banks. They killed anyone who got in their way. In Chicago, Al Capone led a huge crime ring.
Not only were these criminals robbing people blind, but they were getting away with it. Gangsters devised new ways to escape prisons. Inmates started riots and attacked guards. So federal authorities rounded up the worst gangsters, troublemakers, and escape artists from prisons around the United States. Alcatraz Island would be their new home.
10: Al Capone
Al Capone made millions of dollars selling illegal liquor. He loved fame, and he sought out reporters and boasted about his exploits. Everyone knew about Al Capone. He was making $60 million a year. He wore double-breasted suits and flashed a diamond ring the size of a golf ball. He drove a 1928 Cadillac Town Sedan protected by 1,360 kilograms (3,000 lb) of steel armor and bulletproof windows.
Many people saw him as a hero. He reminded them of Robin Hood, who stole from the rich and gave to the poor. Capone cultivated this reputation. He would donate his crime money to charity and once opened a soup kitchen in Chicago
Government officials suspected Capone was hiring hit men to murder his enemies. On February 14, 1929, seven members of Bugs Malone’s gang were lured to a garage in Chicago. When they arrived, several men disguised as police gunned them down. This became known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
Unable to prove more serious charges, the authorities finally arrested Capone for tax evasion and sent him to the Atlanta Penitentiary. In Atlanta, Capone successfully bribed guards and public officials and received special treatment.
Once at Alcatraz, Al Capone was no longer famous. He received no special treatment. He played banjo in the Rock Islanders Band when they gave regular Sunday concerts, and he worked in the laundry room and the library. He said, “Alcatraz has got me licked.”
9: Machine Gun Kelly
George “Machine Gun” Kelly came from a wealthy family in Tennessee and attended college. Many people believed his wife, Kathryn, pushed him into a life of crime. Before meeting Kathryn, he had minor skirmishes with the law. She bought him a machine gun and introduced him to notorious gangsters. After their marriage, he became public enemy number one.
Kelly robbed banks. The FBI’s wanted posters described him as an “expert machine gunner.” After kidnapping a wealthy oil tycoon, he was sent to Leavenworth Prison in Kansas. After he boasted that he would break himself and his wife out of prison in time for Christmas, authorities took him seriously and shipped him to Alcatraz.
On the Rock, he was considered a model prisoner. Although Kelly was known for bragging about crimes he didn’t commit, he served his time quietly, without conflicts or time in solitary. He also served as an altar boy in the prison chapel and worked in the laundry room.