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Escape from Alcatraz: The 1939 Attempt

The D-Block at Alcatraz had a reputation for being the most secure units of the prison, yet a handful of prisoners managed to escape the cell house. In this article, you will learn what happened when five inmates put their heads together and attempted to escape from the infamous prison.

On January 13, 1939, Arthur Barker, William Martin, Rufus McCain, Henri Young, and Dale Stamphill believed they would be able to make it to shore with their plan. The inmates worked together to build a makeshift raft, but were spotted by a guard in a watch tower, who proceeded to fire at the group. Barker was killed on the spot and Stamphill was wounded by the gunfire. The others were recaptured and sent to solitary confinement.

Rufus McCain and Henri Young returned to the general prison population after spending nearly 22 months in solitary confinement. McCain was assigned to work at the tailoring shop, while Young was sent to the Furniture Shop located directly upstairs. On December 3, 1940, Young waited a little after the 10 a.m. count before he ran downstairs and plunged a spoon into the neck of McCain. Falling quickly in shock, he died five hours later.

Arthur Barker (also known as Doc Barker) had already made a name for himself before the escape attempt because he was the son of Ma Barker , the mother of several criminals that were active during the ‘public enemy’ era. She did everything she could to protect her boys and keep them from behind bars. Arthur was a member of the Barker-Karpis gang, which committed robberies, kidnappings and other crimes.

Between the 1920s and 1930s, Arthur engaged in criminal activities with his brother Fred, including murder. He was arrested for stealing a car on the highway in 1918, and was sent to a prison in Joplin, Missouri. He managed to escape in less than one year from the prison , going on to commit many armed robberies and murdering two people in the process. After a bank robbery in Oklahoma on January 15, 1922, Arthur was sent to the Oklahoma State Prison but was let go five months later on June 21, 1922.

Ten years later, Arthur helps rob the Third Northwestern Bank in Minneapolis, where two cops were killed and a civilian was murdered during the getaway. To make matters worse, Arthur helped the gang kidnap two rich men from Minnesota in the coming years. When the FBI finally caught up with Barker, he was arrested on a street in Chicago on January 8, 1935. He was charged with the kidnapping of one of the wealthy men in Minnesota. In 1936, Barker was sent to Alcatraz, and by then, both his mother and brother Fred had been killed in a police shootout.

Henri Young was a bank robber before he came to Alcatraz and had a reputation for aggressively taking hostages during his crimes. 1933, he murdered someone and was sent to prisons in various states before he made it to The Rock. Young was one of the inmates that surrendered to guards once they had been discovered during the escape attempt. When McCain killed Young with a spoon, his motive was never revealed. Despite his actions while in prison, Young was paroled in 1972.