If you’ve read the first thriller in the Hunt for Jack Reacher Series, Don’t Know Jack, you know that a jailbreak of sorts plays a role in the story. When I’m writing a new book, like now, stories such as these are never far from my mind.
As we’ve seen this month in the New York escape from Hi-Max prison, breaking free from behind bars is not well within the realm of possibility. In fact, federal data estimates some 2,000 inmates freed themselves from criminal confinement in the year 2013.
So how do they do it? Well, they get creative.
Here are some of the most unusual prison escapes:
- Steven Jay Russell is a con artist who has successfully escaped from several prisons several times. In 1992, he used civilian clothing and a walkie talkie to impersonate a guard, allowing himself to walk right out.
He was re-arrested, then released, then was re-arrested again for embezzling $800,000 from his job as a financial officer. But, despite high bail following his arrest in that case, he escaped by calling the County Records Office and pretending to be a judge, thus lowering his bail from $950,000 to $45,000.
After being arrested again, he escaped by collecting green markers and dying a spare prisoner uniform green in a toilet to make it look like doctor’s scrubs.
It worked, but Russell was arrested again. In his latest escape, he faked symptoms of AIDS by several means, including using laxatives. He used a prison typewriter to create fake medical records that indicated he was HIV positive. Russell got transferred to a special nursing home to die, and eventually created fake death certificates for himself.
Now Russell is locked up for 23 hours a day in the Polunsky Unit in Texas. He has an hour a day to shower and exercise. His story is the subject of the 2009 movie I Love You Phillip Morris.
- Richard Lee McNair escaped from prison three times.
The first time, he used lip balm to squeeze out of handcuffs.
The second time, he crawled through a ventilation duct.
And the third time, he mailed himself out of prison in a ventilated crate he constructed while working in the prison manufacturing area.
- Pascal Payett’s escape was flashier than most, as he got away by helicopter — not once, but twice. The French criminal was enjoying the prison’s exercise yard on the prison roof, when an accomplice landed the hijacked chopper on the roof and flew away with him.
After Payett was arrested and re-sentenced, he eventually escaped the same way again, and hasn’t been seen since.
- The Great Escape: In 1944, Allied soldiers in a German prison worked for over a year to dig three tunnels, a complex project that included a pump to ensure soldiers digging in the tunnels had enough air to breathe.
76 soldiers escaped. The 77th was caught. Eventually, almost all of those who escaped were recaptured and returned to prison.
- Escape from Alcatraz: While four prisoners attempted this 1961 escape, only three made it out of the prison. They prepared for the escape by digging holes in the walls with spoons for about a year. When it came time for the getaway, they each crawled through holes in the walls and met up in a service corridor, at which point they climbed a ventilation shaft to the roof. After scaling the fence, they created a raft out of raincoats and contact cement. It’s unclear whether they survived the paddle to Angel Island.
Much of the success of the Alcatraz escape is attributed to a dummy heads left in the escaped prisoners’ cell beds… made of toilet paper, soap, and real hair.
What unusual prison escapes am I forgetting? What about any famous but fictional escapes from books or movies?