On This Day: May 2nd

On the 2nd of May 1946 an escape from the infamous prison was attempted, the attempted escape has since been known as the “Battle of Alcatraz”. The event caused the deaths of two guards and three inmates.

The escape attempt started whilst most of the guards and inmates were in outside workshops, and began when prisoners Bernard Coy and Marvin Hubbard overpowered officer William Miller and then released fellow inmates Joseph Cretzer and Clarence Carnes. Coy then made his way to the gun gallery and bound guard Bert Burch, Coy kept the guards rifle and lowered his pistol, keys and gas grenades to the other prisoners. Coy carried on into the main cellhouse were the isolated prisoners were held, in here they bound another guard and then released a dozen prisoners, most importantly Sam Shockley and Miran Thompson who then joined the other inmates.

The escape attempt however was a failure as the prisoners jammed the lock whilst trying the different keys, this blocked their way to the yard and hopefully for them freedom. This then led to a standstill and a second escape attempt, to go up the hill and take prisoners to use as hostages for an escape, they started by shooting at the guards in the watchtowers. Associate warden Ed Miller was then shot at whilst checking on the commotion, the alarm was now truly raised.

With their plan failed Shockley and Thompson urged Cretzer, who had one of the guns, to kill the hostages in case they testified against them. Cretzer opened fire on the guards, wounding five, three seriously including William Miller who later died of his wounds. Carnes, Shockley and Thompson then returned to their cells, Coy, Hubbard and Cretzer decided they weren’t going to surrender. One of the hostages discreetly wrote down the names of the prisoners and made particular mention to the ringleaders.

This was the “Battle of Alcatraz”, a  squad of armed guards entered first and were shot at, one of the guards was killed here whilst others were injured, officer Harold Stites died as a result of this confrontation. Warden James A. Johnston now called upon the expertise of two platoons of marines under the direction of Generals Joe Stilwell and Frank Merrill to guard the general population of convicts and to take the cellhouse from the outside. With three convicts not surrendering there was a constant fusilade fired at the cell block they were in and on the 4th of May they entered the cell block to find the dead bodies of Coy, Hubbard and Cretzer.

Miran Thompson and Sam Shockley were executed in the gas chamber at San Quentin on December 3, 1948 for their role in the Battle of Alcatraz. Carnes was given an additional life sentence, he was spared the death penalty himself due to officers testifying that he had refused orders to kill them and that he hadn’t directly taken part in any of the murders. By the end of the failed escape attempt and ensuing conflict three prisoners had died Coy, Hubbard and Cretzer and two more were executed for their part Thompson and Shockley, and two guards were murdered, William Miller and Harold Stites.

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