The prison escape is more than just an escape. There is a certain art to it whenever an inmate manages to not only plan out their big prison break, but actually succeeds. Not only is it an art because it is so rare, but because an inmate never just “escapes.” If they are going to go through the agonizing trouble to get a trustworthy team of cohorts together and dedicate several months of planning before the final execution, they are going to go for a grand exit. A big bang finale on their way out, if you will.
Over the years, across the history of the world, there have been several elaborate prison escapes. Escapes that appear so sophisticated, they just don’t seem real on paper. They feel like a scene straight out of a Hollywood action film rather than an actual real-life prison escape. Ironically enough, there have been some prison breaks that were inspired by films. In any case, no matter the nature of the prison escape, there are so many that seem so complicated and impressive, it can be hard to believe they even happened. Here are 15 of the strangest and most shocking ways people have tried and succeeded to escape from prison.
15. Escaping/Returning To Prison With A Helicopter
Pascal Payet was a criminal thief who was originally sentenced to 30 years in prison for killing an armored truck driver in 1997. After spending just a few years in in a prison in Luynes, France, Payet had just about all he could take of prison life. So in 2001, he got his buddies to hijack a helicopter, swoop onto the prison roof, and escape from there. After being on the lamb for two years, Payet was feeling his bridges enough to return to the same prison he escaped from in order to help break out a few of his buddies. Unfortunately for Payet, this time, he got caught. Not only was he sent back to serve remaining of the 30 years, an additional 7 years were added onto his sentence.
14. Catch Him If You Can
Remember the movie Catch Me if You Can? It starred Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale, an expert con artist and master of disguise. Well, unlike most films that feature the cliché “Based on a True Story” tag line, the story of Frank Abagnale was a real one. As ludicrous as many of his escapes looked in the film and even more ridiculous on paper, every single one of them actually happened. Perhaps his most memorable and shocking escape came when he was serving a 12-day stint in prison. While being transferred to a detention facility by a marshal who forgot Abagnale’s documents, Abagnale convinced the guard that he was an undercover FBI agent merely posing as a prisoner. With the help of a friend who posed as a his fiancé and a business card from the Bureau of Prisons, Abagnale was released and walked out of the prison howling with laughter.
13. The Auschwitz Escape
One of the most horribly endured and notorious prisons in history were the Nazi death camps in Auschwitz, Germany. It was rare for anybody held up in these camps to escape, but Alfréd Wetzler did so in 1944. For four days straight, he and a fellow inmate, Rudolf Vrba, hid in a pile of wood that had been doused in gasoline and tobacco to stop dogs from catching their scent. Afterwards, they both donned stolen suits and journeyed to the Polish border. With him in his pockets, Wetzler carried a report of the horrific inner workings of the camps. At the time, the torture and travesties that were really going on in these camps was unknown to those outside of Auschwitz. He provided and released the first report of such camps to the Allies and as a result, 120,000 people were rescued.
12. The Texas Seven
In December 2000, seven prison inmates at the John B. Connally Unit in Texas coerced to break out in the most violent way possible. Things kicked off on a grand start when one of the inmates conked a maintenance supervisor over the head with an axe handle. They bound and gagged him before tossing him into the maintenance room. In a classic comedy of errors, the inmates were forced to do the same thing to any and every random person who came near the maintenance room. They did this to four correctional officers, nine supervisors, and three random inmates. After impersonating several of those supervisors over the phone, the inmates eventually gained access to the gatehouse and from there, drove out through the back.
11. The Shawshank Inspiration
For better or worse, movies tend to inspire people to do some of the most ludicrous of actions. Most recently, back in June 2017, prison inmates Richard Matt and David Sweat took some expert inspiration from The Shawshank Redemption in order to make a daring prison escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility. Using power tools that were smuggled into the jail, these two inmates serving respective stints for murder drilled their way out through the prison walls. And just to top it off with a touch of humour, these two left a note reading “Have a nice day” before escaping. Their escape was not long lasting, as Sweat was re-captured after just two days on the run and Matt was shot dead after 20 days.
10. The Many Escapes Of El Chapo
El Chapo is easily the most elusive — or at least the most popular — prison-escape artist of our era. There was once a point where it felt like the man was escaping from high-tech prison facilities on a weekly basis. Perhaps his most memorable escape came in 2015 when he fled his prison through a secret underground tunnel that ran from his cell to an abandoned construction building that sat out of their prison’s perimeter. A massive manhunt was put in place to find the criminal that had managed to elude them. Amazingly enough, El Chapo spent a substantial amount of time on the run before getting caught again following a quite bizarre interview with Rolling Stone conducted by Sean Penn, of all people.
9. Dillinger Escape Plan
Not only is John Dillinger one of the most infamous and notorious criminals in the history of the world, he was also one of the most famous prison escapees ever. In his first escape from prison, Dillinger had his entire gang of criminals pose as Indiana state prison officers who told Dillinger’s handlers that they came to transfer Dillinger to Indiana. The prison took the bait and before they knew it, Dillinger was out of there and on the run. There was a minor inconvenience when one of the criminals had to shoot a nosy sheriff for asking questions, but it was a clean getaway other than that. In his second escape, Dillinger used a wooden fake gun that he painted black with shoe polish to threaten his way out of Lake County Sheriff’s House and Jail in 1934.
8. Mack Truck Escape
Eight years into his 20-year prison sentence, Jay Junior Sigler received a special visit from his mother and a few friends. But this was not just any regular drop-in from his mother. On this one particular visit, Sigler’s mother and a few other accomplices visited Sigler by making a grand entrance in style. An entrance that called for them to bust through the prison walls and four prison fences with a big rig, 18-wheeler mack truck. The plan had been in effect for four months and paid off when Sigler hopped in the truck before it drove off. Sigler and his friend were caught shortly afterwards when the two were in a bad car accident and were subsequently arrested when police arrived at the scene.
7. June 1962 Alcatraz Escape
When it was still open, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was perhaps the hardest prison in the world for anyone to escape from. In the prison’s nearly 30-year-long history, before it finally closed its doors in 1963, there was only one successful prison break in the history of the prison. That breakout occurred on the night of June 11, 1962 after three inmates —Clarence Anglin, John Anglin, and Frank Morris — placed handmade Papier-mâché heads of their own faces on their beds to give the illusion that they were sleeping. From there, the three busted out of the building’s utility corridor and left Alcatraz Island on an inflatable raft. Although they were never re-captured and no one knows if they survived on their raft, a popular theory suggests that the Anglin brothers fled to Brazil.
6. Escaped Prison Dressed As A Woman
To truly understand the extreme lengths that some prisoners will go through just to escape prison, we need to take a look at Dwight Worker. Worker was arrested in 1973 for trying to smuggle drugs into the United States. For this crime, he was sentenced to serve five years at the Palacio de Lecumberri in Mexico. However, Worker was not willing to serve those five years quietly. Living up to his name, Worker worked hard to figure out how to get out of this sticky situation. He cooked up a scheme with one Barbara White, a woman who visited a fellow inmate regularly. Worker befriended White, the two fell in love while he was inside, and she helped him escape prison dressed as a woman. She supplied him with makeup, women’s wear, and a forged visitor’s badge so that he could pose as a prison visitor. He managed to successfully escape the prison with White and the two crossed the border back to his home in Indiana. Along with Pancho Villa, Worker remains the only man to successfully escape Lecumberri.
5. Why You Should Floss Before Every Meal
Before he was finally nabbed by the cops for his criminal behavior, Vincenzo Curcio was a key member of the Sicilian Mafia. He was finally caught when he was implicated and convicted in one murder and the arrangement of seven other murders. He was sent to a prison in Turin, Italy, but managed to escape his prison cell after sawing off the bars of his cell using only a piece of dental floss. Talk about patience and dedication! To be fair, the prison cell bars themselves were crafted with iron low in carbon way back in the ’70s and were designed to withstand force from outside of the cell, not from within. So Curcio was easily able to saw through them after committing long, strenuous time with his floss. After sawing his way out, he scaled the outer fence surrounding his prison with bed sheets. He escaped on March 17, 2000, but re-captured months later on July 11.
4. Another Dental Floss Escape
Vincenzo Curcio was not the only man in history to use dental floss to escape a prison facility. Perhaps proving just how durable floss can be, a similar situation occurred with South Central Regional Jail inmate, Robert Dale Shepard. As a man whose pre-prison life was spent mostly in the woods living off berries and bathing in rivers, Shepard was a survival specialist before he was arrested for robbing a pharmacy near his hometown in Parkersburg, West Virginia. While in captivity, he spent two days braiding dental floss into a rope that was said to be as thick as a telephone cord. Then, he tied it to a AA battery, chucked it out through a chain-linked fence, and used it to escape down an 18-foot cinder block wall and to the recreation yard. For 41 days, he mostly lived out his freedom in the woods until he was found and re-captured by authorities.
3. Jack Sheppard
The name Jack Sheppard may not ring any bells for many of our readers, but Jack Sheppard essentially set the benchmark for strange prison escapes back in his heyday. His name may have been long forgotten since his string of prison stints during the 18th century, but his influence remains strong to this day. Every escape of his remained more lucrative, ludicrous, and admittedly impressive than the last. In his first two escapes, he invented the now infamous scheme of escaping a prison cell by climbing down a string of bed sheets. He also broke through ceilings and cell bars, picked his locks with a bent nail, and at one point, Sheppard even dressed in women’s clothing to escape. Sound familiar? After his final capture, right before his execution, he still attempted to escape, but the pen knife he planned to use to cut his ropes was found by a guard beforehand. Sheppard was perhaps the very first person in history to reach cult celebrity status just from being an escape artist.
2. Korean Houdini
Prior to being a prisoner and later on an escaped convict, Choi Gap-bok was a highly experienced yoga master who practiced his craft for the better part of 23 years. By time he was arrested for suspicion of robbery on September 12, 2012, he was a natural when it came to distorting his body in different places. He spent five days in a police station’s detention cell in Daegu, South Korea. but it only took 34 seconds for him to escape from it. All he had to do was apply skin ointment on the upper part of his body and then managed to squeeze through a tiny (5.9 inches tall and 17.7 inches wide) food slot at the bottom of his cell. Although he was re-captured six days later and placed in a cell with a much smaller food slot, he earned the nickname “Korean Houdini” for life.
1. Inmates Escaped Using Peanut Butter
On August 1, 2017, a group of inmates at the Walker County Jail facility had the bright idea to store and save the peanut butter from their lunch sandwiches. Why? So that they could pull one of the most daring, creative escapes in prison history. They used the peanut butter as a clay-like substance and molded it to alter the number above a door that led to the outside. So when an inmate asked a rookie guard to open the door, he thought that he was letting the inmate in. Instead, 12 inmates made their way out the door. By the end of the day, they were all re-captured into police custody. It took close to eight hours to capture all of them.
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