“Slammer”, “pokey”, “lock up”, “pen”, “jail” – it seems as though the world is fascinated with prisons from reality television featuring life behind bars to great prison escapes both on and off the silver screen. While prison escapes can be both exciting and impressive in the movies, if you live in a prison town, there’s nothing more nerve wracking than hearing of a prison escape and living with the reality that the criminal might pass through your yard looking for the nearest route to freedom. Talk about scary!
With maximum security and complex layouts, prisons were designed to keep criminals inside, making it almost impossible for them to escape and commit further crimes. But, despite sky hall walls, massive fences, ear-piercing sirens and countless guards, prisoners continue to plot and plan their escapes to find freedom.
So which prisoners actually pulled off their great escapes? While the amount of prison breaks is far from being very high, the escapes throughout history have been ridiculous in their own right. Are you curious? We found 10 of the most insane and real prison escapes ever documented. Let’s see if you recognize any of these criminal names and their place in prison history!
#10 – T.J. Lane
Tragedy struck the northeast town of Chardon, Ohio in 2010 when T.J. Lane walked into the town’s high school with a gun, firing off several shots that would end up killing three students and injuring even more. After being sentenced to three consecutive life sentences at the age of 19 years old, Lane was sent to the Allen Correctional Institute in Lima, Ohio. There, he made friends with Lindsey Bruce and Clifford Opperud who would help in planning their great prison escape.
The trio found a crawlspace that allowed them access to a warehouse where they were able to put together enough scrap parts to assemble a ladder. In September 2014, the three escaped during the night using the ladder to get themselves over the 15 foot tall prison walls, quickly running away from the building. Thankfully, the three were captured the following morning and sent back to prison.
#9 – Antonio Ferrara
Known throughout France as a scheming and dangerous criminal, Antonio Ferrara assembled and led a gang of professional robbers who spent their time plotting high profile bank heists. Dubbed “The Dream Team”, Interpol hailed the gang as the most dangerous in Europe due, in part, to Ferrara’s ability to make a bomb that could blow up a safe door without incinerating the cash inside.
Just before turning 30, Ferrara was caught and sentenced to eight years in prison for participating in two robberies and orchestrating a dozen more. During the fifth year of his sentence, however, Ferrara saw a brief break in prison life as six men wearing ski masks and armed with assault rifles drove up to Fresnes Prison in the early hours of March 12, 2003 in police cars. The men assaulted the prison gates while Ferrara blasted open his cell door, making his great escape. Four months later, the men were caught and Ferrara returned to prison with friends by his side.
#8 – John Dillinger
Ruling the Midwest in the 1930s, John Dillinger was once the most notorious criminal in the United States. Dillinger led a gang responsible for countless robberies and the slaying of 10 men but, it wasn’t until 1934 that he was finally caught. Arrested in Arizona on charges of killing an officer during a robbery the previous year, he was transported to Northwest Indiana where even the prison wasn’t able to hold him for long.
In March 1934, Dillinger and another inmate carved a faux gun out of wood and painted it black to make it look real. Dillinger then used the fake pistol to threaten officers into letting him out of prison. Once out, he hopped in a sheriff’s vehicle and took off for freedom. Freedom didn’t last long, however, as months later the FBI tracked Dillinger down in Chicago where he was shot dead in his tracks.
#7 – HM Prison Maze Escape
If you want to prevent a prison escape, why not design the prison as a giant maze? Great Britain did just that when they built the HM Prison Maze. However, despite its complex layout complete with 15-foot tall fences and 18-foot tall concrete walls, HM became the home of the largest prison escape in the UK’s history.
Convicted of murder and the use of explosives, 38 men from the Irish Republic Army were sentenced to the H-Block 7 area of the prison in 1983. Early one morning, the men took over a group of guards, stealing both their clothing and their car keys. When the food truck arrived an hour later, the men hopped in the back and took the driver hostage, ordering him to drive off prison property. Days later, half of the group was caught but, the others have escaped for good.
#6 – Frank Abagnale
Perhaps one of the smartest criminals on our list, Frank Abagnale not only owns his own security consulting firm, his life story was also documented in Catch Me If You Can starring Leonardo DiCaprio. During his younger years, Abagnale was arrested on charges of fraud, forgery and swindling but managed to outwit the United States Marshal who forgot the commitment papers when they arrived at the prison in Atlanta, Georgia. Thanks to the Marshal’s lapse in judgment, Abagnale found a loophole and exploited it for his prison escape.
Once in prison, Abagnale actually convinced prison officials that he was not an actual prisoner but was working undercover to inspect the prison in 1971. With the guards convinced, Abagnale was eventually allowed outside where he escaped for two months before being caught to finish his sentence. Eventually, the FBI gave him a job and the rest is history.
#5 – Alfred Hinds
Alfred Hinds not only pulled off one prison escape, he pulled off three! Convicted of robbery, Hinds was sentenced to 12 years at Nottingham Prison where, somehow, he managed to get through locked doors and scale a 20 foot wall to freedom, earning him the nickname “Houdini”.
Within a few months of his escape, Hinds was arrested and returned to prison but not before a padlock was smuggled to him during his court appearance. As a pair of guards escorted him to the bathroom, Hinds subdued them after his cuffs were removed and then padlocked them to the stalls. With only five hours of freedom, he was soon found and arrested at the airport. His third and final escape attempt came a year later when he reverted back to climbing. Once again, Hinds the Houdini was caught and served the remainder of his sentence without any other attempts to escape.
#4 – Pascal Payet
Can you imagine how hard it would be to hijack a helicopter as a prisoner? Can you imagine attempting it more than once? Pascal Payet of France did just that after being sentenced to serve 30 years in prison for murder during a robbery. In 2001, Payet briefly escaped from prison with fellow inmate, Frederick Impocco, as the two boarded and hijacked a helicopter. Payet was caught yet again and returned to prison with higher hopes for making his great prison escape.
In 2003, Payet had another helicopter scheme up his sleeve as he and three other men wore masks and hijacked a chopper. With a three week escape, Payet and his accomplices were finally caught with years added to their sentence thanks to their shenanigans. Today, Payet is watched around the clock by guards who make sure this French criminal can’t fly out of prison again.
#3 – Jack Best & Bill Goldfinch
This prison escape is quite a bit different than the others on our list as Jack Best and Bill Goldfinch were not criminals but, instead, were prisoners of war. Best and Goldfinch were two British pilots serving in World War II when they were captured and sent to Colditz Castle, a notorious POW camp situated high on a cliff.
Since the two were experienced pilots who had already escaped one POW camp, they came up with the idea to assemble a glider out of scrap parts from an abandoned attic in Colditz. After making their glider, they tested it out by launching themselves off of the 200 foot tall cliff, landing safely to freedom below. A replica of the glider was made in 2000 by Channel 4 News in Great Britain as a tribute to the heroes who were in tears as they relived their successful glide so many years ago.
#2 – Escape From Alcatraz
This infamous prison break was such a popular part of American history that Hollywood retold the story in its 1979 release of Escape From Alcatraz starring Clint Eastwood. Located just off the coast of San Francisco, the island prison of Alcatraz is only accessible by boat so, the three prisoners in this 1962 escape opted to try their hands at building a raft to reach freedom.
John and Clarence Anglin, along with Frank Lee Morris, escaped from Alcatraz on June 11, 1962. As the guards conducted their nightly inspections, the trio was believed to be sleeping thanks to dummies made out of soap and real hair. While the guards continued as normal, the three worked underground on a tunnel that would take them out of the prison. As the trio eventually reached the roof, they climbed down the fence and made a raft, the final part of their plan. Despite an expansive search, the men were never found, leading many to presume that they died in their attempt to escape.
#1 – The Texas Seven
Texas is a notorious state for being tough on criminals, especially when it comes to prison escapes. However, it didn’t stop these men who planned the largest prison break in the state’s history from the John B. Connally Unit in Kenedy, Texas.
Orchestrated by 30 year old George Rivas who was ordered to 18 consecutive life sentences, he and six other men took down two guards and eight maintenance men, swapping their clothing and then locking them in a closet. The group then convinced the other guards to go into the watchtowers where they stole their weapons and tied them up. After escaping on a truck, The Texas Seven went on a crime spree throughout Texas, murdering a police officer in the process. With their capture imminent, one man committed suicide while the other six were taken back to prison. Three of the men have since been executed since their 2000 escape.