Marie Widner holds photos of newspaper articles and family photos of her two brothers, Clarence and John Anglin, inside the Columbia Bank building Tuesday morning in Columbia, Ala.
The Associated Press
COLUMBIA, Ala. — Standing in the vault her brothers robbed 55 years ago, Marie Anglin Widner gasped.
“They really went in here,” she said, turning to fully take in the surroundings at the old Bank of Columbia. “Wow.”
The south Georgia woman remembers her brothers — John William (J.W.), Clarence and Alfred Anglin — as rambunctious but nonviolent kids trying desperately to escape poverty in Donalsonville.
“They never harmed anybody,” said Marie, 77, one of 14 Anglin siblings. “They wouldn’t even hurt a flea. They were mischievous young boys. It got a little bigger and a little bigger, and then this. And this was wrong, very wrong.”
After federal authorities captured them in Ohio days later, the Anglin brothers were sentenced to federal prison.
“That caused a lot of hurt,” Marie said.
After multiple escape attempts, two of them, J.W. and Clarence, eventually landed at the maximum-security prison on Alcatraz Island in northern California.
“The reason they sent them to Alcatraz was because they couldn’t keep them anywhere else they put them,” Marie said.
J.W. and Clarence worked with fellow convicts Frank Morris and Allen West at Alcatraz to hatch an escape plan that would eventually be immortalized in a Clint Eastwood film called “Escape from Alcatraz.”
While it’s never been proven, Anglin family members believe the brothers successfully escaped in 1962 and are still alive.
“I know they made it,” Marie said. “A U.S. Marshall told us he knew they made it. He said they found the raft on Angel Island, footprints leading away from it, and a car was stolen that night. He said they did make it.”
Frank is also certain the brothers survived.
“On the first Christmas they escaped, her momma and daddy got a Christmas card and it was signed ‘Joe and Jerry,’” Frank said. “I took the Christmas card and compared the handwriting, and I can’t remember which one it was, but it was identical to one of (the brothers’) handwriting.”
Despite their strong viewpoint, family members insist they haven’t had direct contact with the brothers.
“We have had people tell us they have seen them, and we have our suspicions, but none of us have seen them,” said David Widner, Marie’s son. “(The family) would really like to know where they’re at.”
If the brothers were still alive, Clarence would be 82 and J.W. would be 83.
Marie doesn’t know if she’ll ever see them again, but she knows what she’ll do if she gets the chance.
“I’d never turn them loose. I would hug ‘em and love ‘em and never turn ‘em loose,” Marie said. “I believe they’re alive somewhere out there. I have no idea where. I would love to know.”