10 Most Spectacular Prison Escape Stories
Almost every one of us at some point in life has fantasized about being one of those action heroes from our favorite movies. Though the incidents in most of these movies are fictional, many of them were, in fact, inspired by real-life events. The stories we’ve collected in this list are some such incidents which might seem like works of fiction at times. Almost all of these prisoners escaped more than once and spectacularly so. Though a part of us does want them to serve their time, we can’t help but guiltily cheer at their escape attempts towards freedom. So, here are some such prison escape stories that we are sure you will find fun to read.
1 Joseph Bolitho Johns, an Australia bushranger, escaped from prison so many times a special cell was built to hold him. The cell was so strong the Governor promised to forgive his crimes if he could escape again, which he did in 1867.
Also known as the “Moondyne Joe,” Joseph Bolitho Johns was a Cornish convict and one of West Australia’s most well-known bushranger. He was first arrested on November 15, 1848, for stealing bread, bacon, cheese, and other goods for which he pleaded not guilty. He was, however, convicted and transported to the then British penal colony of Western Australia. Though he was given a conditional pardon, he was caught again for stealing horses. He escaped custody and was caught again.
Johns received a remission on his sentence for good behavior and was released in February 1864. A year later, he was again arrested for killing someone’s bullock for which he again pleaded not guilty, but he was found guilty and sentenced to 10 years. He escaped again with another prisoner, with whom he committed a series of robberies.
A few more arrests and escapes followed, and Johns was sentenced to five years of hard labor. He was sent to Fremantle Prison, where his neck was chained and he was kept in a special “escape-proof” cell. On March 7, 1867, he escaped yet again through a hole he made in the prison wall. In 1869, he was caught stealing wine, and he was sentenced to an additional four years in chains. However, after finding out about the promise made to him by the Governor, further punishment was thought to be unfair and he was released in 1871.(source)
2 In 1942, Kazimierz Piechowski, an Auschwitz prisoner, escaped the camp along with three others by dressing up as Nazi officers and stealing a German captain’s car. When they arrived at the gate he simply shouted orders to the guards who let them pass with no questions asked.
Kazimierz Piechowski was a political prisoner captured by the German Nazis after the collapse of the Polish resistance to the German invasion. On June 20, 1940, 313 Polish deportees along with Piechowski were transferred to Auschwitz. Exactly two years after his arrival, on June 20, 1942, he, a first lieutenant from Warsaw, a priest from Wadowice, and a mechanic, Eugeniusz Bendera, from Czortkow, hatched an escape plan. Being fluent in German, Piechowski took command. They stole a cart to pass themselves off as freight-cart pullers. While the mechanic, who was allowed to test drive, was off to steal an SS-Hauptsturmführer’s Steyr 220 sedan, the other three entered a warehouse which stored uniforms and weapons.
All four soon changed into SS uniforms, and with Piechowski in the front seat, Bendera driving, and the other two in the backseat, they drove to the main gate. They were also carrying an intelligence report which another Auschwitz prisoner, Witold Pilecki, had previously given them to be delivered to the Home Army, a Polish resistance movement. They became nervous when the gate wasn’t opened. Prompted by one of them to do something, Piechowski opened his door, leaned out enough for the guard to see his rank insignia, and shouted at him to open the gate. The gate opened and the four successfully escaped.(source)
3 Yoshie Shiratori, the “Showa Era escape artist,” is known for having escaped from prison four times by picking locks with wire, sawing floorboards with metal sheet, and digging his way out with a bowl.
In 1933, a Japanese man named Yoshie Shiratori was arrested on suspicion of a murder and robbery. In 1936, he escaped from Aomori prison using a length of wire to pick his handcuff locks but was soon captured and sentenced to life imprisonment. In 1942, he escaped again from Akita prison by passing through the ceiling’s air vents and was captured two years later. In 1944, he used miso soup to rust and weaken his handcuffs and escaped.
Sihratori’s freedom didn’t last long. After World War II, he injured a man who later died. He was arrested yet again in 1946, and the Sapporo District Court sentenced him to death. While awaiting his execution, he sawed through his cell’s floorboards with a sharpened piece of metal sheet and dug his way out with a bowl. In 1948, 41 years old and exhausted, he admitted to a police officer who gave him a cigarette that he was an escaped convict. He made no further attempts to escape and was paroled in 1961.(source)
4 In 1934, the Depression-era American gangster, John Dillinger, escaped using a fake pistol he whittled from a potato in his cell to intimidate 33 people before getting real sub-machine guns.
Between June 21, 1933, and June 30, 1934, John Herbert Dillinger committed 12 bank robberies along with a group known as the Dillinger Gang or Terror Gang. On January 15, 1934, he was finally caught and was put in an “escape-proof” Crown Point jail. Though the events that took place on March 3 are still open to debate, FBI files clearly state that he fashioned a fake pistol from a potato with a razor. After intimidating 33 jailers and inmates with the pistol, he locked them up in their living quarters, closets, and cells. Along with another inmate, he took two sub-machine guns, scaled a wall, and stole the private vehicle of a sheriff. They both then drove past 50 guards who were stationed there specifically to keep him inside.(1, 2)
5 Mark DeFriest made 13 escape attempts, seven of them successful, after he was arrested for “stealing” tools left to him by his father. Believed to be an autistic savant, he could memorize jailors’ keys and reproduce them from anything available to him.
Also known as the “Houdini of Florida,” Mark DeFriest could disassemble and reassemble watches and even engines by the time he was six. However, he had behavioral problems and couldn’t quite understand people. In 1980, his stepmother called the police when he took the tools his father willed him before the will was made official. It was considered theft, and when the police came he panicked and ran from them. He was sentenced to four years in prison.
During his first escape attempt, he managed to drug the Florida State Hospital’s staff with LSD-25, but it backfired as someone freaked out under the influence and called security. By the time he got over the fence and hotwired a car, he was caught and sent to Bay County Jail. He, however, came up with clever ideas for escape, including a zip gun made from toothpaste tube as well as making keys. During one of the escape attempts, he used a gun to steal a car resulting in an armed robbery charge. Unfortunately, his escape attempts and hundreds of minor violations led his four-year sentence to become 34 years, 27 of which were in solitary confinement.(source)
6 In 1995, Daniel Luther Heiss escaped prison after discovering that the key pictured on his prisoners’ information handbook was the master key for the entire prison, which he replicated.
Daniel Luther Heiss was sentenced to life after being found guilty of murdering a man at a remote Australian cattle station. According to a former guard at Berrimah jail, Darwin, Australia, the key he copied from the handbook was in the shape of an “E,” which was the master key. He and his fellow inmate, a jeweler, then refined the key through trial and error. After escaping the prison, they climbed over three sets of a razor-wire perimeter fence and were caught 12 days later. The handbook, of course, was immediately removed and the locks changed.(source)
7 When his bank loan con started going wrong, Steven Jay Russell feigned a heart attack and was transported to a hospital. There he impersonated an FBI agent and called the hospital on his cell phone to tell them he could be released.
Steven Jay Russell was an American con artist who escaped from prison several times. On March 20, 1998, he posed as a millionaire in an attempt to get a $75,000 loan from NationsBank, Dallas, seem legitimate. However, the bank officials grew suspicious and called the police. He managed to fool the police as well by posing as an FBI agent. On April 5, 1998, the US Marshals managed to track him down in Florida and he was sentenced to 144 years in jail, 99 for the escapes and 45 for various other scams. As of 2010, he is in 23-hour lockup, with only one hour for shower and exercise. In 2009, the movie I Love You Phillip Morris starring Jim Carrey was made based on his life.(source)
8 In 2001, Pascal Payet broke out of prison aboard a hijacked helicopter. Two years later broke out three of his friends by hijacking a helicopter, and four years after that he broke out of prison aboard yet another hijacked helicopter.
Pascal Payet was arrested in January 1999 in Paris for robbery and murder along with three other men. On October 12, 2001, he escaped from a prison in the French village of Luynes but was caught later and questioned. On April 14, 2003, he organized another helicopter escape of his three friends caught with him in 1999. They were arrested three weeks later. Payet received 30 years in prison and seven more for organizing the escape. By 2007, he was very closely watched, but despite that on April 14, taking advantage of Bastille Day celebrations, he managed to escape on another hijacked helicopter. However, he was captured on September 21, in Spain, and incarcerated in a prison whose identity remains undisclosed for security reasons.(source)
9 Alfred George Hinds, a British criminal who, while serving a 12-year prison sentence for robbery, broke out of prison once by sneaking over a 20-foot prison wall and later by locking up the guards who escorted him in a toilet cubicle.
In 1953, Alfred George Hinds was arrested for jewelry robbery and later escaped from Nottingham Prison. Within a year, he was caught by Scotland Yard against whom he brought a lawsuit for an illegal arrest. While at the courtroom, he locked up the guards escorting him with the help of his accomplices but was captured five hours later at an airport.
Hinds escaped a third time from Chelmsford Prison and lived for two years as used car dealer before his arrest after being stopped in an unregistered car. He continued to plead not guilty and sold his life story for $40,000. He even successfully won a libel suit which awarded him a £798.98 (about $1,000) settlement against the arresting officer who couldn’t prove the accuracy of his statements in a series of articles criticizing Hinds’ claims of innocence.(source)
10 In 2012, Choi Gap-bok used his yoga skills to escape from prison while the prison guards were sleeping by squeezing through the food slot at the bottom of his cell door. The slot measured 5.9 inches tall and 17.7 inches wide.
On September 12, 2012, Choi Gap-bok was arrested on suspicion of robbery and was put in a prison in the city of Daegu, South Korea. Having 23 years of yoga practice, he simply applied ointment on the upper part of his body and squeezed out of the food slot in the early morning on September 17. It only took him 34 seconds to squeeze through and to give himself a head start. He and put pillows under blankets so that the guards would think he was still sleeping. He was caught again on September 22, a kept in a cell with a smaller food slot.(source)
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