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5 Great Prison Escapes

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"Killer Escapes from Psych Hospital with Survival Gear," read the headline in our local newspaper. I prefer my local news to focus on Little League scores and the status of library construction. I read on.

"A manhunt is underway for William Enman, a dangerous escapee from Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in Winslow, Camden County (NJ), with authorities concerned he could return to Morris County where he killed a father and his 4-year-old son in 1974."

Enman was found yesterday -- well, he returned to the hospital grounds himself. So much for the great escape. But this episode got me thinking about prison breaks. In our third annual '10' issue, Jim Noles wrote a terrific piece recounting some of the more memorable ones. Here are five of them.

1. Ghasr Prison, Tehran, Iran

On December 28, 1978, the Iranian government arrested Paul Chiapparone and Bill Gaylord, two executives of Texas-based Electronic Data Systems Corp., who were working overseas at the time. The Iranians accused EDS of trumped-up bribery charges and threw the two men into Tehran's notorious Ghasr Prison. Despite American concern for Chiapparone and Gaylord, the Iranian revolution against the Shah grew more and more chaotic, and the United States government seemed powerless to free them.

Enter EDS founder (and sometimes presidential candidate), H. Ross Perot. Taking matters into his own hands, Perot contacted retired Army Colonel Arthur "Bull" Simons, a Special Forces hero who had led a raid on the Son Tay POW camp during the Vietnam War, and asked him to rescue his two employees. Refusing payment for his services, Simons took a volunteer team of seven civilian EDS employees to Tehran, where they set about plotting a rescue. But before they could spring into action, Iranian revolutionaries stormed the prison. Hundreds of prisoners fled in the confusion, including Chiapparone and Gaylord. Shortly thereafter, they linked up with their would-be rescuers at Tehran's Hyatt Hotel and then escaped overland to Turkey with the aid of an Iranian EDS employee. Inspired by the unbelievable rescue, best-selling thriller writer Ken Follett took his first turn at nonfiction, penning On Wings of Eagles and proving that truth can, in fact, be stranger than fiction.

2. States Model School, Pretoria, Natal

This particular escape joins the ranks of history's greatest not because of elaborate planning or daring breakaways. Instead, its infamy is solidified by what might have later happened on the future stage of world history had it not occurred.

On November 15, 1899, Boer fighters in the colony of Natal (now part of South Africa) ambushed a British armored train, and, in the ensuing firefight, captured a British war correspondent for the Morning Post. To their delight, the new captive was the brave (some would say foolhardy) and adventurous son of a British lord—a catch with a great deal of leveraging power. But nearly a month later on December 12, the Boers' prize escaped the school in which he was imprisoned. Despite a price on his head, the plucky escapee successfully stowed away onboard a train, slipped to safety into Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique), and made international headlines. Within a year, the former prisoner of the Boers had returned to England and embarked on a political career that landed him a seat in Parliament. It also eventually got him a spot at 10 Downing Street, where he served as prime minister of Britain during World War II. His name, of course, was Winston Churchill.

3. Yakutsk, Siberia

When Joseph Stalin's Red Army joined in Hitler's attack on Poland in 1939, the Russians bagged thousands of Polish soldiers as prisoners. Stalin promptly ordered hundreds of these men executed, while dispatching the rest to his brutal gulag labor camps in Siberia. Among those imprisoned was cavalry officer Slavomir Rawicz. While in Siberia, the resourceful Rawicz befriended the camp commissar's wife, and with her help, he and six other prisoners managed to escape during a blinding snowstorm.

A journey of epic proportions followed. A Polish teenage girl who had escaped her own camp joined Rawicz's band, and the ragtag group skirted Lake Baikal, slipped over into Mongolia, traversed the Gobi Desert, and crossed the Himalayas. After a journey of 4,000 miles, the Polish officer and his four fellow survivors staggered into British-controlled India, finally free. Amazingly, the irrepressible Rawicz soon returned to Europe to again battle the Germans. Rawicz's memoir, The Long Walk, continues to sell well, even though his amazing story has its doubters (some of whom point out its similarity to the Rudyard Kipling story "The Man Who Was").

4. Libby Prison, Richmond, Virginia

During the American Civil War, the Confederate government turned Richmond's three-storied Libby & Son Ship Chandlers & Grocers warehouse into what became known as Libby Prison. Not long thereafter, they crammed some 1,200 Union officers into it, many of whom, not surprisingly, spent their stays planning an escape.

But of all the break-out attempts at Libby, the most successful (and most elaborate) was masterminded by Colonel Thomas E. Rose. Using makeshift tools, he and a few fellow inmates tunneled down through a chimney, out of the prison's rat-infested cellar, underneath a vacant lot, and up into a shed some 50 feet away. Confident in his secretive route, the colonel returned to the prison on February 9, 1864, and led 15 other prisoners through the narrow tunnel and out into Richmond's unsuspecting streets. Encouraged by Rose's success, 93 other prisoners quickly squirmed their way to freedom. Of those, an impressive 59 eventually returned to Union lines, making it the largest prison escape of the war. Although two officers drowned in the attempt, and the rest were recaptured, the Confederates couldn't help being impressed by their enemy's feat. The Richmond Examiner praised Rose's "scientific tunnel" and declared his breakout to be an "extraordinary escapade."

5. Alcatraz, San Francisco, California

Over the course of Alcatraz's three decades of operation as a federal prison in San Francisco Bay, it earned a fearsome reputation as America's escape-proof prison. But that didn't deter the dozens of inmates who attempted to flee "The Rock." Officially, none of these men succeeded, and at least seven died trying. But if any did pull it off, they were Frank Morris, John Anglin, and John's brother Clarence.

With the assistance of fellow inmate Allen West, the three men worked for months to carefully enlarge the vent holes in their cells to clear a way to the prison's roof. On June 11, 1962, after leaving carefully crafted dummy heads in their beds to fool prowling guards, they slipped out of their cells and, under the cover of darkness, reached the island's rocky shore. Relying on rafts made of their prison raincoats, Morris and the Anglin brothers entered the cold waters of San Francisco Bay to paddle for the mainland.

The following morning, Alcatraz guards discovered their absence and a massive manhunt ensued. But the three convicts were never re-captured. Although the FBI eventually concluded that they must have drowned, their bodies were never recovered. The resulting "what if" scenarios spawned the 1979 Clint Eastwood movie Escape from Alcatraz and, less directly, the annual Escape from Alcatraz triathlon in San Francisco. In the aftermath of the 1962 "escape" event, the federal government closed down Alcatraz the following year.

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9 Mysterious Facts About Murder, She Wrote
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For 12 seasons and 264 episodes, the small coastal town of Cabot Cove, Maine, was the scene of a murder. And wherever there was a body, Jessica Fletcher wasn’t far behind. The fictional mystery author and amateur sleuth at the heart of the CBS drama Murder, She Wrote was given life by actress Angela Lansbury, who made a name for herself in the theater world and in movies like 1944’s Gaslight and 1962’s The Manchurian Candidate. Though the show was supposed to skew toward an older audience, the series is still very much alive and being discovered by new generations of audiences every year. Unravel the mystery with these facts about Murder, She Wrote.

1. ANGELA LANSBURY WAS “PISSED OFF” AT THE TV ROLES BEING OFFERED TO HER BEFORE MURDER.

After years of high-profile parts and critical acclaim in the theater, Angela Lansbury was in her late fifties and ready to tackle a steady television role. Unfortunately, instead of being flooded with interesting lead roles on big series, she said she was constantly looked at to play “the maid or the housekeeper in some ensemble piece,” leaving her to get—in the Dame’s own words—“really pissed off.”

After voicing her displeasure, she was soon approached with two potential solo series, one being Murder, She Wrote, which grabbed her attention because of its focus on a normal country woman becoming an amateur detective. After meeting with the producers and writers, it was only a matter of time before Lansbury agreed to the role and began the 12-season run.

2. THE SHOW TOOK A SHOT AT FRIENDS IN ITS FINAL SEASON.

In 1995, CBS made a bold move: After airing on Sundays since 1984, Murder, She Wrote moved to Thursdays at 8:00 p.m. for its twelfth and final season, going head-to-head against Mad About You and Friends over at NBC. On a night dominated by younger viewers, Lansbury was at a loss.

"I'm shattered," she told the Los Angeles Times. "What can I say? I really feel very emotional about it. I just felt so disappointed that after all the years we had Sunday night at 8, suddenly it didn't mean anything. It was like gone with the wind."

Maybe not so coincidentally, during that last season of the series there was an episode titled “Murder Among Friends,” where a TV producer is killed in her office after planning to get rid of a member of the cast of a fictional television show called Buds. Complete with its coffee shop setting and snarky repartee, Buds was a not-so-subtle stab at Friends, coming at a time when Murder, She Wrote was placed right against the hip ratings juggernaut.

Putting the murder mystery aside for a moment, Fletcher takes plenty of jabs at Buds throughout, literally rolling her eyes at the thought of six twentysomethings becoming a hit because they sat around talking about their sexuality in every episode. The writing was on the wall as Murder, She Wrote was being phased out by CBS by the end of 1996, but Lansbury made sure to go down swinging.

3. JESSICA FLETCHER HOLDS A GUINNESS WORLD RECORD.

Here’s one for any self-respecting trivia junkie: Jessica Fletcher holds a Guinness World Record for Most Prolific Amateur Sleuth. Though Guinness recognizes that Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple has been on and off screen longer—since 1956—Fletcher has actually gotten to the bottom of more cases with 264 episodes and four TV movies under her belt.

4. THE SHOW’S FICTIONAL TOWN WOULD HAVE BEEN THE MURDER CAPITAL OF THE PLANET.

Quiet, upper-class New England coastal towns aren’t usually known for their murder count, but Cabot Cove, Maine, is a grisly destination indeed. In fact, if you look at the amount of murders per the population, it would have the highest rate on the planet, according to BBC Radio 4.

With 3560 people living in the town, and 5.3 murders occurring every year, that comes out to 1490 murders per million, which is 60 percent higher than that of Honduras, which only recently lost its title as the murder capital of the world. It’s also estimated that in total, about two percent of the folks in Cabot Cove end up murdered. 

5. SOME FANS THINK FLETCHER WAS A SERIAL KILLER THE WHOLE TIME.

That statistic leads us right into our next thought: Isn’t it a little suspicious that Fletcher keeps stumbling upon all these murders? We know that Cabot Cove is a fairly sleepy town, but the murder rate rivals a Scorsese movie. And this one person—a suspicious novelist and amateur detective—always seems to get herself mixed up in the juiciest cases. Some people think there’s something sinister about the wealth of cases Fletcher writes about in her books: It’s because she’s the one doing the killing all along.

This theory has gained traction with fans over the years, and it helps explain the coincidental nature of the show. Murders aren’t just exclusive to Fletcher and Cabot Cove; they follow her around when she’s on book tours, on trips out of town, or while writing the script to a VR video game for a company whose owner just so happens to get killed while Fletcher is around.

Could Jessica Fletcher have such an obsession with murder mysteries that she began to create her own? Was life in Cabot Cove too boring for a violent sociopath? Did she decide to take matters into her own hands after failing to think of original book ideas? We’ll never know, but it puts the whole series into a very different light.

6. LANSBURY WAS NOT HAPPY ABOUT A PROPOSED REBOOT.

Despite its inimitable style, Murder, She Wrote isn’t immune to Hollywood’s insatiable reboot itch, and in 2013 plans were put in motion to modernize the show for a new generation. NBC’s idea was to cast Octavia Spencer as a hospital administrator who self-publishes her first mystery novel and starts investigating real cases. Lansbury was none too pleased by the news.

"I think it's a mistake to call it Murder, She Wrote," she told The Hollywood Reporter in November 2013, "because Murder, She Wrote will always be about Cabot Cove and this wonderful little group of people who told those lovely stories and enjoyed a piece of that place, and also enjoyed Jessica Fletcher, who is a rare and very individual kind of person ... So I'm sorry that they have to use the title Murder, She Wrote, even though they have access to it and it's their right."

When the plug was pulled on the series, Lansbury said she was "terribly pleased and relieved” by the news, adding that, "I knew it was a terrible mistake."

7. JEAN STAPLETON TURNED DOWN THE LEAD ROLE OF JESSICA FLETCHER.

It’s impossible to separate Angela Lansbury from her role as Jessica Fletcher now, but she wasn’t the network’s first choice for the role. All in the Family’s Edith Bunker, actress Jean Stapleton, was originally approached about playing Fletcher, but she turned it down.

Stapleton cited a combination of wanting a break after All in the Family’s lengthy run and the fact that she wasn’t exactly thrilled with how the part was written, and the changes she wanted to make weren’t welcome. Despite not being enthralled by the original ideas for Fletcher, Stapleton agreed that Lansbury was “just right” for the part.

8. FLETCHER’S ESCAPADES HAVE LIVED ON IN BOOKS AND VIDEO GAMES.

For anyone who didn’t get enough of Fletcher during Murder, She Wrote’s original run, there are more—plenty more—dead bodies to make your way through. Author Donald Bain has written 45 murder mystery novels starring Fletcher, all of which credit Fletcher as the "co-author." The books sport such titles as Killer in the Kitchen, Murder on Parade, and Margaritas & Murder. Not even cancellation can keep Cabot Cove safe, apparently.

On top of that, two point-and-click computer games were released based on the show in 2009 and 2012. Both games feature Fletcher solving multiple murders just like on the show, but don’t expect to hear the comforting voice of Angela Lansbury as you wade through the dead bodies. Only her likeness appears in the game; not her voice.

9. LANSBURY WOULD BE GAME TO REPRISE THE ROLE.

When recently asked about her iconic role by the Sunday Post, Lansbury admitted that she'd be into seeing Murder, She Wrote come back in some form. "I was in genuine tears doing my last scene," Lansbury said. "Jessica Fletcher has become so much a part of my life, it was difficult to come to terms with it being all over ... Having said that, there have been some two-hour specials since we stopped in 1996 and I wouldn’t be surprised if we got together just one more time."

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10 Things You Should Know About Ray Bradbury
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For such a visionary futurist whose predictions for the future often came true, Ray Bradbury was rather old-fashioned in many ways. In honor of what would be Bradbury's 97th birthday, check out a few fascinating facts about the literary genius. 

1. HE SCORED HIS FIRST WRITING GIG WHEN HE WAS STILL A TEEN. 

Most teenagers get a first job bagging groceries or slinging burgers. At the age of 14, Ray Bradbury landed himself a gig writing for George Burns and Gracie Allen’s radio show.

“I went down on Figueroa Street in front of the Figueroa Playhouse,” Bradbury later recalled. “I saw George Burns outside the front of the theater. I went up to him and said, ‘Mr. Burns, you got your broadcast tonight don’t you?’ He said, ‘Yes.’ I said, ‘You don’t have an audience in there do you?’ He said, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Will you take me in and let me be your audience?’ So he took me in and put me in the front row, and the curtain went up, and I was in the audience for Burns and Allen. I went every Wednesday for the broadcast and then I wrote shows and gave them to George Burns. They only used one—but they did use it, it was for the end of the show.”

2. IT TOOK HIM 22 YEARS TO ASK A GIRL OUT.

At the age of 22, Bradbury finally summoned up the courage to ask a girl out for the first time ever. She was a bookstore clerk named Maggie, who thought he was stealing from the bookstore because he had a long trench coat on. They went out for coffee, which turned into cocktails, which turned into dinner, which turned into marriage, which turned into 56 anniversaries and four children. She was the only girl Bradbury ever dated. Maggie held down a full-time job while Ray stayed at home and wrote, something that was virtually unheard of in the 1940s.

3. HE IMPRESSED TRUMAN CAPOTE.

George Burns isn’t the only famous eye Bradbury caught. In 1947, an editor at Mademoiselle read Bradbury’s short story, “Homecoming,” about the only human boy in a family of supernatural beings. The editor decided to run the piece, and Bradbury won a place in the O. Henry Prize Stories for one of the best short stories of 1947. That young editor who helped Bradbury out by grabbing his story out of the unsolicited materials pile? Truman Capote.

4. HE HAD AN AVERSION TO CARS.

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Not only did Bradbury never get a driver’s license, he didn’t believe in cars for anyone. His own personal aversion came from seeing a fatal car accident when he was just 16. In 1996, he told Playboy, “I saw six people die horribly in an accident. I walked home holding on to walls and trees. It took me months to begin to function again. So I don't drive. But whether I drive or not is irrelevant. The automobile is the most dangerous weapon in our society—cars kill more than wars do.”

5. HE WROTE FAHRENHEIT 451 IN JUST OVER A WEEK.

It took Bradbury just nine days to write Fahrenheit 451—and he did it in the basement of the UCLA library on a rented typewriter. (The title of his classic novel, by the way, comes from the temperature at which paper burns without being exposed to flame.)

6. HE DIDN'T ATTEND COLLEGE.

Though he wrote Fahrenheit 451 at UCLA, he wasn't a student there. In fact, he didn’t believe in college. “I believe in libraries because most students don’t have any money,” Bradbury told The New York Times in 2009. “When I graduated from high school, it was during the Depression and we had no money. I couldn’t go to college, so I went to the library three days a week for 10 years.”

7. HE LOATHED COMPUTERS.

Despite his writings about all things futuristic, Bradbury loathed computers. “We are being flimflammed by Bill Gates and his partners,” he told Playboy in 1996. “Look at Windows '95. That's a lot of flimflam, you know.” He also stated that computers were nothing more than typewriters to him, and he certainly didn’t need another one of those. He also called the Internet “old-fashioned": “They type a question to you. You type an answer back. That’s 30 years ago. Why not do it on the telephone, which is immediate? Why not do it on TV, which is immediate? Why are they so excited with something that is so backward?”

8. HE WAS PALS WITH WALT DISNEY.

Not only was Bradbury good friends with Walt Disney (and even urged him to run for mayor of Los Angeles), he helped contribute to the Spaceship Earth ride at Epcot, submitting a story treatment that they built the ride around.

He was a big fan of the Disney parks, saying, “Everyone in the world will come to these gates. Why? Because they want to look at the world of the future. They want to see how to make better human beings. That’s what the whole thing is about. The cynics are already here and they’re terrifying one another. What Disney is doing is showing the world that there are alternative ways to do things that can make us all happy. If we can borrow some of the concepts of Disneyland and Disney World and Epcot, then indeed the world can be a better place.”

9. HE WANTED HIS ASHES TO BE SENT TO MARS IN A SOUP CAN.

He once said that when he died, he planned to have his ashes placed in a Campbell’s Tomato Soup can and planted on Mars. Then he decided that he wanted to have a place his fans could visit, and thought he’d design his own gravestone that included the names of his books. As a final touch, a sign at his gravesite would say Place dandelions here, “as a tribute to Dandelion Wine, because so many people love it.” In the end, he ended up going with something a whole lot simpler—a plain headstone bearing his name and “Author of Fahrenheit 451.” Go take him some dandelions the next time you’re in L.A.—he’s buried at Westwood Memorial Park.

10. NASA PAID TRIBUTE TO HIM.

Perhaps a more fitting memorial is the one NASA gave him when they landed a rover on Mars a few months after Bradbury’s death in 2012: They named the site where Mars Curiosity touched down "Bradbury Landing."

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