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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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10 Regional Twists on Trick-or-Treating
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Walk around any given American neighborhood on the night of October 31, and you’ll likely hear choruses of "trick-or-treat" chiming through the area. The sing-songy phrase is synonymous with Halloween in some parts of the world, but it's not the only way kids get sweets from their neighbors this time of year. From the Philippines to the American Midwest, here are some regional door-to-door traditions you may not have heard of.


Rice cakes wrapped in leaves.

The earliest form of trick-or-treating on Halloween can be traced back to Europe in the Middle Ages. Kids would don costumes and go door-to-door offering prayers for dead relatives in exchange for snacks called "soul cakes." When the cake was eaten, tradition held that a soul was ferried from purgatory into heaven. Souling has disappeared from Ireland and the UK, but a version of it lives on halfway across the world in the Philippines. During All Saints Day on November 1, Filipino children taking part in Pangangaluluwa will visit local houses and sing hymns for alms. The songs often relate to souls in purgatory, and carolers will play the part of the souls by asking for prayers. Kids are sometimes given rice cakes called suman, a callback to the soul cakes from centuries past.


Raw dough.

Instead of trick-or-treating, kids in Portugal go door-to-door saying pão-por-deus ("bread for god") in exchange for goodies on All Saints Day. Some homeowners give out money or candy, while others offer actual baked goods.


Kids trick-or-treating.

If they're not calling out "trick-or-treat" on their neighbors’ doorsteps on Halloween night, you may hear children in western Canada saying "Halloween apples!" The phrase is left over from a time when apples were a common Halloween treat and giving out loose items on the holiday wasn't considered taboo.


The Dutch wait several days after Halloween to do their own take on trick-or-treating. On the night of November 11, St. Martin's Day, children in the Netherlands take to the streets with their homemade lanterns in hand. These lanterns were traditionally carved from beets or turnips, but today they’re most commonly made from paper. And the kids who partake don’t get away with shouting a few words at each home they visit—they’re expected to sing songs to receive their sugary rewards.


Guy Fawkes Night celebration.

Peter Trimming, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 2.0

Guy Fawkes Night is seen by some as the English Protestants’ answer to the Catholic holidays associated with Halloween, so it makes sense that it has its own spin on trick-or-treating. November 5 marks the day of Guy Fawkes’s failed assassination attempt on King James as part of the Gunpowder Plot. To celebrate the occasion, children will tour the neighborhood asking for "a penny for the guy." Sometimes they’ll carry pictures of the would-be-assassin which are burned in the bonfires lit later at night.


Kids knocking on a door in costume.

If kids in the St. Louis area hope to go home with a full bag of candy on Halloween, they must be willing to tickle some funny bones. Saying "tricks-for-treats" followed by a joke replaces the classic trick-or-treat mantra in this Midwestern city. There’s no criteria for the quality or the subject of the joke, but spooky material (What’s a skeleton’s favorite instrument? The trombone!) earns brownie points.


Sugar skulls with decoration.

While Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is completely separate from Halloween, the two holidays share a few things in common. Mexicans celebrate the day by dressing up, eating sweet treats, and in some parts of the country, going house-to-house. Children knocking on doors will say "me da para mi calaverita" or "give me money for my little skull," a reference to the decorated sugar skulls sold in markets at this time of year.


Kids dressed up for Halloween.

Trick-or-treaters like to keep things simple in the Canadian province of Quebec. In place of the alliterative exclamation, they shout “Halloween!” at each home they visit. Adults local to the area might remember saying "la charité s’il-vous-plaît "(French for “charity, please”) when going door-to-door on Halloween, but this saying has largely fallen out of fashion.


Little girl trick-or-treating.

Halloween is only just beginning to gain popularity in Germany. Where it is celebrated, the holiday looks a lot like it does in America, but Germans have managed to inject some local character into their version of trick-or-treat. In exchange for candy, kids sometimes sing out "süß oder saures"—or "sweet and sour" in English.


Kids dressed up for Halloween.
Rubí Flórez, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Kids in Colombia anticipate dressing up and prowling the streets on Halloween just as much as kids do in the States. There are a few significant variations on the annual tradition: Instead of visiting private residencies, they're more likely to ask for candy from store owners and the security guards of apartment buildings. And instead of saying trick-or-treat, they recite this Spanish rhyme:

Triqui triqui Halloween
Quiero dulces para mí
Si no hay dulces para mí
Se le crece la naríz

In short, it means that if the grownups don't give the kids the candy they're asking for, their noses will grow. Tricky, tricky indeed

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Warner Home Video
11 Thrilling Facts About Dial M for Murder
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Warner Home Video

In 1953 Alfred Hitchcock was looking for a new project after a film he’d been developing fell through. Sensing a need to go back to his safe space of murderous thrillers, he opted to adapt a stage play that had already proved to be a hit on British television. Though he had no particular attachment to the project, Dial M for Murder would ultimately become one of Hitchcock’s best-known—and best-loved—classics.

From the film’s use of 3D to the debut of Grace Kelly in Hitchcock’s filmography to a pivotal murder sequence that made the director lose weight from stress, here are 11 facts about Dial M for Murder.


Dial M for Murder is, in terms of locations and number of characters, a relatively sparse film that barely leaves its primary set. This is because it was based on a stage play by Frederick Knott, which premiered as a BBC TV special in 1952 and later opened at London’s Westminster Theater and, eventually, Broadway. After seeing the BBC production, producer Sir Alexander Korda purchased the rights to make the film version, and later sold them to Warner Bros. for $75,000.


By 1953, when Dial M for Murder arrived at Warner Bros., Hitchcock was developing a project called The Bramble Bush, the story of a man who steals another man’s passport, only to find out that the original owner is wanted for murder. Hitchcock wrestled with the story for a while, but was never satisfied with it. When Dial M for Murder landed at the studio, Hitchcock knew the play had been a hit, and opted to direct it. As he later told fellow director François Truffaut, he found the film to be “coasting, playing it safe,” as he was already known as a thriller filmmaker.


In the early 1950s, the 3D movie craze was raging, and Warner Bros. was eager to pair it with the fame of Hitchcock. So, the director was ordered to use the process on Dial M for Murder. This meant Hitchcock had to work with the giant cameras necessary for the process, but there was also a trade-off that makes the film fascinating—even in 2D. In order to make the film look appropriately interesting in 3D, Hitchcock added a pit into the floor of the set, so the camera could move at lower angles and captures objects like lamps in the foreground. As a result, the film looks like no other Hitchcock ever shot, particularly for the infamous scissors murder that’s the film's thrilling centerpiece. Unfortunately, by the time Dial M for Murder was released in 1954, the 3D fad was dying out, so the film was shown in 2D at most screenings.


Of all of the iconic blonde stars Hitchcock cast in his films, the most famous is almost undoubtedly Grace Kelly, the actress-turned-princess who first joined him for this film. Hitchcock once described Kelly as a "rare thing in movies ... fit for any leading-lady part,” and it was said he had the easiest working relationship with her of any star. They worked so well together that they went on to make two more films, Rear Window in 1954 and To Catch a Thief in 1955.


Because Dial M for Murder is based on a stage play, the original script had very little in the way of outdoor set pieces. Hitchcock wanted to keep it that way, as he later explained to Truffaut:

“I’ve got a theory on the way they make pictures based on stage plays; they did it with silent pictures, too. Many filmmakers would take a stage play and say, ‘I’m going to make this into a film.’ Then they would begin to ‘open it up.’ In other words, on the stage it was all confined to one set, and the idea was to do something that would take it away from the confined stage setting.”

Hitchcock wanted to keep the confinement intact, so almost all of the action in the film takes place indoors, largely in the Wendices' apartment. This adds to the intimacy and tension.


Hitchcock was always known as a meticulous director obsessed with detail, but on Dial M for Murder he was particularly detail-oriented, in part because the 3D cameras were going to capture objects in a way his other films hadn’t. As a result, he selected all of the objects in the Wendice apartment himself, and even had a giant false telephone dial made for the famous “M” close-up in the title sequence.


Grace Kelly in 'Dial M for Murder' (1954)
Warner Home Video

Hitchcock’s exacting eye also led to an elaborate “color experiment” to portray the psychological condition of Kelly’s character. As the film begins, the colors she wears are all very bright, suggesting a happy life in which she doesn’t suspect anything is wrong. As the film grows darker for her, to the point that she’s framed for murder, the wardrobe grows darker and “more somber,” as Hitchcock put it.


For the scene in which Swann (Anthony Dawson) attempts to murder Margot (Kelly) by strangling her (until she manages to stab him with a pair of scissors), Hitchcock had another exacting wardrobe request. He had an elegant velvet robe made for Kelly, hoping to create interesting textural effects as the lights and shadows played off the fabric while she fought for her life. Kelly reasoned that, since Margot was alone in the apartment (as far as she knew) and was only getting out of bed to answer the phone, she wouldn’t bother to put on a robe.

“I said I wouldn't put on anything at all, that I'd just get up and go to the phone in my nightgown. And [Hitchcock] admitted that was better, and that's the way it was done,” Kelly later recalled.


Dial M for Murder was shot in just 36 days, but the director took special care with one scene in particular: the murder sequence in which Margot stabs Swann with the scissors. Not only was it a key scene in the film, but it was also a moment that required particular care to make the 3D effects work. Hitchcock agonized over the scene to such a degree that he apparently lost 20 pounds during filming.

"This is nicely done but there wasn't enough gleam to the scissors, and a murder without gleaming scissors is like asparagus without the hollandaise sauce—tasteless,” he reportedly said after one take.


Hitchcock became known throughout his career for making cameos in his films, ranging from the very subtle (you can see his silhouette in neon outside the window in Rope) to the more elaborate (missing the bus in the opening sequence of North by Northwest). In Dial M for Murder, his cameo falls somewhere in between. He appears in a class reunion photo in the Wendice apartment, seated at a banquet table among other men.


Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow in 'A Perfect Murder' (1998)
Warner Bros.

Dial M for Murder was a film adaptation of a stage play that had also already been adapted for television in Britain, and it proved popular enough that four more adaptations followed. In 1958, NBC broadcast a Hallmark Hall of Fame production, in which both Anthony Dawson and John Williams returned to play Swann and Chief Inspector Hubbard, respectively. A 1967 ABC television production of the play co-starred Laurence Harvey and Diane Cilento. A television movie starring Angie Dickinson and Christopher Plummer was produced in 1981, and in 1998 the play served as the inspiration for the film A Perfect Murder, starring Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow.


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