Ingenious Prison Escape Devices
Here are 10 of the most ingenious devices used in some daring prison escapes.Stories
The movies really dramatize prison escapes: explosives, helicopters, accomplices and cool MacGyver-like gizmos! However, some real life prison escapes utilized ingenious gadgets and contraptions that made movie jailbreaks look like child’s play. Here are 10 of the most ingenious devices used in some of these daring prison escapes.
10. Colditz Glider
Colditz Castle was one of the most famous German Army camps for enemy officers during the Second World War. The castle, which overlooked the town of Colditz in Saxony, was considered to be escape-proof, with its thick walls and cliffside drop of 150 feet down to the River Mulde.
However, it didn’t seem to imprison the creativity of its captives, who came up with a smart plan. Lieutenant Tony Rolt was the mastermind who noticed that the castle’s chapel roof was hidden from the guards’ view. As an engineer, he surmised that the roof was the perfect spot to launch a glider that could fly across the river.
Flight Lieutenants Bill Goldfinch and Jack Best were chosen as the leaders. They found a book called “Aircraft Design” by C.H. Latimer-Needham which had all the necessary physics and engineering information they needed. They began to assemble the plane in the attic with a group of 12 other soldiers nicknamed the “12 Apostles”.
The men used everything they could find – bed slats, floorboards and wiring from unused areas of the castle. They even created a 60-foot-long runway from tables and the glider was to be launched using a pulley system based on a falling metal bathtub full of concrete. In the end, they had a lightweight, two-seater glider that weighed about 240 lbs.
The take-off was scheduled for the spring of 1945; however, the camp was liberated in April 1945. In 2015, a documentary recreated the plan to see if the escape would have worked. The glider managed to fly off successfully but crashed about 15 seconds later. However, it proved that it would have helped the escape of two prisoners from the castle. Best and Goldfinch were fortunate to witness this attempt.
In a more modern take, the following inmates also took to the air for their escapes. RedoineFaid was serving time for a failed robbery attempt in 2010 that resulted in the death of a female police officer. While in prison he used explosives to blast through the prison doors but was caught and locked up for an additional 10 years to the twenty-five years he was currently serving.
Not one to give up easily and not in any less dramatic fashion, five years later, two or three heavily armed men hijacked a helicopter and made the pilot fly to Faid’s prison to pick up Faid and then northwest of Paris.
The pilot was released unharmed and the men fled in an unidentified vehicle. He was apprehended a few months later – but it seems the French love this method of jailbreaking. Another Frenchman, Pascal Payet, escaped from prison by helicopter not once but twice!
The second time, in 2003, the helicopter was hijacked in Cannes and flown to the roof of a state penitentiary in Grasse. Three men armed with pistols and sawed-off shotguns busted in and left with Payet.
Three months later he was caught in Spain. I know what you’re thinking. If they didn’t at least use one of the opportunities to say “get to the chopper” like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Predator, then these escapes were a waste.
9. You’ve Got Mail! ... From Prison
Some prisoners write letters to their loved ones, but Turkish inmate, Yasar Bayrak, decided that was not enough. Bayrak, who was jailed at a prison in western Germany for drug-related offenses, posted himself out of jail in a giant FedEx Box used for dirty laundry. The package was loaded onto a van and driven out of the prison.
He escaped when the driver made his next stop. The German police released a photo of him since they believed that he created a new identity for himself but it seems that Bayrak hasn’t been recaptured. Talk about a successful delivery!
8. Skin Ointment
Increased flexibility, muscle strength and tone: these are all the things you get from yoga that will help you escape from prison. Choi Gap-bok practiced yoga for 23 years and knew it would come in handy when he was arrested on suspicion of robbery in September 2012.
He was put in a detention cell and on the sixth day, he applied what I can only assume was a generous amount of skin ointment on the upper part of his body and escaped by squeezing through the food slot at the bottom of the cell.
It took the 5’4’’ jailbird all of 34 seconds to wiggle out of the slot which was 5.9 inches tall by 17.7 inches wide. He was said to have used a technique he saw in “The Shawshank Redemption”, covering pillows with blankets so the guards would not notice his absence. He was caught six days later and put in a new cell with a food slot measuring 4.3 inches tall and 5 inches wide.
Choi wasn’t the only one trying to make a slippery getaway. In 2010, a 5’11’’, 160-lb inmate, Kristopher Allen White, was able to fit himself through the bars covering a window opening in his cell in a Tennessee jail. These bars were only 4 ½ inches apart. He then used blankets to climb over the barbed wire fence. Unfortunately for him, he was caught after just 15 hours on the run.
And finally, 37-year-old Australian Robert Cole used some unusual trimming methods to get his way out of a tight space. At the time of his escape, Cole was serving an indefinite sentence in the Long Bay Jail hospital after he was found not guilty of armed robbery on the grounds of mental illness.
I guess the hospital was very lax in their surveillance since Cole was able to use laxatives to lose 31lbs so that he could fit his 123-lb body through a 6-inch wide hole that he had chiseled with a butter knife in the window frame of the hospital.
The svelte jailbird was recaptured after three days and was sentenced to an additional one year and nine months in prison.
7. Wooden Gun
John Dillinger was the infamous leader of the “Dillinger Gang”, a group of American Depression-era bank robbers known for a string of bank robberies in the Midwestern United States between September 1933 to July 1934.
John was arrested in January 1934 and taken to the so-called escape-proof jail in Crown Point, Indiana. However, 2 months later, John was able to intimidate jailers with a wooden pistol he had whittled to look like a Colt 38.
He then seized two sub-machine guns from the warden’s office of the jail and fled. So it seems that all it took was just a “whittle” bit of inventiveness to get out of this jail free.
6. Can Opener
Ralph “Bucky” Phillips was known as the convicted killer who once incited one of the largest manhunts in New York State history. Bucky spent most of his life in and out of prison or on probation. In 1992, police chased him for 15 days for the sale of a controlled substance. He was sent to the Clinton Correctional Facility but was released in November 2005.
Unable to stay out of trouble, he violated his parole in January 2006 when he threatened to kill his daughter and was sent to the Alden Correctional Facility. On April 2nd 2006, Bucky used a can opener to cut through the corrugated metal roof of the facility’s kitchen and escaped. He later shot three New York State troopers, which resulted in one death, earning himself a spot on the FBI’s Most Wanted Fugitives list.
During his time on the run, he stole at least 15 cars and broke into at least a half dozen cabins. He finally surrendered five months later when he was swarmed by officers and helicopters in the woods of Warren County. He is now imprisoned at another correctional facility for life.
5. Kangaroo Disguise
Port Arthur in Australia was the place for the hardest of convicted British criminals between 1833 and 1853. It was known for some of the strictest security measures of the British penal system. Therefore, prisoners had to get extra resourceful in their escape plans.
The only escape route to Tasmania was across a narrow stretch of land known as ‘The Neck’, which was guarded by vicious dogs and military guards.
Hoping to make it through, George “Billy” Hunt thought he had a masterful idea when he skinned a kangaroo and threw on its hide. His disguise was unfortunately a little too convincing.
The guards started shooting at him as they were half-starved and saw the kangaroo as a potential meal, which forced him to reveal his identity. He then received 150 lashes. I bet he wished he kept the hide on for that punishment.
From using an animal disguise to a disguise of a man who could talk to animals, Kevin Jerome Pullum used his acting chops to aid his escape from the Los Angeles County Men’s Central Jail in July 2001.
He was convicted of attempted murder just hours before his escape. Wearing a flowered shirt and light-colored trousers, Pullum used an ID card with a picture of Eddie Murphy from Dr. Dolittle to make his getaway.
It seemed as though no one checked his ID badge properly as the security cameras recorded Pullum calmly walking out of an elevator and through the main control area of the prison. He was apprehended again 2 weeks later, with 4 years added to his original 25-year sentence.
4. Wire cutters
The tall fences and setback distances of more than 50 yards are supposed to make it unlikely for anyone to throw or catapult anything to any prisoner in this maximum-security prison in South Carolina. However, tall fences are no match for drones. In July of 2017, a drone flew in the wire cutters used by convicted kidnapper Jimmy Causey to bust out.
He cut through four fences and fled, giving himself an 18-hour head start. He was apprehended just a few days later at a Texas motel with $47,000 in cash, four cell phones and two guns.
3. Raincoat Raft
One of the most mysterious escapes in history immortalized in the 1979 movie "Escape From Alcatraz" was the escape of the three men from the world’s most impenetrable island prison known as Alcatraz.
Six months before the escape in June 1962, four prisoners envisioned an elaborate plan using prison-issued plastic or rubber-like raincoats to build a fourteen-by-six-foot raft.
They were said to have also constructed life vests, paddles and other tools from readily available objects, and dummy heads made of cement and real hair. Three of the plotters, Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin, climbed to the prison’s roof, went through a vent and made their way down to launch their raft off the shores of the island. The fourth plotter was not ready and had to be left behind.
To this day, the three escapees have never been found. This mystery has initiated television specials and even attempts by the MythBusters to determine whether the raincoat raft could have been successful.
2. Exploding Nectarines?
This next story shows that even convicts can be swept off their feet. Michel Vaujour was serving a long sentence at the Prison of Health in Montparnasse, Paris for crimes such as armed robbery.
He had escaped prison five times before but this time was probably the most “fruitful” and romantic. Firstly, Michel forced his way to the prison’s roof by wielding nectarines that were painted to look like grenades. On the roof, his wife, Nadine was waiting for him with a helicopter. How do these people access these choppers so easily?
Anyway, Nadine showed her love by learning how to fly a helicopter specifically for the breakout. Their freedom was short-lived as Nadine was arrested later in southwestern France and Michel was arrested after he survived a shot to the head during a failed bank robbery.
He was released in 2003 after serving 27 years in prison. He has since been remarried and recently released a biography.
1. Diamond-Encrusted Wire
This is probably the most effective device used in escape attempts: a diamond-encrusted wire which can be used to saw through anything. Five of the most dangerous prisoners in Australia used this “angel wire” to cut through their cell bars, bending the bars back using bedsheets.
The prisoners also used this wire to cut through the security fences and then used a chair to get over the razor wire on the top of the fence. A 150-officer manhunt was hastily launched. Four of the men were quickly caught but the fifth was captured months later.
People have also created other similar covert wire devices that could aid in escapes, and, shockingly, lots of them can be bought online. Look at the wire saw below that was hidden in a nickel:
Imagine how easily this could be smuggled into prison or jail and then used in an attempt. It's actually scary to think of the number of inmates drooling at the thought!
I hope you were amazed at these ingenious prison escape devices used in some daring breakouts. You might also want to read this article explaining in detail the escape from Alcatraz! Thanks for reading!