13 Prisoners Who Escaped and Are Still at Large

They managed the impossible: They escaped from prison and most were never recaptured. Here's how they did it.

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Lots of criminals have managed to escape from prison, but only a few have managed to evade recapture—and the ones that stand out happen to be among the most dangerous around.

Inmate flees on tractor

Alright, so the inmate in this story did evade being recaptured, but only for a short time. On the morning of August 7, 2019, Curtis Ray Watson, an inmate at West Tennessee State Penitentiary, was spotted on work detail outside the residence of Debra Johnson, a longtime prison official. Three hours later, Johnson was found strangled and Watson, 44, had disappeared, NBC News reported. Watson, who was serving a 15-year-sentence for aggravated kidnapping, escaped the prison grounds in Henning, Tennessee, on a tractor. His disappearance led to a four-day manhunt. After law enforcement released images of Watson’s tattoos in case he changed his appearance, an eagle-eyed local spotted the escaped inmate in his yard on home surveillance video. Within hours, police located and arrested Watson. He is considered a suspect on Johnson’s death.

Three escape from Alcatraz

On June 11, 1962, Frank Morris and the brothers John and Clarence Anglin, three inmates of the Alcatraz maximum-security federal prison located on an island in San Francisco Bay, pulled off one of the “greatest” prison escapes in American history. After months of planning, they squeezed through air vents and made their way into the Pacific Ocean, where they boarded a raft they’d made out of stolen raincoats. They were never seen again. Because their raft and paddles washed up ashore, many believe the men drowned in the icy waters. The Anglin family insists the brothers survived and have presented evidence to prove it. The FBI can’t quite figure out what to believe.

The only New York State prison escapee who’s never been found

On February 6, 1997, Victor Figueroa, a convict serving one to four years for drug possession, was supposed to be on the way to the mess hall when he wandered off from the Moria Shock Incarceration Facility, a minimum-security prison in Mineville, New York. As soon as his absence was noticed, authorities scoured the area, but the trail went cold. Authorities believe Figueroa died during the escape (most likely in a fall through a mine shaft near the facility). All anyone knows for sure is Figueroa was never seen or heard from again. And he’s the only New York state prison inmate to escape and never be found.

Boxed up

Glen Stark Chambers, a convicted murderer originally on death row, was lucky enough to have his sentence commuted to life. But he wasn’t sticking around. On February 21, 1990, while making office furniture at Florida’s Polk Correctional Facility, he cajoled other inmates to box him inside a crate and load the crate onto a truck. His clothes were later found in the truck, Described as “intelligent and resourceful,” Chambers has family in Minnesota and Florida, and people have reported seeing him in Florida and Alabama. If Chambers is still alive, which he might be, he’d be 69 years old now.

Wanted in the United States and Mexico

In 1987, Glen Stewart Godwin escaped from Folsom State Prison in California. He was serving a lengthy sentence for murder, according to the FBI—the agency still has him on its most-wanted list. Later that year, he was arrested for drug trafficking in Mexico and sent to prison in Guadalajara. In 1991, he allegedly murdered a fellow inmate and escaped yet again. He goes by a number of aliases (including Michael Carrera, Nigel Lopez, and Dennis Harold McWilliams) and is believed to be somewhere in Central or South America. The FBI is offering a $20,000 reward for information leading to his arrest. Here are 17 secrets the FBI doesn’t want you to know.

Off furlough

On June 1, 1971, Leonard Rayne Moses escaped after being granted a furlough from prison to attend his grandmother’s funeral in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At the time, he was serving a life sentence for murder in connection with the Pittsburgh Riots of 1968 that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Moses remains at large and is still considered armed and dangerous. The FBI is offering a reward of up to $10,000 for information leading directly to the arrest of Moses’s arrest. If you think these prison escapee stories are crazy, make sure you check out the most notorious criminal from every state.

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We give up

Jerry Bergevin escaped from a prison camp in Michigan (Camp Waterloo) in 1969, where the career criminal had been serving a 15-year sentence for breaking and entering. Authorities think he may have scaled a barbed-wire fence, but it was so long ago the Michigan Department of Corrections can’t say for sure. In 2013, the Department of Corrections decided to call off the search for Bergevin, who would have been 80 years old at the time. He’s never been found.

Try, try again

While serving a 25-year sentence for kidnapping and robbery in a Greek high-security prison, Vassilis Paleokostas managed to escape by helicopter twice, once in 2006 and once in 2009. He hasn’t been seen since the 2009 escape in which he and his cellmate climbed up a rope ladder thrown to them from a helicopter flying over the prison yard; the helicopter had apparently been hijacked by a woman. The cellmate was caught, but Paleokostas remains at large. An escape in broad daylight is easy to see, but check out these 15 mysterious disappearances no one can explain.

International man of mystery

Omid “Nino” Tahvilli (whose name is sometimes spelled “Tavili” and “Tahvili”), was the head of a Persian organized crime network in Canada. In 2007, while in custody, Tahvilli walked out of a maximum-security prison in Canada’s British Columbia wearing a janitor’s uniform. He had the assistance of a guard whom he’d bribed to “look the other way.” The guard, whom Tahvilli never paid, was prosecuted, but Tahvilli remains an international fugitive. Tahvilli is also wanted in the United States in connection with a fraudulent telemarketing business that targeted the elderly. In 2017, Tahvilli, who is now almost 40, may have called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to negotiate his return to custody in exchange for a promise not to extradite him to the United States, but authorities have doubts the call was credible.

Asylum in Cuba

Joanne Deborah Chesimard was serving a life sentence for murder and other crimes in a Clinton, New Jersey, maximum-security prison. On November 2, 1979, she escaped with the help of a revolutionary group (she was a member). The FBI continues to offer a $1 million reward for information leading to catching Chesimard, who has changed her name to “Assata Shakur”: She has been living in Cuba, where she was granted political asylum in 1984.

Catch and release

On August 22, 1970, George Edward Wright first escaped from a New Jersey prison. He was caught and put back in prison, only to escape again in 1972. And then he came up with a plan to avoid being re-imprisoned: On July 31, 1972, Wright and accomplices hijacked a Delta airplane. After collecting ransom and releasing the passengers, Wright and his crew flew the plane to Algiers. In 2011, the police caught up with him in Portugal. Since Portugal has no extradition treaty with the United States, Wright was released and remains at large. Although Wright’s case was eventually solved, these are 15 crimes that will never get solved.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly on Reader's Digest, The Huffington Post, and a variety of other publications since 2008. She covers life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. Lauren is also an author of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.