Aug 8, 2017 | By Benedict

The FBI and the National Parks Service have used 3D scanning to digitally preserve the infamous dummy heads used by a trio of inmates to escape Alcatraz prison in 1962. The inmates, who left the heads in their beds as decoys, were never found.

The FBI and National Parks Service are preserving these infamous dummy heads using 3D scanning

(Image: FBI)

Of all the maximum security prisons in the United States, Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary was, during its lifetime, considered perhaps the most inescapable. Situated on an island 1.25 miles off the coast of San Francisco, the prison housed some of the country’s most ruthless criminals, the idea being that 1.25 miles of water would be a sufficient obstacle for any plucky fugitive looking to make their escape.

The escapees would have had to cross 1.25 miles of water to get off the island of Alcatraz

(Image: History) 

Yet that most unlikely of occurrences did indeed happen…once.

On June 11, 1962, inmates Frank Morris, John Anglin, and Clarence Anglin devised an intricate plan to escape via an unguarded utility corridor behind their cells. They chipped away at their rotting cell walls over a long period of time, covering up the damage with fake walls, and eventually escaped through a fan vent. (A fourth inmate, Allen West, was also part of the plan but couldn't get out of his cell at the crucial moment. He remained in prison.)

A key part of the escape plan involved convincing passing guards that the escaped inmates were still lying asleep in their beds. To do this, the inmates used papier-mâché heads, fitted with real human hair from the barber shop!

Nobody ever discovered whether the inmates survived their journey across the freezing waters, a journey they attempted to make using an improvised raft made of raincoats. Most assume that the trio drowned, but some—including members of the Anglin family—claim that the inmates fled to Brazil.

Either way, the incredible escape will never be forgotten: the Alcatraz site is now a museum, there’s a hit movie about the events that stars Clint Eastwood, and much of the equipment used by the fugitives survives to this day.

The dummy heads were made using papier-mâché and contained real human hair

(Images: Alcatraz, FBI)

Some of those historical items, however, are looking a bit worse for wear. The dummy heads, still considered “evidence” by the FBI, are reportedly deteriorating after 55 years of storage.

That has led the bureau to attempt 3D scanning the infamous models in order to keep them on file in a digital format. This would mean that the image of the audacious heads is never lost, and also ensures the FBI retains all necessary information should it have to carry out further investigation into the case.

The scanned heads could also be turned into 3D printed models

(Image: FBI)

Scanning of the papier-mâché creations took around 30 minutes per head, and the process will also allow staff to recreate the heads with a 3D printer.

“The FBI realizes the historical significance of the escape from Alcatraz,” said FBI spokesperson Prentice Danner. “And we'd hate for something to happen and that tangible, physical part of history to be lost.”



Posted in 3D Scanning



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