Saturday, August 11, 2012

Alcatraz Federal Prison Opens (1934) & Carol Bundy Confesses Connection to Sunset Slayer (1980)

On this date in 1934, Alcatraz Federal Prison opens.

The convicts--the first civilian prisoners to be housed in the new high-security penitentiary--joined a few dozen military prisoners left over from the island's days as a U.S. military prison. Alcatraz was an uninhabited seabird haven when it was explored by Spanish Lieutenant Juan Manuel de Ayala in 1775. He named it Isla de los Alcatraces, or "Island of the Pelicans." Fortified by the Spanish, Alcatraz was sold to the United States in 1849. In 1854, it had the distinction of housing the first lighthouse on the coast of California. Beginning in 1859, a U.S. Army detachment was garrisoned there, and from 1868 Alcatraz was used to house military criminals. In addition to recalcitrant U.S. soldiers, prisoners included rebellious Indian scouts, American soldiers fighting in the Philippines who had deserted to the Filipino cause, and Chinese civilians who resisted the U.S. Army during the Boxer Rebellion. In 1907, Alcatraz was designated the Pacific Branch of the United States Military Prison. 

In 1934, Alcatraz was fortified into a high-security federal penitentiary designed to hold the most dangerous prisoners in the U.S. penal system, especially those with a penchant for escape attempts. The first shipment of civilian prisoners arrived on August 11, 1934. Later that month, more shiploads arrived, featuring, among other convicts, infamous mobster Al Capone. In September, George "Machine Gun" Kelly, another luminary of organized crime, landed on Alcatraz. In the 1940s, a famous Alcatraz prisoner was Richard Stroud, the "Birdman of Alcatraz." A convicted murderer, Stroud wrote an important study on birds while being held in solitary confinement in Leavenworth Prison in Kansas. Regarded as extremely dangerous because of his 1916 murder of a guard at Leavenworth, he was transferred to Alcatraz in 1942. Stroud was not allowed to continue his avian research at Alcatraz.

Although some three dozen attempted, no prisoner was known to have successfully escaped "The Rock." However, the bodies of several escapees believed drowned in the treacherous waters of San Francisco Bay were never found. The story of the 1962 escape of three of these men, Frank Morris and brothers John and Clarence Anglin, inspired the 1979 film Escape from Alcatraz. Another prisoner, John Giles, caught a boat ride to the shore in 1945 dressed in an army uniform he had stolen piece by piece, but he was questioned by a suspicious officer after disembarking and sent back to Alcatraz. Only one man, John Paul Scott, was recorded to have reached the mainland by swimming, but he came ashore exhausted and hypothermic at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. Police found him lying unconscious and in a state of shock.

In 1963, U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy ordered Alcatraz closed, citing the high expense of its maintenance. In its 29-year run, Alcatraz housed more than 1,500 convicts. In March 1964 a group of Sioux Indians briefly occupied the island, citing an 1868 treaty with the Sioux allowing Indians to claim any "unoccupied government land." In November 1969, a group of nearly 100 Indian students and activists began a more prolonged occupation of the island, remaining there until they were forced off by federal marshals in June 1971. In 1972, Alcatraz was opened to the public as part of the newly created Golden Gate National Recreation Area, which is maintained by the National Park Service. More than one million tourists visit Alcatraz Island and the former prison annually. 

On this date in 1980, Carol Bundy confesses her connection to the "Sunset Slayer," the killer who had been murdering and mutilating young women in Hollywood, California.

She confided to co-workers, "I can't take it anymore. I'm supposed to save lives, not take them," she reportedly said. These statements were relayed to police, who immediately arrested Douglas Clark, Bundy's live-in lover. Bundy and Clark met in a North Hollywood bar in January. Clark was a self-described "king of the one-night stands." But when he met Bundy, he soon discovered that she was willing to assist and indulge in his sick fantasies. Bundy began taking pictures of Clark having sex with children and listening to his desire to kill. In June, Clark abducted two teenagers, sexually assaulted them, and then shot them in the head. He dumped their bodies off the freeway and then went home to brag about it to Bundy. Days later, Clark called a friend of his victims' and told her details about the awful murders while masturbating. Two weeks later, Clark struck again, killing two young women in separate incidents. In the second attack, Clark cut the head off the woman and took it home, insisting that Bundy apply cosmetics to it. Because most of his victims had been abducted from the Sunset Strip in Los Angeles, the press had taken to calling the serial killer the "Sunset Slayer." Clark proved to be more of an influence than Bundy expected. When she blabbed about Clark's activities to a former boyfriend, she felt compelled to kill the man to make sure that she wasn't implicated. On August 5, Bundy stabbed John Murray to death and then cut off his head. Within a week, she was tearfully confessing to her fellow nurses. During the trial in 1981, Clark tried to pin all of the murders on Bundy, but the jurors found his story hard to believe and sentenced him to die. Bundy attempted an insanity defense, but she eventually pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 52 years-to-life.

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