Alcatraz housed some of America’s best-known and most dangerous criminals of the mid-20th century. The Justice Department had established the penitentiary on Alcatraz to imprison high-profile criminals. Alcatraz provided a highly-visible federal response to the crime wave that swept across the country in the 1930s. It was intended to show the public that top public enemies could securely incarcerated in a no-privilege, no-escape prison.
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Among the prison’s most notorious residents were Al “Scarface” Capone, brutal kingpin of the Chicago underworld during the Roaring Twenties; kidnapper George “Machine Gun” Kelly; bank robber Floyd Hamilton, an accomplice of Bonnie and Clyde; Arthur “Doc” Barker and Alvin “Creepy” Karpis, a member of the infamous Ma Barker Gang; Roy Gardner, last of the “Old West” train robbers; “Bumpy” Johnson, the Godfather of Harlem; Morton Sobell, convicted in the Rosenberg espionage case; and Robert “Birdman” Stroud.

Stroud was later immortalized by actor Burt Lancaster in The Birdman of Alcatraz film as a kindly bird lover. But in actuality, Stroud was a homicidal sociopath whom one longtime Alcatraz officer likened to “Jekyll and Hyde.”

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