10 Unbelievable Prison Breaks

1Pascal Payet: escaped from jail using a helicopter three times!

Pascal Payet, AKA Kalashnikov Pat, was originally jailed for a murder occurred during a botched robbery on a security van, and was sentenced in 2001 to thirty years, yet managed to escape three times by helicopter! The last time, in July 2007, a hijacked Squirrel helicopter --along with its pilot, from the glamorous resort of Cannes half an hour earlier-- landed on the penitentiary's roof, from where three heavily armed men set off in search of Payet. He was lifted off the roof by the masked accomplices. After landing near the Mediterranean Sea, the pilot was released, and Payet and his accomplices have since disappeared.

2John Dillinger: escaped from jail using a fake gun made of wood and shoe polish

A bank robber in America's Midwest during the early 1930s, John Dillinger, had robbed at least two dozen banks and four police stations and escaped from jail twice. He served for some time at the Indiana State Penitentiary at Michigan City, until 1933, when he was paroled. Within four months, he was back in jail in Lima, Ohio, but the gang sprang him, killing the jailer, Sheriff Jessie Sarber. Most of the gang was captured again by the end of the year in Tucson, Arizona, due to a fire at the Historic Hotel Congress. Dillinger alone was sent to the Lake County jail in Crown Point, Indiana. He was to face trial for the suspected killing of police officer William O'Malley during a bank shootout in East Chicago, Indiana, some time after his escape from jail.

On March 3, 1934, Dillinger escaped from the "escape-proof" (as it was dubbed by local authorities at the time) Crown Point, Indiana county jail, which was guarded by many police officers and national guardsmen. Newspapers reported that Dillinger had escaped using a fake gun made out of wood blackened with shoe polish. With his fake gun he was able to trick a guard into opening his cell. He then took two men hostages, rounded up all the guards in jail, locked them in his cell, and fled.

3Alfie Hinds: escaped from jail three times, one of them by locking the guards in the bathroom

Alfie Hinds was a British man who managed to escape the law over and over again – a total of three escapes. Four if you count his final, legal escape. Hinds came by his thievery honestly – his dad actually died while being punished for armed robbery. In 1953, he was arrested for a major jewelry robbery – $90,000 worth of which was never recovered. Although pleading not guilty, he was convicted and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. Somehow he escaped through locked doors and over a 20-foot prison wall. The public started calling him “Houdini” Hinds.

He made an honest living as a builder and decorator across Europe until 1956, when Scotland Yard detectives tracked him down and arrested him again after 248 days as a fugitive. After his arrest, Hinds brought a lawsuit against authorities charging the prison commissioners with illegal arrest and successfully used the incident as a means to plan his next escape at the Law Court. When two guards escorted him to the bathroom and removed his handcuffs so he could take care of business, Alfie shoved them into the stall and locked them with a padlock (accomplices had installed screw eyes onto the door so he could do this). He was captured at the airport only a few hours later.

His third escape was from his Chelmsford Prison. He then returned to Ireland where he lived and worked as a used car dealer for two years. His downfall came once again when he was pulled over for being in an unregistered car. This time, he used his smarts to find a loophole in the law – at the time, prison escapes were not considered misdemeanors, so no time was added onto his original sentence. He finished out the six years from his jewelry theft sentence in 1953, won a libel suit against the arresting officer, and spent the rest of his life as a minor celebrity after selling his life story to the News of the World for a reported $40,000.

4Julien Chautard: escaped from prison by clinging to the underside of the van that had just brought him there

In 2009 French-born arsonist Julien Chautard pulled an audacious escape in which he succeeded in slipping away from a group of new arrivals at Pentonville prison in north London. As the other prisoners were being marched inside, Chautard managed to duck behind the prison van that had just brought them there from Snaresbrook crown court (where ¬Chautard, 39, had been sent down for seven years). Chautard then succeeded in leaving the jail a few minutes later clinging to the underside of the same van. He later handed himself into police.

5Frank Morris and Clarence and John Anglin: the only prisoners who may have escaped from Alcatraz

During its 29 years of operation, the penitentiary claimed no prisoners had ever successfully escaped. 36 prisoners were involved in 14 attempts, two men trying twice; 23 were caught, six were shot and killed during their escape, and three were lost at sea and never found, although their bodies were never found.

But on June 11, 1962, Frank Morris and John and Clarence Anglin successfully carried out one of the most intricate escapes ever devised. Morris and the Anglins climbed up the ventilation shaft through one of the chimneys and reached the top of the roof. The trio then climbed down the rooftop and paddled away on rubber rafts. The next morning police searched for the escapees on Alcatraz without success.

The acting warden said they put dummy heads - made of a mixture of soap, toilet paper and real hair - in their beds to fool prison officers making night-time inspections. Morris and the Anglin brothers subsequently disappeared without trace and are still wanted by the FBI, although they are believed to have drowned in the San Francisco Bay while attempting to leave the island.

6Billy Hayes: escaped from a Turkish prison and became a writer

Sentenced to 30 years in a Turkish jail for drug smuggling in 1970, the 22-year-old American was originally sentenced to four years and two months in a Turkish prison; with his release date weeks away, he learned that the authorities had chosen to penalize him with a life sentence, so he decided he had to escape. After six months of planning, he fought a prison guard, stole his uniform, and clutching $2,000 his father had smuggled into the prison in a photo album, he stole a rowboat, finally making it to shore. Hoping to reach Greece, Hayes dyed his blond hair black and began travelling towards the border. Barefoot, exhausted, and lacking a passport, he swam across a river and walked for miles. When he finally came upon an armed soldier, he thought that he had lost his bid for freedom, but the soldier yelled at him in Greek. Hayes eventually made it back to the U.S. safely, then wrote an autobiographical book called Midnight Express about his experiences in prison and his escape from it.

7The Texas Seven group: escaped a maximum security prison using a highly elaborated scheme

On December 13, 2000, seven inmates at the John Connally Unit – a maximum-security state prison in Karnes County, Texas – escaped carrying out an elaborate scheme. Using several well-planned ploys, the seven convicts overpowered and restrained nine civilian maintenance supervisors, four correctional officers and three uninvolved inmates. The escape occurred during the slowest period of the day when there would be less surveillance of certain locations like the maintenance area — during lunch and at count time. Most of these plans involved one of the offenders calling someone over, while another hit the unsuspecting person on the head from behind. Once the victim was subdued, the offenders would remove some of his clothing, tie him up, gag him and place him in an electrical room behind a locked door.

The attackers stole clothing, credit cards, and identification from their victims. The group also impersonated prison officers on the phone and created false stories to ward off suspicion from authorities.
After that, three members of the group made their way to the back gate of the prison, some disguised in stolen civilian clothing. They pretended to be there to install video monitors. One guard at the gatehouse was subdued, and the trio raided the guard tower and stole numerous weapons. Meanwhile, the four offenders who stayed behind made calls to the prison tower guards to distract them. They then stole a prison maintenance pick-up truck, which they drove to the back gate of the prison, picked up their cohorts, and drove away from the prison.

A year later they were apprehended, as a direct result of the television show America's Most Wanted.

8The Rat Hell prisoners: the most famous (and successful) prison breaks during the American Civil War

The Libby Prison Escape was one of the most famous (and successful) prison breaks during the American Civil War. Overnight between February 9 and February 10, 1864, more than 100 imprisoned Union soldiers broke out of their prisoner of war building at Libby Prison in Richmond, Virginia. Of the 109 escapees, 59 succeeded in reaching Union lines, 48 were recaptured, and 2 drowned in the nearby James River. The prisoners managed to tunnel through the prison's basement to a nearby vacant lot. This was no easy task, as Libby's basement was a dark and vermin-infested cellar known to the men as “Rat Hell,” but after seventeen days of digging, they reached a nearby tobacco shed. The officers escaped the prison in groups of two and three on the night of February 9, 1864. Once within the tobacco shed, the men gathered inside the walled warehouse yard and simply strolled out the front gate. The tunnel provided enough distance from the prison to stealthily subvert those jurisdictional lines and allow prisoners to slip into the dark streets unchallenged.

The Libby Prison escape was possible thanks to the effort of its leaders, Colonel Rose and Major Hamilton. Rose and Hamilton worked tirelessly together to bring about the escape. It was Rose who thought of breaking into the basement from the chimney and Hamilton who engineered the passage. Rose toiled feverishly in the tunnel and organized digging teams while Hamilton worked out the logistics and invented contraptions for removing dirt and supplying oxygen to the tunnel.

9Alfred Wetzler and Rudolf Vrba: managed to escape from Auschwitz and later compiled a life saving report about the Nazi camp

Wetzler was a Slovak Jew, and one of a very small number of Jews known to have escaped from the Auschwitz death camp during the Holocaust. Wetzler escaped with a fellow Jew named Rudolf Vrba. With the help of the camp underground, at 2 p.m. on Friday, April 7, 1944 — the eve of Passover — the two men climbed inside a hollowed-out hiding place in a wood pile that was being stored to build the “Mexico” section for the new arrivals. It was outside Birkenau's barbed-wire inner perimeter, but inside an external perimeter the guards kept erected during the day. The other prisoners placed boards around the hollowed-out area to hide the men, and then sprinkled the area with pungent Russian tobacco soaked in gasoline to fool the guards' dogs. The two remained in hiding for 4 nights – to avoid recapture.

On April 10, wearing Dutch suits, overcoats, and boots they had taken from the camp, they made their way south, walking parallel to the So?a river, heading for the Polish border with Slovakia 80 miles (133 km.) away, guiding themselves using a page from a child's atlas that Vrba had found in the warehouse.

Wetzler and Vrba later became known for the report they compiled about the inner workings of the Auschwitz camp – a ground plan of the camp, construction details of the gas chambers, crematoriums and, most convincingly, a label from a canister of Zyklon gas. The 32-page report was the first detailed report about Auschwitz to reach the West that the Allies regarded as credible. The report is said to have saved 120.000 lives.

10Dieter Dengler: became the only soldier to escape a prison camp during the Vietnam War

Dieter Dengler was a German-American Navy pilot who made a famous escape from a jungle prison camp during the Vietnam War. In early 1966, Dengler's plane was shot down by an anti-aircraft fire over Laos, and he was captured and shipped to a prison camp run by the Pathet Lao, a group of North Vietnamese sympathizers. Dengler had earned a reputation for his uncanny ability to escape from mock-POW camps during his military training, and he immediately contributed to a plan where the prisoners had to make a getaway. On June 29, 1966, he and six other prisoners managed to escape from their hand and foot restraints and get a hold of the guard's weapons. After gunning down three guards, Dengler escaped into the dense forest. He would eventually spend 23 days in the jungle enduring extreme heat, insects, leeches, parasites, and starvation before being rescued by an American helicopter. Only one of the other prisoners, a Thai contractor, survived the escape. The others were all either killed or disappeared in the jungle. Dengler would go on to become a successful test pilot in his later years, and to this day he is credited as the only American soldier to ever break out of a prisoner of war camp in the Laotian jungle and live to tell the tale.

Note: We had first stated that he was the only American soldier to successfully escape from a prison camp during the Vietnam War. But our readers pointed out there were other heroes to do so, such as Capt. Charles Fredrick Klusmann, who was shot down, captured to escape later with 6 other inmates, 5 of which were never accounted for, and Nick Rowe, who escaped from a Viet Cong camp in Vietnam, and wrote a book about it called, "Five Years To Freedom." (Thanks, Katey and Josiah).