|Birth: ||Oct. 12, 1929|
|Death: ||Oct. 12, 1958|
San Francisco County
Convicts Who Drowned While Trying to Escape Alcatraz Island Federal Penitentiary.
2 Cons Seize, Tie Up Guard; One Recaptured Off Shore
Big Manhunt on The Rock; Missing Prisoner Boasted Of Having Getaway Boat
Two Alcatraz convicts bet their freedom on a knife and the fog yesterday and, although one of them lost, the other may have made the first "impossible" escape from The Rock.
Still missing and possibly headed for mainland in a getaway launch is Aaron Walter Burgett, 28, a rangy gunman from St. Louis, Mo.
He and fellow convict, Clyde Johnson, 40, a Memphis bank robber, flashed a knife in the face of Guard Harold Miller shortly after 3 p.m.
Johnson was the FBI's Public Enemy No. 1 in 1949.
The pair bound and gagged the guard and threw him in some thick brush at the southeast point of the island.
OUTSIDE THE WALLS
Both men were outside the prison walls and working on a garbage detail at the time.
"They told me," Miller gasped when rescued, "that I'd be good I'd be all right. Then they slipped away in the fog."
While they were binding his eyes, lashing his wrists and gagging him, Miller said, the two desperate criminals told him a getaway launch was waiting in the fog to whisk them away from the "escape-proof island."
Johnson was captured, cowering and shivering in waist deep water an hour later.
But Burgett vanished and a posse of prison guards which was kept to a strength of 60 men had failed to find a trace of him on the Rock by early today.
HARDLY A CHANCE
"I don't think there's one chance in 1000 that he'll make it to the mainland," declared Associate Warden Joseph B. Latimer. He added, "If Burgett made it to the mainland we'd probably have a lot more escape efforts in the future."
The warden said the man was not known to be a strong swimmer and he doubted that he could survive the mile-and-a-half ordeal of swimming to the mainland.
Bay tides, outgoing at the time of the escape, were running past Alcatraz at about 2 1/2 to 3 knots. The water temperature was between 50 and 55 degrees.
The fog-shrouded escape drama came to light at 3:40 p.m. when prison officials realized that Guard Miller and his two charges had failed to return from collecting garbage.
"We went looking for them right away," said Associate Warden Joseph B. Latimer, "and about 15 minutes we found Miller."
Miller, his eyes and mouth bound tightly with cloth and his wrists and legs bound with rope, was lying in the brush just below some guards' houses on the southeast side of the island bastille.
"They jumped me with a knife," said Miller, "and told me I'd be all right if I was good."
The eerie growl of the Alcatraz claxon blasted the news of the escape to all hands on The Rock.
Warden Latimer immediately notified the Coast Guard, the FBI and the San Francisco police.
Special squads of FBI agents were rushed to Alcatraz while four Coast Guard cutters circled the island hoping to catch any getaway launch.
A Coast Guard helicopter hovered overhead in case the boat might break out of the fog bank and make a dash for the mainland.
Meanwhile, 60 Alcatraz prison guards were matched off in pairs and began probing the rocky recesses along the island's sea-battered shores.
One guard in each two-man team carried a carbine or revolver to cover the second man, who walked ahead unarmed.
This was a precautionary measure to prevent either Johnson or Burgett from jumping an armed guard and getting a gun.
The search had been going on for about an hour when the sharp-eyed crewman of a Coast Guard patrol boat spotted Johnson.
He was standing just off shore, up to his waist in the cold bay water on the west side of the island.
"He looked mighty unhappy," an official said.
The Coast Guard crew trained their rifles on Johnson and kept him in their sights until prison guards could grab him.
Through chattering teeth the thoroughly chilled convict blurted:
"We made a good try and it just didn't work."
Blue with cold, Johnson was hurried to the warden's office for questioning by FBI agents.
When he came face to face with Warden Latimer, Johnson said:
"Sorry I let you down. I wish I hadn't done it."
Latimer eyed the convict sternly and said nothing.
"I think Johnson's sorry he failed. That's what I think," the warden said later.
Warden Latimer said Johnson and Burgett had been working together on the garbage detail for the past six months.
"But they were not known to be particularly close friends," he added.
The warden described Burgett as "rather pleasant and good natured."
"He had no troubles here. He got along very well," he said.
Johnson was described by Latimer as the more professional criminal of the two while Burgett was the man considered more inclined to take a chance.
The search for Burgett continued. At one point, amidst the confusion caused by Johnson's capture, Alcatraz officials thought they had Burgett, too.
Guards, who thought for a few minutes they would be spared the cold search of the island shores in the darkness, were told to go back and look again for Burgett.
They slopped along in shallow water or climbed over the slippery rocks while the search lights from Coast Guard cutters pricked through the foggy darkness.
"The fog's thick as soup. You can't see 10 feet," a tired guard said.
Johnson, once gunned down by the FBI in Indianapolis, is serving a 40-year term for the $43,000 stickup of a bank in Memphis, Tenn.
He has a string of tough armed robberies on his record, and he once escaped from the 21-story Dade county jail in Miami, Florida.
Burgett, a rangy 28-year-old, is doing 26 years for the $15.26 armed robbery of a post office at Banner, Mo.
He was credited by the FBI with a string of 25 stickups and, when he was packed off to the Federal penitentiary at Leavenworth, Kansas, in 1952, he struggled with a deputy U.S. marshal in an unsuccessful attempt to escape.
Burgett is 6 feet, 2 1/4 inches tall, weighs 180, has medium brown hair and blue-hazel eyes. The mid-finger of his right hand is crooked and stiff.
Johnson was brought to Alcatraz in 1950 from Leavenworth while Burgett came to The Rock in 1955 from the same institution.
Johnson will be hauled before the prison disciplinary court, Warden Latimer said.
"We want to find out where they got the knife," he said.
Most probably Johnson will be deprived of all privileges and placed in solitary confinement.
Both Johnson and Burgett also will probably be indicted by the Federal grand jury for assault with deadly weapon and escape.
The penalty for assault with a deadly weapon is 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000. For escape, the penalty is five years in prison and a fine of $5000. (Source; San Francisco Chronicle, 30 September 1958, pgs. 1 and 4.
An Escape That Failed - 'Rock' Fugitive Is Found Dead, Floating in Bay
Aaron Walter Burgess, the St. Louis, Mo. convict who tried to swim to freedom from Alcatraz on September 29, was taken from the San Francisco Bay yesterday.
The body was partially decomposed from 13 days of immersion in chill waters, but the coroner's office made a clear thumb print.
The belt on the body was stenciled "991," Burgett's number. In a pocket was the thin, sharp knife Burgett used to overpower Guard Harold Miller.
"We're satisfied the body was Burgett's," said Warden Paul Madigan. "So far as we're concerned, the case is closed."
Burgett was clad in khaki and gray prison uniform.
He had extra socks under his heavy, brown boots. His trouser legs were bound at the ankles with black plastic tape, presumably to prevent them from ballooning during the mile and a quarter swim to San Francisco.
Pulled over his prison trousers he wore long winter underwear, safety-pinned at his waist.
Plastic tape was also secured around the soles of his boots, holding what remained of a pair of homemade wood fins, to help him in his freedom swim. The fins had broken off at the toes.
Attached to Burgett's belt were a plastic bag "water wing" to keep him afloat, and a small ditty bag.
"Prisoners have those little bags to hold dominoes and recreational gear," Associate Warden Joseph B. Latimer said.
Inside the ditty bag was a coil of black plastic tape, two small rocks and a length of string with safety pins and small pieces of wire attached. Its purpose was unexplained.
The body was discovered at 8:15 a.m.
FLOATING IN BAY
Lyndon M. Cropper, who came on duty at 8 a.m. on the west tower, spotted the body floating about 100 yards off the east end of the island.
Warden Madigan called the Coast Guard Harbor Patrol Office near Fisherman's Wharf. A Bay patrol boat was dispatched.
A minor mystery was why the swift Bay tides had not swept Burgett out to sea.
"Either they carried him out, and then carried him back here again," Madigan declared, "or perhaps he sank near the island and was snagged on the bottom."
Latimer, with C.L. McCleary, the prison's recordkeeper, was sent to the mainland to help identify the body after it was brought ashore at Pier 45 1/2, at the Coast Guard Port Authority headquarters.
Burgett, 28, made his bid for freedom with a fellow convict, Clyde Johnson, 40, a Memphis bank robber. (Source: San Francisco Chronicle, 13 October 1958, pgs. 1 and 4).
Thanks to Scott Groll for burial information.
Walter H. Burgett (1894 - 1980)
Belle Lay Burgett (____ - 1935)
James. Alvin Burgett (1919 - 1969)**
Aaron Walter Burgett (1929 - 1958)
Dimple Marie Burgett Goodwin (1933 - 1975)**
James Burgett (1945 - 2000)**
Mount Zion Cemetery
Created by: Carl W. McBrayer
Record added: Feb 29, 2012
Find A Grave Memorial# 86028384
This was my great uncle "Aaron" that from family records and testimony he did not drown as stated but rather lived a long life.|
Added: Nov. 25, 2013
Added: Mar. 14, 2012