June 15, 2006
Lee Co.-- An anniversary came and went this past Monday, June 12 that law enforcement officials would have never happen again. A pair of Southwest Georgia criminals did what many people thought was impossible-- escape from Alcatraz prison.
A big part of our culture's social fabric is made of law abiding citizens like Marie Widner, who wonders what happened to her two older brothers. "Thinking about J. W. and Clarence all the time, dreaming of them," says Marie, as she finishes sewing a cloth pocketbook.
Her older brothers were mischievous boys who skipped school and stole a watermelon or two when they were young. "They ran across something too big for them to handle-- the bank robbery," says Marie, as she looks through years of newspaper clippings and pictures of her legendary brothers, who did what many people thought was impossible.
The non-violent criminals used a water pistol to hold up an Alabama bank and made off with $19,000. They got caught and would later become legends. No prison could hold them. "They didn't deserve to go to Alcatraz," says Marie.
They didn't stay there though, escaping from the inescapable Alcatraz by making life-size dummies, digging with spoons through walls, sliding down a pipe and using raincoats as life preservers. "They scooted out to the boat that was waiting for them," says Marie, who said her brothers had outside help.
People still remember their big escape 44 years ago. "I remember a lot of law enforcement talking to a lot of people," says Robert Lomineck who was 12 when he witnessed the excitement on June 12, 1962.
The Anglin's story, now told in a stage play, revives interest in the infamous escapees. "I'm proud that they are out," says Marie. The FBI said they didn't make it; Marie believes they did-- and has evidence to prove it. "My mom got a Christmas card from them. My oldest sister got one," says Marie.
Clarence and J. W. were seen at their mother's funeral dressed as women, and visited the funeral home when their father died. Marie believes the brothers, now in their mid-70s, probably living in South America, may have seen the play, perhaps dressed as women again.
It might have been them sitting in Section B, seats 37 and 38, at the Cotton Hall Theatre in Colquitt, in Miller County. "If they are there, maybe I'll spot them," says Marie, when she and her surviving brothers and sisters attended opening night of "Gospel of the Rock."
Clarence, who often found himself behind bars, is played by a real lawman. "Made the role pretty easy. I pretty much know what they are going to do," says Trooper Buddy Johnson, the commander at the Georgia State Patrol Post in Donalsonville.
Would local citizens turn in the outlaws if they saw them? "I don't know," says Robert Lomineck after a long pause. "No, no, no. I wouldn't call," says shopkeeper Mitzy Tedder.
What would their younger sister Marie do? "I wish they would knock on my door. I would gladly let them in," says Marie, because blood is much thicker than any arrest warrant.
The "Gospel of the Rock" play continues through June 27 at Cotton Hall Theatre in Colquitt, home of the popular folk play "Swamp Gravy."
Check out http://swampgravy.com for more information.