Birdman of Alcatraz

By: Alison Cole

The most famous inmate in Alcatraz Prison was Robert Stroud, also known to the public as the "birdman of Alcatraz" (so called due to the keen interest he developed in canaries and birds during the thirty years of his time in Leavenworth). Stroud was first convicted of manslaughter in 1909, after he brutally shot and murdered a bartender, and was sent to serve out his sentence at McNeil Island, Washington.

Due to his violent behavior and complaints from other inmates, Stroud was transferred to Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary in Kansas. In 1916, Stroud stabbed a guard to death in the prison Mess Hall after he was refused a visit with his brother. He was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death by hanging, and was put in solitary confinement to await his death sentence.

In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson commuted his death sentence to life imprisonment without parole, mainly due to the plea of Stroud's old mother. However, his unpredictable outbursts and violent nature forced the authorities to permanently transfer Stroud to the segregation unit.

In Leavenworth, Stroud began to develop a keen interest in birds and he was allowed breed them and maintain a lab. He even authored two books on canaries and their diseases. However, as prison officials began to discover some the equipment that he had requested for his so-called "scientific" studies had actually been used to craft a still for "home-brew, he was transferred to Alcatraz in 1942 to spent the rest of his days.

Robert Stroud spent the next seventeen years in Alcatraz Prison. Even here, he was put in segregation in D Block for six years. In 1963, he was found dead from natural causes at the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Missouri, after he had spent 11 years in the Prison Hospital. The story of this man was made famous when the movie, "the birdman of Alcatraz", starring Burt Lancaster, was released in 1962.

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