Archeological Study of the “Willie Sutton” Escape Tunnel

Philadelphia Inquirer map from the day of the escape - April 3, 1945.How 12 convicts escaped by tunnel from Eastern Penitentiary
Warden Herbert Smith ordered Officer Cecil Ingling “to enter the tunnel, make a close inspection."
Still covered in mud, “Slick Willie” Sutton was photographed just minutes after his recapture in April, 1945.
2005, $30,000
Status: Complete

A careful archeological investigation of the famous 1945 escape tunnel.

More than one-hundred prisoners managed to escape from Eastern State Penitentiary.

The first escapee, William Hamilton (Inmate No. 94), scrambled down from the warden's quarters in 1832, just three years after the prison opened. Leo Callahan, inmate C566, scaled the east wall with five other inmates in 1923, and remains the only inmate in the prison's history to avoid recapture. We're still looking for him.
But none of the escapes fascinate the public like the 1945 “Willie Sutton” tunnel escape.

The escape was planned by prison plaster worker Clarence Klinedinst and his cellmate, William Russell. They dug into the wall of their cell in Cellblock Seven, fifteen feet down, ninety-seven feet out to Fairmount Avenue and fifteen feet up to freedom. They equipped the tunnel with lights and shored it with wood bracing.

By April 3, 1945, the tunnel was complete. Ten inmates joined the escape on the way to breakfast that morning. One of the late comers was flamboyant bank robber and escape artist “Slick Willie” Sutton.

The twelve inmates emerged from the tunnel at the corner of 22nd Street and Fairmount Avenue and scattered into the neighborhood.

Sutton was captured within minutes, two blocks from the penitentiary. He later claimed credit for the tunnel's design and construction. Klinedinst was out for three hours, and Russell was shot and captured when he walked into a police trap at the home of a former girlfriend.

James Grace returned to the penitentiary early on the morning of April 11, rang the doorbell, and asked to be let back in. He was hungry.

All the escaped inmates were eventually recaptured, and the prison staff filled the tunnel with ash from the prison incinerator.

We completed the study of the archeological remains of the tunnel, still running from Cell 68 to the penitentiary's front terrace in 2005. The careful investigation was part of a season-long commemoration of the 1945 tunnel escape's 60th anniversary and coincided with the opening of Cellblock 7, the location of Clarence Klinedinst's cell, to the public for the first time.

Funded by: 2005 Annual Appeal

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