Since its invention in the early 19th century, the mug shot has become more than a photographic record of delinquents and law breakers. Often, it gives a face to some of the most heinous crimes ever committed by man. In this series, you will meet some of the most notorious gangsters and hardened criminals in history, and take a look at their portraits of infamy. Let’s start with famous Alcatraz inmate, Robert “Birdman” Stroud.
While Alcatraz today is no more than a remnant of its dark past, “The Rock,” as it is still called, is still remembered as a place where some of the most notorious and hardened criminals in history were detained. Interestingly, the dark realm of prisons and penitentiaries also had its own sets of celebrities. One of Alcatraz’s most famous inmates is Robert Stroud.
Labeled as Prisoner #1853-M, Stroud was first detained in 1909 in Puget Sound’s McNeil Island federal penitentiary, for shooting dead a bartender who allegedly did not pay a prostitute he was pimping in Alaska. Two years later, he was found guilty of manslaughter and was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment.
Stroud’s prison records tell that he was difficult to manage, and is among the most dangerous prisoners at McNeil Island. He once viciously attacked a hospital orderly, who informed the prison administration that Stroud threatened and intimidated him to obtain morphine. He also reportedly stabbed another inmate who likewise attempted to smuggle the narcotics.
A year after his incarceration, Stroud was transferred to the Leavenworth federal penitentiary in Kansas to serve an additional sentence of six months for the offenses. There, he once again turned violent and stabbed a prison guard in the cafeteria. He was reprimanded by the guard for a minor violation, but nevertheless, it enraged Stroud as it could have negated his visitation privileges.
Although he was tried and sentenced to be executed by hanging several times, Stroud ended up with a commuted sentence of life imprisonment. He was transferred to Alcatraz in December 1942, where he was jailed for six years in segregation and confined in the hospital wing for eleven years. Because of failing health, he was transferred for the last time to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Missouri in 1959, where he was detained until his death in 1963.
Despite his reputation for violence, Stroud still exhibited a gentle side. During his incarceration in Leavenworth penitentiary, he kept, raised, and sold birds, and eventually became an ornithologist. He later on gained the nickname “Birdman” which most likely caught on after his transfer to Alcatraz.
Stay tuned for more mug shots and stories of well-known gangsters and inmates in the Portraits of Infamy series!