Situated more than a mile off the coast of San Francisco, Alcatraz is the former site of perhaps the most notorious maximum-security prison in the United States. Between 1934 and 1963, “The Rock,” as it is commonly known, housed violent criminals, including Al Capone, Robert Franklin Stroud, aka “The Birdman of Alcatraz,” and Machine Gun Kelly (the gangster, not the musician.)
However, for those that aren’t able to make it out to San Francisco to see the original, there’s Alcatraz East Crime Museum. Located at the entrance to The Island at Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Alcatraz East is about much more than just the former prison; it features several galleries highlighting different aspects of the justice system, crime prevention, and criminal profiles throughout American history.
What caught our attention, though? The Getaway Cars exhibit. This unique area is home to four real cars that played major roles in some of the country’s most infamous crime stories. Guests are able to see these preserved vehicles while learning about their connections to well-known criminals – and even one classic film. Here are the cars you can expect to see on your visit:
John Dillinger’s 1933 Essex Terraplane
John Dillinger is arguably one of the most famous bank robbers and gangsters of the 1930s. Coming to prominence in the shadow of the Great Depression, Dillinger went on a crime spree throughout the Midwest between 1933 and 1934. During this time, he and his associates robbed several banks and police arsenals, perpetrated three jailbreaks, injured seven people, and killed ten.
In the midst of his rampant criminal activity, Dillinger bought his 1933 Essex Terraplane in March of 1934. He would use this car as an escape vehicle multiple times, including on March 31, 1934, when, fleeing from law enforcement in St. Paul, Minnesota, his car was shot at, leaving two bullet holes in the front of the car. These can still be seen today.
Dillinger’s use of this car was short-lived, though. Barely a week later, on April 7, 1934, with his brother in the car next to him, John Dillinger crashed the Essex into an Indiana field. Later that summer, John Dillinger was shot to death in Chicago by the FBI.
Bonnie and Clyde’s Death Car… Sort Of
There are some criminals whose stories become so well known, that they are referred to by only one name. Such is the case of Bonnie and Clyde. Born as Bonnie Parker and Clyde Champion Barrow, respectively, this felonious couple is responsible for a violent reign of terror including kidnapping, robbery, and multiple murders.
After escaping from police and government agencies several times – thanks in part, perhaps, to the speed of the 1934 Ford Model 40 B Deluxe sedan they were using as a getaway car – time ran out for Bonnie and Clyde on May 23, 1934. While using this car to try and flee law enforcement in Louisiana, they were shot and killed by police.
Although the actual car used by Bonnie and Clyde is not housed in the museum, they do offer the next best thing. Guests can see the replica of the car that was used in the 1967 film “Bonnie & Clyde,” starring Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway. Complete with a smattering of bullet holes, this car is not only a link to one of America’s deadliest criminal couples but also a piece of movie history!
The White Bronco from OJ Simpson’s Highway Chase
Most people of a certain age can remember where they were when they first saw aerial footage of a white Ford Bronco carrying former NFL-start turned suspected murdered OJ Simpson down a Southern California freeway. This iconic “low-speed chase” immediately became a piece of pop culture, and few ever looked at a white Bronco the same way again.
But did you know that OJ wasn’t driving? In fact, it wasn’t even his car. While Simpson did own a white Bronco, it’s not the one the world watched on television on Friday, June 17, 1994. That vehicle was owned by OJ’s friend, Al Cowlings. As Al drove the car, OJ, who was not yet an official suspect in the murders of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ron Goldman, sat in the back seat, allegedly with a gun to his head.
While The Juice was later acquitted of murder, his innocence remained a topic of debate for years to come.
For those who would like a closer look at the Bronco than what was shown on their television screens all those years ago, it waits in the gallery at Alcatraz East.
Ted Bundy’s Volkswagen Beetle
When it comes to truly evil masterminds, it’s hard to think of many who rank above Ted Bundy. This conniving and manipulative serial killer is responsible for the violent deaths of at least 28 women between 1974 and 1978, many of whom he also sexually assaulted. Many believe his body count is much higher.
One of the ways Bundy was able to get away with his criminal activity for as long as he did was by presenting himself as a clean-cut, friendly, non-threatening individual. In addition, he was known to pretend to be injured, asking young women to help him bring various items to his car, a 1968 Volkswagen Beetle. After luring them to his vehicle, he would force them into the passenger side, where he’d removed a seat, enabling him to better hide his victims while in transit.
Bundy was pulled over in this car twice in August of 1975, but despite noticing a variety of suspicious items in the car, police released him both times. Later that year, police took possession of the vehicle, in which they found strands of hair belonging to several of his victims.
This car (not to be confused with the orange Beetle Bundy stole and used after escaping prison) is on display at the Crime Museum and has been maintained in the condition Bundy left it – including the missing front seat.
For historical crime enthusiasts, or those just interested in seeing a few pieces of our nation’s dark criminal history, the Getaway Car Gallery at Alcatraz East Crime Museum is the place to be. Stop in, take some photos, and learn more about these notorious vehicles, and their even more notorious criminal owners and operators.