Robert Stroud aka The Bird Man of Alcatraz
Robert Stroud better known as the Birdman of Alcatraz was in prison for the killing of F.K. Van Dahmer in Juneau, Alaska when he committed his second murder. On March 26, 1916 he stabbed to death prison guard Andrew Turner in front of 1,200 witnesses in the mess hall after Turner criticized Stroud for a minor rule infraction. Stroud was tried and sentenced to die on May 27th but, after three trials and four years, his sentence was commuted to life imprisonment, after his mother appealed to President Woodrow Wilson.
Stroud was to spend the rest of his life – 42 years – in solitary confinement. It was his feathered friends who helped him come to terms with the loneliness. In June 1920 he began by adopting three injured sparrows and eventually he was given an extra cell and plenty of equipment. He became an expert ornithologist (bird expert). In 1933 he published an authoritative work on canary diseases and nine years later a book on all birds’ maladies, entitled Stroud’s Digest on the Diseases of Birds. On December 19, 1942 he was moved from Leavenworth to the fortress island of Alcatraz where the conditions were harsher but he continued his interest in birds although he never actually kept any there. He went on to compile a history of the U.S. Bureau of Prisons but the authorities refused to publish it.
A fictionalized film was made of Stroud’s story starring Burt Lancaster in 1962. One of the killer’s fellow inmates was asked if the portrayal was accurate. It wasn’t, he said. Stroud “was a jerk. He was a guy that thrived on chaos.” In 1959 Stroud was transferred to the Federal Medical Center at Springfield, Missouri where he died on November 21, 1963. He was 73 and spent 56 of those years behind bars.
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of Murder & Mayhem 52 Crimes that Shocked Early California 1849-1949. The book can be purchased from Amazon through the following link: