Located in the rural farmland of southern Hillsborough County, this cemetery has an interesting connection to a famous and mysterious prison escape.
Sitting in the small community of Lithia in southeastern Hillsborough County, the Fellowship Primitive Baptist Church and Cemetery is an interesting one to visit. It’s a small and fairly well-kept cemetery that, along with the church, appears to have been founded just prior to 1900. As can be seen in the photos, there’s a collection of interesting grave markers in the cemetery and it’s easily found on County Road 674.
However, apart from the typical cemetery trappings, the cemetery has an unusual connection to possibly the most famous prison escape in American history. On June 11, 1962, three men attempted to escape from Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary in San Francisco Bay. As big a news story as it was at the time, the 1979 movie helped make the story infamous. The movie Escape From Alcatraz, starred Clint Eastwood as one of the escapees, Frank Morris.
Official reports state that the inmates escaped from one of the most notorious prisons in the country and were never seen again. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) determined that the escapees had drowned in the frigid water of the bay as they left the island in a homemade inflatable raft built out of raincoats. On the other hand, the United States Marshals Service has kept the case open and will continue to do so until the escapees are apprehended or reach the age of 100. The Marshalls have followed up on numerous leads for over 50 years, but the three have never officially surfaced.
Two of the escapees were John and Clarence Anglin. Best known to history as the Anglin brothers, John William (born in 1930) and Clarence (born in 1931) came from a family of thirteen children, originally from Donalsonville, Georgia. Their parents, George Robert Anglin and Rachael Van Miller Anglin, were farm workers. In the early 1940s, the family moved to Ruskin, near Tampa, to find steadier work.
Ruskin is also only 15 miles (24 km) from the Fellowship Primitive Baptist Cemetery.
Both brothers would work as farmers and laborers in the Ruskin area. They reportedly began robbing banks together in the early 1950s, normally breaking in after business hours to avoid encountering employees or customers that could become complications.
Records show that John and Clarence, along with older brother Alfred, robbed the Columbia Savings Bank in Columbia, Alabama in 1958. The trio of brothers came away with $19,000 but Federal authorities captured them five days later in Hamilton, Ohio. During the trial, the brothers argued that the guns they used were toys. Regardless, they were convicted of both state and federal charges and sentenced to at least 25 years.
They began serving their time in the US Penitentiary, Atlanta, Georgia but John and Clarence were later transferred to the US Penitentiary, Leavenworth, Kansas after failed escape attempts. The two were considered problems at Leavenworth as well and eventually they were transferred to the US Penitentiary, Alcatraz. John arrived in 1960 as inmate AZ1476, while Clarence was transferred in 1961 as inmate AZ1485.
The outcome of the Anglin brother’s escape attempt is a significant mystery until this day. Their bodies weren’t found after the escape, nor have they appeared publicly to prove they survived. Rumors, including ones presented by some of their family members, have suggested they have been seen in California, Georgia, Florida and even Brazil.
Given the more than 50 years since their escape, rumors also tell of their eventual deaths. That may be where the Fellowship Primitive Baptist Cemetery comes in to play. There are at least eleven members of the Anglin family buried in the cemetery, including John and Clarence’s father, mother and brother Alfred. Is it possible there’s one or two unmarked graves in the cemetery? There has been speculation and rumors of secret burials.
The escape of the Anglin brothers and Frank Morris was the straw that broke the camel’s back for Alcatraz. The prison was far and away the most expensive to run in the federal prison system and it needed millions of dollars for repairs. Less than a year after the famous escape, the prison was permanently shut down. By the way, Frank Morris has never officially appeared since 1962, either.
As of 2020, the Anglin brothers continue to be considered missing by many people. Maybe on the 100th anniversary of Clarence’s death, the younger generation of Anglin’s will be able to share further information.
Anglin family members offically buried in the cemetery:
Alfred R. Anglin (1928-1964), Andrew Anglin (1889-1977), Billie M. Anglin (1935-2017), Carson C. Anglin (1934-2013), Fannie M. Anglin (d. 1985, age 82), G. Robert Anglin (b. 1896), June E. Anglin (1924-2000), Patsy Janett Anglin Cox (1939-2010), Rachel V. Anglin (1901-1973), Robert Anglin, Jr. (1926-2010) and Rufus T. Anglin (1920-2006).