1947-Bank robber Willie Sutton escapes jail in Philadelphia

February 9, 2023

February 9th, 1947, marks a day that will never be forgotten in the city of Philadelphia. On this day, notorious bank robber Willie Sutton shocked the city by escaping custody from Eastern State Penitentiary in an attempt to evade justice for years of criminal acts – leaving authorities and citizens alike with much to discuss!

Who Was Willie Sutton?

Willie Sutton was born in 1901 in Brooklyn, NY. He began his criminal career at just 15 years old when he stole a car. In later years, he grew infatuated with banks as his primary target of choice, committing numerous robberies all throughout East Coast cities. He was apprehended by police in 1934 after attempting a robbery in a Philadelphia hotel.

Sutton’s Great Escape

As legend has it, Sutton meticulously crafted his escape plan over many months using common tools, such as pieces of leather straps and canvas taken from prison mattresses. On February 9th, he put his plan into action, cutting through three cells and two exterior walls before scaling a 30-foot high fence – becoming the only inmate ever to successfully break out of Eastern State Penitentiary!


The incident quickly became a top news story within the area, attracting curiosity from far and wide. Bounty hunters even offered rewards for information leading to arrest. However, despite everyone’s best efforts, no trace was found. In fact, it wasn’t until April 4th that authorities finally apprehended him again (this time in Tucson, AZ), ending this roundabout tale!

Willie’s Later Years

After being apprehended once again, Willie was sentenced to 10-20 years at a state prison before ultimately receiving parole at age 71 in 1969. He served a total of 33 years behind bars across multiple facilities due to various robbery convictions during the past decade.

After his release, Sutton published a book called Where The Money Was. He also began giving lectures on prison reform and helped banks increase their anti-theft measures.

He died in 1980 at the age of 79.


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