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A Short History of

the Birdman of




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Robert Stroud (January 28, 1890 November 21, 1963), known as
the Birdman of Alcatraz, was a prisoner in Alcatraz who
supposedly found solace from solitary confinement in raising and
selling birds.

Robert Franklin Stroud was born in Seattle, Washington, on
January 28, 1890, to Elizabeth and Ben Stroud. He was the
couple's first child, although Elizabeth had two daughters from a
previous marriage. Stroud left home at a young age, and by 1908
was in Cordova, Alaska, where he met and began a relationship
with 36-year old Kitty O'Brien, a dance-hall entertainer and
prostitute. In November 1908 they moved to Juneau, Alaska.

On January 18, 1909, while Robert was away at work, an
acquaintance of theirs, F. K. "Charlie" Von Dahmer, took
advantage of and viciously beat Kitty. On his return, Robert
confronted Charlie and a struggle ensued resulting in Charlie
being shot dead. Although Stroud's mother Elizabeth retained a
lawyer for her son, he was sentenced to 12 years in the federal
penitentiary on Puget Sound's McNeil Island on August 23, 1909.

On September 5, 1912, Stroud was transferred from McNeil Island
to the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas. While there,
he killed a guard and was sentenced to execution by hanging on
May 27, 1916, but the trial was later invalidated. In a later
trial he was given a life sentence. This trial was invalidated by
the U.S. Supreme Court and a new trial was ordered and set for
May 1918. On June 28, 1918 he was again sentenced to die by
hanging. The Supreme Court intervened, but only to uphold the
death sentence, which was scheduled to be carried out April 23,

At this point Stroud's mother appealed to President Wilson, who
ordered a halt to the execution. His sentence was altered to life
imprisonment. While at Leavenworth, he raised nearly 300 canaries
in his cells and wrote two books, Diseases of Canaries and
Stroud's Digest on the Diseases of Birds.

Stroud was transferred to Alcatraz on December 19, 1942, from
there to the Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield,
Missouri in 1959, and died in Springfield on November 21, 1963.

Stroud became the subject of a 1955 book, Birdman of Alcatraz, by
Thomas E. Gaddis.

The book was dramatized in a 1962 film of the same title. It
starred Burt Lancaster, Karl Malden, Thelma Ritter, Neville
Brand, Betty Field, Telly Savalas, Edmond O'Brien, Hugh Marlowe
and Whit Bissell.

The movie was adapted by Guy Trosper from Gaddis' book. It was
directed by John Frankenheimer.

It was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor in a Leading
Role (Burt Lancaster), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Telly
Savalas), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Thelma Ritter) and
Best Cinematography, Black-and-White. Stroud was never allowed to
see the film.

According to those who knew Stroud while he was in prison, the
characterization of Stroud as mild-mannered as presented in
Gaddis's book and the subsequent film were largely fiction. The
real Stroud had been described as a vicious, unrepentant killer
who, according to all accounts, was disliked by most of his
fellow inmates. He was kept in solitary not out of vindictiveness
but because he was considered extremely dangerous.

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