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Robert Stroud, “Birdman of Alcatraz,” Is Dead

Nov. 21, 1963 - Robert Stroud (pictured in 1938), the convicted murderer who became known as the “Birdman of Alcatraz,” died in his sleep today in a prison hospital in Springfield, Mo. He was 73 years old. Probably America’s most famous convict, Stroud served 54 years in prison for two murders, 42 of those years in solitary confinement. Stroud began serving a 17-year term at Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary on December 19, 1942, and became inmate No. 594. In 1943, he was assessed by psychiatrist Romney M. Ritchey, who diagnosed him as a psychopath, with an I.Q. of 112. Stripped of his birds and equipment, he wrote a history of the penal system. Despite the sympathetic biography, “Birdman of Alcatraz,” by Thomas E. Gaddis, published in 1955, and the equally sympathetic motion picture of the same name in 1962, with Burt Lancaster in the title role, the long fight of the ailing, aged prisoner to obtain release ended in failure. In April 1962, Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy announced he could not recommend commutation of Stroud’s sentence. On May 26 of this year, Stroud’s last application for parole was denied without comment by the Federal Board of Parole. A tall, bald man who wore steel-rimmed spectacles, Stroud was an antisocial non-conformist who discovered too late he was by nature and talent a scholar and research scientist. In 1933, “Stroud’s Digest of the Diseases of Birds” was published. It was regarded as a classic in its field.

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