Everybody is busy obsessing about the glamorous White House dinner crashers this week, but I'm still shaking my head at the reverse party crash in Philadelphia over the weekend. It was a daring prison break on Thanksgiving day, right from under the officers' noses. A 27-year old accused murderer named Oscar Alvarado took advantage of the holiday crowds and hubbub in the visiting room at the Curran-Fromhold Correctional Facility, aka Holmesburg prison. It's the first time anyone has made it out in the facility's 15 year history.
Other inmates later told authorities Alvarado may have been planning this for at least 10 days. How did he do it? Alvarado somehow got his hands on civilian clothes and wore them under his prison garb. Between his cell and the visiting room, he changed, not into the mandated orange jumpsuit inmates must wear in the visiting area to stand out amongst the public, but a light colored T-shirt and dark pants.
He also acquired a pass to the area even though he didn't have a visitor scheduled. Sounds like he had a little help. Then he just walked out with the other guests. He's still on the loose, and Philadelphia authorities believe he's skipped town.
But, it turns out, that's nothing in the history of daring escapes. There are real-life tunnel departures, a pontoon-raft that floated away from Alcatraz, and one Florida mother who "rescued" her child by heading up a small team that drove an 18-wheel truck through the four separate prison fences.
Mom followed in a second car to pick up her convicted murderer son, then sped off. They were pursued and caught soon afterwards, but not before killing a 55-year-old man in a head-on collision during the high speed chase.
Brit murderer Mark Ryder (photo left) escaped twice after two separate off-site expeditions. In 1991, he bolted from the first, a boating trip, and was on the run for more than a year before shooting a rival for his wife's affections -- which landed him back in prison with a 15 -year sentence.
Years later, remarkably, he was taken on another day trip, this time to the university town of Cambridge, to familiarize him with life on the outside in preparation for his eventual release. There he gave his minder the slip inside the British equivalent of a Nordstroms. Ryder was seen on surveillance video dodging customers as he ran down the escalator and out into the larger mall. It took three months before he was caught - in Spain - despite one big tip-off: a cross etched deep into his forehead.
Spain seems to be a popular destination for escape artists. That's where they finally found Frenchman Pascal Payet (below right), one of the most daring and prolific of the repeat bust-out offenders.
Payet's preferred escape route - by air. He caught his first helicopter out in 2001 and remained at large for six years. When he saw how well it worked, he went back IN via helicopter in 2003, to fly out three friends, all of whom were soon re-captured. Payet himself remained at large until his capture and conviction in early 2007.
Not for long, though, because by October of that year, four armed men hijacked this single-engine chopper from the tony seaside resort town of Cannes. They forced the pilot to land behind prison walls, where they picked up Payet yet again, flew off and disappeared. Spanish authorities finally recaptured him months later.
We should be encouraged that most of these men are eventually caught and returned back behind bars. Oscar Alvarado, who made himself blend into the crowd so successfully last week, may not be able to shuck his more identifying characteristics as easily as his blue prison uniform.
Like cross-bearing Mark Ryder, he's wearing multiple, distinctive tattoos, including this one on his upper left arm (photo right), and another on his forearm that reads: "NEVA FALL IN LOVE WIT LIFE CUZ U HAVE A PROMISE WIT DEATH"