Top 10 Worst Prisoners At The Colorado Supermax Prison


Deep in the mountains of Colorado, America’s only Supermax prison is home to the country’s most violent inmates. The infamous ADX Florence has earned the nickname “The Alcatraz of the Rockies” because of his extreme safety. More than 300 of the cruelest criminals in the United States spend 23 hours a day locked up in their cells here. Terrorists, spies, serial killers and cult leaders live side by side. Some have even made unlikely friends. Although everyone there has a terrible record, these are ten of the worst of the worst.

10. Michael Swango: “Dr. Death”

Like any other physician, Dr. Michael Swango swore an oath not to do harm. But he would break this oath dozens of times, as he was convicted of killing four people and possibly killed up to 60 people while working both as an EMT and as a doctor.

From his earliest days as a volunteer ambulance driver during his student days, the patients around Swango seemed to die at a higher rate than normal. His colleagues and other acquaintances also became violently ill after eating food to which Swango had access or which he had prepared. While training in a hospital, he even received the nickname “Double-O Swango”, referring to James Bond’s license to kill. .[1]

He may also have been responsible for the death of his fiancée, Kristin Kinney, who took her own life in a state of mental confusion, possibly caused by arsenic poisoning. He was eventually blacklisted by all teaching hospitals and medical schools in the United States and fled to continue practicing medicine in Zimbabwe, where patients continued to die mysteriously under his care. He committed several cases of forgery and assault in order to continue his disastrous medical career, but he was eventually indicted by both U.S. and Zimbabwean authorities and is serving three consecutive life sentences.[2]

9. Robert Hanssen: Russian spy

Robert Hassen spent only three years as a clean FBI agent before he began his 22 years of espionage, which would one day be described as “possibly the worst intelligence disaster in the history of the United States”.[3]Hanssen began working as a special agent in 1976 and in 1979 was given the project to collect Soviet intelligence for the agency.

But later that year he went to the Soviet Main Intelligence Agency (GRU) and became a double agent. Over the next two decades, Hanssen would pass large amounts of information on espionage identities, FBI investigations, and detailed technical information to the Soviets. At some point, he was even commissioned to investigate who leaked the identities of two Soviet agents who had helped the Americans and were killed in the USSR after being compromised. Unknown to the FBI, it was Hanssen himself who revealed them.[4]

Attempts to track down the leaks for which Hanssen was responsible were complicated by the fact that there was a second mole, Aldrich Ames, who was working simultaneously within the FBI. A joint FBI-CIA task force approached Hanssen and he was secretly watched by a younger agent, Eric O’Neill, who was able to download information Hanssen was stored on a PDA device. This included the date for a drop of classified information in a nearby park where he was arrested. 5] Hanssen pleaded guilty to escape the death penalty and was convicted on fourteen counts of espionage and one count of attempted espionage. He is serving fifteen consecutive life sentences.[6]

8. Richard McNair: Master escape artist and murderer

Richard McNair is not the type of man you would expect to find in Supermax stacked against the other people on that list. He was once a sergeant at an air force base in Minot, North Dakota, but while stationed there he began a series of burglaries. In 1987, however, he was caught by an employee robbing the offices of the Farmers’ Union, shooting the man, and then killing a truck driver as he fled the building. He used a local warehouse to hide his stolen goods, but the manager contacted the police after he noticed that the contents looked suspicious.[7]

The authorities arrested McNair, but he slipped out of his handcuffs by smearing lip balm on them. When he was recaptured, he was sentenced to two life sentences in the North Dakota State Penitentiary. He used his job as a prison reporter to find out about the prison’s orders and then escaped through the air ducts with two other prisoners in 1992 and remained free for nine months before being recaptured. McNair’s last and most notorious escape was in 2006 when he packed himself into a consignment of mail that left the prison. He even managed to convince a policeman who was looking for the fugitive that he was just a jogger.[8]

His last re-conquest came in 2007 from rookie officer Constable Stephane Gagnon after a long stay at America es Most Wanted. No one has ever escaped from ADX Florence, where he is now serving two life sentences.

7. Abu Hamza al-Masri: Al-Qaeda kidnapper and trainer

Abu Hamza al-Masri, the aka Hook Hand, is an Egyptian national who was a former club doorman and civil engineer before becoming an Islamic extremist and terrorist leader. In the 1980s he began to take a deeper interest in his religion and was inspired by the Iranian revolution. In 1987 he moved to Afghanistan to join the fight against the Soviet occupying forces and lost both hands and one eye during a military operation. He returned to Britain to seek treatment before returning to fight with the Bosnians in the Bosnia-Serbia conflict.[9]

From 1997 to 2003, he was Imam of Finsbury Park Mosque in London and advocated terrorism, including attacks on September 11, 2001. 2003 saw the mosque closed by the police as part of an investigation into its possible production of the poison ricin, but al-Masri continued to preach from outside the gates. During his time as the imam, al-Masri sent interns around the world to participate in acts of violence, including the abduction of sixteen Westerners in Yemen, four of whom were killed. His team also tried to set up a terror training camp in Oregon,[10] which led to US involvement in his case. In 2006 he was sentenced to seven years in a British jail for incitement to violence.[11]

He was extradited to the USA in 2012, found guilty on eleven counts of murder in 2015, and sentenced to life imprisonment. Several of his sons were also convicted of terrorism and other charges.[12] When he was placed in Supermax prison, his prosthetic hook hand was replaced by a plastic spork.[13]

6. Eric Rudolph: Atlanta Olympic Bomber and Christian extremist

Eric Rudolph spent five years on the FBI Most Wanted List for terrorism until he was arrested by a rookie policeman while digging through the trash can behind a Save-A-Lot grocery store. Rudolph grew up in Florida and North Carolina before moving with his mother to a Christian Identity Movement-led facility in Missouri,[14] a racial interpretation of Christianity that believes Europeans are the chosen descendants of Israelites and Jews are the cursed descendants of Cain. Rudolph joined the US Army shortly after but was discharged for marijuana use.[15]

From 1996 to 1998, Rudolph carried out four bombings, two in abortion clinics, and one in a lesbian bar. His most notorious attack was when he planted three nail-filled pipe bombs in the main square of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, killing 44-year-old Alice Hawthorne, causing a fatal heart attack for 40-year-old Melih Uzunyol and injuring more than a hundred others. Security guard Richard Jewell led a partial evacuation of the area and was originally the prime suspect, but was eventually cleared and celebrated as a hero. Rudolph was finally caught by officer Jeffrey Scott Postell in 2003 and pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to two life sentences for one of the bombings at the abortion clinic that killed a police officer, and later to two more life sentences for the Atlanta bombing. He now spends 22 1/2 hours a day in his 80 ft2 cells.[16]

5. Simón Trinidad: FARC guerilla leader

The man known as Simon Trinidad was Juvenal Ovidio Ricardo Palmera Pineda and was one of the first high-ranking members of this violent guerrilla group to be arrested. The FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) was a group of Marxist-Leninist fighters responsible for up to 12% of civilian deaths during the Colombian conflict in the 1960s.[17]

Palmera formed his strong political opinions while teaching economics at the Popular University of Cesar and helped found the socialist organization Los Indipendientes. In 1987, he stole 30 million pesos from a bank where he worked, as well as records that he would later use to blackmail and kidnap landowners, and he fled into the wilderness to join the FARC. Palerma quickly rose through the ranks of the organization to lead the area known as “Front 41” and eventually became one of the leaders of the entire Caribbean bloc. In 2004 he was extradited to the United States for drug trafficking and money laundering.

The FARC was offered an agreement by the Colombian government not to extradite Palmera if the FARC released 63 political and military hostages, but they refused. During the trial, the prosecution also argued that Palermo was involved in the kidnapping of three US contractors in 2003, and a former guerrilla testified against him about the kidnapping of a former mayor. Although his first trial ended in a hung jury, his second trial ended with a sentence of 60 years in prison, where he remains to this day.[18]

4. Theodore Kaczynski: The Unabomber

According to Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski’s parents, he began life as a normal baby, but as a small child he was forced to spend a long time in isolation in hospital and he gave birth to another child, one who showed little emotion.[19] At the age of 16, he began studying at Harvard. But what seemed like a bright opportunity would turn into a deeply scarring college experience. Kaczynski participated in a brutal psychological study that included over 200 hours of verbal abuse and humiliating personal attacks, possibly part of CIA-led mind control experiments by Project MKUltra.[20]

He became a professor of mathematics but was an awkward and uncomfortable teacher and suddenly resigned in 1969.[21]  Kaczynski soon moved to a remote cabin near Lincoln, Montana, to live a quiet rural lifestyle, but soon began to attack urban developments that he believed would invade his forest.[22]

He developed a deep resentment against what he called “industrial-technological society”. Between 1978 and 1995, Kaczynski sent sixteen handmade bombs to figures he believed represented technology, killing three people and injuring 23. He planted several false leads in the bombs to mislead the authorities, but his own work would lead to his downfall.

In 1995, Kaczynski demanded that the newspapers publish his essay “Industrial Society and Its Future”, and after it was printed by the Washington Post, Kaczynski’s brother David voiced suspicion about his brother, which led to his capture and conviction.[23] Kaczynski is serving eight life sentences at ADX Florence, where he befriended the terrorist’s Timothy McVeigh and Ramzi Yousef.[24]

3. Tyler Bingham: Aryan Brotherhood Leader

Tyler Bingham is a former leader of the violent white supremacist prison gang of the Aryan Brotherhood that began among California inmates in 1964. Originally the nickname “Diamond Tooth Gang” was given because of the shards of glass that some members put in their teeth. The gang began as the white counterpart to African-American prison gangs when the prisons began to depopulate, but has since grown to 20,000 members[25].

They operate under a “Blood in, blood out” motto that implies that members must kill or attack another prisoner or correctional officer to join, and the only way to leave the gang is death. At one point in the 2010s, law enforcement authorities found that they were responsible for 18% of prison murders, despite having less than 0.10% of the prison population.[26]

Bingham rose to become a senior member of the organization’s leadership council. In the early 2000s, the authorities accused him and 28 other gang leaders with a litany of charges, sentencing many of them to death. In 2006 Bingham and several others were convicted of murder and robbery, but federal prosecutors failed to obtain the death penalty. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Aryan Brotherhood is now the largest and deadliest prison gang in the United States.[27]

2. Joaquín Guzmán: “El Chapo”

Don’t let the nickname “Shorty” fool you. Joaquin Guzman, alias “El Chapo”, is one of the most notorious drug dealers and murderers in the world. Born in Sinaloa, Mexico, in 1957, Guzman began his journey into the drug world at an early age by growing marijuana with his father. He entered the hard drug trade under the well-known kingpins Hector Salazar and later Miguel Gallardo until Gallardo was arrested in 1988. Guzman started his own cartel operations and traded more cocaine, marijuana, meth, and heroin in the United States than any other drug dealer in history. In 1993, a rival cartel attempted to assassinate Guzman at an airport but accidentally killed the Archbishop of Guadalajara and six other bystanders. Guzman was sentenced to pay 12.6 billion US dollars.[28]

He escaped from prison in Mexico twice but was extradited to the US in 2017 and sentenced to life imprisonment plus thirty years on ten different charges. Guzman had at least four wives, one of whom was abducted, and at least twelve children, several of whom were also convicted of drug-related crimes or killed in the cartel war.[29] Although Guzman’s Simona cartel had very little formal education, it accounted for 40 to 60% of drug trafficking in Mexico. Guzman claimed to have indirectly killed 2,000-3,000 people. He also used complicated tunnel systems to move drugs and escape authorities, but he won’t have much luck trying to do that in Colorado’s Alcatraz.

1. James Marcello: Mafia boss

James Marcello, known as “Little Jimmy”, was a sanitation worker who became a mob boss in Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s. Despite the fact that he was half Irish, Marcello quickly rose through the ranks to lead several brawls, credit sharking operations, and eventually planned eighteen murders and committed fourteen. He and his brother Michael “Mickey” Marcello were convicted of murdering two other mob brothers Michael and Anthony “Tony The Ant” Spilotro and of digging Anthony’s body into a cornfield.

This crime partly inspired the 1995 film Casino.[30] Marcello’s own father was killed in 1973 while collecting a mob debt, which may have led to his sons living in the city’s criminal underbelly.[31]  In 2007 Marcello was put on trial along with four others: the mobsters “Joey the Clown” Lombardo and Frank Calabrese sr., the jewel thief Paul Schiro and former Chicago police officer Anthony Doyle. Calabrese’s brother Nicholas was the prosecution’s star witness, and Calabreese’s own lawyer said he was so vicious that “he would shoot you in the head over cold ravioli. [32] Marcello appeared cold and objective in court, as all five men were convicted. He’s serving a life sentence.

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