Joseph Paul Cretzer (April 17, 1911 − May 4, 1946) was an American bank robber and prisoner at Alcatraz who participated in and was slain in the bloody "Battle of Alcatraz" which took place following a failed escape attempt between May 2 and May 4, 1946.
Cretzer started his criminal career at an early age and had been in and out of prison since 1927. He was married to Edna May Kyle, the sister of Arnold Kyle. Cretzer and Kyle formed the backbone of a gang, the Cretzer-Kyle Gang, which robbed banks along the west coast. Cretzer's prowess led to him reaching no. 4 on the Federal Bureau of Investigation's most wanted list by September 1939. By then, Cretzer had relocated to Chicago where he was soon arrested and sentenced to 25 years imprisonment.
He began serving his sentence at McNeil Island in February 1940 but in April 1940, he and Arnold Kyle broke out in a commandeered truck. Recaptured after three days, he was sentenced to an extra five years imprisonment for this escape attempt but, after the sentencing in the courthouse in Tacoma, Washington a US Marshal died in a struggle with Cretzer following another failed attempt to escape.
Cretzer was sentenced to life for murder and sent to Alcatraz in August 1940. In May 1941 he again attempted escape from one of the island's workshops along with Sam Shockley, Arnold Kyle and Lloyd Barkdoll. During the escape attempt the men held a number of guards hostage, but gave up when they failed to cut through the tool-proof bars. For this escape attempt he was sentenced by an internal tribunal to serve five years in the prison's high security unit, called D Block, which was isolated from the rest of the prison and where prisoners were confined to their cells almost all of the time.
Battle of Alcatraz
Cretzer had only recently been let out of D Block when he became an accomplice in yet another escape plan. This plan had been hatched by the cell-house orderly Bernard Coy who offered Cretzer a place on the break in return for use of his onshore contacts. The failure of the plan led to the bloody and hopeless standoff known as the "battle of Alcatraz" during which Cretzer, armed with a .45 automatic handgun, opened fire on a number of hostage guards held in two cells in an apparent attempt to prevent any of them giving evidence against the would-be escapees. Cretzer made no attempt to surrender and was slain by guard fire or committed suicide early on May 4 when trapped in a utility corridor.
When his "wife" came to claim Cretzer's body she identified herself as his sister and was arrested for her outstanding warrants and jumping her $10,000 bail bond on the white slavery charge. He is buried in Cypress Lawn Memorial Park.