Four days after escaping from a maximum security prison in upstate New York, two convicted murderers remain on the lam. Authorities are still combing the forests surrounding the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, New York, while investigators search for clues to explain the duo’s audacious getaway. Here’s what you need to know:
How they made their bold escape
Authorities say Richard Matt, 49, and David Sweat, 34, lived in adjoining cells on a block reserved for the prison’s best behaved inmates, and worked together in the prison tailor shop, sewing uniforms for Metro-North railroad employees. That proximity bred camaraderie and conspiracy as the pair developed an escape plan fit for a Hollywood screenplay.
The details of the escape, outlined by New York State Police and Gov. Andrew Cuomo, involve power tools, makeshift dummies, and a guitar case.
Matt and Sweat used hacksaws to cut man-sized openings into the steel walls around the air vents above their cots. They proceeded to turn sweatshirts and laundry into makeshift dummies to fool the night guards, then shimmied up into the ventilation system.
Armed with a guitar case full of power tools, they wriggled their way down six stories of pipes until they arrived at the ground floor. From there, they followed the prison’s main steam pipe through subterranean tunnels, apparently hoping it would lead them outside.
According to sources who spoke with the New York Daily News, the pair soon found themselves at an apparent dead-end, faced with a massive prison wall. Holes drilled into the wall suggest Sweat and Matt made a desperate effort to break through before turning their attention to the steam pipe itself. In winter, burrowing into the steam pipe wouldn’t have been an option, but the pair apparently realized the pipe was unlikely to be in use in warm weather. They cut a hole into the steam pipe where it passed through the base of the wall and crawled through, cutting their way out once they reached the other side.
From there, it was just a stroll through the sewers until they came upon a manhole to drill through, about 3 miles from the prison gate.
While escaping from the maximum security prison, Matt and Sweat found time to leave a note on a cut-up steam pipe with the words, “Have a nice day.”
Authorities are investigating whether it was an inside job
The two escapees “definitely had help,” Gov. Cuomo told NBC’s “TODAY” in an interview Monday, and authorities have identified a female supervisor in the prison’s tailor shop as a person of interest. Cuomo has also suggested that contractors working on renovations in the prison may have provided the inmates with their power tools.
Ongoing construction on the century-old prison may have played a key part in enabling the escape. Investigators speculate that Matt and Sweat may have done much of their preliminary drilling during the day, when the noise would be obscured by that of construction.
Two law enforcement sources told NBC affiliate WPTZ that if the convicts had arranged for a getaway car, it appears to have arrived either too early or too late, as police believe the pair escaped on foot.
The Clinton Correctional Facility is just 20 miles south of the Canadian border, and Canadian officials are coordinating with local police.
“They could be literally anywhere,” said Maj. Charles E. Guess, commander of the New York State Police troop in charge of the search.
Two witnesses say they saw the duo the night of the escape
Two upstate New York residents say they encountered two disoriented men carrying a guitar case standing in their backyard shortly after midnight Sunday morning, according to ABC News.
One of the residents, who believes the men they saw were Matt and Sweat, said he feels “lucky to be alive” after the incident.
According to the witnesses, one of the suspected fugitives explained his presence by saying, “We’re just lost. We don’t know where we are. We’re on the wrong street.”
The escape was a first for the prison, but not for one of the prisoners
Nobody else has successfully escaped from the maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility in its 100-plus years in operation. But for Richard Matt, Saturday’s escape was his second in the last three decades.The 49-year-old skipped a county jail by scaling a razor wire fence back in 1986, according to The Buffalo News.
At his murder trial a decade later, Matt’s defense attorney dismissed the significance of his client’s prior escape, according to CNN, saying, “He told me, ‘I was 22 then. I climbed a fence. I couldn’t do that now.’”
The escapees have grisly histories
In 2002, Sweat was convicted of first degree murder for the killing of Kevin Tarsia, a sheriff’s deputy. He was sentenced to life without parole.
In 1997, Matt allegedly kidnapped, fatally beat, and dismembered his former boss, William Rickerson, then fled to Mexico, where he stabbed another American to death outside a bar. After a stint in a Mexican jail, he was returned to the U.S. and convicted of his prior killing, receiving a sentence of 25 years-to-life.
During Matt’s trial for the murder of his ex-boss, he was outfitted with electrodes that could be triggered by a guard, to discourage the defendant from acting out violently in the courtroom.
According to The Buffalo News, the day after his conviction, a police detective and former friend of Matt received a note from the murderer, accusing the detective of perjury, and saying, “You also make it very clear that we are not friends. I’ll remember both …”
There’s a $100,000 reward for their capture
More than 250 officers have been committed to the manhunt, including U.S. Marshals, FBI agents, and Forest Rangers. But Cuomo is also soliciting the aid of civilian sleuths, offering a $100,000 reward for any information that leads to the killers’ capture.
The New York governor has described the reward as extraordinary but justified.
“These are dangerous individuals,” Cuomo said in a telephone news conference, “This is a crisis situation for the state.”