Two escaped killers still on the loose; New York officials offer $100,000 reward

Two murderers are still on the loose; New York officials baffled by daring escape

Baffled New York state officials announced a $100,000 reward Sunday for the capture of two killers who used power tools to pull off an escape worthy of Hollywood from a maximum-security prison near the Canadian border.

That's $50,000 for information leading to the arrest of each fugitive: Richard Matt, 48, who kidnapped a man, beat him to death and dismembered him in 1997, and David Sweat, 34, who killed a sheriff's deputy in 2002.

Their escape from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, about 20 miles south of the border, was discovered Saturday. As of Sunday, hundreds of investigators and search officials had been mobilized to piece together how the inmates got the tools to escape, where they might be and where they are going.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo said the pair could be “literally anywhere across the state” or in Canada and urged residents to be on the lookout.

“These are dangerous individuals. These are killers, they are murderers. There has never been a question about the crime they committed, and they are now on the loose,” Cuomo said in a conference call Sunday.

Matt and Sweat are believed to be the first inmates to successfully escape from the maximum-security portion of the facility since the prison was built in the mid-1800s, according to Cuomo.

The pair broke out with a brazenness evocative of “The Shawshank Redemption.” They placed dummies in their beds so guards would think they were sleeping while they used their tools to carve a path — literally, at points — through the belly of the prison.

Cuomo said the men cut through a steel plate, crawled through to a high catwalk, shimmied down to a tunnel below, broke through the wall of a brick well, cut into a 24-inch steam pipe, crawled in, wriggled for a while until they cut their way back out, and then removed a secured manhole cover outside the prison.

“It was a sophisticated plan,” Cuomo said, adding the feat probably took at least several days.

The men lived in separate cells and cut holes in both, Cuomo spokesman Gareth Rhodes said.

On one of the sections of pipe that had been cut open, investigators found a note with a crude caricature on it and the message, “Have a nice day!”

Although the investigation is still in its early stages, all tools in the prison appear to be accounted for, leading officials to wonder whether perhaps a contractor had lost or left behind some equipment, said Anthony J. Annucci, acting commissioner for the state's prison system.

“It's speculation at this point,” Annucci said on the conference call, adding that he had asked the state’s prison officials to take extra precautions since the escape.

Cuomo said officials also were investigating whether any contractors doing various projects at the prison may have had connections to either prisoner and helped them.

“This is the first escape, and we want to make sure it’s the last escape” from the Clinton facility, Cuomo said.

This was not Matt's first time eluding law enforcement. He reportedly escaped an Erie County jail in 1986 by climbing over a fence. After killing William Rickerson in 1997, he fled to Mexico, where he killed another man in a fight outside a bar, according to the Buffalo News.

After serving time in a Mexican prison, the newspaper reported, Matt was extradited to New York. He was convicted of several charges related to Rickerson’s murder in 2008 and sentenced to 25 years to life.

Sweat pleaded guilty to murdering Broome County sheriff's Deputy Kevin J. Tarsia in 2002 and received a sentence of life without parole. The deputy had confronted Sweat and two other men after a burglary across the border in Pennsylvania, and Sweat and another suspect reportedly opened fire.

Tarsia's brother, Steven, said this weekend that finding out his brother's killer had escaped “turns your world upside down all over again.”

Steven Tarsia told the Associated Press that a couple of days ago he couldn't remember the names of the men responsible for his brother's death.

“All of a sudden I remember them again,” he said.

matt.pearce@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattDPearce

 

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times

UPDATES

8:58 p.m.: The story was updated throughout with new details.

3:13 p.m.: Updated with information that the escaped inmates were held in separate cells.

The story was first published at 2:06 p.m.

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