The focus of an intense manhunt for two escaped murderers on the lam for more than two weeks has shifted back to upstate New York, with police saying Monday that Richard Matt and David Sweat may have spent time in a cabin about 20 miles from the maximum-security prison they fled.
A reported burglary near the Franklin County hamlet of Owl's Head, about 20 miles from the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, N.Y., has led police to refocus search efforts there, New York State Police Maj. Charles Guess said in a news conference Monday.
Guess said authorities were not ready to release information about possible DNA evidence linking Matt and Sweat to the burglary.
"We have recovered specific items from that cabin. We have forwarded them to the appropriate labs. We have come to a conclusive determination, but we are not prepared to release that information," Guess told reporters. He would not elaborate on what was found at the cabin, citing the ongoing investigation.
"This is a confirmed lead for us," Guess said. "We're going to run this to the ground."
Matt, 48, and Sweat, 35, were discovered missing June 6 from the prison in Dannemora, near the Canadian border.
Over the weekend, law enforcement officials had swarmed New York's Allegany County, near the Pennsylvania border — more than 300 miles away from the prison — after receiving a tip from someone who reported seeing two men on a railroad track in the town of Friendship who looked like Matt and Sweat.
Other sightings of the pair had been reported that week in neighboring Steuben County, according to New York State Police spokesman Beau Duffy.
"We responded immediately, interviewed the witness and determined it was a credible lead," Duffy said of the reported Allegany County sighting. But after about 24 hours, the search in the area had wound down and police say they have not confirmed that the sightings in the area were of the escapees.
Guess declared the area in Allegany County cleared Monday, and said the primary focus of the search was now centered in Franklin County.
Authorities warned locals to call 911 immediately if they discovered anything suspicious or out of place, particularly in summer cabins and camps that are opening up for the season.
"No lead is too small for us to investigate," Guess said, adding that police have no "definitive evidence" that anyone is assisting the escapees, but that they're not ruling it out.
Sweat, who killed a sheriff's deputy in 2002, and Matt, who kidnapped a man, beat him to death and dismembered him in 1997, broke out of the prison after hatching an elaborate escape plan involving power tools, decoys and a labyrinth of tunnels and pipes.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called them "dangerous, desperate men."
The search for the prisoners, who have defied odds by remaining at large longer than any New York state prison escapee since 2002, has spawned a massive dragnet statewide involving hundreds of officers and several state and federal agencies. Reported sightings placed the pair anywhere from the shores of Lake Champlain to walking toward the Pennsylvania border in the southwestern part of New York state.
On Friday, prison officials announced that a second prison worker had been tied to the escape investigation. The corrections officer, who was not named, was placed on administrative leave, officials said, but they did not elaborate. Guess declined to comment on the progress of that part of the investigation.
The state of New York is offering a $50,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of each inmate — $100,000 in all. In addition, the U.S. Marshals Service is offering a reward of up to $25,000 each.
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