Killers Explored Tunnels For Months Before Escape

PLATTSBURGH, N.Y. (AP/Reuters) -

Two killers who escaped in June from a maximum-security prison bushwhacked, tramped through swamps, and put pepper in their boots to elude the army of searchers on their tail.

David Sweat and Richard Matt went out of their way to confound searchers after their June 6 escape from Clinton Correctional Facility, near the Canadian border, according to State Police Maj. Charles Guess. After a panicky moment when their getaway ride failed to show, the two convicted murderers walked west from the prison toward deep woods.

Sweat carried pepper to throw off tracking dogs in the guitar case he packed with food and other provisions squirreled away while in prison.

Traveling mostly at night, they stole a compass and a transistor radio and mostly walked through swamps.

“They wanted to avoid the roads, figuring whenever they were detected as missing from the prison, corrections and law enforcement would descend on those roads,” Guess said.

Matt was shot dead on June 26 in woods about 30 miles from the prison. Sweat was shot by a trooper and captured two days later near the Canadian border. Sweat has given his version of events to investigators.

The men’s escape, the likes of which are extremely rare in the United States, has prompted an investigation by the state’s inspector general, who has the authority to seize documents and question witnesses.

Sweat cast himself as the leader of the pair, saying he was the one who broke out of his cell first, climbed down a catwalk and scouted the old prison’s tunnels for a way out.

From his hospital bed, Sweat said he would wait until guards did their last headcount each night to crawl into the tunnels. He would return to his cell before the 5:30 a.m. roll call.

Sweat said he spent months getting to know the interior system of passages and pipes until he found some that led to the other side of the prison walls. Sweat and Matt then used tools and a hacksaw to drill holes into a large pipe running through a tunnel — a process that took weeks.

Sweat said that guards remained unaware of the activity as he was “confident” they had been asleep.

The pair popped out of a manhole a block away from the prison. Matt panicked after they peered out from under a manhole cover and realized that a prearranged getaway driver was not showing and “Sweat did what he could to calm him down,” Guess said.

They climbed out of the manhole and looked around, trying to figure out what to do, before dropping inside again, regrouping and walking away.

Soon after, a homeowner asked the two why they were on his property.

Sweat calmly apologized and said they had accidentally made a wrong turn.