Illinois prison break: Did escapees have help?

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by CBS News

KMOV.com

Posted on December 20, 2012 at 12:32 PM

(CBS News) Officials at a federal prison in downtown Chicago say they knew they had a problem when they came to work Tuesday—and saw a makeshift rope running down the side of the building.

The two convicted bank robbers have been missing and unaccounted for since Tuesday’s jail head count, and now the FBI is offering a $50,000 reward.

Chicago’s federal lock-up is an imposing high-rise that has defied escape for almost three decades. But somehow, two cellmates enlarged a six-inch wide window slit, removed its bars and, in the predawn darkness, lowered themselves at least 15 floors to freedom, using knotted bed sheets to repel down the building’s facade. A surveillance camera caught the pair getting into a downtown Chicago cab around 2:41 Tuesday morning.

There are a lot of questions about how all of this went undetected by the guards. Thomas Trautmann, an FBI special agent, said, “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. First business at hand is to catch these guys.”

The escapees are identified as Kenneth Conley, 38, and Jose Banks, 37, believed to be traveling together. Conley was facing 20 years, while Banks was facing an 80-year sentence. The FBI is offering that $50,000 reward for information leading to their capture. Conley and Banks are considered armed and dangerous.

Trautmann said, “Certainly the public should not consider approaching these individuals.”

FBI helicopters were aloft on Tuesday looking for hiding places, part of an area-wide dragnet included SWAT team stops at train stations and other known hangouts of the two in question.

Conley had been imprisoned since October of last year for one suburban bank stick-up—the proceeds from which he showered on a local strip club, where he also reportedly bragged of plans to move to Bermuda. Banks, on the other hand, is one of the most accomplished thieves in the city’s history, suspected in at least 20 heists. A bank surveillance video showed him pulling off one of them in 2008. He was convicted in two of the cases plus two other holdups just last week.

As he left the court, Banks told federal Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, “You’ll hear from me.”

Trautmann said, “Measures have been taken by both the U.S. Marshals Service and by the Federal Bureau of Investigation to ensure the safety of those individuals threatened.”

For now, the search is still focused on the Chicago area, but the more time that passes, the farther away the two men can get. Banks is believed to have stashed away $500,000 in stolen loot.

These inmates will be caught, CBS News senior correspondent John Miller, a former FBI deputy director, said on “CBS This Morning.” “We’re not dealing with master criminals here,” he said. “There’s also the potential threat with the judge. So the U.S.. Marshals do a lot of things really well. They are man hunters and they’re going to get them.”

However, there are now questions about how the pair escaped. Miller said, “You see they managed to get the bed sheets and tie them together, there’s a bit of a fashioned harness that they made there. ... The question is what kind of help did they have from the trustees in the prison supplying the sheets and then you have to go to the less comfortable question, what about from staff or corrections officers. This is nothing something they dreamed up in 10 minutes.

“Neither one of them is a master criminal, or they wouldn’t have been in that jail in the first place for a bunch of bank robberies,” Miller said. “Bank robberies are an amateur hour crime, because you walk into a place. you know they’re going to be making a movie of your crime from about 16 different angles. But on the other hand, they are cunning, they’re daring, and they pulled off something that nobody has pulled off in that jail in 30 years, and they have money.”

Miller said they may have received help getting rid of their prison jumpsuits because when they were seen entering a cab, they were wearing gray sweatpants and white T-shirts. “Somebody in a car, somebody in a van, somebody waiting with clothes (was there),” Miller said. “Inside help. Outside help. And it’s interesting.”

Police believe the men are sticking together.

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