‘Shawshank Redemption’ prison break: Did ‘lady killer’ get help from a woman?

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NEW YORK -- “Man missing! Tier Two! Cell 245!”

These words were part of a climactic scene in 1994’s classic film, “Shawshank Redemption,” when a burly prison guard bellows that one of the block’s inmates—a convicted wife killer played by actor Tim Robbins—was unaccounted for.

The angry warden storms into the cell and discovers, after putting his fist through a poster of Raquel Welch, that the missing prisoner had been slowly creating a tunnel for nearly 20 years, using a crude tool  to chip away at the wall.  A fellow prisoner played by Morgan Freeman notes in the narrative, “All they found of him was muddy clothes, soap and an old rock hammer.”

Now on to real life, where New York State Police, the FBI, and scores of cops are using bloodhounds and taking tips, hoping to track down two convicted killers who managed to get their hands on a power tool, before cutting their way out of adjacent cells at the Clinton Correctional Facility Friday night into Saturday.

Clinton is just 20 miles south of the Canadian border and it’s the largest maximum security prison in the state.  The two convicts, Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 34, managed to navigate through the prison’s pipe space, slide down into a tunnel, cut through a 24-inch brick wall and then cut through a 24-inch vertical pipe before getting into the sewer system and reaching a manhole outside of the prison, which led them to the street—and freedom.  They left their green, prison uniforms in the sewer pipe.

“I would be shocked if a guard was involved and that’s putting it mildly,” said Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Monday, “but we’re looking at civilian employees now and the private contractors to see if possibly one, a civilian employee or a contractor, was assisting this escape, because they wouldn’t have had the equipment on their own, that’s for sure.”

Matt, convicted of killing and dismembering his former boss in 1997 in upstate Tonawanda, was described in Monday’s New York Post as a “lady killer” —who might have been able to get a female prison worker to assist him in his daring escape.

“When Matt’s cleaned up, he’s very handsome and, in all frankness, very well endowed,” retired Det. David Bentley told the Post.  “He gets girlfriends any place he goes.”

Might that include prison?

Multiple reports Monday said a female civilian worker at the prison was being questioned, and one report said she was an industrial training supervisor.

This was the first escape from the maximum security part of Clinton since the institution opened in 1865 during the Civil War.  Clinton has mammoth, cement walls around its perimeter, something PIX11 noted when we interviewed an inmate in the facility last year.   Dannemora, the town where Clinton is located, is often dubbed “Little Siberia,” because of the cold winters there and the town’s relative isolation.

The younger escapee, Sweat, was serving life in prison without parole for the 2002 killing of Broome County sheriff’s deputy Kevin Tarsia.

And while some have speculated the two murderers might have made a run for Canada, using phony passports, others theorized Matt might have headed for Mexico—where he once lived and did time for killing a man in 1998.

The two men were last seen in their cells Friday night, during a 10:30 pm bed check.  They used sweat shirts to make “dummies” that fooled corrections officers into thinking they were sleeping in their cots.

They  apparently used the power tool to cut through a steel wall in the back of their adjoining cells.

How did they know how to get to the outside world?

PIX11 Investigates reached out to Martin Horn, the former New York City corrections commissioner.

Horn also once served as Commissioner of Corrections in the state of Pennsylvania.

“We had an escape in Pennsylvania in 1997, where the inmates were able to steal copies of the architectural plans of the prison,” Horn said, “from the engineer’s office.  One of them was assigned to work as a clerk in the engineer’s office.”

Horn also said private contractors might not secure their equipment as well as the prison facility would.

“Oftentimes, an employee of the private contractor might lose a tool and be reluctant to report the loss,” Horn said.  “Or, someone may have taken a payoff to leave the tool available.”

A report Monday said all the prison-owned power tools have been accounted for.  Many private contractors had been coming in and out of the facility in recent years, because the prison is very old and needs renovations.

Horn emphasized New York’s maximum security facilities have an excellent security record.

“Keep in mind that prisoners have nothing to do all day but think up ways to escape, especially those serving life terms,” Horn said.  “And they’re constantly watching the officers, the civilian staff, looking for holes in the fabric.”

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