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Plattsburgh paper: Hunting camp where escaped prisoners hid owned by corrections officers

The hunting camp in the Adirondacks where authorities believe escaped killers Richard Matt and David Sweat may have been hiding out is owned by a group of correction officers, the editor of the Plattsburgh Press-Republican reported Monday.

However, a resident in the area cautioned about jumping to any conclusions based on that information.

Beth Bellinger, who co-owns Belly’s Mountain View Inn, pointed out that there are many prisons in the area in addition to Clinton Correctional Facility, which the two men escaped from.

“You’ve got correctional facilities everywhere, two in Malone, Ray Brook, there’s a federal prison in Ray Brook too,” she said. “There are a lot of facilities.”

Bellinger’s husband was at their restaurant on Wolf Pond Road in Mountain View Saturday where a man who said he saw someone running out of his hunting camp was interviewed by state troopers. The restaurant is about a mile and a half from the camp.

“There are a lot of camps located along Wolf Pond Road,” she said. “It’s a one-lane, dirt road. We’re in the Adirondack mountains. It’s very, very rural. We are in the mountains.”

Sunday, DNA matching that of the two escapees was found in the camp, according to the New York Times. Among evidence seized at the camp was a pair of prison-issued underwear.

Beth Bellinger told The Buffalo News she wasn’t at the restaurant over the weekend.

But she said the area has been flooded with law enforcement officers since late Saturday.

“This morning when I went to Malone, I did go through one roadblock and there are numerous state troopers parked all around,” she said. As she was bringing in her groceries, she said, “a helicopter went over three times.”

State Police said at midday Monday that they have a “confirmed” lead that the escaped prisoners were recently in the Owls Head/Mountain View area, a little over 20 miles due west of Clinton Correctional in Dannemora.

DNA matching that of the two men was found at the hunting camp, Also, a jug of water and a jar of peanut butter were found as an intruder fled the seasonal camp, the Press-Republican reported.

The Plattsburgh paper said a man who went to check on his camp Saturday discovered a break-in and saw the items out on a table. After the camp owner yelled for whoever was inside to come out, he saw a man run out the back.

The camp owner wasn’t able to tell whether the fleeing man was Matt or Sweat.

The Buffalo News reported Sunday that “forensic evidence” of Sweat’s had been found in the vicinity of the sighting.

Law enforcement officials believe that the evidence proves the two men on the U.S. Marshals Service most-wanted list had not gotten far from the prison, at least as of late Saturday.

At the news conference, State Police refused to specify what evidence they had found. But Major Charles Guess said the area around the camp was the primary focus of the manhunt for Matt and Sweat.

He asked anyone with a seasonal camp to be on high alert.

If you go to your camp and find that anything is out of order, he urged: “Call 911.”

Guess also put out a plea to anyone with trail cameras in the area that captured any footage of suspicious activity to report it immediately to the authorities.

The hunting camps on Wolf Pond Road are generally used only in the fall, during hunting season, Bellinger said.

“These cabins are seasonal,” she said. “People go in after a winter and check on camps to make sure there’s no damage. They do open them up occasionally through the summer.”

The camps aren’t fancy, but they do provide shelter. Most run on generators and have wood stoves.

“This would be a great opportunity for these guys,” she said the escaped prisoners, pointing out that the mosquitoes and deer fly this time of year can be unbearable. “At least you get out of being outside.”

She said she’s not surprised to hear that the man who reported the sighting was checking on his camp over the weekend.

Police have been searching the region since the prison breakout more than two weeks ago.

“Everybody is a little bit more on alert,” she said. “We checked on our camp last weekend.”

mbecker@buffnews.com