Share this article

print logo

Officials responding to tips continue grueling search for escaped killers

A report came in about two men running in the woods.

Helicopters swooped down.

Hundreds of uniformed officers descended on what looked like a staging area.

Lois Clermont, an editor with the Plattsburgh Press-Republican, tweeted that “busloads of searchers are being dropped off near Belly’s Mountain View Inn.”

Reporters on the scene were told to back off.

“We were just moved down the road #prisonbreakny,” tweeted Albany Times Union reporter Keshia Clukey.

But the tip that came in late Monday afternoon turned out to be yet another false alarm in the hunt for escaped murderers Richard Matt and David Sweat.

Just like the tip the night before, which had helicopters circling near the Titus Mountain Ski Center and spotlights shining down the Salmon River and into the dense woods.

And just like the tip Saturday that brought hundreds of law enforcement officers 300 miles west to Friendship in Allegany County after a woman reported seeing two men walking along the train tracks behind her house.

The infamous duo on the U.S. Marshals Service’s Most Wanted list were still at large Tuesday, and the 1,000 law enforcement officers on the hunt for them resumed searching through the rugged terrain of Franklin County in the Adirondacks.

It has been a grueling task.

The area is densely wooded and mountainous. The mosquitoes are relentless.

The weather has not cooperated. Wave after wave of heavy rain and thunderstorms pummeled the area during the weekend and through Tuesday.

To make things even more difficult, cellphone coverage in the area is terrible.

“They can’t win,” said Franklin County Undersheriff Rolland Thomas. A portable cell tower was brought in Tuesday to improve cellular reception.

Despite the obstacles, the law enforcement officers soldier on.

They have continued to set up roadblocks throughout the region and are scouring every vehicle, peering into back seats and popping trunks, in the hunt for Matt and Sweat.

Matt is from the City of Tonawanda and was serving 25 years to life for a grisly, torture-murder case in North Tonawanda. Sweat was convicted of killing a sheriff’s deputy in Broome County.

Troopers and corrections officers have been searching homes, cars and the woods in the area. They are going door to door, especially at the seasonal camps, looking for signs of break-ins.

Bonita Durell, who lives on a dirt road within the search zone, said police have stopped by her property twice, looking through her house, her out buildings and all around her property.

“I just feel bad they haven’t caught those guys,” she said.

Debbie Reyome, who lives near an intersection that has been heavily watched by police, said she has seen convoys of patrol cars going up and down the road.

She and her husband have barely slept the last couple of nights because of the search lights erected around their property.

“Our whole house has been lit up here for two nights,” Reyome said.

But she said she’s happy to know the officers are there trying to catch the escaped killers.

“I can tell you the officers have been amazing,” she said. “They’re doing a top-notch job. We actually feel very safe.”

To show her appreciation, Rayome brought them coffee and cookies. Another neighbor offered up a tent and chairs.

“We’re hoping they’re going to get got, that’s for sure,” she said.

As of Tuesday, three days had passed since a witness reported seeing a man fleeing a hunting camp in Owls Head, a rural community about 30 miles west of Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora, from which Matt and Sweat escaped on June 6.

That sighting was the first real break in the case.

Terry Bellinger, owner of Belly’s Mountain View Inn, a restaurant and bar on Wolf Pond Road in Owls Head, recounted speaking to the man who saw the figure running away from his camp.

Bellinger isn’t sure why the witness – who knows only as “John” – came to his restaurant, but Bellinger said he looked “shaken up.”

“John” described approaching the camp, a no-frills cabin about a mile and a half from Belly’s, on his ATV.

“He saw one person running away,” Bellinger said.

The man told Bellinger he approached the camp cautiously and looked inside. “There’s a water jug on the table we never use for water and an open jar of peanut better,” he said. “I’m not saying it was those guys, but somebody broke into my camp.”

It turned out it was “those guys.”

Evidence found at the cabin yielded traces of DNA, and tests results came back Sunday showing that it matched the escaped prisoners, the New York Times reported. The Buffalo News Sunday reported that investigators had found “forensic evidence” in the cabin that proved that the fugitives were still in the area.

Now, more than 1,000 law enforcement officers – corrections officers, State Police from New York and Vermont, the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service, Border Protection agents, forest rangers, local police and deputies – are on the hunt.

On Tuesday, the New York State Police put out a renewed plea to owners of seasonal camps to make sure the camps are secure and to report anything unusual to 911.

Despite the false alarms, State Police continued to put out the message that the public “should not hesitate to report any suspicious activity, including any signs of trespass, burglary or vehicle larceny.”

They urged people to call 911, or the state police at (518) 563-3761 or 1-800-GIVETIP. Tips can also be emailed to crimetip@troopers.ny.gov.

Matt and Sweat used power tools, over a period of time, to cut holes in the backs of their adjacent cells, authorities say. Then they went through the holes, climbed down a six-story catwalk in the innards of the prison, broke through a wall, cut through a steam pipe, shimmied to a manhole and cut the lock that held the cover in place.

They climbed out to freedom on Bouck Street, a couple of blocks from the Dannemora prison. They were discovered missing on the morning of Saturday, June 6.

A supervisor in the prison tailor shop, Joyce Mitchell, 51, of Dickinson Center, has been charged with assisting Sweat and Matt by slipping them hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit.

Mitchell bought the hacksaw blades at a Walmart, and slipped them into the penitentiary hidden in hamburger meat, the New York Times reported that a law enforcement official said.

Mitchell’s husband, Lyle Mitchell, said on the “Today” show Tuesday that his wife backed out of a plan to be the getaway driver because she didn’t want the killers to hurt her spouse.

“She said: ‘I love my husband, I am not hurtin’ him,’ ” Lyle Mitchell told “Today.” “She said, ‘Then I knew I was over my head.’ ”

Matt gave Mitchell’s wife pills to knock her husband out. Mitchell also said his wife admitted giving the men tools to help them escape. He said she denied having had a sexual relationship with either of the men.

News Albany Bureau Chief Tom Precious contributed to this report. email: mbecker@buffnews.com