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DNA match only adds to frustration in manhunt for escaped killers

For the first time in the then-two-week manhunt for escaped murderers Richard W. Matt and David P. Sweat, authorities pinpointed where they were last Saturday morning, thanks to DNA.

Four days later, the roughly 1,000 law enforcement officers scouring a 75-square-mile area in the northern part of the state might not even be looking in the right place anymore.

As the search for Matt and Sweat approaches the end of its third week, law enforcement officials say they are uncertain on a number of questions:

• Did Matt and Sweat slip outside the search area – about 30 miles west of the state prison in Dannemora? They were there Saturday, but the search since then has been fruitless.

• Is one or both of the men armed? A shotgun may have been taken from the cabin they broke into.

• Is either one injured? Bloody socks were found.

• Are they fleeing together or have they split up? Going separate ways means they could move faster, officials said.

Investigators acknowledged that it was “entirely possible” the two killers left the area in Franklin County that was searched Wednesday. Police stressed that while the area 30 miles west of Clinton Correctional Facility was their primary focus, the investigation is not limited to that area.

“They could have made it out before law enforcement encircled them,” State Police Maj. Charles E. Guess said during a news conference Wednesday in Cadyville, Clinton County.

Since the escape, police have developed more than 2,200 leads, with reported sightings every day. Thus far, none has been substantiated because no photographic evidence or “definitive physical description” has been provided, police said Wednesday.

The only location that was confirmed, thanks to DNA matched to the killers, was from a cabin in Owls Head, a hamlet in the Town of Bellmont, Franklin County. A man reported seeing a person flee the cabin at about 10:30 a.m. Saturday.

The tough terrain and geography in the remote part of the northern Adirondacks has made search efforts tough on police. Add to that rainy weather and thick forests, the variety of waterways and wetlands, hills and mountains that range from gentle to very steep, and what’s known as “black fly season” because of the insect infestation, and you have a mixture that is challenging for searchers.

“Adirondack Park is the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi River,” said State Forest Ranger Capt. John Streiff, who later said that these conditions are why the location was selected for a prison.

Anyone with information is encouraged to call 911, 1-800-GIVETIP or the State Police at (518) 563-3761 or email crimetip@troopers.ny.gov.

As the story with a lot of “maybes” continued, law enforcement officials said they had no definitive information about whether either of the escapees has been injured.

“Let’s face it, a bloody sock can mean somebody had a blister, or it could mean a lot worse,” Guess said.

As far as the escapees being armed, every cabin probably has one or more weapons in it, but authorities don’t have evidence that a particular shotgun is missing, Guess said.

The pair could have moved 10 miles a day if their travel was unimpeded, though that wasn’t likely given the type of terrain. The search, entering its 20th day Thursday, is costing an estimated $1 million per day, according to the New York Times.

email: abesecker@buffnews.com