Share this article

print logo

Matt was ill, drunk when found; Sweat continues to elude searchers

MALONE – One desperate man continued to elude 1,200 police as they searched 22 square miles of rugged, mountainous land in the northern Adirondacks on Saturday.

As the search for cop killer David P. Sweat stretched into its 22nd day, investigators have begun to piece together the last days of his fellow escapee, Richard W. Matt.

He was probably miserable.

When he was gunned down Friday afternoon, Matt, the two-time murderer who grew up in the City of Tonawanda, was sick and drunk.

It also looked like he had been outdoors for a long time, according to a law enforcement source with knowledge of the investigation into the prison escape.

The indication that he was sick came Wednesday night, as an army of federal, state and local law enforcement officers went door to door at homes and camps around Owls Head and Malone. A burglary of a cabin on Route 41 was reported.

That is where police found soiled underwear, the source told The Buffalo News, and a DNA test showed they belonged to Matt. The underwear also told investigators that Matt was ill, possibly from having consumed spoiled food or bad water.

And police believe Matt was intoxicated when he was killed.

That clue came after authorities were alerted to another cabin burglary Friday morning, this time a camp at the base of Humbug Mountain just off Route 30, the main north-south artery through the area.

Malone Town Supervisor Howard F. Maneely said Saturday that his nephew, Robert Willett, owns the camp.

“He went in there Wednesday to check on things and it was all OK,” Maneely said.

But his nephew’s son discovered a far different situation when he returned Friday morning.

“The camp had been broken into and there were booze bottles on the table,” the supervisor said. “That’s when he got hold of the authorities.”

There was a half-empty bottle of gin and other bottles on the table, a law enforcement source said.

Maneely described the camp as typical of those in the area, used mostly during the fall deer season and for summertime family picnics. It features a kitchen, lounge area and three small bedrooms.

Finding Matt

Several hours later, a man who was hauling a camper on a trailer through Route 30 reported that someone had fired a shot at his camper while he was driving. At first, he thought it was a flat tire. He got out and checked it, found nothing, and drove another eight miles before finding the bullet hole.

State police went to investigate and traced the path back eight miles, where they found another camp that had been broken into. Inside, they smelled gunpowder.

A tactical team from U.S. Customs and Border Protection was helicoptered in and as they searched, they found Matt.

He had a 20-gauge shotgun at his side, officials said.

From his clothes and appearance, it looked like he had not bathed in a long time and had spent a great deal of time in the outdoors, a law enforcement source told The News.

The tactical team challenged Matt, who did not give up his weapon. He did not say anything before he was shot, the source said. He did not fire his weapon.

A strong odor of alcohol emanated from Matt’s body, the law enforcement source said.

The News last week reported that as a young man, Matt had twice tried to commit suicide. And the special prosecutor who won the murder conviction against Matt said that he had been told in 2008 that, if Matt ever escaped, he would not be taken alive, according to the Associated Press.

But a law enforcement source said it did not appear that Matt was committing “suicide by cop” when he was shot.

Matt’s body was sent to Albany Medical Center on Saturday and was scheduled for an autopsy.

His breakout from Clinton Correctional Facility with Sweat and the massive manhunt captivated the nation and led to wild speculation about where they could be hiding out.

But in the end, Matt died just 40 miles from the prison.

He was 49. His birthday was Thursday.

Search for Sweat

But Matt’s death brought investigators no closer to finding his accomplice.

Authorities thought Friday night that they had Sweat surrounded. Investigators have been operating under the assumption that Sweat was near Matt when he was killed about 4 p.m. Friday.

But the last time they had any evidence that Sweat was still in the area came from DNA samples collected from a seasonal hunting camp in Owls Head that had been discovered burglarized June 20, the first of four cabins where police believe the two had taken shelter. That cabin is located about eight miles east of where Matt was shot.

The News incorrectly reported Saturday that DNA from Sweat had been found Wednesday in the cabin on Route 41 where the underwear was found.

And there have been no confirmed sightings of Sweat.

So it is possible the two parted ways days – possibly even a week – ago.

Saturday night, investigators were waiting for results on DNA tests on items recovered from the cabin where the gunpowder was smelled to determine whether Sweat had been there.

In the meantime, the armies of federal, state and local law enforcement officers weren’t letting up on the search around Titus Lake, even with heavy downpours of rain forecast for Saturday night and all day Sunday.

Asked how long the search would continue, State Police spokesman Beau Duffy answered Saturday: “Until we catch him.”

“For the foreseeable future, we will either find him in that area or decide he’s not there,” Duffy said, adding that there is no contemplation of leaving the Malone-area search now.

He also said morale remains high among the searchers.

“I hear them all the time say they won’t stop until they find him,” he said. “That’s their attitude.”

Lake Titus search

Police believe Sweat is armed. That means people living on and around Lake Titus remain confined to their properties as police shrink the perimeter established around where Matt was killed.

“It’s nerve-racking right now. But it also makes us feel safer knowing that the police are so close,” said Frances Anderson, who lives on State Route 30 within the roadblock, in the area being searched most intensely Saturday.

Police have walked through her property for access to some of the wooded tracts where Sweat might be hiding.

Anderson said that when she saw spotlights being moved in Friday night, she thought police were close to finding him, and she was mildly disappointed to learn at daybreak that he remained at large. But she noted that one man can find many places to hide in the dense Adirondack woods.

Robert A. Reyome, 63, a retired painter who has lived in the area for more than 50 years, said the forest around his residence is “so wooded, so dense.”

“If someone was standing 5 foot from you, you’d have trouble seeing them,” Reyome said.

“He’ll never make it,” he said of Sweat’s chances against the elements and terrain.

“Their 21 days of freedom,” Reyome said, “wasn’t much of freedom.”

News Staff Reporters Matt Spina and Charity Vogel contributed to this report. email: rmccarthy@buffnews.com and mbecker@buffnews.com