CHICAGO – A manhunt for two bank robbers who used a makeshift rope to pull off a daring escape from a high-rise Chicago lockup pushed into a second day Wednesday, with authorities offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the men’s apprehension.
The former cellmates apparently broke a cell window, pulled out the bars, then descended almost 20 stories to escape the downtown Metropolitan Correctional Center early Tuesday.
Joseph “Jose” Banks, 37, and Kenneth Conley, 38, were unaccounted for during a 5 a.m. head count, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.
An FBI affidavit says the men were in their assigned areas for a head count around 10 p.m. Monday and that jail employees noticed the makeshift rope around 7 a.m.. Nearby business owners said helicopters and canine units did not swarm the area until almost 8:30 a.m.
Inside the cell Tuesday morning, investigators found a broken window and bars inside a mattress, according to an FBI affidavit. Stuffed under blankets on two beds were clothing and sheets, shaped to resemble a body, the affidavit said.
Hours after the escape, the rope of bed sheets could be seen dangling down the side of the building, at least 200 feet long and knotted about every 6 feet.
The FBI has declined to provide details of the escape, but a close-up photograph shows damage to the concrete along the lower edge of the window, which is 6 feet tall but only 6 inches wide. That damage broadened the hole through which the men must have had to climb beyond the narrow dimensions of the window.
Banks and Conley were the first inmates to escape from the federal facility in nearly two decades. It was still unclear how they were able to accumulate enough bed sheets and other items need to pull off the escape, or how jail guards failed to detect the scheme or notice the men were gone until several hours afterward.
The FBI reissued a plea to the public to be on the lookout for the men, whom they believe are traveling together, and warned they should be considered armed and dangerous. On Wednesday, Thomas Trautmann, the acting special agent-in-charge of the FBI’s Chicago office, announced a $50,000 reward leading to their arrests.
The apparently meticulously planned escape from the 27-story facility came just a week after Banks made a courtroom vow of retribution. The men, who have yet to be sentenced, are facing hefty prison terms.
The facility, which can house up to 700 inmates, is one of the only skyscraper lockups in the world, and experts said its triangular shape was meant to make it easier to guard, theoretically reducing blind spots for guards. The only other escape from the nearly 40-year-old facility occurred in the mid-1980s, U.S. Marshals Service spokeswoman Belkis Cantor said.
Banks and Conley both were wearing orange jumpsuits, but police believe they quickly changed into white T-shirts, gray sweatpants and white gym shoes.
The FBI believes both men were in Tinley Park, a heavily wooded area about 25 miles south of Chicago. Authorities were scouring a local forest preserve in the afternoon.
Associated Press writer Sara Burnett contributed to this report.