NEW YORK: A DNA breakthrough in the manhunt for two US escaped murderers shows they may have broken into a cabin near the maximum-security New York jail from which they escaped, police said Monday.
Richard Matt, 49, and David Sweat, 35, escaped 17 days ago from a maximum security jail close to the Canadian border, in a carefully rehearsed, elaborate prison break that has been likened to a Hollywood movie.
Police said they had a “confirmed lead” following a search in the remote Owl’s Head area, around 30 miles (48 kilometers) west of the Clinton Correctional Facility in the village of Dannemora.
It is the strongest lead in the investigation since the pair cut through their cell walls using power tools, and crawled their way through pipes to emerge from a manhole before dawn on June 6.
“We have developed evidence that the suspects may have spent time in a cabin in this area,” said New York State Police Major Charles Guess told reporters.
He said “specific items” had been recovered from that cabin and sent to laboratories. “We run conclusive tests, which include DNA and anything and everything we can send to laboratories,” he said.
US media reports said the DNA evidence suggested that the cabin may have been broken into as little as 24 hours earlier. Boots, bloody socks and toiletries were found, local newspaper the Press-Republican reported.
Police called on the public to take “safety precautions.”
“If you return to your camp and anything is out of place, call 911 immediately,” he said.
“It’s a confirmed lead for us. It’s generated a massive law enforcement response, as you can see and we’re going to run this to ground,” added Guess.
There is a $100,000 reward for information leading to the men’s arrest.
Matt and Sweat used hacksaw blades supplied by a 51-year-old married female prison worker, who reportedly had a relationship with both men, and equipment stolen from a toolbox left by construction workers.
A task force of US Marshals and police officers go door to door searching for two escaped convicts Richard Matt, 49, and David Sweat, 35, outside Dannemora, New York on June 16, 2015
Getty/AFP/File – Andrew Burton
Joyce Mitchell, who worked in the prison’s tailor shop, is in custody charged with facilitating their escape.
A second, male prison employee has been placed on administrative leave and is part of the investigation, police confirmed Monday.
Mitchell allegedly confessed to giving the pair tools and to planning to meet them with a getaway car, but changed her mind at the last minute and checked into a hospital suffering from a panic attack.
She also told investigators that the two escapees also plotted to kill her husband, Lyle, officials have said.
Police have abandoned a separate search, 350 miles southwest of the prison, where a witness on Saturday saw two men fitting Matt and Sweat’s descriptions walking along a railroad line in the town of Friendship.
Police said the area was clear.
Matt, six feet (1.83 meters) tall with multiple tattoos, was serving a sentence of 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnapping and dismembering of his former boss in a 27-hour ordeal.
He fled to Mexico after the murder and killed another American there, before being sentenced to 20 years and extradited back to New York.
Sweat was serving a life sentence without parole for murdering a sheriff’s deputy in New York state in 2002 when he was 22.