Robbers pull off daring 20-storey escape

Last updated 17:24 19/12/2012

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A massive manhunt is under way for two bank robbers who pulled off a daring escape from downtown Chicago's high-rise jail by apparently squeezing through a narrow window and scaling down about 20 stories using a makeshift rope tied to the bars in a cell window.

Police helicopters and canine units swarmed the area, but not until more than three hours after Joseph ''Jose'' Banks and Kenneth Conley went unaccounted for during a 5 a.m. headcount, US Marshal's Service spokeswoman Belkis Cantor said. Both men were still at large late Tuesday night (local time).

Investigators found a broken window in the men's cell, where window bars were found inside a mattress, according to an FBI affidavit filed late Tuesday.

Fake metal bars also were found in the men's cell, a rope was tied to a window bar, and each man's bed was stuffed with clothing and sheets to resemble a body, the affidavit said.

It appeared to illustrate a meticulously planned escape from the 27-storey facility that came a week after Banks made a courtroom vow of retribution.

Both men are facing hefty prison sentences, and the FBI said they should be considered armed and dangerous.

Elite police teams stormed at least one home in Tinley Park, a suburb south of the city.

Although neither man was found, evidence suggested that both had been at the home just hours earlier, according to the FBI.

Some schools went on lockdown after being inundated with calls from nervous parents.

Mike Byrne, a superintendent in Tinley Park, said ''our parents are so emotionally charged right now'' because of the school shootings in Connecticut.

Hours after the escape, a rope possibly made of bed sheets could be seen dangling down the side of the Metropolitan Correctional Centre.
At least 60.96 metres long and knotted about every 1.8 meters, the rope was hanging from a window that was 1.8 metres tall but only 15.24 centremetres in diameter.

The facility is one of the only skyscraper lockups in the world, and experts say 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, Cantor said. Exactly when Banks, 37, and Conley, 38, escaped remains unclear. Shop owners across the street from the wall the men scaled said police suddenly flooded into the area around 8:30 a.m., hours after they missed a headcount. Police initially said the men escaped sometime between 5 a.m. and 8:45 a.m.

Both men were wearing orange jumpsuits, but police believe they may have quickly changed into white T-shirts, gray sweat pants and white gym shoes. The FBI believes both men were in Tinley Park, a heavily wooded area about 40 kilometres south of Chicago.

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Authorities were scouring a local forest preserve in the afternoon. Banks, known as the Second-Hand Bandit because he wore used clothes during his heists, was convicted last week of robbing two banks and attempting to rob two others. Authorities say he stole almost US$600,000, and most of that still is missing. During trial, he had to be restrained because he threatened to walk out of the courtroom.

He acted as his own attorney and verbally sparred with the prosecutor, at times arguing that that US law didn't apply to him because he was a sovereign citizen of a group that was above state and federal law.

- AP

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