Escapees bushwhacked, dropped pepper to elude captors
Plattsburgh, N.Y. — Two killers who escaped last month from a maximum-security prison in northern New York bushwhacked, tramped through swamps and put pepper in their boots to elude the army of searchers on their tail, according to the coordinator of the manhunt.
Details provided by State Police Maj. Charles Guess to the Press-Republican of Plattsburgh show that David Sweat and Richard Matt went out of their way to confound searchers after their June 6 escape from Clinton Correctional Facility, near the Canadian border. After a panicky moment when their getaway ride failed to show, the two convicted murderers walked west from the prison toward deep woods.
Sweat carried pepper to throw off tracking dogs in the guitar case he packed with food and other provisions squirreled away while in prison.
“They put it in their boots, and whenever they made a significant change in direction or had holed up for a while, they used pepper liberally to throw off the dogs,” Guess told the newspaper.
Traveling mostly at night, they bushwhacked through the heavily wooded area, knowing that it would be more difficult for searchers. They stole a compass and a transistor radio. Wherever they could, they walked through water and swamps to throw off the hundreds of officers searching for them.
“They wanted to avoid the roads, figuring whenever they were detected as missing from the prison, corrections and law enforcement would descend on those roads,” said Guess, who is State Police Troop B commander.
State police said Guess was not able to speak to The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Matt was shot dead on June 26 in woods near Malone, about 30 miles from the prison. Sweat was shot by a trooper and captured two days later near the Canadian border. Sweat is in a different prison in central New York and has given his version of events to investigators.
Sweat has cast himself as the leader of the pair, saying he was the one who broke out of his cell first, climbed down a catwalk and scouted the old prison’s tunnels for a way out. Part of the elaborate plan, months in the making, involved tunneling through a steam pipe, and it appears they had to wait for heating season to end before they could cut into it. The pair popped out of a manhole a block away from the prison.
Authorities said a tailor shop employee, Joyce Mitchell, supplied the pair with hacksaw blades and other tools. She agreed to be their getaway driver but backed out at the last moment, authorities said. She has pleaded not guilty.
Guess, relying on Sweat’s account, said Matt panicked after they peered out from under a manhole cover and realized Mitchell was not showing.
“Sweat did what he could to calm him down,” Guess said.
They climbed out of the manhole and looked around, trying to figure out what to do, before dropping inside again, regrouping and walking away.
Soon after, a homeowner asked the two why they were on his property.
Sweat calmly apologized and said they had accidentally made a wrong turn.