The FBI says Joseph "Jose" Banks and Kenneth Conley scaled down about 20 stories using knotted bed sheets to escape from a Chicago prison.
CHICAGO — Two bank robbers who broke out of a high-rise jail in downtown Chicago hailed a cab and used it as a getaway car after they escaped from the facility, investigators searching for the pair said on Wednesday.
Authorities also announced a $50,000 reward on Wednesday for information leading to the apprehension of the two, identified as Joseph Jose Banks and Kenneth Conley.
Banks and Conley escaped from the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago early on Tuesday morning. The pair apparently broke a window in the cell they shared, squeezed through the 4-inch opening and lowered themselves nearly 20 stories to the street using a makeshift rope, authorities said.
An FBI spokesman said that based on videotape evidence, agents believe the pair hailed a taxi a few blocks away from the jail. That cab was last seen heading south on one of Chicago's main thoroughfares, Michigan Avenue, shortly afterwards.
The manhunt, which now involves a "small army" drawn from the FBI, the U.S. Marshals Service and the Chicago Police Department, according to the FBI spokesman, continued for a second day on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, federal arrest warrants were issued for Banks, who was convicted of armed robbery earlier this month, and Conley, who pleaded guilty to bank robbery in October. Both men were set to be sentenced early next year.
According to a federal affidavit, Banks and Conley were cell mates and were present during a physical head count at the jail at 10 p.m. Monday night.
But jail employees arriving for work Tuesday morning saw what appeared to be a rope hanging from a window on the south side of the building. When a physical head count was conducted inside the facility, neither Banks nor Conley was present.
Their escape, which appeared to be meticulously planned, 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.
SWAT 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 Center. At least 200 feet long and knotted about every 6 feet, the rope was hanging from a window that was 6 feet tall but only 6 inches in width.
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 25 miles south of Chicago. 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 $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 U.S. law didn't apply to him because he was a sovereign citizen of a group that was above state and federal law.
After he was convicted by U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, he said he would "be seeking retribution as well as damages," the Chicago Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune reported.
When the judge asked how long he needed to submit a filing, Banks replied: "No motion will be filed, but you'll hear from me."
Pallmeyer, a prominent federal judge who oversaw the corruption trial of now imprisoned former Illinois Gov. George Ryan, appeared to stick to her regular schedule Tuesday and there were no signs of extra security. Her office declined comment.
Conley pleaded guilty last October to robbing a Homewood Bank last year of nearly $4,000. Conley, who worked at the time at a suburban strip club, wore a coat and tie when he robbed the bank, and had a gun stuffed in his waistband.
Both men were being held in the Chicago lockup, which houses around 700 inmates awaiting trial in the Dirksen Federal Building a few blocks away. It is one of the only skyscraper jails in the world, said Jennifer Lucente of Chicago Architecture Foundation.
Architect Harry Weese designed the building in the mid-1970s shortly after notorious prison riots in Attica, N.Y., and was asked to design a "more humane" lockup, Lucente said. That was one reason Weese ensured each cell had a window, she said.
The brother of Hollywood director Christopher Nolan also tried to escape in 2010. Matthew Nolan, who was being held pending an extradition request, was sentenced to 14 months in jail for plotting to escape by hiding a rope made out of bed sheets in his cell.