Updated 12/19/12 – 4:52 p.m.
CHICAGO (CBS) — The FBI said Wednesday the two convicted bank robbers who escaped from the federal jail in the Loop on Tuesday had more than a four-hour head start before a manhunt began.
FBI Special Agent Frank Bochte said security video from a South Loop building has given investigators a new lead.
“We have what we believe to be a valid sighting of these two individuals getting into a taxi at the intersection of Congress and Michigan Avenue at approximately 2:40 in the morning,” Bochte said. “And the taxi was last seen heading southbound on Michigan Avenue.”
It wasn’t until about 7 a.m. that someone noticed they were missing from their cells
Bochte said the two fugitives were not dressed in orange prison jumpsuits when they got in the cab, but in lighter clothing.
The FBI is offering a $50,000 reward for information that leads to the convicts’ capture.
Kenneth Conley, 38. and Jose Banks, 37, used a makeshift rope of bedsheets to somehow slip out of a 15th floor window at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, and rappelled to the ground.
The FBI said Wednesday that they have received several tips and they believe the two are still in the Chicago area.
Bochte said the FBI knows Banks and Conley ended up in Tinley Park at Conley’s mother’s home, but it’s not clear if they went all the way there by cab.
The inmates shared the same cell. Conley pleaded guilty in October to robbing about $4,000 from a bank in Homewood. Banks, the so-called “Second-Hand Bandit,” was convicted last week of four bank heists.
During Banks’ trial, overseen by U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer, Banks represented himself, and was frequently disruptive. At one point, he tried to walk out of court and the judge ordered him restrained to a chair.
Pallmeyer and federal prosecutors who played a role in Banks’ ultimate conviction have been given or offered special protection, because of threats Banks reportedly made after he was found guilty.
“That is correct. Measures have been taken by both the United States Marshals Service and by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, to ensure the safety the safety of those individuals threatened,” said Thomas Trautmann, the acting special agent-in-charge of the FBI’s Chicago office.
Authorities said Banks stole at least $589,000, but only $56,000 was recovered.
Chicago Police Supt. Garry McCarthy called the fugitives’ escape “remarkably crazy.” He said his officers are actively involved in the manhunt.
“I can’t see a rational person climbing down bedsheets from more than a couple of feet,” he said.
Federal authorities issued arrest warrants for Conley and Banks, charging them with escape. According to the criminal complaint, both Conley and Banks were present during a 10 p.m. head count on their tier Monday night. The two were being housed in the same cell.
Around 7 a.m., MCC employees arriving at work spotted a long line of attached bedsheets dangling from the 15th floor of the high-security facility in the Loop. There also was a black harness on the end. It appeared the inmates broke out a window and chipped away at the concrete blocks to make an opening for them to escape.
When officers searched the cell belonging to Banks and Conley after the makeshift rope was spotted, neither inmate was there. Both beds contained several pieces of clothing and sheets that were gathered under a blanket, in the shape of a body.
A former inmate at the MCC, Betty Loren-Maltese, told Newsradio she was surprised the inmates could get away with putting clothes and pillows under their blankets to make it appear they were asleep.
“That’s not how officers do count, or that’s not how they’re trained. I know I myself would have a habit of putting the blanket over my head because it would be cold, and the officer would come in and take the cover off because they have to physically and visually see your face,” she said.
Sources told CBS 2 that Conley took a Metra train to his mother’s house this morning, where he apparently ate breakfast. The FBI said Conley and Banks were last seen in the Tinley Park area. A SWAT team was seen entering the home in the 6600 block of 175th Street around 11:30 a.m. Police were searching the neighborhood, including the Tinley Park Metra station, as well.
Police dogs picked up the suspects’ scent at the home in Tinley Park, and followed it to the Metra station in New Lenox. The dogs lost the scent at the strain station, and authorities believe they might have boarded a Metra train there. Police were checking the Metra station in Joliet to see if there’s any trace of the fugitives there.