How did two deadly felons escape Clinton Dannemora Prison? Let us show you.

Saturday morning, Corrections officers in Clinton-Dannemora Prison in the northern Adirondacks found that two high-risk inmates had vanished from their cells in the maximum security portion of the facility.  In more than a century, no prisoner had ever managed to flee that section of the lock-up, which stands behind a massive white wall in a remote corner of New York state just south of the US-Canada border.  So how did they do it?  Here’s what we know from photographs and information provided by New York state officials Saturday afternoon.

“When you look at how it was done, it was extraordinary,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo.  “You look at the precision of the operation, it was truly extraordinary…it was elaborate, it was sophisticated.  So this was not easily accomplished”

Here’s how the inmates escaped their cell. All Photos: Office of Gov. Cuomo

Step One: Here’s how the inmates escaped their cell. All photos: Office of Gov. Cuomo

Step One:  First, Richard Matt and David Sweat dug a hole through a wall of their cell that was partially concealed behind a bunk-bed, leaving dummies in their places to fool guards who were doing headcounts.  The ruse wasn’t discovered until just before 6 am Saturday morning.  “This morning, we noticed…the two cells which were adjoining each other were empty,” said Acting Corrections Commissioner Anthony Annucci, speaking outside the prison.

Step Two: They emerged onto this catwalk, where the inmates apparently had access to power tools.

Step Two: They emerged onto this catwalk, where the inmates apparently had access to power tools.

Step Two:  From there, the two men “went onto a catwalk which is about six stories high,” Annucci said.  “We estimate they climbed down and had power tools and were able to get out of this facility through tunnels, cutting their way in several spots.”

Step Three: The men navigated non-secure parts of the prison.

Step Three: The men navigated non-secure parts of the prison.

Step Three:  The men apparently had the information needed to navigate a series of utility tunnels, cutting their way through at least one metal wall as they made their way through the facility’s non-secure areas.  Governor Andrew Cuomo on Saturday toured a part of the path that the men followed.

Step Four: Cutting through a steam pipe to create an escape tunnel. They left behind a taunting note (yellow post-it says "Have a Nice Day").

Step Four: Cutting through a steam pipe to create an escape tunnel. They left behind a taunting note (yellow post-it says “Have a Nice Day”).

Step Four:  At a key point, again using power tools, the inmates “were able to cut through a steam pipe at both ends,” Annucci said, describing the escape as a “very elaborate plan.”  It appears that the inmates actually clambered through a section of the steam pipe, visible here at right.

Step Five: Out through a manhole cover.

Step Five: Out through a manhole cover.

Step Five:  The inmates eventually escaped the prison entirely by crawling out through a manhole cover located on the village of Dannemora’s main street.  Their current location remains unknown with a massive manhunt now underway, shown below at left.  “This is quite an unusual occurrence,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo.  “It was an elaborate plot.  It was elaborate, it was sophisticated, it encompassed drilling through steel walls and steel pipes.”

What Comes Next:  These inmates are viewed as highly dangerous.  A massive manhunt and an investigation are now underway.  “This was not easily accomplished,” Cuomo said.  “The suggestion that they needed power tools to accomplish this, how did they get power tools?”

127 Comments on “How did two deadly felons escape Clinton Dannemora Prison? Let us show you.”

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  1. DRnitaozona says:

    I’m sure I’m not the only one who is going to be asking this. If they used power tools that cut through metal pipes & other things like WALLS, why didn’t anyone hear it? Power tools make an immense amount of noise. So I guess that the only people who can get hired at the Clinton Dannemara are deaf.

  2. Scott heniski says:

    How did they escape. Nys doc in max does not check beds after 12am count. To lazy. So those 2 inmates have a 5 almost 6 hours run.

  3. Dakota Rabideau says:

    Well. I visited Dannemora a month ago with my class of Security and Law. And some of these..Workers aren’t really that much caring of their job. They’re slackers and don’t really care much of presentation and don’t do much but sit there, Laugh, Smile and do nothing. While others try and do everything they can. It’s terrifying inside and legit when we visited there was utterly no possible way to escape. So somehow a guard was either in on this or turned a blind eye or miscounted. One way or another there is someone on the inside job if they’re able to do something this smart and go unnoticed.

  4. The Original Larry says:

    Good reporting, Brian, and the most comprehensive account I have seen. I was unaware that nobody had previously escaped Dannemora. Now for the questions: how did they get the tools, how did they power them and how did they conceal the noise? I loved the incisive, penetrating commentary of our esteemed governor.

  5. DRnitwit,
    Go back to step 2 where they climbed down 6 stories to the bowels and tunnels of the prison. So I wonder how someone didn’t hear anything through 60 feet of concrete. ps use spell check

  6. Joanne Balch says:

    I think there are a number of guards that have day time jobs and are resting while on duty. This is a disappoint to the community, and NY State has some explaining to do.

    It is difficult to conceal noise when using power tools to cut through steel.

  7. shana says:

    Sounds like a Sony Pictures film to me. Two guys, one light one dark…..”Matt” and “Sweat”….give me a break. No, wait, there already is one …..supposedly.

  8. Ken Hall says:

    Does this purported escape scenario make sense? For instance the sentence ” at a key point, again using power tools, the inmates “were able to cut through a steam pipe at both ends,”” to which I inquire “why” if they had access to both ends of the pipe would they need to attempt to slide through the pipe?” Additionally the pipe which is claimed to be a steam pipe would be an inordinately poor steam pipe because it appears to be completely uninsulated which would result in tremendous heat loss along the length of the pipe. Look at the amazingly straight clean cuts which are on display in the photo of the cut pipe. I would be highly suspect of anyone who thinks such straight clean cuts could be made with sweaty hands, rapidly beating hearts and hand held tools. Looking at the photo one can observe an electrical power cord on the floor near the pipe where it passes through the floor. Assuming it to be a run of the mill 16 gauge nominally 15 amp cord, similar to those I have access to, it will be about 3/8 inches in diameter. Using that 3/8 inch guesstimate for the power cord I would estimate the diameter of the pipe at 16 inches or less, likely less, which are mighty small quarters to be attempting to slither through.

    The escape is described as a “very elaborate plan.” Yes indeed it does appear to be that and my next question is how would two apparently non-millionaire types pay for such an elaborate plan whilst incarcerated in a maximum security prison? Call me a skeptic but something about this “official” story smells and it is not the fish.

  9. Nate says:

    I find this very odd that we would all assume that the correctin office were sleeping or turned a blind eye, lets think about a different side, there are probably hundreds of contractors that work in the building over the year, if this scheme was done over time, by the same or various contractors?? Also if you notice these pictures, it would take some time and calculation to cut into these steam pipes and figure out the exact route. Also another picture you see the red bricks carefully stacked =, who does that if you are in a hurry,

  10. Don Roy says:

    It appears that the steam pipe was cut by an oxy-acetylene torch, which isn’t very noisy.

  11. Nate says:

    good eye on the cut!! another variable, where did that come from? Ooops, ABC Contractor must have forgot it…..

  12. Don Roy says:

    Appears as though the pipe was cut using an oxy-acetylene torch, which is a relatively quiet metal cutting method.

  13. efrain says:

    Shawshank in the 21 century

  14. Don Roy says:

    Good, Nate…Looks like the pipe-cut was made by a professional metalworker, using a straight-edge guide.

  15. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Oxy-acetylene seems too cumbersome unless tanks were left nearby. Plasma cutter? In any case they did a nice clean job.

  16. Ken Hall says:

    I have owned and used oxy-acetylene cutting and welding torches for 50 years and I can categorically assure one and all that the cuts to the pipe in the photo were not made by an oxy-acetylene cutting torch. When I was much younger I was pretty good with a torch, for a non professional, and I still have an eye for it. Look at the smoothness of the actual cut and one can easily observe the striations produced by a high speed grinding disk. Burning steel (which is what is taking place when one cuts with an oxy-acetylene cutting device) leaves a train of scallops in the burned edges and a rolled edge of melted and burned steel on the away side of the cut. Unless they took the time to carefully clean the interior of the pipe it would also have had iron oxide particles flashed all over the opposite interior wall of the pipe from the central high pressure jet of O2 which actually does the cutting/burning. My guess would be some sort of a stabilized machine guided cutting grinder, somewhat similar to those one might have observed cutting through asphalt and concrete road and sidewalks, designed for cutting in-place structural steel was used. Not likely something the escapees had in their back pockets.

  17. Nate says:

    I hope that all parties involved in the investigation will be able to get to the bottom of this. I would really like to see who was involved and what happens. as for the people that live and work in new York, be safe, we all know that New York is a gun friendly state….. right…… good old safe act.. i’m sure people will be able to protect themselves with rocks and sling shots…..

  18. Jeff says:

    It strains belief that all that heavy demolition was done in the few hours after bed check. It seams more reasonable that somebody,like a contractor, did all or most the heavy cutting and provided route information to the escapees that had most likely never been in the utility tunnels before. Somebody may have even guided them out. Even the cell wall could have been mostly or completely penetrated from the outside.
    This explains away the hard to believe theory that these guys had all kinds of heavy power tools that they silently used to cut their way out. So far, I have not seen any evidence in the media that any tools were shown to be in their possession, only an assumption that they had them.

  19. Pete Klein says:

    Mostly what it points out is that people don’t like to be caged and when there is a will, there is a way.

  20. Amanda says:

    Ok so first of all if you don’t know the whole story don’t be bashing the officers! Second of all there was outside contractors that where working inside the prison and this is how they got the power tools also the inmates worked when the contractors where working so it was very loud and once they got threw there cell wall the tools couldn’t be heard from underground! Also they made it look like they were in there bed when the officers were doing there rounds this is why they didn’t realize there were missing until the morning when they actually wake them up! Also what people don’t understand that this is a serious investigation and just like another investigation there are details that people can’t know until the whole investigation is complete! So all you people just assuming correction officers don’t do there job then go sign up for it and you try to do it then!!!

  21. Earl says:

    I think this may have been a breakIN. It would be even easier for someone on the outside broke INTO the prison with a sawzall. Then tools wouldnt have to be stolen or smuggled into the prison. AND breaking in could have been done over a large time period if desired. Since most of the cuts are in the bowels of the prison, I suspect the only cut that would have actually been audible was the last cut. The cut into the cell itself. But if a sawzall was used, that cut probably took less than 5 minutes. That’s quick enough that the guards probably just missed it, or passed it off as other construction that was going on in the building.

  22. dbw says:

    Imagine that there was just as much planning on the outside, and that these guys are not just hiding in the bushes somewhere in the North Country. I suspect they are long gone by now.

  23. Leslie says:

    I think it is more plausible that someone cut themselves into the prison creating a route for them to escape VS the escapees cutting themselves out. Looking forward to hearing what comes of the investigation and their capture!

  24. Keith says:

    If they cut their way out with the tools — regardless of what tools they used — where are the tools? They wouldn’t have taken the tools with them … would they?

    They didn’t cut their wait out. Someone cut their way in.

  25. Clifford Fewel says:

    The operative term for formal count in the state prison where I work (all custody levels) is “living, breathing flesh,” no doubt derived after the use of cell-made mannequins became an obvious tactic.

    To do this count correctly at night requires a flashlight, patience, and the ability to withstand withering criticism for disturbing an inmate’s rest. Once one does complain, however, the standard is met and it is on to the next bed.

    Rising and falling blankets are the usual way to tell but, if necessary, I will tap the bunk or cell front and call the inmate’s name until a sound or signal from that bed confirms living, breathing flesh. Most inmates understand and will cooperate, however grumpily, given that good correctional practice is seldom convenient for anyone involved.

  26. Curious says:

    There were no cameras near the manhole that they popped out of?
    Any cameras in the areas of the prison that was part of the escape route?
    Does anyone know if these men had any mafia/organized crime ties?
    Any relationships with any workers or contracting firms that worked inside the prison?
    How was the weather on the night they escaped? Any loud storms?
    The moon is nearly full now, maybe they chose this time of the month specifically?

    Hopefully we’ll have a clearer picture soon.
    I dont think there’s a question of it being an inside job. It’s only a question of who it was that helped them.

  27. KC says:

    Seems like a lot had to happen. Maybe a reverse break out where accomplices took their time breaking in to let out the inmates through this route. Even brought in the dummies, etc.

  28. Joenoknow says:

    So the growing consensus here at least is that it was an inside job – literally, they had assistance from someone cutting IN to them. That would clear up the navigation mystery. Also the noise issue, insofar as it could have been done over a long period, inch by inch, day after day, if need be. BTW: how does the best story on this case come from a small site like this? The big journos are behind the curve on this one

  29. Richard Robb says:

    It’s pretty clear in examining the picture of the cut steam pipe, it was done professionaly. This was an outside aided breakout.

  30. Dale Hobson says:

    Break out or break in? The governor’s office is saying the cuts and the digging debris indicate that the work was being done from the inside going out.

    Dale Hobson, NCPR

  31. David says:

    Has anyone noticed the tack welds seen from the catwalk that surround the holes cut into the cell walls? If you look on the other side of each “hole” on the other side of the catwalk there is air vent. These look to be air vents that were removed, not new holes cut.

  32. jeff says:

    To have “dug” through the wall does not seem to be the right term. In the cell, I see no “sawdust and only one big paint chip on the floor. Cutting through that steel wall had to have been noisy. I agree, a sawzall may be quick but it isn’t quiet. I like how nice and square the holes are- nice work. “A” for quality. Why the padding on the bottom of the bunk feet?

    With the closing of much newer prisons, it would seem to be better to have folks in newer more efficient quarters.

    The break-in idea sounds like a possibility. Inflatable dummies perhaps. We don’t know what other noises this work may have been synchronized with. We have a problem in cell 13.

  33. Jean Paldan says:

    I agree with Earl, this seems like it might have been something where someone on the outside helped them with the cuts/escape route. The hole in the wall they would have had to do something from their side. I would not think that other inmates are likely to complain of noise if there is an escape planned. As for the guard on duty…CCTV footage of him walking for bed checks will confirm that. If they had two bunks that it looks like they were filled, it’s not the guys fault. But wonderfully written article. Looking forward to see how this turns out. :)

  34. Sherm Brown says:

    Another superb news story covered by NCPR and Bryan Mann. The comment about other media outlets is accurate.
    Again a smaller station without a big budget outwits and out reports the big guns.

  35. Strickjc says:

    Pretty cool. They either swept up all the chips and dust and didn’t create any to begin with. Their mother’s taught them well…

  36. Dan Meehan says:

    What if someone cut their way in and guided them out?

  37. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    The level of journalism at NCPR is very high. Has been for some time now but it seems they’ve taken it to a higher level in the last months or couple of years even. Still, how lucky can you get that a notorious prison break happens in your own back yard… (Let it sink in, funny on several levels, at least I think so).

    The great thing about this story is that people across the country are saying “6 hours north of NYC?” And getting their maps out.

  38. Truthseeker says:

    Quit covering up and making excuses And soft peddling a Major Systemic failure by the guards . Call it what it is , this is a major screw up .

    If the guards were alert , competant and vigilant this could not happen. . They were asleep at the switch period . Power tools in a max security at the potential disposal of prisoners under obviously lax observation …. Really ?? seriously ??

  39. robertcav says:

    everyone seems to say the inmates got the power tools from the contractors so its not the co fault or other docs employee ,the contractors tool are or should be log in and log out
    when they leave at the end of the day, so someone was not doing his / her job and know one heard anything when all this cutting was going on is total bs. there will be plenty of blame to go around weather sleeping on duty or tool control but first must get these guys back in prison where they belong and pray no one gets killed before this happens

  40. Matt says:

    This doesn’t sound like two guys cutting their way out of prison from the inside out. It sounds like some guy cutting his way *into* prison from the outside. It was a prison break, not an escape.

  41. Dubyas1989 says:

    Well as someone with family working in Clinton prison I am confident in saying the guys on the midnight shift do sleep, all the time, its so widespread its not even looked down on anymore, for every one hundred officers working there, twenty are actually working and the rest are looking for a workers comp case to retire on, most officers on night duty are either too lazy or too scared to do actual counts and just do a “paper count” where they guess that everyone is present and accounted for, perfect for a couple of guys looking to make a getaway. Also why were two convicted murderers housed in the “honor block” that was supposedly for low risk inmates? (I know the article didn’t mention this but its true)

  42. Clifford Fewel says:

    To Jeff at 5:26:
    Inmates will pad the feet of their plastic desk chairs to avoid the loud scraping on concrete floors. Likely the bunk needed to be dragged over to allow them access, so they wrapped the feet to avoid noise and enable the sliding.

  43. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Dale Hobson is trying to confuse us with facts, but we are not going to let him spoil all the fun of uninformed speculation.

    Okay, so where were we? Somebody (probably a biker gang in the area for Americade) opened a manhole cover and found a pipe that led into the prison, dragged in metalworking tools, blueprints of the facility, surveying instruments or GPS system that works underground, cut their way through the pipe in the correct location at the proper time, climbed up and located the proper cells…that’s it! Whoever broke in wasn’t trying to break these prisoners out! They cut into the wrong cells! The real billionaire master minds are still in prison!

    Or maybe Jedi Masters thought they were breaking into a prison holding the nephew of Jabba the Hut. That would explain the neat workmanship with little excess noise.

  44. Beverly stellges says:

    With such an elaborate escape and undetected for hours, no one in the North Country need worry about these two showing up on their doorsteps or in nearby woods. They obviously had transportation waiting for them upon their escape. They also had an elaborate plan for getting as far away from Dannemora as possible! Best bet was to go west and then either south or north to Canada. Either way, they also has a planned destination in mind. It will be quite interesting to see when and if they are ever captured. Also interesting will be whose heads will roll!

  45. Truthseeker says:

    The people responsible for this break made absolutely fools out of Prison guards and the union that boasts how professional they supposedly are . This situation is proof positive that current prison system is inefficient , cost ineffective and proven to be not worthy of continued taxpayer support

    I agree these criminals need to caught , but i also believe that this system has failed systemically and that legislation needs to be introduced that allows ny to PRIVATIZE the prison system . We should challenge our elected representatives to have the courage and leadership to make these changes after this dangerous failure in performance .

  46. Clifford Fewel says:

    Professional corrections officers suffer when others either sleep on the job or become compromised. There are other professions — food service, medical, commissary, to name a few — who are also susceptible to human failings such as lethargy, indifference, vindictiveness, greed, self-righteousness/justification and good, old-fashioned misguided love.

    It is a difficult career path that becomes even tougher to hire for as economies improve. The overall quality of officers has improved over the decades with better laws and more training. This work will always be needed.

    As for privatization, susceptible to all of the above, there are those who say the profit motive leads to increased coddling of inmates to reduce family complaints that look bad to state regulators come contract renewal time.

    More officers and continually improved training as well as hiring practices seems a sound direction in a state-run system; by obligation doing for the people what the people cannot do for themselves.

  47. Elizabeth says:

    The fact that individuals made mistakes, or that there are one or two guards who did not do their job, does not a “systemic failure” make. They definitely screwed up, proved by the escape/break out of the prisoners. But does that mean that the rules and systems in place are inadequate, or that there was a failure to follow the rules in one part of the chain of command? This article doesn’t answer that so there’s no need to make such broad claims. It might be the case but nothing here suggests that.

    I’m curious as to why they broke out two, if it was a break out. One knew somebody, the other paid? Or what?

    The final story should be really interesting but in the meantime I certainly hope that this does not lead to violence against whomever may have given information that put these guys behind bars. Ugh!

  48. Ken Hall says:

    While perusing my BBC home page article about the Clinton Correctional escape I came across an additional photo of the Governor and a corrections officer which provides additional insight into the steam pipe. My initial surmise based upon the photo provided by NCPR was in error because it is indeed a steam pipe. In the BBC photo one can see the cleanly removed section of insulation and the Governor’s head as well as the corrections officer’s lower body in relatively close proximity to the cut in the pipe. I will however continue to contend that the inside diameter of the pipe is less than 16 inches, probably somewhat less, and likely has not one iota to do with the escape scenario. My current revised surmise about the piece of wall removed from the steam pipe is that it was a contracted work order to completely disable the steam system in that portion of the prison. The logical why is that the insulation that the Governor is filling his lungs with air cheek by jowl to, is likely “asbestos” because that was the insulation of choice for steam heat systems from the early 1900’s to the late 1970’s early 80’s. There is not much likelihood that the low pressures used for heating steam would burst through the steel pipe but the expansion and contraction of the pipe, as the call for heat cycles up and down, would over time start to fracture the medium in which the asbestos is entrained and allow asbestos particle to waft about in the air. If I am correct, which corrections officer is going to tell the Governor how closely to the neatly trimmed edge of the asbestos insulating blanket he was, while filling his lungs with air?

    It would appear that “Dubyas1989” may have cleared up a puzzlement that I have had with the room in which the prisoners were housed, because it has what appears to be sheetrock, wallboard, gypsum board or what ever your preferred name is, on the walls rather than concrete. Dubyas1989 asserts that the prisoners were not in maximum security rather they were in “honor block” which is, one would presume, to house “low risk” inmates. Ah yes the plot sickens; perhaps the threat to the populace at large is being a bit overblown if these two inmates in a maximum security prison had been assessed by someone with psychiatric credentials as a “low risk” danger to others in the prison and thereby assigned to the honor block.

    I have attempted to attach the photo from BBC here in vain so here is the link to the BBC article; the photo with the insulating blanket and the Governors head is the fifth photo down:

  49. chris says:

    Ok, not too sure if this has been said yet, since I do not have time to read all of the above.


  50. CityTrucker says:

    Having spent time in maximum security and isolation in US prisons, I can attest that thoughts of escape and searches for such opportunities are a constant preoccupation. Its clear that they had plenty of help and its extremely likely that they left Dannemora town long before the alarm was sounded.

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