Why haven’t they caught these convicted murderers yet? Let us show you.

The view from Wolf Pond Road. Investigators think these two inmates are out there...somewhere. Photo: Julia Ferguson

The view from Wolf Pond Road. Investigators think these two inmates are out there…somewhere. Photo: Julia Ferguson

The manhunt for Richard Matt and David Sweat is now in its 19th day. Over the weekend there was a rush of hope after investigators found DNA evidence in a seasonal cabin in Franklin County. With more than 1,000 searchers in pursuit, including helicopters, tracking dogs, and deeply experienced New York State Forest Rangers, it seemed like the two convicted murderers would soon be back behind bars. So what happened?

What we found during our day spent exploring the perimeter of the latest “hot zone” was that this is vast territory, some of the wildest and most remote terrain in the eastern U.S. We began by driving a long stretch of Wolf Pond Road, entering the search area from the direction the inmates might have followed around Lyon Mountain and Dannemora.

Wold Pond Road winds through a wall of green. Photo: Julia Ferguson

Wold Pond Road winds through a wall of green. Photo: Julia Ferguson

With NCPR intern Julia Ferguson snapping pictures, I gained a new sense of just how vast this section of the Great North Woods is. We drove and drove, often grinding through flooded sections, with rushing creeks flanking the dirt track. The forest on both sides was saturated with heavy rain.

Searching a wall of green

A rare road marker showing the way through winding logging roads and ATV tracks.  Photo:  Julia Ferguson

A rare road marker showing the way through winding logging roads and ATV tracks. Photo: Julia Ferguson

And there’s not just one road. As we drove, we saw a snarl of logging roads, hunting camp tracks and ATV trails winding away on both sides. All of that has to be searched. Only the occasional way-marker kept us on track as we made our way toward Mountain View.

We tried to imagine the difficulty of spotting two men in that dense brush who were trying to stay hidden. Matched against this terrain is a small army of trained searchers, men and women who are highly committed to keeping the pressure on Matt and Sweat. We saw a lot of that, too.

A helicopter sweeps overhead, keeping watch over roads and trails.  Photo:  Julia Ferguson

A helicopter sweeps overhead, keeping watch over roads and trails. Photo: Julia Ferguson

As we cut back and circled around through Malone to the northern side of the search perimeter – in the Mountain View-Owl’s Head area near Titus Mountain – we saw more and more State Police, FBI, and other agencies moving in convoys. At one point, we watched two choppers circle an area in tight formation. But that turned out to be a false alarm and soon teams were scattering to probe other areas.

Wilderness and tourist cabins

Another complication is that this area, while wild and remote, is heavily dotted with seasonal structures, cabins, and small tourist enclaves. The truth is that while everyone hopes that these inmates are hungry and exhausted, they may well have found resources on their journey that will help them keep going. That could include food, maps, clothing and even firearms.

Investigators are searching wilderness areas, but they're also scouring small tourist communities like Mountain View south of Malone.  Photo:  Julia Ferguson

Investigators are searching wilderness areas, but they’re also scouring small tourist communities like Mountain View south of Malone. Photo: Julia Ferguson

As we saw the number of structures in the area — many of them still empty and waiting for high summer when seasonal visitors arrive — it became clearer and clearer just how complex this search will be.

State Police, Corrections Officers, and other units have established a cordon around this section of the North Country, hoping to squeeze the area where these men could be hiding or trekking overland, but so far there have been no confirmed sightings.

So where does that leave us? It’s been almost three weeks and in theory, Richard Matt and David Sweat have experienced a living hell since digging and cutting their way out of Clinton Dannemora prison. They may be hungry and weary and bug-eaten enough that they will give themselves up any day.

Guarding the perimeter of the search area just north of Titus Mountain outside of Malone. Photo: Julia Ferguson

Guarding the perimeter of the search area just north of Titus Mountain outside of Malone. Photo: Julia Ferguson

Searchers could also get a lucky strike any moment. One slip-up, one wrong move, and these inmates will be nabbed. But unsatisfying and nerve-wracking as it sounds, this manhunt could still take days or even weeks. “The search area involves a large portion of Franklin County,” State Police acknowledged this week in a statement, “which is mostly rural with very rugged, mountainous terrain.”

After our long drive yesterday, we got a better, more visceral sense of just how daunting the logistics are for this search effort.

–Brian Mann & Julia Ferguson

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62 Comments on “Why haven’t they caught these convicted murderers yet? Let us show you.”

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  1. Noreen says:

    Michael Owen – I don’t believe they are in Canada, but you never know. That’s still quite far from Owls Head (from the last confirmed siting) remember there has been a lot of people calling in saying they think they spotted the inmates. There is a reward out there! I think the media might be a little to blame for some of this stuff happening. My thought it that sometimes too much information isn’t good. Remember way back when supposedly someone saw the men walking along a roadway and darted into the woods when the car came up to them. The news reported that one of the inmates was wearing a blue hoodie and the other a white shirt. Well now with the reward out there the siting down in Friendship, NY the person said they saw two men walking along a railroad track, one was wearing a blue hoodie. Well, I think the police or media should not be giving too much details about the inmates and what they are wearing. Otherwise when the HotLine gets a call and are asked what they are wearing if the police only knew what they were wearing and someone’s description of what they saw matched then the police would know it is a good siting. If it didn’t match then possible it wasn’t the inmates. And I know they can change their clothing. Everyone is trying to get that reward. I think the reward is mainly for maybe Matt and Sweats contacts on the outside… to maybe entice them to turn Matt and Sweat in if they hear from them. I wonder if some of these siteings could be done by Matt & Sweats contacts on the outside. Or maybe they are just people trying to get the reward. I know if I thought I say them I would not call unless I knew for sure it was them. I don’t want to send the LEO on a wild goose chase away from maybe where they really are. And as far as not see where the cabin is… they probably are still thoroughly checking it out. Looking for any clues that might tell them what they have, where they might be trying to go, etc. Then again if they said where this cabin was, how many people out there would be trying to get a close look at this cabin? There could still be evidence up there. And your last statement about looking in the prison (LOL) trying to be funny. Well this isn’t a funny thing… there are two murderers out there and I’m sure they wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. This isn’t a joke.

  2. Noreen says:

    Brittany – what would you do if you had a cabin in the woods and wanted to go check on it? Wouldn’t you go in quietly to make sure you saw someone before they saw you? Think about it… I know I would be quiet to make sure that someone didn’t jump me or attack me. Have you ever hunted? Of course he would have gone in quietly… can you imagine if you drove up to your camp and made a lot of noise… they would hear you coming and maybe plan to jump you and possibly kill you and take whatever you have. And maybe he could see figures inside a window, but depending on where the sun was, that could be just an outline of someone there. Go outside and look in your home window when it bright out… you will probably see a shadow shape of a person, but probably couldn’t determine who it was unless they were right at the window. Yep maybe he yelled out… it could have been one of the other members of the hunting club. Think about it if you saw someone running from your camp, but didn’t get a clear view of who it was, would you just open fire at them. No!! Even if I knew they were around my area of the wood, I wouldn’t just shot at a moving target. It could have been a bunch of teenagers that broke in to the camp to steel stuff and I’m sure he wouldn’t have wanted to shot just anyone even if they were steeling. So if you listen to the police (Guess) you will know that the man saw someone running out the back or side of the building. They were running so I’m sure they didn’t’ stop so he could get a positive look at who they were. But then they tested some items that were found in the cabin to match the DNA. I’ve heard they have like a mobile unit (not sure the exact name) to do the testing. Don’t forget they have these inmates DNA on file… so like someone else mentioned… so they can test it quickly. If you don’t have DNA to compare that is what takes long. So that is why they know there were there on Saturday. But from Saturday on, I don’t believe they have found any more evidence. Just remember, if this man called the police to say he found saw someone in his cabin and they took off running…. By the time the police came and realized it was the inmates and they requested a crew of LEO to the area, those men already had maybe 45 minutes or more a head of them. They are dirty mean men, they are like an animal being hunted… they are going to move and move as quickly as possible. If you have ever been in the woods running you can get yourself turned around very easily or you might be lucky and can go a fairly straight line. It’s going to be hard to be found… even with a 1000 men/women walking through those woods. They could lie down next to a downed tree trunk with brush thick around them while people walk 5 – 10 feet away. I’m sure when those searching for them are going through the woods they are not chain linked together. Haven’t you ever played hide-n-seek? You could be hiding and watching someone go by…you don’t breathe, you don’t move and you wait until they are gone. These guys could be doing the same thing. And I’m sure the searchers are not walking with a dog. They don’t want to get caught and I think they are evil enough that they will withstand a lot before giving up.

    Cyoung – the thermos detectors are a good thought however, how are they in thick areas of woods/brush etc. I was told that those heat thermos ones cannot see through trees, etc. They showed how one worked on a TV. If this was just fairly short brush, maybe, but with the thickness of the forest… probably not.

    I have heard all the agencies are not working well as they want to all get the credit. Sad but true. I think it should be a joint effort, but that’s not the way it is.

    I’m not too sure they are long gone… they may have moved from that cabin, but unless they hi-jack a vehicle or hop on a truck heading out of the area I can see that they probably are still in the area. It could be in another township or something, but I don’t see that they are too far on foot. There is a lot of fresh flowing water out there and if they happened to have grabbed some sort of container to put some in they could keep going. You can eat plants, possible wild berries, and if desperate enough grubs… I’m sure it’s not a picnic out there from them, but they don’t want to go back to prison so they will push on. I’m just hoping that they turn on each other. Remember no one knows what they have with them… compass, knives, possibly now they have guns, but do they have bullets, did they find some maps, they could have stolen food from various cabins and probably not everyone has checked there cabins. Some people probably only use them during hunting season. I believe they will get caught… the problem is we don’t know when. I do agree that the ATV’s they might be using will alert these prisoners to where the search is moving which might give them an advantage to move out of the area.

    Ed Low – I agree with you, how does a former law enforcement officer know what they say they know – unless they are part of the team that is working on finding these men. I think when they talk to a former LEO, and they say things about the search and they say things that are or are not happening. How do they know? I think the media is the problem… I think they should only be putting out there truthful information… only what they know. If they don’t know then don’t say anything.

    Rick – I have heard the same about the DNA testing and in order to move with anything they find they have a mobile type unit that can check to find a match. It might not be a thorough as with a lab, but it’s enough so the police will know they can move in that direction.

    Dan – how do we know that these men do not have any experience with being in the wilderness? And while in prison they can exercise, so they could be in shape physically. Don’t you think if you were being hunted you could go the extra mile to stay a live. Also, I’m sure there will be changes in the prison system, but you have never worked there so don’t critize these men/women or there policy and procedures. I’m sure you follow the rules to everything to a T, right? If you only knew the rights that prisoners have while incarcerated it would make you sick. I think there should be some changes to the prison system, but someone out there feels that these criminals have rights. There are flaws in all parts of government, state and local, city, etc. there are flaws in the legal system, we could go on and on. Talk about a major shake up, we could talk about a major shake up of the Welfare system, we could go on and on.

  3. Noreen says:

    Brian Mann – Thanks for the report. I’m so glad you showed some photos. It shows how dense this area is. And it seems like a 1,000 men/women helping with this search is a lot, but this area is so large and thick. I myself honestly think they need to bring in more, but then there will be more people stepping on each others toes. Maybe they need to bring in the Army? I just hope the next time someone sees these men they get a picture and can prove it’s them so they can move even more quickly to flush them out of hiding. They may eventually give up, but if you knew you might have to go back to prison wouldn’t you find a way to survive? I’d rather know they are in an area than not. What’s scary is that even if you saw someone running across your back yard, but weren’t sure if it was them would you shoot a gun at them? A lot of people say they are armed, me myself included, but if I wasn’t sure it was them I couldn’t shoot my gun at someone. Then again if they were coming charging at me I think I could. But these men probably know no one is going to shoot them. They had on the news that people could get sued if someone shot at them and they were hurt or killed. So that makes you think. I hope they make a mistake and walk right back in the direction of those searching for them. But if they have weapons, then those out there searching are at risk. Praying all this ends soon with no one getting hurt.

  4. John Doe says:

    All very good points.
    But let’s just say they had help from outside. It’s possible… They wouldn’t be in the area. If they were still in the area by now they would need clothes, shoes (Prison issues shoes are no good in those woods) and food. All they would need to do is get to Central NY and wait it out at 1 million dollars a day we can’t keep the search up that much longer.

    Look at the Death Row inmates that broke out of the Mecklenburg Correctional Center, hugging the North Carolina, one was found over 1000 miles away near the Canadian Border.

  5. Bubba Cripps says:

    Pray tell- wouldn’t smart prisoners like these, that had such a meticulous plan, have used disguises and tried to steal a car and get out of the jurisdiction to avoid thousands of NY state troopers? Lots of intermodal transportation in nearby Plattsburgh, for instance.
    Yes, west from prison is the dense Adirondacks but in the end it eats people up. Not a long term solution. I’m perplexed by this as an escape route.

  6. Terry says:

    I haven’t looked into the legality of calling in the soldiers stationed at Camp Drum to help here. Would that be a possibility?

  7. XCamo says:

    Folks, Here’s a few facts to go check out.
    I recall reading that Matt and Sweat both have experience dealing with this kind of terrain, and maybe even these areas. One was born not far from Owls Head. The other was born in Buffalo, NY. One of them broke out before, and was not immediately recaptured. So he has experience on how to stay out and not be found. As harsh as the environment can be, this is the most benign time of the year, in that area, by comparison, and living on the run, hunting camp to camp, could be too easy, if they stay clear of other people. Searching by scent, probably does no good in the rain. The officers have to be sneak up on these guys, or they’ll be heard. It’s quiet out there. But how do they sneak up with so many, and so much ground to cover?

  8. jeff says:

    A large portion of the area has been in corporate ownership for many years (over 156 square miles) and open only to people who lease the land and those who manage it. So the idea that there are guides who can help is extremely limited. Plus guides are not police and this is not like looking for a lost, non-hostile person. Timber has been harvested steadily throughout the area so brush and debris impedes vision. In alder thickets visibility isn’t 10 feet in some places.

    Given that the escapees could be anywhere it is not a matter of going to the places people don’t know about. Everywhere is a possible location. A swale among hobblebush. A space between some surface bolders. A downed tree in a recently expanded beaver dam. This area has cabins that may provide food, the state forever wild lands have very very few. The region in the northern Adirondacks is better suited to getting away for that reason.

    If I was them, dragging a gun along would be a waste of effort. If they give up they should do it with some style. Relax on a porch in some camp chairs where the public can find them, stand in a clearing and wave in a helicopter. Call Brian Mann and give an interview….

  9. Margaret Osborne says:

    Don’t they have thermal imaging that could possibly help or is that just in the movies?

  10. Sheila says:

    I’m curious: what do North Country residents think the chances are that these convicts are even still alive? My husband and I take hiking vacations and we can’t see how inexperienced people could survive more than a week up there. Maybe if you were brought up in that environment as so many commenters were, you could. But these guys?

  11. michael owen says:

    Thanks Noreen, at least you have the courage to respond. I guess we won’t know the answer to any of this until they get caught.

    I’m suspicious in part because rewards are often something people speculate on and calling the cops is a bad habit lots of people have for self important reasons or the “What’s he building in there” tendency. Let’s not forget that GITMO is full of people who were just folks somebody wanted to get rid of, and despite the Comander In Chief’s promises to the contrary, it seems to take a Republican approval to close it. Declaring war without Congress notwithstanding.

    I think we need less flag waving and more examination of fact.


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