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Two Inmates Rappel 15 Stories To Escape From Federal Jail In Loop

Bank Robbers
Jose Banks and Kenneth Conley (Credit: FBI)

UPDATE: 12/19/2012 - 6:30 a.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) -- Two inmates escaped Tuesday morning from the federal jail in the Loop, using bedsheets tied together to rappel 15 floors to the ground.

Both escaped inmates are convicted bank robbers: Kenneth Conley, 38. and Jose Banks, 37. It is believed they escaped from the jail between 5 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. on Tuesday.

They remained at large as of Wednesday morning.

After the duo escaped, 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. It was made from several pieces tied together. There also was a black harness on the end. It appeared the inmates broke out a window and chipped away at the concrete blocks surrounding the narrow window to make an opening for them to escape.

A rope is seen dangling from the side of the MCC (Credit: Suzanne LeMignot

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. The window in the cell had been broken, and the makeshift rope had been tied to its bars.

Metal bars from the cell window were found in a mattress in the cell, and fake metal bars were also found in the cell.

As soon as the escape was discovered, police searched cars in a nearby parking garage. Moments later, there was a report of a person matching Banks' description at the Greyhound bus station downtown.

Damien Wilson had just gotten off a bus from Wisconsin, and was using the restroom when police barged in, shouting.

"They just rattled the doors, and stuff like that, and they said they were the cops,'" Wilson said. "Mainly, it was just weird how they came in the washroom. It kind of shocked me a little bit."

Wilson estimated 30 to 40 officers, apparently SWAT team members, were conducting a search of the station.

"They weren't even like regular cops. They were like a task force," Wilson said. "Some of them had federal badges and stuff, so I knew it was pretty serious."

After not finding Banks or Conley at the bus station, the search continued at a home where a relative of Banks lives on the 1600 block of N. Orchard St. They weren't found there either.

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.

SWAT Team Tinley Park
Law enforcement enter a house in Tinley Park, searching for the escaped prisoners. (Credit: Jon Windish)

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.

Several schools in and near Tinley Park were placed on "soft lockdown" Tuesday afternoon, meaning outdoor activities were cancelled or moved inside, and students were being dismissed with increased police presence.

Conley is described as white, six feet tall and 185 pounds. Banks is black, 5-8 and 160 pounds.

Banks has been in custody for four years, charged with robbing a Citibank branch at 2001 N. Halsted in 2007 and other heists.

MCC Escape
Some sort of harness dangles on the end of a makeshift rope outside the MCC. (CBS)

The inmates shared the same cell. Banks, the so-called "Second-Hand Bandit," was convicted last week of four bank heists. Authorities said he stole at least $589,000, but only $56,000 was recovered. The Chicago Tribune reports during one hearing in his case, Banks had to be shackled to a chair after trying to walk out of court.

Conley pleaded guilty in October to robbing about $4,000 from a bank in Homewood.

Chicago police confirmed the two prisoners are missing from the Metropolitan Correctional Center at 71 W. Van Buren St. The MCC is a federal lockup with high security in the Loop.

Police were assisting in the efforts to recapture the inmates but could not provide further details.

Anyone who might have seen the fugitives should call police or the FBI.

Escapes from the MCC are rare.

Two inmates escaped from the sixth floor of the MCC in 1985. Bernard Welch and Hugh Colomb were being housed in the witness quarters of the MCC because they were telling officials about supposed escape plans being hatched in prisons in Downstate Marion and in Atlanta. In reality, Welch and Colomb were making their own escape plans, and they figured it would be easier to escape from the witness quarters.

The inmates smuggled a barbell from the workout area into the cell they shared and punched a hole in the cinder-block wall. They used a 75-foot cord connected to a floor buffer to rappel down the wall to the grassy plaza below.

Three months later, Welch was arrested in Greensburgh, Pa., in a stolen BMW. Two months after that, Colomb was arrested in Canton, Miss., after he robbed a bank, dropped a shotgun and entered a furniture store and tried to pose as a customer.

The Sun-Times Media Wire contributed

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