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Chicago Prison Break Update: Daring escape resembles 1985 breakout, authorities say

Kenneth Conley (left) and Joseph Banks AP Photo/FBI,HOPD

(CBS/AP) CHICAGO - The manhunt has expanded for two convicted bank robbers who pulled off a daring overnight escape from a downtown Chicago jail, which authorities said bore striking resemblance to a similar breakout in 1985.

Pictures: Inmates escape Chicago prison

Authorities said Kenneth Conley and Joseph Banks apparently broke their cell window sometime before 2:45 a.m. Tuesday, then scaled down 20 stories of the Metropolitan Correctional Center using a makeshift rope made out of bed sheets. They then changed clothes and caught a cab out of downtown.

During the 1985 escape, two convicted murderers used a weight to break a cell window, then shimmied down using bed sheets and an electrical cord. A car was waiting to take them to Milwaukee. The escapees managed to elude police for months before they one was found in Pennsylvania and the other in Mississippi.

As of Thursday morning, Conley and Banks' whereabouts remained unknown.

But authorities expanded the manhunt by raiding houses and combing through records looking for anybody with ties to the former inmates. The FBI is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to their apprehension.

Law enforcement officials said the pair were seen getting into the cab around 2:45 a.m., about four hours before workers spotted the rope dangling from the federal jail. The pair changed from their orange jail-issued jumpsuits into light-colored pants and shirts, the FBI said.

"We don't know if they fashioned their own clothes, or what," Special Agent Frank Bochte said.

Law enforcement officials said investigators searched Tuesday at least three homes in the suburbs south of Chicago where one of the inmates once lived, and a suburban strip club where Conley once worked.

Investigators believe the men were at a home in Tinley Park, 25 miles southwest of Chicago, just hours before police SWAT teams stormed it. A law enforcement official said the home belonged to Conley's mother and that the men used a rock to break a window after the woman refused to let the escapees in.

Authorities also searched the home of a former girlfriend of Conley in nearby New Lenox. This is  where the escapees had eaten breakfast, a source told The Associated Press under condition of anonymity.

Many questions remained about how the two managed to pull off such an escape from the federal prison. At the top of the list is how they could have smashed a gaping hole into the wall at the bottom of a 6-inch wide window without being heard or seen by correctional officers, and why correctional officers didn't notice the men were missing between a 10 p.m. headcount and one at 5 a.m.

The FBI said the men stuffed under their beds to make it appear they were there. It's unclear if guards may have been fooled by the items.

The 1985 case of escapees Bernard Welch and Hugh Colomb was described in the book "Ghost Burglar," by Jack Burch and James B. King. After that escape, several people - including some fellow inmates - were charged with assisting the escapees by smuggling materials into the prison that the men used to punch a hole in their cell wall.

Complete coverage of the Chicago Prison Break on Crimesider

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