CBSN

Escaped inmate was already infamous in Mississippi town

VICKSBURG, Miss. --Even before escaping from jail on Wednesday, Rafael McCloud was perhaps the most well-known accused criminal in Warren County, Miss.

Local and federal officials are currently hunting McCloud, accused of rape, murder and other crimes, after he escaped from Warren County Jail Wednesday. Police say he used a homemade knife to corner a jail employee, stealing the person's uniform, keys and radio, before fleeing.

It was a stunning turn in a story that Warren County District Attorney Richard Smith, Jr., said had already "garnered the most attention of just about any case that I have dealt with."

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Kuhn Memorial State Hospital
CBS affiliate WJTV

McCloud is accused in the June 28, 2015 killing of 69-year-old Sharon Wilson, whose body was discovered by a group of so-called ghost hunters exploring a notorious, nearly two century old, abandoned hospital. Police told 48 Hours' Crimesiderin June that the ghost hunters found Wilson's body in tall brush just outside the Kuhn Memorial State Hospital.

They had seen blood inside the building, and followed its path -- along which police said at the time Wilson was likely dragged -- down a flight of stairs and out of the building.

McCloud was arrested that day, allegedly driving McCloud's car. Smith said Wilson's ordeal began the night before, when McCloud allegedly showed up at Wilson's house.

"He entered her home at night, held her against her will throughout the night and during that period of time sexually assaulted her," Smith said. Authorities believe McCloud and Wilson previously knew each other only in passing.

"He may have done some yard work for her in the past," Smith said.

Police believe McCloud ransacked Wilson's home, then brought her to Kuhn, where she was shot and killed.

The crime shocked the small town just east of the Louisiana border, along the Mississippi river, and the unique circumstances of the discovery of Wilson's body drew national attention. McCloud became something of a household name among Vicksburg residents, which the town's police chief, Walter Armstrong, says may help authorities catch him.

"They're very familiar with who he is around here, because the initial crime got front page news and was on TV for weeks," Armstrong said.

Authorities said in June that McCloud admitted "some involvement" in killing Wilson, but he pleaded not guilty after being indicted in January on charges of capital murder, sexual battery, rape, arson, home invasion, being a felon in possession of a firearm and grand larceny auto theft, records show. His trial is scheduled to begin in June.

Now, dozens of officers from local, state and federal agencies are searching for the suspect, who is believed to still be armed with at least the knife he used to escape.

Armstrong said Thursday that authorities spent the morning following up on leads developed Wednesday night. McCloud hasn't been captured, but police have recovered the green pants McCloud wore when he escaped.

"He had to have gotten a change of clothing somehow. We don't know if it's through help or if he got the clothes through some other means," Armstrong said. He added that police received phone calls on both Wednesday and Thursday from people who believed they spotted McCloud.

All of the calls came from within Vicksburg, and Armstrong indicated he believes McCloud would need help to get out of town.

"Rafael would not be able to go anywhere without somebody aiding him, because he doesn't have any money, he doesn't have transportation," Armstrong said.