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Dragnet For Fugitives Expands to Malone Area

As the manhunt for escaped prisoners Richard Matt and David Sweat lingers into its 19th day, law enforcement has focused the search west of the Clinton Correctional facility.

Flanked by law enforcement officials from federal, state, Clinton and Franklin counties, the New York State Police provided an update on the search at midday Wednesday.
The search continues to be focused in a region near Dannemora in the town of Belmont, a sprawling area west of the prison and south of Malone, according to Troop B Commander Major Charles Guess.  “Our current search area is approximately 75 square miles within Franklin County. Although no evidence that the escapees exists that the escapees are in the town of Malone or the village of Malone, a search will begin in that area in an attempt to insure the safety of area residents.”  

Guess noted that more than 2,200 leads are being investigated with sightings reported daily.   “So far none of the sightings have been substantiated.  We have dozens of experienced investigators who are tracking each lead.  Again, we ask the public to remain alert, take necessary safety precautions and remain vigilant about reporting anything that is out of the ordinary.”

Police say DNA evidence shows that Matt and Sweat had taken refuge in a remote hunting cabin on Black Cat Mountain near Mountain View and Owls Head sometime Saturday.  Guess clarified there is no confirmable visual witness to their presence.  “We have virtually 100% assurance that they were in that area.  Even though we have a subject that we interviewed who reported the sighting, we don’t have a definitive physical description from that subject.  He saw someone fleeing into the woods.”

Guess says there’s no way to tell if the fugitives are armed, but adds weapons and ammunition are typically stored in many of the hundreds of hunting camps in the area. He concludes it’s not unreasonable to assume that the pair could have obtained firearms.  “I do not have confirmatory evidence that a particular shotgun is missing.  I would point out to you that just about every cabin or out-building in the North Country has one or more shotguns or weapons.  We have since day one operated under the belief that these men are armed.  They’re extremely dangerous.  They’re cunning. Why wouldn’t they try to arm themselves immediately upon escape?”

New York State Forest Ranger Captain John Streiff emphasized that the Adirondack Park is the largest wilderness area east of the Mississippi River. He says searchers have had to work in an environment presenting significant challenges due to remoteness, terrain, vegetation and changing weather conditions.  “Searchers have had to work in an environment which presents significant challenges due to remoteness, terrain, vegetation and ever-changing weather conditions.  This area contains mountains, hills and ravines that range from gentle to very steep.  The area is heavily forested.  The undergrowth in these lands is thick.  Rivers, streams, ponds and large wetlands are also present. The wetlands are challenging with a combination of water, thick bogs and dense vegetation.  Searchers are methodically moving through and environment where it is not only difficult to navigate but the distance you can see ahead of you is sometimes only a few feet or less. In addition searchers are exposed to large amounts of rain and biting insects.  It should be pointed out that the remoteness of the area and the conditions I have described are the very reason the Clinton Correctional facility was built in Dannemora more than a hundred years ago.”

So far only prison tailor shop employee Joyce Mitchell has been charged in conjunction with the escape.  Corrections Officer Gene Palmer was placed on administrative leave as the investigation continues into how contraband was brought into the prison.
Guess says the internal investigation into any help the fugitives may have had continues to develop.  “What we know for sure is that Joyce Mitchell, who has been arrested and charged,  assisted them. Our investigators, all investigators,  are exploring what other further leads or collaborative efforts could have used to aid them in their escape.”

Matt and Sweat, both convicted murderers, used power tools to cut their way out of the Clinton Correctional Facility in Dannemora on June 6.

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