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Escape down high-rise jail has Chicago wondering: how'd they dare? (+video)

The two convicted bank robbers, cellmates, apparently escaped the high-rise prison in downtown Chicago by rappelling down from the 15th floor on knotted bedsheets in the middle of the night. 

By Staff writer / December 19, 2012

A rope dangles from a window on the back side of the Metropolitan Correctional Center Tuesday, in Chicago. Two convicted bank robbers used a knotted rope or bed sheets to escape from the federal prison window high above downtown Chicago early Tuesday, a week after one of them made a courtroom vow of retribution, to federal judge.

M. Spencer Green/AP

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Chicago

A death-defying escape by two inmates from a high-rise federal prison in downtown Chicago has law enforcement officers, prison officials, and the general public scratching their heads in wonder at how they managed to pull it off without being caught, and that they dared to do it at all.

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Joseph Banks and Kenneth Conley, two convicted bank robbers imprisoned on separate charges, seemingly vanished early Tuesday morning after they apparently rappelled down 15 stories of the Metropolitan Correctional Center, a high-rise federal detention facility, in the middle of the night on a knotted chain of bed sheets secured to the bars of their prison cell.

Prison officials say the pair, recent cellmates not known to have had a previous relationship, somehow slipped through a five-inch wide window to make the escape, raising speculation they may have removed a cinder block to widen the opening.

Before prison officials pulled the knotted sheets back into the cell on Tuesday, the spectacle of the thin rope dangling down the sheer side of the prison from 15 floors up drew gapes and gasps of astonishment from passersby. It was only the second escape ever from the 37-year-old Chicago facility, and the first since the 1980s

Last seen in their cell at 10 p.m. Monday, the pair’s absence was not discovered until nine hours later. They escaped notice by stuffing their beds with clothing to appear they were sleeping throughout the night.

The FBI, which said Wednesday the pair was seen getting into a taxi at 2:45 a.m. Tuesday, is offering a $50,000 reward for information that leads to their capture. So far, the FBI says it has no leads on their whereabouts, though it was focusing the search Wednesday on the Chicago area. The two men are considered dangerous.

While escapes from prison often can capture the public’s imagination, in reality few are successful, says John Paitakes, a criminal justice professor at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., and a former member of the New Jersey State Parole Board. While all inmates usually fantasize about escaping, he says, those that make the attempt are typically facing long prison terms, or need to confront or resolve a personal issue involving a family member, spouse, or significant other.

Mr. Banks, known as the Second-Hand Bandit for wearing thrift-store clothes while carrying out his robberies, was convicted last week on multiple bank robbery counts related to a prolific string of robberies that took place around the Chicago area in 2007 and 2008, while Mr. Conley pled guilty to a single bank robbery in 2011 and was awaiting sentencing Jan. 10. Banks was facing a maximum 80-year sentence, Conley a 20-year sentence.

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