Chicago Inmates Tie Together Bedsheets, Escape Federal Prison

Joseph "Jose" Banks and Kenneth Conley are at large after climbing down 17 stories of Chicago's Metropolitan Correctional Center — and then hailing a cab to flee the scene.

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Jose Banks, left, and Kenneth Conley

UPDATE — Dec. 21, 2012, 9:14 a.m.: One of the pair of convicted felons who escaped from Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center was captured without incident Thursday night after a four-day manhunt, FBI officials told the Associated Press. Joseph “Jose” Banks was captured and arrested on the city’s north side.

The search for Banks’ cellmate Kenneth Conley, who escaped with him, continues.

On Monday morning, FBI officials say Banks, 37, and Conley, 38, escaped from the MCC, where they were awaiting sentencing on separate bank robbery charges, by tying a series of bedsheets together and sliding down 17 stories to the street. Workers coming in at about 7 a.m. noticed the makeshift rope; a head count confirmed the two men had gone missing. (In addition to using one of the oldest escapes in the book, they had also stuffed clothing and sheets under their blankets to make it look as if they were asleep in their cell.)

The Chicago Tribune reported that the duo fled the area by hailing a cab — something fairly easy to do on an early weekday morning in an area one block from the Chicago Board of Trade and two blocks from Grant Park. Banks and Conley made their way to Conley’s mother’s home in Tinley Park, southwest of the city, but were sent away.

The two escapees have lengthy criminal records. Conley has been convicted of a variety of crimes from theft to weapons violations, the Tribune said. He did eight years in prison for armed robbery in 1996 and spent six years in prison in San Diego for petty theft. In 2010, he robbed a bank of $4,000 — the crime he was to be sentenced for when he made his escape from the MCC.

Banks is regarded as one of the most notorious if not eccentric bank robbers in recent Chicago memory. He did three years each for a burglary in 1994 and an attempted burglary in 1997, the Tribune said. Known to authorities as the “Second Hand Robber” because of the used clothes he’d wear as disguises, Banks is suspected in at least a dozen heists. He was arrested four years ago on robbery charges and has chosen to represent himself in court, insisting last week to U.S. District Judge Rebecca Pallmeyer that he could not be prosecuted because he was not an American citizen but a “Moorish National from the Republic of Illinois.” He also appeared to threaten the judge, saying “you’ll hear from me.”  Banks, like Conley, was convicted and in MCC awaiting sentencing.

The two are the first to escape from the MCC facility since 1985, when a very similar breakout took place. In that caper, convicted killers Bernard Welch and Hugh Colomb knocked out a cell window with a barbell weight and climbed six stories down to freedom. They were both captured several months later.

While the both men were still at large the FBI had issued a $50,000 reward for information leading to their capture.