- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 19, 2012

CHICAGO — Two convicted bank robbers who made a daring overnight escape from a high-rise Chicago jail had changed from their prison garb by the time they hopped into a cab near the lockup, investigators said Wednesday as they expanded their manhunt for the men.

Authorities were raiding houses and combing through records looking for anybody with ties to the inmates, who climbed out a jail window and descended 20 stories using a makeshift rope.

The FBI said surveillance footage from a camera near the Metropolitan Correctional Center shows Kenneth Conley and Joseph “Jose” Banks getting into a cab around 2:45 a.m. Tuesday — about four hours before workers spotted the rope dangling from the federal jail.

The pair had 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,” said Special Agent Frank Bochte.

The FBI was offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the apprehension of Conley and Banks, with the manhunt focused mainly on Chicago and its suburbs. Law enforcement officials said at least three homes in the suburbs south of Chicago where one of the inmates once lived were searched Tuesday.

Investigators believe the men had been 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 was that of Conley’s mother and that after the woman refused to let the escapees in, the men used a rock to break a window.

The source, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation so would speak only on the condition of anonymity, said authorities also searched the home of a former girlfriend of Conley’s in nearby New Lenox, where the escapees had eaten breakfast.

In Orland Park, which borders Tinley Park, police Chief Timothy McCarthy said records revealed Conley had been arrested several years ago on a robbery charge. Orland Park officers helped search a house where the associate lives or once lived, he said, but there was no evidence the escaped inmates had been there.

Many questions remained about how the two managed to pull off such an escape from the federal prison in the heart of Chicago. 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 being heard or seen by correctional officers.

Another question is why, in the federal facility that houses some 700 inmates, the correctional officers didn’t notice the men were missing between a 10 p.m. head count and one at 5 a.m Tuesday.

A guidebook for jail inmates indicates there would have been head ounts at midnight and 3 a.m. But inmates aren’t required to stand for those head counts, only for ones at 4 p.m. and 10 p.m. It’s unclear whether guards may have been fooled by items the FBI said the men stuffed under their beds to make it appear they were there.

Authorities also have not said how the two men managed to collect 200 feet of bedsheet or how they broke through the wall.

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