Sometime before 2:45 a.m. Tuesday, authorities say, convicted bank robbers Kenneth Conley and Joseph Banks apparently broke their cell window, then rappelled down about 20 stories using a makeshift rope made of bed sheets. They then changed clothes and caught a cab out of downtown.
During the 1985 escape, two convicted murderers used a weight to break a cell window, then shimmied down the side of the Metropolitan Correctional Center using bed sheets and an electrical cord. A car was waiting to take them to Milwaukee.
The 1985 escapees managed to elude police for months before they were found — one in Pennsylvania, the other in Mississippi.
As of Thursday morning, Conley and Banks' whereabouts remained unknown.
But the manhunt has expanded, with the authorities raiding houses and combing through records looking for anybody with ties to the former inmates and the FBI offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to their apprehension.
Law enforcement officials said the pair were seen getting into the cab around 2:45 a.m. — 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," Special Agent Frank Bochte said.
Law enforcement officials said at least three homes in the suburbs south of Chicago where one of the inmates once lived were searched Tuesday, and a suburban strip club where Conley once worked confirmed that investigators had visited.
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 person, who was not authorized to discuss the investigation so would speak only on condition of anonymity, said authorities also searched the home of a former girlfriend of Conley in nearby New Lenox, where the escapees had eaten breakfast.
Many questions remained about how the two managed to pull off such an escape from the federal prison. 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 without being heard or seen by correctional officers, and why correctional officers didn't notice the men were missing between a 10 p.m. headcount and one at 5 a.m.
It's unclear if guards may have been fooled by items the FBI said the men stuffed under their beds to make it appear they were there.
The 1985 case of escapees Bernard Welch and Hugh Colomb was described in the book "Ghost Burglar," by Jack Burch and James B. King. After that escape, several people — including some fellow inmates — were charged with assisting the escapees by smuggling materials into the prison that the men used to punch a hole in their cell wall.
Associated Press writer Sara Burnett contributed to this report.