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Fugitive bank robbers slid down a rope on way to prison escape

Published: Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012 9:58 a.m. CST • Updated: Thursday, Dec. 20, 2012 9:58 a.m. CST

(Continued from Page 1)

(MCT) — CHICAGO—Two fugitive bank robbers who slid down the side of a high-rise federal jail on a rope constructed from bed sheets made their getaway by hopping a cab a few blocks away, authorities said Wednesday as they continued the manhunt for the elusive convicts.

Federal agents obtained video surveillance of Joseph “Jose” Banks and Kenneth Conley jumping into a taxi at about 2:40 a.m, FBI spokeswoman Joan Hyde said. The video showed the two wearing light-colored clothing.

The break helped investigators pinpoint the timing of the bold nighttime escape from some 15 floors above at the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

Banks and Conley, both convicted bank robbers awaiting sentencing, were last accounted for at 10 p.m. Monday during a routine bed check.

After the pair fled southbound in the cab, they banged on Conley’s mother’s door in far southwest suburban Tinley Park at about 7 a.m. but were quickly sent on their way, according to a family member.

The two were last seen walking away from the home at about 7 a.m., Hyde said.

FBI agents were analyzing the video for more leads, including the identity of the cab company, the number of the taxi or even the driver’s name with facial recognition technology.

The FBI also announced on Wednesday a $50,000 reward for information leading the capture of the two fugitives. Banks, 37, was described as black, 5 feet 8 inches tall and weighing 160 pounds, while Conley, 38, is white, 6 feet and 185 pounds. Conley has a tattoo of the devil on his shoulder and a sun tattoo on his back.

With the pair on the loose for a second day, new details were emerging about Conley, the lesser known of the two.

Unlike Banks, who was considered by the FBI as one of the most prolific bank robbers in Chicago history, Conley was facing sentencing on just one bank holdup.

According to court records, Conley has a long criminal history. He has been convicted in Cook County of offenses ranging from retail theft to weapons violations and was sentenced to eight years in prison for an armed robbery in 1996.

Conley was also sentenced to six years in prison in San Diego County for petty theft with a previous conviction, according to California records. Less than a year after his parole in 2010, Conley robbed a bank in suburban Homewood of less than $4,000 cash, the heist that landed in him in the MCC.

Federal court records show Conley had been involuntarily committed at a hospital not long after the May 2011 bank robbery and that he was arrested at the Tinley Park Mental Health Center for violating his California parole.

Conley had been estranged from his family because of his criminal history, said one of his brothers who asked that his name not be printed.

The brother wasn’t home when Conley and Banks arrived at the family home early Tuesday, but he spoke to his mother and sister minutes after it happened.

He said Conley turned up at the Tinley Park home with a man whom family members later identified as Banks.

“He was pounding on the door, and the doorbell was going crazy,” said his brother.

Conley came in, looking frazzled and wearing a white shirt and gray pants, the brother said. “He said ‘Hey, I’m out on bond,’ which we thought was strange, because usually the family gets some notice.”

They asked him to leave on account of his past problems, although one brother gave him a winter coat.

“He’s spent probably half his life in jail,” the brother said. “Do I think he’s capable of doing something dangerous? I don’t know. I hope he just turns himself in.”

Banks, too, has a criminal history, court records show. He was sentenced to three years in prison each for a 1994 burglary and a 1995 attempted burglary.

Banks’ prolific bank spree as the Second Hand Bandit—so named for the discount clothes he wore to his robberies—earned him headlines. He was an aspiring clothing designer when he started knocking off banks.

But his trial in recent weeks added a new level of curiosity about Banks, who represented himself and at times made a quiet spectacle in court as he challenged the proceedings.

At one point the judge ordered he be strapped into a restraint chair, prompting him to tell her felt like Hannibal Lecter.

Banks and Conley were cell mates at the MCC and together plotted only the second successful jail break there in three decades.

The shocking escape appeared to involve extensive planning. In addition to the bed sheets, investigators recovered bars that had been removed from a window as well as fake, replacement ones. The men had also put clothing and sheets under a blanket in both their beds to throw off guards making nighttime checks, authorities said.

After Banks and Conley were seen in Tinley Park, federal and local investigators zeroed in on the south suburban area, executing raids at several locations. The hunt shifted late Tuesday evening to nearby New Lenox, where authorities believed some of Conley’s friends and associated lived.

On Wednesday there was little visible evidence of the manhunt, but FBI officials said the search remains focused in and around Chicago.

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