FORT MADISON, Iowa – The search for two inmates who escaped from the Iowa State Penitentiary is continuing as police say one of the men could still be hiding in town.
"We're urging friends and neighbors to check on each other ... and report anything unusual," Police Chief Randy Van Wye said Tuesday.
Law enforcement in neighboring states have been notified to be on the look out for Martin Shane Moon, 34, and Robert Joseph Legendre, 27. The men are believed to have escaped about 5:30 p.m. Monday by scaling over an unguarded prison wall, prison officials said.
Legendre and Moon were serving life sentences. Van Wye said the men should be considered armed and dangerous.
Authorities believe the escaped prisoners stole a 1995 gold Pontiac Bonneville with Iowa plates 776-NOW that was parked outside a Fort Madison home.
Janel Nye, 29, the vehicle's owner, said she parked and left her car to drop off one of her two sons at her sister's house before reporting to work at a grocery store. Nye said she left the car running, knowing her visit would be quick.
"I know I shouldn't have done that but I always felt safe in my community," Nye told The Associated Press. "I wasn't inside more than two minutes. When I left, I had to look three times, then I started freaking out."
Police said Nye reported her car stolen at about 6:30 p.m. Nye's sister's house is about 1½ miles west of the prison.
State Sen. Gene Fraise, D-Fort Madison, said he was told by prison officials that the inmates scaled a prison wall near an unmanned guard tower.
"The only thing I know for sure is they went over the wall in the southwest corner with a rope and a grappling hook they fashioned out of metal from somewhere," Fraise said.
He said the inmates got past a taut-wire designed to activate an alarm when touched, and got over razor wire at the top of the wall.
Fred Scaletta, a corrections department spokesman, said the inmates used upholstery webbing, a material used in the furniture production at a Prison Industries facility inside the prison, to scale the wall.
The guard tower in that section had been unmanned since 3 p.m. — a policy that Fraise said was implemented due to state budget cuts.
"I don't want to say I told you so, but those towers were put there for security, and when you don't man those towers, that puts a hole in your security," Fraise said.
"Budget cuts are part of it," Scaletta told The Associated Press. "There is more to it than that."
Rep. Lance Horbach, R-Tama, criticized Fraise for suggesting budget cuts were a factor in the escape.
"The assertion that staffing levels were inadequate is false and misleading," he said. "In reality, we should explore why the taut wire system failed to alert guards and security staff that these two convicts were attempting to escape.
"We should first focus on finding the at-large criminals, and stop pointing fingers in a blatant attempt to capitalize on a very frightening situation," Horbach said.
Prison spokesman Ron Welder said the prison was locked down following the escape.
The inmates were working inside penitentiary walls for Prison Industries when the escape occurred, Welder said.
Legendre was convicted of attempted murder in the state of Nevada and was transferred to Iowa in December 2004.
Moon was convicted in Clarke County and sent to prison in 2000 for the 1990 shooting death of his roommate, Kevin Dickson.
Moon is a white male, 6 feet tall, 185 pounds with green eyes and brown hair. Legendre is white, 5 feet 11 inches tall, 178 pounds with brown hair and brown eyes.
The Iowa State Penitentiary, just a block from U.S. Highway 61 and close to a bridge that crosses the Mississippi River to Illinois, opened in 1839 and is the oldest prison in the United States west of the Mississippi River.
Its maximum security section has a capacity of 550 inmates, and including minimum security and other sections the prison has an overall capacity of 1,166, Welder said.
The escape from the maximum security unit is the first successful breakout since five inmates fled by hiding in a garbage truck in March 1979, Welder said. Those inmates were later captured at the county landfill.