New York escapees bushwhacked, used pepper to elude dogs after breakout

Two convicted murderers who escaped an upstate New York prison last month bushwhacked, tramped through swamps and put pepper in their boots to elude searchers on their tail, according to the coordinator of the massive manhunt.

State Police Maj. Charles Guess provided the Press-Republican of Plattsburgh with details of the search and how David Sweat and Richard Matt were able to outrun law enforcement officers for almost three weeks. The killers went out of their way to confound searchers after their June 6 escape from Clinton Correctional Facility. After a moment of panic when their getaway ride didn’t show up, they walked west from the prison toward the thick woods.

Sweat carried pepper to throw off tracking dogs in the guitar case he packed with food and other provisions squirreled away while in prison.

"They put it in their boots, and whenever they made a significant change in direction or had holed up for a while, they used pepper liberally to throw off the dogs," Guess told the newspaper.

Traveling through the night, the men bushwhacked through the heavily wooded area, knowing that it would be more difficult for searchers. They stole a compass and a transistor radio. Whenever they could, they would travel through water and swamps to elude searchers.

"They wanted to avoid the roads, figuring whenever they were detected as missing from the prison, corrections and law enforcement would descend on those roads," said Guess, who is State Police Troop B commander.

Police shot and killed Matt June 26 in the woods near Malone, about 30 miles from the prison. Sweat was shot by a trooper and captured two days later near the Canadian border. Sweat is now in a different prison and has given his version of the events to investigators.

Sweat has cast himself as the leader of the pair, saying he was the one who broke out of his cell first, climbed down the catwalk and scouted the old prison’s tunnels for a way out. Part of the elaborate plane involved tunneling through a stem pipe. It appeared they had to wait for the heating season to end before cutting into it. The pair popped out of a manhole a block away from the prison.

Authorities said a tailor shop employee, Joyce Mitchell, supplied the pair with hacksaw blades and other tools. She agreed to be their getaway driver but backed out at the last moment, authorities said. She has pleaded not guilty.

Guess, relying on Sweat's account, said Matt panicked after they peered out from under a manhole cover and realized Mitchell was not showing.

"Sweat did what he could to calm him down," Guess said.

They climbed out of the manhole and looked around, trying to figure out what to do, before dropping inside again, regrouping and walking away.

Soon after, a homeowner asked the two why they were on his property.

Sweat calmly apologized and said they had accidentally made a wrong turn.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.