Bank robbers Kenneth Conley, Joseph ''Jose'' Banks still on the run hours after prison escape

Left: Joseph "Jose" Banks; Right: Kenneth Conley
December 19, 2012 4:22:49 AM PST
Two inmates tied together bed sheets and blankets for a makeshift rope to escape out the window of their cell -- 17 stories up -- at a Loop jail. Kenneth Conley and Joseph Jose Banks may have escaped hours before they were reported missing.

"It's still unbelievable for me. I still can't believe it. It still hasn't hit me," Banks' cousin, who did not wish to be identified, said. "I just hope that they don't have to hurt him. I just want that he turn himself in," she said.

Banks and Conley are both convicted bank robbers who were awaiting prison placements at the Metropolitan Correctional Center, 71 West Van Buren Street, in downtown Chicago. Officials say the men may have gotten as much as a nine-hour start before officials noticed they were gone.

An arrest warrant was issued for Conley and Banks, which says, in part, "Banks and Conley were cellmates and were present during a physical head count at 10 p.m. last night. MCC employees arriving for work at approximately 7 a.m. today observed what appeared to be a rope hanging from a window on the south side of the building. A physical head count was conducted and neither Banks nor Conley were present in their cell. The window in the cell was broken and had a makeshift rope tied to its bars."

FBI officials say the two squeezed out of a five-inch wide window, and then used the rope -- made of bed sheets, towels and blankets tied with simple knots -- to reach an adjacent parking garage. To cover their escape, the men had filled their beds with clothing in the shape of bodies and made fake bars to put over the five-inch wide window.

"It's just crazy. If they can get out of here, they can do anything," Michael Ashkar said. "Got a lot of courage, for one. For two, very smart," Michael Montoya said.

"They must have had a lot to lose. I couldn't have done that. That's unbelievable," Fred Tero said.

Banks is described as a black man, age 37, 5'8", 160 pounds. Conley is described as a, white man, 6'0", 185 pounds. They may be wearing gray T-shirts, white sweatpants and white gym shoes, police said. They were spotted Tuesday morning in Tinley Park, where Conley's mother lives.

Conley's brother confirmed the escapees showed up at his mother's home, but said his mother and another sibling asked them to leave. He said he hopes his brother turns himself in.

"He came there. He was already high. He went and scored somewhere this morning, and he came to the house and the mother took the gun away from the son," Ron Bailey, landlord, said.

Police used canines to track the men to the nearby Metra station. They also searched the Greyhound bus station, but that's where the trail ended.

Four elementary schools and a middle school were put on a soft lockdown.

"We canceled after school activities not just for school events, but anything from the community that would happen in our buildings. And we coordinated with the three police departments- Tinley Park, Orland Park, and Oak Forest, so we have an increased police presence on the way home. We instructed students to go directly home," School District 146 Supt. Jeff Stawick said.

"We received word they had been sighted in Tinley park together and from there the trail has gone cold so we are hoping anyone who sees these pictures and sees these individuals, we do consider them armed and dangerous so we ask them to contact law enforcement and not take matters into their own hands," Joan Hyde, FBI spokesperson, said.

Bank robbers 'armed and dangerous'

Police say the inmates did not likely escape with weapons, but are now considered armed and dangerous.

Banks is a particularly prolific bank robber, known as Second Hand Bandit. He was caught on surveillance camera at a Citibank branch threatening a teller with a gun, hoisting a customer over the counter, and then ordering bank employees to load up several bags of cash.

Prosecutors say Banks managed to steal a total of $589,000 during several bank robberies. Only $56,000 of it's been recovered. That means he could be on the run with as much as half-a-million dollars.

A jury found Banks guilty last week of four counts of bank robbery by force or violence. He was scheduled to be sentenced March 26. Banks represented himself in court, had to be restrained at one point and vowed he would seek retribution, telling the judge, "You'll hear from me!"

"During his trial he said to the family members that he was tired," Banks' cousin said. When asked if that meant tired of being behind bars, she replied, "We don't know what that means. I guess that's what that means."

Conley entered a blind plea of guilty to bank robbery by force or violence on October 29. He was scheduled to be sentenced January 10. He's accused of robbing about $4,000 from a bank in Homewood.

"Both are convicted bank robbers and traditionally those are violent crimes. We don't know for certain but we do consider them armed and a danger to the community," Hyde said.

Anyone with information about them is encouraged to contact local law enforcement or the Chicago FBI office at 312-421-6700.


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