Story Summary

Downtown prison escapees both captured

On December 18, prisoners Joseph Banks and Kenneth Conley escaped through the window of their cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in downtown Chicago.

FBI agents and Chicago police arrested Banks two days after the escape. Conley was captured on January 4.

Both men are convicted bank robbers.

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One of the two men who made that dramatic escape from a federal jail in the Loop six months ago was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Kenneth Conley will serve that  time for bank robbery charges.

Conley was awaiting sentencing when he and a fellow inmate escaped from the 17th floor of the Metropolitan Correctional Center by using a rope made of bedsheets.

Conley’s attorney asked for nine to 11 years, but the judge said Conley’s brazen escape, along with the armed robbery warrants the lengthy sentence.

Kenneth Conley, the convict who made a daring escape with another prisoner from a downtown federal jail last month, pleaded not guilty Wednesday morning.

The escape charge carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $250.000 fine.

Conley, who was awaiting sentencing for a 2011 bank robbery in Homewood, escaped from the Metropolitan Correctional Center on Dec. 18. Conley and his cellmate, Joseph Banks, removed a cinder block in their cell and scaled 15 stories down the façade of the building with a rope made of bed sheets.

Banks was caught a few days later, Conley was on the run for 18 days before he was caught in the south suburbs.

Conley appeared in federal court in a wheelchair again. He sustained injuries while on the run.

Conley also faces a maximum 20 years in prison for bank robbery.

After being on the lam for 18 days, the second half of a daring escape duo who scaled down the side of a high-rise federal jail is back in custody and being held without bond.

A pale, thin Kenneth Conley appeared in federal court Saturday morning, shoeless and in a wheelchair because of swollen feet.

The escaped bank robber was arrested in Palos Hills Friday afternoon after a maintenance worker at a residential building complex called police about a suspicious person that may be sleeping in the basement.

When police arrived, they spotted Conley hobbling down the street using a cane and wearing a beret and a large overcoat, all part of a flimsy disguise, authorities said. After pushing an officer to the ground, and a brief foot chase, Conley was arrested and taken into custody.

Conley’s ordeal began when the 38-year-old former strip club worker carried out a brazen escape from the Metropolitan Correctional Center, the first there in almost 30 years.

It was December 18th when Conley, along with his cellmate Joseph ‘Jose’ Banks, removed a cinder block from their cell and under the cover of night, scaled twenty stories down the façade of the building with a rope made of bed sheets. The pair then caught a cab to what they believed would be freedom.

Freedom was short lived for Banks who was caught just two days later near a friend’s Northside home. Escape charges against him have since been dropped since he already faces up to 80 years in prison in a separate bank robbery case.

Conley, who was awaiting sentencing for a 2011 bank robbery in Homewood, once lived in an apartment near the scene of Friday’s arrest and was well known to Palos Hills police for obstruction and resisting an officer.

If convicted, Conley faces a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and a maximum of 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine for bank robbery.

Federal prosecutors have dropped a charge against the man who used bed sheets to escape from a downtown Chicago prison a few weeks ago.

Joseph “Jose” Banks faces a maximum of 80 years for holding up two banks and trying to rob two others.

Banks and fellow inmate Kenneth Conley escaped from the Metropolitan Correctional Center on December 18, rappelling 15 stories to the ground below.. Banks was caught a few days later.

Prosecutors say Banks changed attorneys several times, following his arrest in

2008 in hopes of delaying his trial.

Since they’re trying to obtain the stiffest sentence possible, they can use the escape as “aggravation” at Banks’ sentencing for the bank robberies, which could help solidify their case.

The escape charge, by comparison, carries only a maximum of five additional years in prison.

kenneth-conleyMeanwhile, the FBI has issued new photos of Conley, who remains at large

Conley has a devil tattoo on his upper right arm and a sun tattoo on his back.

The FBI says Conley likes California and has ties to the southeast United States.

The bureau is offering a reward up to $50,000 for information leading to his  apprehension.

After a daring escape from a downtown jail, one fugitive is back behind bars, but his former cellmate is still on the run. A subdued court appearance was held today for convict Joseph “Jose” Banks.

Banks was being held awaiting sentencing. He was convicted last week of two bank robberies and two attempted holdups. Add to that one count of escaping federal custody, which carries a sentence of up to five years. The hunt still on for Kenneth Conley, the other escapee.

Neighbors on the North Side were stunned overnight by word that a wanted man, on the lam for three days, had been tracked to their street.”

“I’m frightened to know this fugitive’s living next door to me,” said Wanda Brown.

“I looked at him and I’m like oh, that’s the bank robber, so I’m thinking like why would he be over here, though? That was kind of stupid, you feel me?” said Hezekiah Harper-Bey. If you got all that money, why would you be over here? You know they’re gonna come over here. You got family over here.”

The takedown happened around 11:30 p.m. on the 2300 block of north Bosworth, near Ashland and Fullerton. A man who lived at the townhouse where Banks was found was also taken in.

“I heard a big boom and then when I looked out the window, it was a whole lot of police out here, like it was some TV-type stuff,” said Raven Beck.

Just after 2:30 a.m. Tuesday, Banks and Conley broke out of the 28-story Metropolitan Correctional Center in the South Loop on a rope made of bed sheets. They left clothes under the blankets on their beds to make it appear they were sound asleep.

They made it to the street from some 15-stories up and hit the ground running.

Police raided locations in Tinley Park and New Lenox, just a step behind the fugitives.

Banks, according to law enforcement, could have as much as $500,000 stolen stashed someplace.

“My most important point that I want to get across is that this isn’t a violent and dangerous person,” said Beau Brindley, Banks’ attorney.

Banks was quiet and respectful in court on Friday, in contrast with his reputation, which his lawyer insists has been completely overblown. He describes his client, who appeared at the Dirksen Federal Building shackled at the wrists and ankles, as mild-mannered; a talented artist. He did not fight Banks’ detention, but says suggestions that he made threatening remarks during trial were simply taken out of context.

“He’s charged with serious crimes, but the indication that somehow he’s a violent person who was making threatening comments, that was something that did not happen,” said Brindley.

One of the bank robbers who used bed sheets to escape from jail this week has been captured.

FBI agents and Chicago police arrested Joseph “Jose” Banks Thursday night.

They found him in the 2300 block of North Bosworth in the Sheffield Neighbors neighborhood, just before midnight.

Right now there’s no word on how they found him there.

Both Banks and his cellmate, Kenneth Conley, both convicted bank robbers, escaped from the Metropolitan Correctional Center early Tuesday morning.

They climbed down 17 floors by using a rope made of bed sheets and dental floss.

The manhunt for the inmates included several high-profile raids Tuesday in the southwest suburbs of Tinley Park and New Lenox, where Conley’s family and associates lived. A $50,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the two fugitives was announced by the FBI this week.

Conley is still on the run.

There have been more developments today in the story of two men who escaped a Chicago prison yesterday.

The FBI says there is video of the two escapees getting into a cab about seven blocks from the prison, at Michigan and Congress. There is now a $50,000 dollar reward for information about where they are right now.

In a development possibly related to this case, an orange jumpsuit was found in the 2900 block of South Archer. Although authorities aren’t yet saying whether they believe it belongs to one of their fugitives.

Authorities have covered a lot of ground since the escape and descended on a relative’s home yesterday in Tinley Park. Police say the wanted men had already come and gone.

“I’m really surprised at the method that they used,” Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy said. “My understanding is that they removed some cinder blocks and we’re able to get through a four-inch gap as a result of doing that. And climbing down fifteen or eighteen stories on bed sheets is just remarkably crazy.”

The two convicted bank robbers, Jose Banks and Kenneth Conley, shocked law enforcement with a daring escape clearly meticulously planned and rappelled down the side of the Metropolitan Correctional Center on a rope made of bed sheets. A rope reinforced, our sources say, using dental floss, about as makeshift and risky as a middle-of-the-night jailbreak can get.

The FBI announcing that $50,000 dollar reward for leads because at this stage, the trail has gone cold.

The two convicts were colorful and prolific thieves, especially Banks. The FBI Violent Crimes task force says he was the mastermind behind at least 21 bank jobs. Recently-released court documents quote an informant as saying Banks “recruited him to participate in the robberies and organized approximately ten take-over bank robberies on the north side of Chicago between December 2004 and August 2005.”

Then there’s the narrow escape. The prisoners squeezed through a five-inch-wide window past a smashed-out cinder block. Astonishing, but not implausible, according to Scott Fawell, who spent eight months inside the MCC.

“I can’t imagine how much work it would take just to chisel away at it just to get to the point where you could push it open. And even then, you’ve still got to be a contortionist to get out of that facility,” he said.

Investigators won’t admit it, but finding escaped bank robber, Joseph Banks, may be a difficult task.  Federal agents say he’s the mastermind behind a string of robberies and holdups – as many as 21 different incidents, according to the FBI.   And his intellect is combined with an eccentric personality, as evidenced by his strange behavior in court.

It was a premonition of things to come.  Standing before federal judge Rebecca Pallmeyer last week,  Joseph “Jose” Banks yelled,  “you’ll hear from me!”   Just a week later, Banks makes good on the boast with an astonishing prison escape from a 15th story window, capturing national and international attention.  And it’s focused a spotlight on the 37-year-old fugitive.

In court documents, the FBI violent crimes task force reveals that Banks was the suspected mastermind behind 21 bank robberies and holdups.  An informant told investigators Banks “recruited him to participate in the robberies and organized approximately ten take-over bank robberies on the North side of Chicago between December 2004 and August 2005.”

Witnesses say during the robberies, Banks “would often speak in a fake accent, pretending to sound like a foreigner when he committed the bank robberies.”

And federal agents further reveal Banks and his crew appeared to have an extensive understanding of how bank vaults work, knowing inside details like how many bank employees were needed to open or access money in the vault.

Then there’s the astonishing escape.

“It takes an awful lot of planning and determination to pull that off,” says Scott Fawell.  As a federal prisoner during his political corruption trial, Fawell spent about eight months in the Metropolitan Correctional Center.  And he’s familiar with the layout of the holding cells, with tall narrow plexiglass windows – a maximum of five inches wide – with reinforced cinder block.  And somehow, the escapees managing to push two cinder blocks for a tight squeeze getaway.   “I can’t imagine how much hammering and chiseling you’d have to do to loosen those blocks up, “ Fawell says.  But he adds that there’s a lot of noise in the common areas at the MCC.  you’d still need a lot of luck, he says.  But it’s plausible that the noise could drown out the hammering inside.

The FBI is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the two convicted bank robbers who escaped yesterday from the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

The FBI is offering a $50,000 reward for information leading to the capture of the two convicted bank robbers who escaped yesterday from the Metropolitan Correctional Center.

According to a source close to the investigation the two escapees were spotted by a security camera getting into a cab at 2:30 a.m. Tuesday on Congress Parkway, not far from the high-rise federal jail at 71 West Van Buren Street.  They were not wearing their prison jumpsuits as they made their well-planned escape.

Convicted bank robbers Joseph “Jose” Banks and Kenneth Conley were not discovered missing until 7 a.m. yesterday when workers arrived to find a makeshift rope hanging from a 17th floor cell.  The cellmates had made the rope from bed sheets and had stuffed clothing into their beds to make it appear they were asleep.  They were last accounted for during a 10 p.m. head count on Monday.

A source tells WGN the bed sheets had been sewn together with dental floss.  Banks was an aspiring fashion designer who had sewing skills.

The two were spotted yesterday on a Metra train and then soon after at the Tinley Park home of a relative.  But an FBI search came up empty, and today it has been quiet on the manhunt front.

Banks and Conley were awaiting sentencing for bank robbeey convictions.  Banks was known as the “Second Hand Bandit” who robbed nearly $600,000 from various heists.  $500,000 is still unaccounted for.

Both robbers had been in the MCC for over a year.  Banks was convicted just last week.

The FBI is investigating a number of leads.

A cousin of Banks tells WGN that she has not heard from him.  There was no answer at the North Side home of Banks’ father.

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