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January 24, 2013

One of the greatest prison escapes of modern times

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

Colorful characters. When Conley was caught last Friday, he was disguised as an old man, complete with cane, overcoat and beret. (Presumably Conley's old man character was from France.) And before Banks was originally arrested, the FBI had dubbed him the "Second Hand Bandit" because he wore used clothing during his bank robberies. This is a wonderfully puzzling nickname. How did the FBI know the clothes were secondhand rather than just old and raggedy? Did they still have the Salvation Army tags on them? Did Banks announce it as part of his robbery speech? ("OK, everyone, this is a robbery, and before you go thinking you're going to be able to identify me by my clothes, well, think again, 'cause they're SECONDHAND CLOTHES!")

An element of menace. After Banks was convicted — only a few days before he escaped — he appeared to threaten the judge, Rebecca Pallmeyer. When Pallmeyer asked Banks, who had acted as his own lawyer, how long he would need to file a motion, Banks replied: "No motion will be filed, but you'll hear from me." For a while, some worried that Banks escaped in order to make good on that promise.

For me, the best part of this story is the bedsheets. The "bedsheet rope" sounds apocryphal, one of those gimmicks you seem in the movies but doesn't really exist in real life. Why would any adult trust a flimsy prison bedsheet to bear his or her weight?

And yet prisoners escape using bedsheets more often than you'd think. In 2009, two Polish escapees used bedsheets to conquer a 15-meter wall at a prison in Germany. In 2011, Vernon Collins and David White used a bedsheet rope to escape a jail in downtown St. Louis. In 2003, accused double murderer Hugo Selenski escaped from the fifth floor of a jail in Luzerne County, Pa., with the aid of a bedsheet rope. ("It's not like I didn't do it," said Selenski after pleading guilty to the escape. "I was there one day, and I'm gone the next.")

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