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Manhunt on for Bank Robbers Who Escaped from Loop Jail Using Bedsheets

By  Ted Cox and Geoff Ziezulewicz | December 18, 2012 10:12am | Updated on December 19, 2012 7:35am

 Joseph "Jose" Banks, 37 (left), and Kenneth Conley, 38, allegedly escaped from the Metropolitan Correction Center in the Loop on Dec. 18, 2012.
Joseph "Jose" Banks, 37 (left), and Kenneth Conley, 38, allegedly escaped from the Metropolitan Correction Center in the Loop on Dec. 18, 2012.
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CHICAGO — Two convicted bank robbers — including the infamous Second-Hand Bandit — escaped from a federal jail in the Loop Tuesday morning in a move straight out of an "old cartoon" — using bedsheets to scale down the building, authorities and sources said.

The brazen move sparked a massive manhunt that sent investigators pouring into the Southwest suburb of Tinley Park, where one of the suspects lived.

The inmates — Joseph "Jose" Banks, 37, and Kenneth Conley, 38 — were last seen at their morning head count about 5 a.m. but had disappeared by 8:45 a.m. from the Metropolitan Correctional Center at 71 W. Van Buren St., Chicago Police Sgt. Michael Lazzaro said.

They were still on the loose as of 9:45 p.m. Tuesday, officials said.

"They are currently the subject of a widespread manhunt under the coordination of the FBI," the agency said in a statement. The Cook County Sheriff was assisting in the search with bloodhounds as was the U.S. Marshals Service.

The inmates were seen Tuesday morning at the Oak Park Avenue Train Station in Tinley Park, Tinley Park police said. They were believed to be traveling together and were considered armed and dangerous, the FBI said.

A length of what appeared to be rope was seen hanging from a window on the 15th floor and dangling down the side of the building, which houses about 700 pre-trial and sentenced inmates. Both were recently convicted, Conley by plea agreement, Banks by jury trial, and were awaiting sentencing, the FBI said.

A law enforcement source said the rope was crafted out of bedsheets, which Banks and Conley used to scale down the building "like an old cartoon."

Banks, who is also known as the "Second-Hand Bandit" because of the old clothing he wore during his heists, was convicted last week of two bank robberies and two attempted holdups, in which he managed to steal nearly $600,000, the Chicago Tribune reported. Most of that money is still missing, the Tribune reported.

Banks, who was an aspiring clothing designer, acted as his own lawyer and had to be restrained to a chair during his trial, the paper said.

At one point in the trial, he said that he felt like "Hannibal Lecter" because he was strapped to a chair by court officers, the Tribune said. And he argued that he above federal law because he was "Moorish national," the report said.

Conley robbed $4,000 from a MB Financial Bank at 2345 W. 184th St. in Homewood on May 13, 2011, and escaped to California, where he was arrested in September 2011 and later convicted, the Tribune reported. He lived in Tinley Park and worked at a strip club, the paper said.

The two were charged with escape later Tuesday, an FBI spokeswoman said.

Banks was described by officials as 5-foot-8 and weighing 160 pounds, while Conley is 6 feet tall and weighs 185 pounds.

Police sealed off Clark Street south of Van Buren Street after the escape, but the street was later reopened.

Law enforcement officials were also investigating a stretch of 175th Street in Tinley Park Tuesday morning and early afternoon and searched a house on the 6600 block of the street.

A source said that the men were believed to have gone into a house in the area and may have gotten a change of clothes there.

Loop resident Frank Sobr, 72, said he saw all the commotion happening around the prison about 9 a.m.

When he got there, he saw people pointing up at the rope while cops sealed off the street.

"It took courage — and desperation, but now they're in real deep poop," he said.

Anyone with information is asked to contact local law enforcement or the Chicago office of the FBI at (312) 421-6700.

Additional reporting by Mark Konkol, Quinn Ford