She was the killer’s prey and never knew it.
Like most who encountered Richard Matt—the convict on the run after busting out of a New York prison with a fellow inmate—the woman took to the big-spending Romeo and his stripper gal pal. But she learned almost too late that Matt was a clever criminal who’d put a price on her head.
If her then-boyfriend didn’t do Matt’s bidding, the manipulative con would kill her, she was told. “He threatened my life,” said the woman, who spoke to The Daily Beast and requested anonymity. “I found out that Rick had threatened my life and that was the motivation he used to get [my boyfriend] to help him.”
Matt constantly reminded her beau of the stakes by acting as a sort of Svengali. “Several times when I was in Canada I was supposed to hang out with my boyfriend, but Rick would take me aside to make sure I would be around him—to let [my boyfriend] know that he could get to me anytime,” she said.
Now she’s hoping the fugitive gets his comeuppance. “It just makes me wish he would die,” she said. “I never wished death on anybody, but after learning the things he’s done and the fact that I’ve got [children] that know nothing about this... I hope... they may never find out.”
On Thursday, the manhunt for the prisoners entered Cadyville, about five miles from the Clinton Correctional Facility where the duo escaped nearly a week before. Investigators say they believe a female prison worker, wooed by the womanizing Matt, smuggled them power tools and helped them flee.
Officials told ABC News they believed the fugitives were bedding down in a wooded area.
Investigators also discovered the imprint of a shoe and several food wrappers, according to reports.
In the search’s sixth day, helicopters buzzed above the tiny upstate town and cops set up a perimeter where they say bloodhounds picked up the scent of Matt, 48, and accomplice David Sweat, 34, who is serving a life sentence for slaying a sheriff’s deputy.
As the hunt intensified, more of Sweat’s sordid past has emerged. The chronic criminal was a gun-loving high-school dropout from a broken home. He and an older sister were in foster care. He was a serial runaway. He peddled marijuana. He planned his burglaries with pen and paper. And he used a police scanner to avoid the 5-0.
A boyfriend of Sweat’s mother once told police that the troubled teen vowed that “if the cops came for him, he’d blow them away,” the Press & Sun-Bulletin in Binghamton reported.
“He’s a vicious person, and he’ll kill anybody for any reason,” Broome County Sheriff David Harder told The Daily Beast. Of reports that Sweat could simply be a weaker follower in the prison escape, Harder said, “I don’t see any difference between him and Richard Matt.”
“They’re both convicted murderers with nothing to lose,” added Harder, whose Binghamton force set up a command post ready to bust Sweat if he tries to return to friends and family back home.
When Sweat was a teen in 1996, he and a pal reportedly plotted to tie up a woman, lock her in a storage room, and make off with computers and cash from a Binghampton youth-group home. A counselor caught on to their plans—drawn up on paper—and called the cops.
A year later, an officer at the Broome County Jail found a list of thefts Sweat planned to undertake, the paper reported.
But Sweat’s record as a habitual bandit and repeat offender would soon be taken to another level.
On July 4, 2002, he and two accomplices murdered Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Tarsia in cold blood. Around 3:30 a.m. after a weapons heist, the crooks parked at Grange Hall Park in Kirkwood, New York. Tarsia, 36, was on patrol and noticed the thieves’ car—along with a truck the young robbers stole in Pennsylvania. The cop parked his squad car and got out.
When Tarsia shined his flashlight on the truck, Sweat sprung from underneath it and sprayed bullets into the deputy. Tarsia fell to the ground, struggling for his gun, and Sweat jumped into his car and savagely ran over the wounded officer several times.
Then one of Sweat’s collaborators, Jeffrey A. Nabinger Jr., shot Tarsia twice in the face, killing him.
Days later, authorities chased a tip from a 16-year-old girl that Sweat was involved. The teen led cops to a site where Sweat and his pals parked stolen vehicles. Eventually, all three cop-killers confessed.
Harder, who was sheriff for just three years when Sweat killed his deputy, said his department has received more than 100 leads on the fugitives. He was devastated when he learned it was Sweat who broke free.
“[Sweat] told people if he ever got stopped by police, he’d gun them down, and that’s what he did to my deputy,” Harder said. “The deputy didn’t even know [Sweat had] committed a crime. He just checked on the park.”
“He wasn’t dead yet when they drove over him,” the sheriff added. “They took the deputy’s gun from him and shot him in the face, so you tell me what kind of people they are.”
Meanwhile, Sweat’s mother railed against her son to a Binghamton reporter.
“I don’t want nothing to do with him,” Pamela Sweat told the Press & Sun-Bulletin. “He has tormented me since he was 9 years old, and now he’s 34 and I feel like he’s still doing it.”
The mom said Sweat brought a butcher’s knife to school in his backpack when he was a kid to scare off bullies. During a later trip to Florida, Sweat jacked his aunt’s car and totaled it, Pamela Sweat said.
Edna Vail, a former neighbor, said her late son was buddies with David Sweat and that she “never liked him” for his “shy, sneaky” ways. Vail said she once caught Sweat trying to break into her house.
“When he walked down the street, he didn’t walk on the sidewalk; he walked down the middle looking into peoples’ cars,” Vail told The Daily Beast.
The onetime neighbor doubted Pamela Sweat’s claim that she wouldn’t help her son. “I don’t care what anybody says,” Vail said. “She babied him. If he calls her, she ain’t gonna let police know... I know it’s called unconditional love, but I also know a thing called tough love.”
While Sweat’s acquaintances feared the murderer would return to Broome County to hide out, early reports suggested the men had their eyes on Canada. Police in Ontario and Quebec were on alert Sunday—a day after corrections officers realized the inmates were gone. Canada became a constant destination for Matt before his prison years. In a series of road trips prior to killing William Rickerson, Matt routinely hopped into his friend’s Chevy Lumina (the killer hitched rides because he “never had a car”) to zip over the border to the Great North. He’d gawk at girls at a strip club known as Pure Platinum—especially one dancer who went by Karena.
“The girls were pretty but inside itself was kind of shoddy,” said the woman whom Matt had threatened. “It could be popular with a lot going on, especially on a Friday.”
Matt had struck up a romance with the dancer and the two were planning to wed, according to Matt’s criminal trial documents.
Things went south after Matt copped to the killing of Rickerson, ripped off Karena of her hard-earned dancing wages, and awkwardly offered his victim’s ring to his would-be wife before she flushed it down the toilet.
When he didn’t make it to the Great North legitimately, Matt managed to try his luck riding the rails. “When it first happened that he escaped we told the cops to check the railroad bridge that crosses the Niagara River,” the threatened woman told The Daily Beast. “He has gotten into Canada that way before and managed to do it without the cameras picking up anything,” she said.
Canadian border officials confirmed that the Whirlpool Bridge, which crosses the Niagara, is train-only.
Matt also allegedly built up a network of buyers who helped him line his pockets with ill-gotten gains, according to former friends. A close friend of Matt’s says the con man was fencing stolen items from his grocer throughout Ontario. “He and his friend started robbing this guy for a long time,” the friend told The Daily Beast. “He’d take his coolers and load them up with food [like frozen hams] and would deliver it to people or restaurants up in Canada.”
But the killer would be hard pressed to get thrown a lifeline—at least one close friend of the killer told The Daily Beast he’d sabotaged his connections in Canada, and if Matt came for help he’d be instantly turned away, if not turned in to authorities. “After what he did nobody wants any part of him.”