Two Wisconsin inmates nearly pulled off a daring escape with the help of a prison kitchen employee, law enforcement officials said Friday—until they were caught by the owner of a homeless center more than 100 miles away.
The Columbia Correctional Institution in Portage, Wisconsin, reported two inmates missing around 5 a.m. Thursday, Columbia County Sheriff Roger Brandner said. According to the sheriff, the escapees hopped the fence around the prison and escaped in a cab to a Piggly Wiggly supermarket in neighboring Poynette. They were picked up minutes later by a car headed southbound, toward Illinois.
The two men, James Newman and Robert Deering, were next spotted more than 24 hours later by the owner of Miss Carly’s homeless center in Rockford, Illinois. The owner, Carly Rice, recognized the two men from their wanted photos and offered them coffee to stall their departure until police arrived.
“This morning two men showed up at our door shivering, frozen, wearing prison issue sweats and thermal shirts,” Rice wrote in a Facebook post Friday. “They had emergency blankets stuffed under their clothing. They looked just like the kind of people we want to help....but they weren't.”
“I have a huge heart for the unloveable and the lost, but I will always fight to keep our city safe,” she added.
Brandner said both men were injured in the escape, and that one man sought medical attention under a false name. He told reporters that no one had escaped from the prison before.
Law enforcement believes at least one person helped the two men with their escape: Columbia Correctional kitchen worker Holly Zimdahl, a civilian employee. Brandner said he believed the trio first made contact at the prison, but did not know the nature of their relationship.
“I don’t know what she was thinking or why,” he said.
Law enforcement uncovered evidence of Zimdahl’s participation in her car, her home, and from the kitchen employee herself, Brandner said. She is being held at the Columbia County Jail awaiting charges.