Infamous manhunts: When police have tracked fugitives into the wild

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A planned getaway ride may have fallen flat, leaving jail breakers Richard Matt and David Sweat stranded in upstate New York and hurled into an arduous game of survival.

Like other fugitives before them, the convicted killers will need backwoods skills and perhaps crime to get by, while they run from hundreds of officers hunting them from planes, cars, boats and on foot over a hazardous landscape.

The desperation to stay alive and keep their freedom can make dangerous men even more lethal, especially if they manage to get their hands on guns. For years, fugitives have sought refuge in the wild, where they have ambushed officers and eluded them for days, weeks, even years on some of America’s most notorious manhunts:

Richard Matt and David Sweat

Wanted for

Matt and Sweat are convicted killers. Matt held a man hostage, and when ransom money didn’t come across, he broke the victim’s neck and dismembered his body. Sweat shot a deputy to death then ran over him.

Law enforcement wants them back behind bars to serve out their sentences.

The hunt

Hollywood couldn’t have written a jail break like theirs from Dannemora’s maximum security prison.

With power tools, they cut through a cell wall that included a steel plate, maneuvered across a catwalk, shimmied down six stories to a tunnel of pipes, followed that tunnel, broke through a double-brick wall, cut into a 24-inch steam pipe, climbed through the steam pipe, cut another hole so they could get out of the pipe and finally surfaced through a manhole.

But it seems a possible accomplice, a getaway driver, backed out of picking them up and went to the hospital with panic attacks. Authorities fear Matt and Sweat may have crossed into Vermont; the state has joined the manhunt and will allow New York State law enforcement to cross the state line to chase them, if they have to.

How it ended

It hasn’t yet.

Early Thursday, they were still on the lam. That’s odd for New York State prison breaks. Authorities usually round up escaped prisoners within little more than a day.

Though their jail break illustrates their cunning and skill, Matt and Sweat are not known to be trained survivalists. Other fugitives who were have led brigades of officers on weeks-long chases.

Eric Frein

Frein did have survivalist skills from his apparent experiences in war. It took police seven weeks to track him down in rural Pennsylvania in October last year. His alleged crimes and the manhunt landed him on the FBI Top Ten Fugitives list.

Wanted for

Frein was notorious for hating law enforcement and allegedly shot to death Pennsylvania State Police Cpl. Bryon Dickson and wounded Trooper Alex Douglas last year.

The hunt

The survivalist, who was 31 at the time, claimed to have fought in wars in Serbia and Africa and was a trained marksman. It appeared he had the troopers’ blood fresh on his hands, when he led dozens of law officers traipsing through forest and field.

Frein belonged to a simulation group that re-enacted Cold War-era European conflicts with non-lethal Airsoft guns. But authorities believed he had turned that activity lethal. He was later found carrying a rifle and a pistol.

How it ended

U.S. Marshal’s Service special operations officers found Frein at an abandoned airport in Tannersville. He didn’t put up a fight. In an arraignment in January this year, Frein pleaded not guilty in the shooting of the troopers.

Christopher Dorner

Dorner was professionally trained in the Navy’s counterinsurgency program and as a police officer, making him one of the most dangerously skilled fugitives in recent times.

Wanted for

He went on a killing rampage in 2013. After legal moves to reverse his 2009 firing from the Los Angeles Police Department failed, Dorner threatened to exact bloody revenge on the LAPD by waging guerrilla warfare. He started by killing loved ones of someone involved in his case on February 3, 2013. Then police picked up pursuit.

The hunt

As he eluded them into the San Bernardino Mountains, Dorner kept on killing. Officers scoured the winter landscape on snowcats and in armored vehicles for days, searching some 200 vacant cabins.

They trudged through knee-high snow with rifles. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced a $1 million reward for information leading to Dorner’s arrest and conviction.

How it ended

Nine days after his first double-murder, California Fish and Wildlife wardens spotted Dorner in a car and gave chase. He crashed then carjacked a pickup truck. He fled to a cabin, where he got into a shootout with sheriff’s deputies, killing one and wounding another. Police tossed smoke devices inside the cabin, which caught fire and burned for hours. They later found a charred body there.

Authorities believe Dorner, who was 33, took his own life. On his rampage, he killed four people — the daughter of his police union representative, her fiancĂ©, a police officer in suburban Riverside and a sheriff’s deputy.

Eric Rudolph

The reclusive outdoors enthusiast set the bomb that killed two people at Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park during the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. He, too, landed on the FBI’s most wanted list.

Wanted for

In addition to that attack, Rudolph was wanted for the bombings in the late 1990s of two abortion clinics, one in Atlanta and one in Birmingham, Alabama. And he bombed an Atlanta nightclub popular with lesbians. One person died and 12 more were injured in those attacks.

In the case of the Birmingham attack, Rudolph later admitted he detonated the bomb by remote control, while Robert Sanderson, a 35-year-old off-duty police officer working as a security guard, was standing over it. Sanderson died.

The hunt

Law enforcement agencies begin looking for Rudolph in 1998, after witnesses reported seeing his gray 1989 Nissan pickup near the Birmingham clinic before the blast. He successfully eluded them — for five years.

Hundreds of law enforcement officers conducted a door-to-door search and combed woods in North Carolina. The dense foliage made a helicopter with infrared sensors capable of detecting signs of life on the ground useless. Rudolph hid well in the woods he knew well.

To protest what he felt was the persecution of his brother by the FBI and the media, Daniel Rudolph set up a camera in his Summerville, South Carolina, garage and cut off his hand with a circular saw. It was later surgically reattached.

How it ended

On May 31, 2003, rookie Police Officer Jeff Postell, 21 at the time, thought he saw someone trying to break into a building in Murphy, North Carolina.

When he confronted the man, he fled, but Postell caught up with him. The suspect was compliant. He had no ID, but told Postell who he was — Eric Rudolph.

After a series of guilty pleas, Rudolph was sentenced to a total of 120 years in prison. In 2005, he apologized to his victims and their families for his 1996 bombing of Centennial Olympic Park. But he did not apologize to the victims of his other attacks.

Rudolph is currently incarcerated at the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado.

By Ben Brumfield

CNN’s Faith Karimi, Steve Almasy, Holly Yan, Dana Ford and Michael Martinez contributed to this report.