IONIA, Mich. (WOOD) — Authorities in several states spent about 24 hours searching for a man convicted of four 1993 murders who escaped from the Ionia Correctional Facility Sunday night.
The manhunt for Elliot, 40, began Sunday night after he escaped from the Ionia Correctional Facility, located at 1576 W. Bluewater Highway, west of Ionia, around 7 p.m., Michigan Department of Corrections Director Dan Heyns said during a news conference Monday morning.
Elliot apparently escaped through the sally port, a usually secured garage where prisoners are driven in and dropped off.
“It appears that he created a hole at the bottom of the two perimeter fences of the correctional facility and then crawled through those holes,” Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said.
Inside woodtv.com: MDOC director demands ‘thorough’ escape investigation
A person who used to work in the prison said prisoner checks are performed at 9:15 p.m., and that the check before that is at 1 p.m. Officials noticed he was missing around 9:30 p.m.
The former prison employee said Elliot would have had to get past razor wire fences and sensors that set off alarms. MDOC officials said the sirens at the prison sounded, but some nearby residents told 24 Hour News 8 they did not hear the sirens.
“I will be demanding a very thorough investigation. It’s obvious that there were some flaws in our security, and that we need to ask what those are. We’ve already made a number of corrections just over the evening hours,” said Heyns.
Authorities said it appears Elliot worked alone to escape.
MDOC officers, along with Michigan State Police and other agencies, searched for Elliot in the Ionia area. Heyns said Elliot was dressed in a white uniform usually reserved for prisoners working in the kitchen, which might have helped Elliot blend in with the snow and evade security. Heyns says Elliot wasn’t a kitchen worker, however, and it is unknown how he got the uniform.
Elliot then allegedly carjacked and abducted a woman, who he did not know, in the 600 block of W. Main Street in Ionia using either a knife or box cutter, authorities said. Michigan State Police told 24 Hour News 8 the woman was leaving a residence after work and Elliot approached her with that box cutter and told her that he had an emergency. Elliot got in the back seat of the woman’s Jeep Liberty and told her that he wanted to get as far away from Michigan as possible.
The woman drove for more than two hours to Elkhart County, Ind., where they stopped for gas at the Marathon station at 50980 IN-13 near I-80 in Middlebury, not far from the Michigan-Indiana state line. Elliot filled up the vehicle’s gas tank with $11 worth of fuel in cash and change — all that the woman had in her possession.
Elliot and the woman then went into the gas station. She asked the clerk for the business’ address, and then locked herself in the women’s bathroom. Elliot bought some water and medicine, and waited for the woman to exit the restroom. When she didn’t immediately return, Elliot left the scene in the woman’s vehicle.
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The woman called 911 using her cellphone that was concealed in one of her pockets. Officers made contact with her at 11:50 p.m. Sunday. The woman, in her 50s, was not hurt. She told dispatchers that Elliot also had a hammer with him, in addition to the box cutter.
The employee said at first he thought Elliot and the woman were related (a son-mother pair).
Elliot was seen on the gas station’s surveillance camera wearing black, fatigue pants, a white shirt, dark-colored hooded sweatshirt, and white tennis shoes.
He fled in the woman’s red 2004 Jeep Liberty, according to Michigan State Police. Police thought Elliot had enough fuel to get about 100 miles. He was believed to be alone and armed.
A Jeep Liberty that police said he carjacked from Ionia Sunday night was located Monday afternoon abandoned in a parking lot in Shipshewana, Ind., according to the LaGrange County Sheriff’s Department. Westview Schools, located nearby south of US-20, was on lockdown for a time. Police were telling people to avoid the area.
A report Monday morning from WSMV said a gas station employee in Pleasant View, Tenn. opened the business and called police after she thought she saw Elliot. But police later told 24 Hour News 8 that this report was false.
Authorities had asked Ionia residents to stay inside their homes, and close all doors and windows, the Ionia Department of Public Safety said in a post on its Facebook page around 10 p.m. Sunday. That warning was later canceled Monday morning when authorities learned Elliot was no longer in the area.
MDOC said that all other prison inmates had been accounted for following an emergency check.
Ionia DPS said that Ionia Public Schools officials were made aware of the situation. After learning that Elliot was likely in Indiana, they decided classes would be held Monday.
Elliot is being held on four life sentences after being convicted on four counts of first-degree murder and one count of armed robbery, according to MDOC records. Elliot was also convicted of setting a house on fire and sentenced to 13 years on that charge; and using a possession of firearm during the commission of a felony and was sentenced to two years in prison for that charge.
In the early morning of Aug. 8, 1993, according to court documents, Elliot broke into a home in Bentley Township, north of Midland, killed four people then set the house on fire. Vickie Currie, her boyfriend Michael Tufnell, his cousin Bruce Squires Tufnell Jr. and fiancee Cathy Lave were killed.
Charles and Paul Treece, and Tammy LaCross were with Elliot when the murders were committed.
Charles Treece was also convicted of four counts of first-degree murder, armed robbery and setting a house on fire, and possession of a firearm during the commission of a firearm. He is also serving life in prison at the Alger Correctional Facility in Munising in the Upper Peninsula.
LaCross and Paul Treece were apparently sleeping when the victims were killed. LaCross, who was 16 at the time and is victim Vickie Currie’s daughter, and Paul Treece both testified against Elliot and provided stories described as similar. Under the terms of plea agreements, they both pleaded guilty to robbery and felony firearm charges.
LaCross testified that Charles Treece said he shot Currie in the arm, and that Elliot had shot Tufnell and Lane in the face.
In 2005, Elliot filed a motion for release, saying that there was new evidence in his case — namely a 1994 letter from Charles Treece that attested to Elliot’s innocence. Elliot said he had previously been unaware of that letter, but that Charles Treece still said Elliot was innocent, according to court documents. A state court denied his request.
Elliot maintains he is innocent, according to the court documents.
The Ionia Correctional Facility has both Level II and Level V (maximum security) housing, according to MDOC. Elliot is a Level II inmate, despite his multiple murder conviction, and had no history of becoming an escape risk.
Ionia DPS briefly said that two people had escaped, but then revised that to say only Elliot had escaped.