Missing inmates caught in prison

The two men were found hiding behind a false wall they created.
Monday, October 27, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:59 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Two convicted murderers who disappeared after allegedly beating another inmate to death at a prison ice plant were found Sunday, still inside the Missouri State Penitentiary.

Inmates Christopher Sims and Shannon Phillips were discovered about 8 a.m. Sunday in the same building where they are believed to have killed convicted murderer Toby Viles on Wednesday evening, corrections department spokesman John Fougere said.

Despite a written threat to kill anyone who confronted them, both inmates surrendered without a struggle, Fougere said.

Hundreds of corrections department employees had been combing the prison for days, suspecting the inmates might never have escaped because they had found no evidence to suggest so and because there had been no confirmed sightings of the inmates outside the walls.

“They have been found inside the institution,” Fougere said. “They had constructed a very carefully concealed false wall, which was right near their work site at the ice house.”

The inmates were found when a prison staff member, tapping the wall as part of the search, was able to punch a hole in it.

“Phillips immediately stuck his hand out and said: ‘I give up,’ ” Fougere said.

The inmates apparently cut a hole in an existing internal wall, then covered the hole up and remained behind the fake wall for much of the past 3½ days, although they might have occasionally exited their hiding place and returned, Fougere said. Prison officials did not say of what material the wall was made.

The 400-foot-by-55-foot ice house, which is in the basement of a housing unit, contains several rooms and already had been searched numerous times before Sunday.

Phillips, 35, is serving a life sentence for the Aug. 9, 1995, stabbing and slashing death of Charles Brown in Kansas City. Sims, 27, is serving a life sentence for the Sept. 25, 1997, shooting of Gale Brown in north St. Louis.

Cole County Sheriff John Hemeyer has said that a note found near Viles’ body bearing the initials of the two inmates claimed responsibility for his slaying and threatened death for anyone else who got in the inmates’ way.

Viles’ body was discovered about 10 p.m. Wednesday, almost four hours after prison employees had last contacted any of the three inmates, who were working alone in the ice house with tools such as chisels, hammers and shovels.

Preliminary autopsy results show Viles died of blunt trauma to the head.

Viles, who was 16 at the time of his crimes, had been serving a life sentence for the March 17, 1992, shooting deaths of his three siblings — Tabitha Viles, 14, Quincy Viles, 11, and Tristan Viles, 3 — at their Laclede County home.

Prison officials said Sunday that Sims and Phillips had been placed in administrative segregation and would be questioned. There was no indication as to their motive, Fougere said.

Law officers had said previously that it appeared the two inmates had carefully planned their actions — stocking up on food from the prison store and taking their bed sheets and valuables from their cells.

The inmates had food with them when they were found Sunday, as well as a small mattress, Fougere said.

Less than half an hour before the inmates were found, prison superintendent Dave Dormire had said authorities were chasing different leads and that there was “nothing new.”

This was not the first time that inmates have disappeared within the Missouri State Penitentiary, a 167-year-old institution with numerous nooks in its 25 major buildings and 47 acres of land. The state is constructing a replacement prison at a different location.

State and local law officers had conducted intensive searches outside the prison Thursday.

As it turns out, “the public was never in any danger,” Fougere said. “We’ve been vindicated, our investigators and staff. We never went away from our first theory” that the inmates still were likely in the prison.

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