Inmate planned to escape prison in box, buried in sawdust
AUBURN, N.Y. — An inmate at a maximum-security prison claimed he repeatedly practiced a daring escape plan involving a coffin-like box hidden under tons of sawdust and that guards never noticed what he was up to.
Gordon “Woody” Mower, who is serving a life sentence without parole for killing his parents two decades ago, told The Post-Standard of Syracuse that he practiced escaping Auburn Correctional Facility 50 times before guards discovered his plan in April 2015 — two months before two convicted killers cut their way out of a different maximum-security prison in upstate New York.
Mower said his plan involved being buried alive in a bottomless 3-foot by 4-foot wooden box under a big mound of sawdust produced by the prison’s woodworking shop, where furniture is made. The sawdust is hauled away regularly in a tractor-trailer by a local farmer who uses it as horse bedding. Mower said the plot failed when another inmate tipped off guards.
The newspaper reported Monday that the planned escape was confirmed by prison records sent to Mower’s lawyers at Prisoners Legal Services. Karen Murtagh, executive director of the Albany-based agency, said Mower approved the records release to the newspaper.
The Department of Corrections and Community Supervision neither confirmed nor denied details in Mower’s story. Thomas Mailey, a department spokesman, said the agency “continues to review its policies and procedures and make significant improvements to enhance the safety and security in New York’s correctional facilities.”
Mower was 18 when he used a .22-caliber rifle to murder his parents in March 1996 inside their home in rural Richfield Springs. Mower said he hatched a plan while serving his sentence at Auburn, the state’s oldest prison at 199 years old. He has since been transferred to the maximum-security prison in Elmira.
Mower claimed he compiled information on the routines of prison guards overseeing the farmer’s weekly visits. He said another inmate who helped design the scheme would use a small tractor with a front-end loader to put the box on the farmer’s truck, then cover the box with tons of sawdust.
Mower said he would have worn googles and a protective mask from another prison workshop. After the truck left the prison, he said he planned to pull himself free from under the sawdust. He said he was injured several times during dry runs of the escape when the box collapsed under the weight of the sawdust, but the guards never noticed anything unusual.
“Where were the corrections officers?” Mower told The Post-Standard. “How did we build all this stuff, get buried alive and nobody sees or says anything?”
Mower said another inmate alerted guards to the plan on April 3, 2015.
On June 6, 2015, Richard Matt and David Sweat escaped the Clinton Correctional Facility in northern New York by using tools provided by a prison employee to cut their way through their prison cell wall and gain access to the prison’s underground infrastructure. Matt was fatally shot by a U.S. Border Patrol officer three weeks later. Sweat was rearrested and wounded by a state trooper two days after that.
Their escape, which touched off the largest manhunt in New York history, was even more embarrassing for state prison officials when it was revealed that prison tailor shop employee Joyce Mitchell provided Matt and Sweat with tools that a guard unwittingly delivered to the inmates. Matt and Sweat also were able to practice their escape without guards noticing.