For over a year, a prisoner at an Auburn, NY correctional facility repeatedly practiced using a homemade coffin hidden under tons of sawdust in order to escape
Gordon "Woody" Mower (pictured left), a 40-year-old Richfield Springs man who murdered his parents at 18, said he and another inmate did dry runs right near guards at least 50 times for a year, according to Syracuse.com.
Mower designed and built a wooden coffin with no bottom, Mower told Syracuse.com. The planned escape from Auburn Correctional Facility is confirmed by prison records, after Mower signed a release, according to the Associated Press. A confidential informant notified prison officials in April 2015 that Mower and another inmate were planning to escape in a coffin hidden under sawdust. Officers discovered a 3-foot by 4-foot wooden box under piles of sawdust, according to the report. Mower said he planned to hide under the coffin and get buried beneath the sawdust, while an unsuspecting local farmer drove him out of the prison.
The farmer, Thomas Lombardo, said that for two or three weeks the sawdust suddenly had lots of pieces of scrap wood in it. Mower told Syracuse.com that the prisoners put them there as decoys, so that guards got used to finding chunks of wood. The sawdust was produced from the prison's woodworking shop, Mower said.
Mower planned for the box to provide him enough air for 15 to 20 minutes, he said. In the practice runs, the box often collapsed under the weight of the sawdust and Mower told the publication that he was was knocked unconscious multiple times. Other inmates dragged him out and used CPR to revive him, he claimed. He said he was aiming for it to be used to help five people escape. He only named one other involved, inmate Larry Utter (pictured right.) Both Utter and Mower are serving life sentences.
Utter denied any involvement and wrote a letter to Syracuse.com that stated he didn’t help.
"I told him I wanted no part of it," Utter, who is serving time for a murder conviction, wrote. "I was no way involved in this plan. He has caused me and several other people a bunch of trouble over his lies."
Mower claimed the escape plans ended in April 2015 after Utter confessed to guards. Mower said he then lied to prison officials, telling them he built the coffin as a shield from sparks while he was welding. Mower had to spend 564 days in solitary confinement as a result. Utter was placed in involuntary protective custody for 24 days.
Spokesman Thomas Mailey stated that the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision continually reviews its security policies and procedures at state prisons to make improvements. No comment was made on the alleged escape plan.
[New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision]