US police shift manhunt for 2 escaped inmates as DNA evidence is reportedly found

NEW YORK (AFP) - United States police shifted a manhunt for two escaped killers once again on Monday as DNA evidence was reportedly found in a cabin 17 days after they bust out of a New York jail.

Richard Matt, 49, and David Sweat, 35, escaped June 6 from a maximum-security jail close to the Canadian border, in a carefully rehearsed, elaborate prison break that has been likened to a Hollywood movie.

US media reported that DNA evidence had been found, linking the two murderers to a hunting cabin, in the Mountain View, New York area, that had been broken into as little as 24 hours earlier.

Boots, bloody socks and toiletries were found, local newspaper the Press-Republican reported. Mountain View is around 48km west of the Clinton Correctional Facility. If confirmed, the DNA-link would be strongest lead since the pair cut through their cell walls using power tools, and crawled their way through pipes to emerge from a manhole.

State police said on Monday that a weekend search, 563km south-west of the prison, had been called off and that energies were once again focused closer to the prison.

On Saturday, a witness had seen two men fitting Matt and Sweat's descriptions walking along a railroad line in the town of Friendship, close to the New York-Pennsylvania state border.

Around 300 local, state and federal officers searched the area, but police said the area was clear and that roadblocks had been dismantled.

Police said residents in Dannemora, around the prison, should be on alert, and warned members of the public not to approach either man but instead call emergency services.

There is a US$100,000 reward for information leading to their arrest.

Matt and Sweat used hacksaw blades supplied by a 51-year-old married female prison worker, who reportedly had a relationship with both men, and equipment stolen from a toolbox left by construction workers.

Ms Joyce Mitchell, who worked in the prison's tailor shop, is in custody charged with facilitating their escape.

She allegedly confessed to giving the pair tools and to planning to meet them with a getaway car, but changed her mind at the last minute and checked into a hospital suffering from a panic attack.

She also told investigators that the two escapees also plotted to kill her husband, Lyle, officials have said.

Matt, 1.83m tall with multiple tattoos, was serving a sentence of 25 years to life for the 1997 kidnapping and dismembering of his former boss in a 27-hour ordeal.

He fled to Mexico after the murder and killed another American there, before being sentenced to 20 years and extradited back to New York.

Sweat was serving a life sentence without parole for murdering a sheriff's deputy in New York state in 2002 when he was 22.