17 Years After This Prisoner Escaped, Police Finally Found His Unexpected Hiding Place

Perhaps fugitive Son Jiang hears a whir outside of his hiding spot – an unlikely sound in the secret location where he lives. Even if he doesn’t notice the drone hovering overhead, it’s too late; police have found him after 17 years on the run in China. And it’s hard to fathom living in the spot where they discover Jiang.

Jiang had, of course, spent nearly two decades on the run after making his escape from a prison camp in 2002. He had earned his place behind bars for partaking in the trafficking of women and children. But instead of serving his full sentence, Jiang successfully broke out of the camp.

Fortunately for police and for Jiang’s victims, technology caught up with the escaped prisoner. Authorities deployed drones to an area where they thought Jiang might be hiding; and there, they saw signs of human inhabitation. Finally, they had found the fugitive hiding out in a place no one would have ever expected.

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But Jiang isn’t the only prisoner to have escaped detention in recent years. Ohio’s Gallia County Jail had already faced plenty of criticism prior to a headline-grabbing breakout in 2019. One prisoner had died from an overdose on contraband drugs, while another had committed suicide within the jail’s walls.

Some of the facility’s problems traced back to its outdated setup and security – the jail was built more than 50 years ago. It didn’t have the strength or space to hold all of the prisoners that would come through in modern times. Plus, since the 1980s or ‘90s, the inmates’ cells have had to remain permanently open to house more people inside of them.

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The dorm-style sleeping arrangements and old-school facilities counted as just two of the jail’s big issues. Gallia County sheriff Matt Champlin told The New York Times in September 2019 that they had trouble recruiting officers to guard the jail. He mentioned that staff made between $11 and $15 an hour, a factor which might have contributed to the low level of interest.

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So all of these issues made the Gallia County jail a prime backdrop for bad behavior amongst its inmates. Some had already successfully broken out of their confines, while others had made their escape while riding in a jail transport vehicle. And then there were the four men who plotted their departure in the fall of 2019.

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Lawrence R. Lee III, Brynn K. Martin, Christopher M. Clemente and Troy R. McDaniel had found themselves behind bars after committing a slew of serious offenses. Among the charges against the group were drug possession, domestic violence, burglary, assault, menacing and unlawful restraint. But rather than facing their sentences, the men came up with another plan.

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From behind bars, Lee, Martin, Clemente and McDaniel fashioned a homemade weapon. And with it, the quartet of criminals overpowered the two female correctional officers on duty on a Sunday just after midnight. Without guards in their way, all the inmates had to do was force through a security door to break out of the jail and into the outside world.

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As it turned out, one of the fleeing inmates had a good idea of how to make such an escape – Martin had broken out of Gallia County Jail previously. His knowledge must have helped him, Clemente, McDaniel and Lee make their getaway. After breaking out of the jail itself, though, there were a few more steps to be taken.

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The quartet of inmates then entered the jail’s administrative wing and stole a corrections officer’s car keys. They subsequently drove the cop’s vehicle one block away from the jail and got into another car that was waiting for them. As such, police believed that someone on the outside had helped formulate the escape plan.

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Once in the getaway car, Martin, Clemente, McDaniel and Lee drove from Ohio to Pennsylvania, where they ditched their vehicle. Authorities closed down a Pittsburgh-area mall when they thought an escapee might be in the area. But the inmates would avoid detection and capture in the Keystone State.

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Instead, police in a state far away would recognize Clemente, Martin, Lee and McDaniel. Nearly 400 miles southeast of Gallia County Jail, the North Carolina Highway Patrol learned that the men might be in their state. More specifically, they had been spotted near a Red Roof Inn hotel in Cary.

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So, Cary’s police force responded accordingly and made their way to the Red Roof Inn where the inmates might’ve been spotted. Once there, they found Martin, McDaniel, Clemente and Lee – but they arrested only three of them. Lee managed to elude capture once again, triggering a manhunt for the escaped criminal.

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Luckily, Lee didn’t make it far – authorities in nearby Durham, NC, took him into custody. In a Facebook post, Champlin took time to thank those responsible for locating the escaped inmates – the NC authorities. He wrote in September 2019, “I would like to thank the hard working law enforcement professionals who have tirelessly dedicated themselves to providing an end to the search for these escapees.”

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Elsewhere, some fugitives take police on an international hunt to find them. Erez Akrishevski received an 18-year prison sentence in Israel in 1998 for the attempted murder of a father and son. Three years later, though, Akrishevski took a 48-hour leave from prison – and used his two days as a chance to escape the country altogether.

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Because Akrishevski went on the run internationally, the Israel National Police logged his information with Interpol. More specifically, they filed a Red Notice, which alerted countries around the world to the identity of an internationally wanted individual. And, eventually, the all-points bulletin got a bite in Argentina.

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Three years after Akrishevi fled Israel, authorities apprehended him halfway around the world in Argentina. But the fugitive would return to life on the run – once again, while on bail, the convicted murderer escaped. And this time, he’d remain on the lam for more than a decade.

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During this time, Akrishevski’s criminal habits may have kept him busy. According to an Interpol bulletin about the fugitive, he may have had links to players in the Israeli organized crime scene, as well as in other illegal activities. And allegedly he partook in all of it while traveling around the Americas, evading capture.

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But life on the run would come to an end for Akrishevski. In February 2019 Interpol’s Fugitive Investigative Support unit honed in on him. They opened conversation and collaboration between Israel, Mexico and the United States. The US Marshals Service for International Investigations began to map Akrishevski’s known locations and contacts.

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Eventually, this multi-country collaboration led to Akrishevski’s long-awaited capture in the summer of 2019. Authorities arrested him in Mexico and quickly shipped him back to Israel, where he would finally serve out the remainder of his sentence. Interpol lauded his capture as proof of the power of collaboration between international police and investigative departments.

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Nowadays, though, police officers don’t just rely on each other to find fugitives; modern technology also helps them find their suspects. More specifically, they can use drones to their great investigative advantage. And of course, these aerial devices do more than just help them find people of interest.

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For instance, a drone can help police create detailed maps of their area of jurisdiction. Previously, they would hire a helicopter to hover overhead and capture images of the city or town’s layout, but such a project would always be costly. With drones, though, they slash the price and get high-quality images useful in later crime scene investigations, for instance.

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For its part, a drone can fly to a crime scene to gather evidence and create reference materials for investigating officers. If evidence sits somewhere high or otherwise hard to reach, for instance, a drone can still swoop in and pick it up. Drones can also survey a crime scene and gather footage without disturbing anything.

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Drones also have plenty of power to find and pinpoint people in trouble – or those on the run. In the former scenario, police have deployed drones after natural disasters when it’s unsafe for larger aircraft to fly; and they’ve been able to pinpoint the locations of people stranded by major storms.

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Search and rescue units are better for having drones, too. Most of the time, they’re tasked with finding missing people and pets, and they use the planes to cover more ground. They also deploy them to find hikers who go missing, as well as elderly people who accidentally wander away from their abodes.

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A drone can be of huge help at an accident site, specifically when a victim gets ejected from their vehicle. The aerial device can also help locate the person if police officers can’t. Some drones have thermal cameras, too, and can use the lens to pick up on a missing person’s heat signature.

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Not all people want to be found by the police of course, but drones make it easier to chase them down. For starters, a suspect who eludes capture might climb to a roof or higher ground to make an escape. And without officers on the same level, it would be tough to see where the person goes.

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Drones can rise into the sky to keep an eye on escaping suspects. At any height, they can help police to assess a person of interest – the footage can help discern if they’re carrying a weapon, for example. And all of this information makes it safer for SWAT teams to charge in and apprehend a person on the run.

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Song Jiang’s capture in China would all be thanks to a drone, too. He had once faced charges of human trafficking, and his victims had been both women and children. After his conviction, he had been locked up in a prison camp, but Jiang wouldn’t fulfill his sentence. Instead, he escaped in 2002.

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And nothing came of Jiang’s case for 17 years, when police received a tip-off as to the fugitive’s location. In September 2019 someone told authorities that the convicted human trafficker had settled somewhere near his hometown in Yunnan. For its part, this is a southwest Chinese province characterized by its stunning natural landscapes.

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The majority of the Yunnan province’s terrain climbs high into the sky – mountain chains jut across most of the area. Rivers snake through the valleys, and a myriad of lush foliage grows, too. In fact, Yunnan has more diverse plant life than anywhere else in China.

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While all of this is a sight to see, Yunnan province isn’t an easy place to find a fugitive on the run. And police would figure that out in their search for Jiang. The tips and clues they received led them to believe the fugitive had hidden himself in a mountainous area near his hometown.

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But the police officers’ initial sweep of the area left them empty-handed – they didn’t have Jiang, nor did they spot any sign of him in the wilderness. Luckily, authorities heard about the unsuccessful search and sent the police a very useful tool to help them in their search.

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Drones could make the search through Yunnan province’s mountains a whole lot simpler, so authorities sent them over to the local police. And once deployed, the aerial devices soon made themselves very useful. In the midst of the unforgiving terrain, the drones captured images that suggested a person might be living nearby.

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For one thing, the drones revealed a large blue steel tile atop a steep cliff. The manmade material appeared to serve as some sort of roof. Aerial device also captured footage of what appeared to household garbage. Indeed, this was another sign of life amid what police had once described, according to NBC News, as “complex terrain and dense vegetation.”

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With that, police knew where to focus their search for Jiang. They arrived at the location of the blue tile to find a cave. And, guarding the entry to the rocky shelter was, police said, “an unkempt old man.” And they knew exactly who the disheveled figure was – the prison camp escapee, Jiang.

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And his time on the run had certainly changed Jiang. The officers who found him revealed that he couldn’t communicate well, having lived in seclusion and on his own for so long. They also reported that his outdoor lifestyle had “devastated” his body – he hadn’t washed his clothes or himself in “a long time.”

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Still, Jiang had employed plenty of survival methods that had kept him alive in the middle of nowhere. He’d filled plastic bottles with fresh mountain water and picked up sticks to build fires over which he’d cook. Blackened pots and pans inside of the cave showed that he whipped up meals over an open flame.

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Of course, it would take plenty of adaptations to make life work in Jiang’s cave. The space measured in at less than 21 square feet, and it didn’t have enough height for an average person to stand up inside of it. But the fugitive wouldn’t have to mind his head forever – police took the dishevelled man out of his cave and brought him back to jail.

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