Photo from Elkhart Co. Sheriff
IONIA, Mich. (WZZM/Detroit Free Press) -- The woman abducted by a 40-year-old convicted murderer who escaped from the Ionia Correctional Facility in mid-Michigan Sunday and remains on the run today called 911 when they stopped for gas in Indiana and calmly told the operator she was being held hostage.
"You're being held hostage?" the operator repeated.
"Yes," she said. "He's in paying for gas."
Michael David Elliot, who had a box cutter and hammer and escaped by creating holes in fences, didn't know she had a cell phone, the woman told the dispatcher.
"He forced his way into my vehicle in Ionia, Michigan," she said.
That SUV, a 2004 red Jeep Liberty, has since been recovered in LaGrange County Sheriff's Office, the same county that received the woman's 911 call.
It was located abandoned in a parking lot in Shipshewana, several miles from the gas station, Michigan State Police said.
The woman taken hostage by Elliot, who was convicted of the murder of four people killed in 1993, said she had never seen him before and told authorities she knew she was in Indiana but couldn't say what town or county.
"Is there any way you can stay on the phone with me and go into the gas station?" the operator asked. "Tell him you have to use the restroom."
From inside the locked bathroom in the area of Middlebury, Indiana, the woman gave a description of Elliot and said he was wearing a jacket and her black cargo pants.
The escaped inmate told her he "just wants to get someplace far from Ionia," the woman said.
Elliot then knocked on the bathroom door and asked if she was ready to go.
"Yeah in a little bit," she said. "Sorry, it's taking me longer than what I thought."
Elliot escaped through two perimeter fences, which he pried open using his hands, Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said. The interior and exterior fences that make up the perimeter fencing are more than 10 feet apart, he said.
Officials said Elliot used a white kitchen uniform to aid his escape from the Ionia Correctional Facility and was discovered missing around 9:15 p.m. Sunday night during formal count.
Elliot went to the fence at a time when other prisoners were going to eat in the chow hall and wore a white kitchen jumpsuit that allowed him to blend in with the snow, Marlan said. He left the exterior fence at 7 p.m.
Michigan Department of Corrections Director Dan Heyns said there is no indication the escape was linked to the recent privatization of prison food services. The union representing corrections officers has raised security concerns about issues such as access to knives and tools after the administration eliminated about 370 state jobs and awarded a $145-million, three-year contract to Philadelphia-based Aramark Correctional Services.
The state estimated that the contract, which began in December, will save taxpayers about $12 million to $16 million a year.
Corrections officers said in a January letter to Heyns the change has hurt security.
Heyns said today the privatization of food service "played no role in this escape."
"He was not assigned to the kitchen," Heyns said. "He got a uniform and used that."
Marlan, who said security camera footage has been reviewed, said there was a vehicle monitoring the perimeter of the prison that evening.
According to information on the department's website about the Ionia prison: "Security consists of two 12 foot wire fences (which incorporate a Stun Fence), razor ribbon, gun towers, security surveillance cameras and a personal alarm system for staff throughout the facility. Enclosed officer's stations separate each wing within the Level V housing units. A patrol vehicle with armed personnel constantly patrols the prison perimeter."
Elliot is believed to have made his way through a wooded area and fields between the correctional facility and the city of Ionia.
Shortly after his escape, Elliot abducted the woman in Ionia using a box cutter. It's unclear how he obtained the weapon. They then drove to Middlebury, Ind., about 120 miles southwest of Ionia.
"They stopped for fuel," Marlan said. "She was able to escape and call 911 on her cell phone."
The woman contacted police at about 11:50 p.m. and Elliot left in her vehicle.
Elliot is white, 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds. According to Michigan Department of Corrections records, he was serving a life sentence for four first-degree murder convictions. The four victims were shot on Aug. 8, 1993 in Gladwin County, which is north of Midland and about 140 miles northwest of Detroit.
According to court records, police arrested Elliot in Saginaw four days after the murders, and he had a .38 caliber pistol in his pocket, the same gun witnesses said he had the night of the murders.
"It was later determined through ballistics that 10 of the 15 bullets used to kill the four victims came from this weapon," court records said.
Elliot maintained he was at his aunt's house on the night of the murder and that witnesses in the case were lying to save themselves. He also said he bought the murder weapon the day after the murders.
Court records indicate Elliot - and three co-defendants - hatched a plan for an armed robbery and went to the house where Vicky Currie and Michael Tufnell lived. Elliot and another man went into the house with two guns, including a stolen shotgun that they had tested earlier to make sure it worked. Two others stayed in the car.
"(Elliot) told the others that he had shot Tufnell in the head and had shot everyone in the back of the head," court records said. He was laughing as he said it, a court document said.
A Cadillac belonging to Cathy Lane, one of the murder victims, was taken and the house set on fire before they left the crime scene, records said.
Elliot was also convicted of arson and armed robbery.
"We are collecting information and intelligence here at the facility, interviewing other prisoners, going through his phone calls, his mail, his visitor list, trying to develop any kinds of leads on where he might be going," Marlan said today.
Elliot has had 22 misconducts since he was imprisoned 20 years ago, but hasn't had one since December 2008, Marlan said. His misconducts included those for substance abuse, disobeying direct orders, possession of dangerous contraband, being out of place, theft and possession of forged documents, Marlan said.
He said Elliot was a security Level II prisoner and lived in a housing setting with multiple bunk beds for prisoners. According to the corrections department's web site, level II housing "consists of a large pole-barn construction divided into two units with 140 beds in each unit."
The Ionia Correctional Facility also houses security Level V - maximum security - prisoners.
"Elliot should be considered armed and dangerous," police said.
Authorities ask anyone who witnesses suspicious activity or sees Elliot to call 911.
Contact Elisha Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-222-5144.