Dec. 15, 2010 Wednesday
LOS ANGELES -- A nationwide man-hunt is underway today after three-time convict Nicholas Claus escaped from prison yesterday evening. Authorities have offered rewards for information leading to his recapture.
The prison break occurred shortly after 6:00 pm local time, when Claus reportedly climbed into a brick fireplace near the mess hall. Security cameras on the roof show him emerging from the chimney and clambering into a get-away vehicle that pulled quickly away. Ground pursuers were unable to follow it.
Warden Joe Mohr described the escape in a statement to the press. "It was pretty audacious. I saw Nick step into the chimney and ordered him to move away. He looked directly at me and tapped his nose like he knew something I didn't, then gave with a nod and bam he was gone," said Mohr.
Chief Inspector Robert Helms, who heads the investigation, called the escape "troubling." Helms noted that the coordination evident in the timing of the escape indicates "direct communication, and possibly even rehearsed extraction scenarios." Nevertheless, he blames lax security for the incident. "Why a fireplace was allowed anywhere near the convict's cell is entirely unclear," Helms said at a press conference earlier today.
Warden Mohr has been fingered for the lapse in protocol. "We searched it for tools and weapons when it came through, and there was nothing dangerous so we had it installed. I never thought the fireplace itself could be used to escape," said Mohr. "Besides, it came gift-wrapped." Police have not released information about who might have sent that package.
Chief Inspector Helms has, however, confirmed the identities of two suspects allegedly involved in aiding the break out. "Security footage implicates Dasher and Donner Tarandus," he said, two brothers and known associates of Claus. Warrants have been issued for their arrest both in the United states and in their native Canada. Other members of the Tarandus family, and the family friend Rudolf Rangifer, are also being sought for questioning.
Nicholas Claus, who operated under the alias "Kristopher L. Kringle," was serving a two-year sentence following conviction for fifty-six counts of trespassing. Court records show that more serious charges are still to be brought against him, pending procurement of witnesses. Attorney H. Livingston has previously stated his intention to prosecute Claus in connection with an international smuggling ring once sufficient evidence has been gathered. "Past complaints against him [Claus] have failed in court due to the anecdotal nature of the reports, but we believe we can mount a convincing case based on well corroborated facts," said Livingston at the time of Claus' trespassing conviction. Neither Livingston nor C.C. Moore, who was Nicholas Claus' defense lawyer, could be reached for comment today.
Claus' prior convictions, for which he was fined and sentenced to community service, involved customs and tariff violations, and one count impersonating a clergy during the well-known "Father Christmas" incident. Popular rumors that he also impersonated a saint have been dismissed as fanciful.
The police bulletin describes Claus as a 5'11" white male, 62 years old and 255 pounds with a ruddy complexion and "a droll little mouth." At the time of his escape Claus also had a large white beard and mustache, but police remind the public that he may have altered his appearance.
Police also warn that Claus, who was arrested almost a year ago, is most active during the holiday season. "We ask that people take extra precautions to ensure their homes are not invaded this year," said Helms.