DETROIT — 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 lam Monday 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 back.
“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.
The woman, who said she had never seen Elliott before, knew she was in Indiana but couldn’t say what town or county they were in.
“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, the woman described him and said he was wearing a jacket and black cargo pants.
Elliot told her he “just wants to get someplace far from Ionia,” the woman said.
The man, convicted of the murder of four people in 1993, then knocked on the bathroom door and asked if she is ready to go.
“Yeah in a little bit,” she said. “Sorry, it’s taking me longer than what I thought.”
Officials said Elliot used a white kitchen uniform to aid his escape from the Ionia Correctional Facility and was discovered missing around 9:30 p.m. Sunday night.
He may have escaped a few hours earlier though, and officials believe he is no longer in Michigan.
“We learned that apparently he had maneuvered the fencing,” Michigan Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said. “And then crawled through a hole in the interior and exterior facility fences.”
Officials, who believe Elliott acted alone, said during a news conference Monday that the white kitchen uniform may have helped him evade security.
But 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 Monday 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.”
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 Elkhart, Ind., about 100 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. The prisoner then left in her vehicle, a 2004 Jeep Liberty, and remained on the run Monday.
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 handed down in Gladwin County on Aug. 8, 1993. The four victims were shot in Bentley Township, 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 Vickie 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 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 this morning.
Prison officials realized Elliot was missing during formal count last night around 9:30 p.m.
“It showed that one prisoner was missing,” Marlan said. “We began our escaped protocol at that point.”
Authorities ask anyone who witnesses suspicious activity or sees Michael David Elliot to call 911.
Tom Tylutki, the president of the Michigan Corrections Organization who wrote the letter to Heyns citing security concerns, said today he has no immediate indication the escape was linked to the food privatization, but he is seeking more information.
Elliot was in a dormitory style setting due to his security level and may have stolen the uniform from another prisoner who did work in the kitchen, he said. Some prison kitchens have box cutters, others do not, he said.