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3 inmates on run are true escape artists

To break out of the West Virginia Penitentiary, three inmates dug a 32-foot tunnel, bagged extra dirt in bags marked "peat moss" and built a 14-foot ladder made of pipes and pipe fittings.

When it was all over, the two top corrections officials in the state had resigned _ and other inmates were left laughing.

It turns out the other inmates had known all along about the three murderers' plan to escape. Not only that, the three _ who were serving life sentences _ had escaped before. Tomie Mollohan, 49, and David Williams, 33, had escaped in 1988 from the 126-year-old prison using bolt cutters. Fred Hamilton, 34, had escaped in 1984 from a prison ward at a hospital.

Despite that, Mollohan and Williams had been allowed shovels to work in the greenhouse, their route to freedom.

Officials discovered the three missing after a head count Wednesday. They then found a 4-foot-tall, 32-foot-long escape route leading from under the prison's dirt-floor greenhouse to a road outside a prison wall.

"I will not allow a prison system which permits convicted murderers a pick and a shovel and assigns them a spot in the greenhouse," Gov. Gaston Caperton said Friday in announcing the resignations of state Corrections Commissioner Ron Gregory and parole Chairman Bob Bailey.

An inmate said the 32-foot tunnel was "a well-known secret" among prisoners.

"Everybody inside here is still laughing," said Thomas Drescher, a killer serving a life sentence without parole.

The three escapees remained at large Friday night. Authorities were focusing their search on the area near Moundsville. Officials said they had received numerous reports of sightings of the trio.

In southern West Virginia, Williams and Mollohan were identified as suspects in an armed robbery of a convenience store, Kanawha County officials said. A third person was seen waiting in a car.

The three men were last seen headed toward Charleston in a dark green, four-door sedan.