David Sweat and Richard Matt — the two now-infamous prisoners who escaped from Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York and led authorities on a three-week chase — reportedly sprinkled pepper in their tracks in an attempt to throw off bloodhounds.
On Sunday, after second fugitive David Sweat was shot and captured, New York State Police revealed that they found a pepper shaker with Sweat’s DNA near the area where Richard Matt was killed Friday.
The strategy is believed to be learned from the classic film Cool Hand Luke, in which an escaped prisoner played by Paul Newman uses a mix of “chili powder and pepper and curry and the like” to throw search dogs off his scent.
However, although police superintendent Joseph A. D’Amico conceded on Sunday that “We did have difficulty tracking, so it was fairly effective in that respect,” the pepper is not believed to have successfully distracted bloodhounds from the trail.
At best, the foot track might be disrupted by this tactic, but search dogs would still be able to follow a person’s scent in the air and the dead skin cells naturally deposited during movement.
“The dog is more effective than the escapees’ attempt to elude the dog,” Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, a dog cognition expert at Barnard College, told the New York Times.