The tunnel used by Cai Changpan to escape from the Tangerang penitentiary. (B1 Photo)

Prison Break: Police Hunt for Escaped Chinese Death Row Inmate


OCTOBER 03, 2020

Jakarta. Police are still searching for Cai Changpan, a death row inmate convicted of drug smuggling, who managed to escape prison by digging a tunnel.

The Chinese prisoner had broken out of the Tangerang class I penitentiary on Sep. 14, 2020, precisely at 2.30 a.m. by crouching through a self-dug tunnel. 


The 30-meter long and 2.5-meter diameter tunnel connects his cell to the sewers just outside the penitentiary.

Almost three weeks have passed since his prison break.

While Cai's actual whereabouts remain a mystery, police have made several discoveries on his escape plan after questioning 14 witnesses, including his wife, cellmate, and prison officers.

During questioning, the cellmate claimed Cai had been digging the tunnel for eight months.

The escapee would push his bunk bed and dig a hole beneath it, starting from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. At dawn, he would push his bed back to its normal position and start digging again at night.

Every day, he scooped two plastic bags of ground soil, which would later be thrown into the trash. 

"[Cai once] offered the cellmate to tag along, but the latter did not want to be involved nor come with him. He had also taken the cellmate's cell phone [before breaking free]," Jakarta Metropolitan Police spokesman Chief Comr. Yusri Yunus said in Jakarta on Friday, as quoted by Jakarta Globe's sister publication Beritasatu.

Cai reportedly had stolen several digging tools such as a shovel and screwdriver from a kitchen construction within the facility.

Not Quite Right

With Cai's smooth escape, police are digging deeper for any possible prison officer involvement. The 53-years old man was only discovered to be missing eleven hours after his escape. 

"During these eleven hours, there were three guard shifts. We need to look onto the prison's watch system," Yusri said.

Cai was only discovered to be missing on the third shift. Police are investigating whether the first two guards actually checked his cell. Also, both the tower guard and another officer in charge of monitoring the CCTV claimed they were asleep during the escape, Yusri added.

It was also odd how Cai managed to dig a hole under the guard's radar for eight months.

When questioned, Cai's cellmate claimed two prison officers had received a bribe worth Rp 100.000 ($6.73) to run an errand for his digging tools. The shopping list included a water pump used to drain out the water that would submerge the tunnel. 

"The first one, S, was a jail officer. The other, [also with the initial] S, is a civil servant at the penitentiary," Yusri said.

Both can potentially become suspects under Article 426 of the Criminal Code.

As of now, police have not declared them as suspects.

Into the Woods

Once free, Cai stopped by at a mom-and-pop store near the facility for a pack of cigarettes. He later visited his wife in her home in Tenjo, Bogor. Before fleeing again, he had given the cellmate's phone to his child.

The police were able to trace Cai's trails to his wife's home, thanks to the phone. They have also deployed teams to search the forest in the Tenjo area as the escapee reportedly had fled into the woods.

Also, Cai is now on the police's wanted list.

In 2017, Cai was sentenced to death for smuggling 135 kilograms of drugs. In the same year, he managed to break out of prison before getting caught just four days later.