Thirty years ago Thursday, Nassau County jail prisoners Joseph Quartieri and James McQuade sneaked into a dining hall under construction. They used a water pipe to smash a window and pry open the bars. After climbing out, the pair tied bedsheets together to scale a 16-foot wall.
While McQuade was caught eight days later, Quartieri, a jewel thief, has never been apprehended. But his legacy remains: The escape brought changes in how prisoners are guarded.
And law enforcement officials haven't forgotten him.
The New York/New Jersey Regional Fugitive Task Force of the U.S. Marshals Service says his trail has grown cold but Quartieri remains a high priority. So the agency today plans to announce a $10,000 reward for information leading to his arrest.
"Time is not a deterrent for the United States Marshals Service," said Chief U.S. Marshal Eugene J. Corcoran. "We have a history of relentlessly tracking down violent fugitives."
Quartieri qualifies: he was in the jail on a charge of attempted murder of a Nassau County police officer.
Over three decades, the marshals have received hundreds of tips about Quartieri and have questioned dozens of people. Marshals and police scrutinized surveillance photos of people at the 2002 funeral of Gambino organized-crime boss John Gotti until they determined a tip that the fugitive had been there was bogus.
Also charged with robbery, Quartieri was taken to the East Meadow jail in July 1979. Quartieri, 32, and McQuade pulled off their escape the following March 4.
"Capturing Joseph Quartieri is just as important today as it was 30 years ago," said Corcoran, who added that he is still considered especially dangerous because of his criminal history and involvement in the attempted murder of a police officer.
And Nassau County police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey, whose officers are working with the marshals to capture Quartieri, said "The determination of the U.S. Marshals Service to apprehend Joseph Quartieri should send a clear message that the law enforcement community will not rest, regardless of time, in our efforts to pursue violent criminals."
Quartieri remains a high interest target for authorities because in the month before the Oceanside shootout, he took part in two other Long Island jewelry store robberies and had been arrested 24 times in New York, California and Colorado. He had served eight years in prison.
Quartieri and McQuade escaped after they left the visitors' area. Jail procedure at the time did not require correction officers to escort prisoners back to their cells, according to a Newsday report at the time. Prisoners were supposed to return through a corridor with a series of locked doors manned by officers.
After passing the last doors, Quartieri and McQuade broke into the adjoining dining hall for correction officers, which was under construction. They changed into clothes left behind by construction workers and broke off an 8-foot section of pipe to smash the glass window and pry apart the bars. The men climbed through the window into an exercise yard, tied bedsheets together to make a rope to scale a 16-foot wall, walked along an unmanned wall in the rear of the jail and jumped into the backyard of an adjacent home.
After the escape, the procedures were changed to have a correction officer stationed on the wall and require that officers escort prisoners back from the visitor's area, the newspaper reported.
In addition to the inaccurate report of Quartieri attending Gotti's funeral, highlighted on an edition of America's Most Wanted, other tips had him helped out of the country by organized crime associates or killed soon after the escape by mob associates when he went to collect money he was owed for passing stolen jewelry to a mob fence, officials said.
If Quartieri is still alive, he would be 62. And if captured he would face charges of escape in addition to attempted murder and robbery.
At the time of his escape, Quartieri was known to be a habitual drug user and devil worshipper with a pentagram tattooed on his left shoulder, according to Roy Wright, the Deputy U.S. marshal in charge of the search.
He was five-feet-three and weighed 130 to 150 pounds when arrested and was said to have a history of mental illness, a nervous stomach and an allergy to aspirin. He had used a number of aliases, including Joseph Destafano, Joseph Anderson, John Wyman and Joseph Quadro.
Anybody with information on Quartieri's whereabouts is asked to call the marshals service at 1-877-WANTED2. More information is available at www.usmswanted.com.
Wright, who has been working on the Quartieri case for several years, said, "we never stop looking."