Pepper? Just like “Cool Hand Luke”? Matt and Sweat were on the run for more than three weeks. Was something that’s given away at fast-food restaurants really an important part of this plan?
New York state said as much.
“We did have difficulty tracking, so it was fairly effective in that respect,” a New York police official said.
Wow. The consensus on pepper’s deliciousness when added to, say, soup or a salad is well-settled. On its effectiveness when trying to elude New York state authorities, however, the matter is somewhat of an open question.
First, there are the pro-pepper people — among them, survivalists or, as they are called, “preppers.” (Pro-pepper preppers, anyone?)
“I often refer to it as ‘Prepper-Spray,'” a post on the Prepper Project called “How To Evade Search Dogs — Your Survival Guide” reads. “If you have a rail mounted pepper spray, you’re always ready to repel an attack, or confuse their scent. Spray a square on the ground, and spray your feet. The scent is too painful for dogs to willingly choose to follow.”
Though it’s the Web site’s job to imagine a future where people are cold, hungry and afraid, the Prepper Project isn’t alone on this one.
“Leave a trail leading into: a garbage pile, or one of my favorites pepper trap!” Ninjutsu Training Online wrote. (Motto: “Using the powerful ancient Ninja strategies in real world modern applications!”) “Carry hot or black pepper and spread it along your trail and watch what happens when the dog takes a nice sniff of the pepper.”
Then there were the doubters. First among them: the Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters.”
“A bloodhound’s olfactory sense is said to be about 1,000 times better than a human’s, which is why the canine is so good at sniffing out our odor-emitting skin cells,” the network wrote of a 2007 episode in which co-host Jamie Hyneman investigated the claim. More or less, Hyneman found there was nothing in the spice cabinet that would prove effective against a bloodhound that knew what it was after.
“In fact, that personal perfume is strong enough that none of Jamie’s bloodhound-busting tactics worked,” Discovery wrote. “He zigzagged and doubled back on his trail, ran through a river, washed and changed clothes, doused himself in coffee and cologne, and even covered his tracks in ground pepper — all to no avail. Each time, Morgan the bloodhound sniffed right through the ruse and found the hiding Hyneman. Up against centuries of top-notch breeding, the busted myth was no match for the bloodhound’s superior schnoz.”
Another author implied that pepper would just make a tracking dog more committed to the task at hand. And the only thing worse than being pursued by tracking dogs is being pursued by really dedicated tracking dogs.
“There are ways to slow down, confuse and even defeat tracker dogs,” Will Fowler wrote in “The Special Forces Guide to Escape and Evasion.” “However using distracting or irritating odors (for example, CS powder or pepper) bothers the dog for only three to five minutes. After the dog has recovered from this distraction, he can pick up a cold trail even quicker.”
One thing those contemplating escape from prison should remember about Cool Hand Luke: He died in the end.
More on the N.Y. prison escape: