LIMA, Peru — When it comes to plotting a brazen prison escape, there may be few stratagems more effective — or soulless — than swapping places with your unwitting identical twin.
That was the ploy adopted by Alexander Jheferson Delgado, a convicted sex offender and burglar, who has just been recaptured more than a year after escaping prison by drugging his twin brother and then dressing in his clothes.
The escape happened on the morning of Jan. 10, 2017, when Alexander’s twin, Giancarlo Stuard Delgado, showed up at Piedras Gordas prison to visit his sibling and bring him food and letters from other relatives.
After meeting in a common area of the prison, which sits on a particularly bleak stretch of Pacific coastline north of Lima, the 28-year-old brothers went to Alexander's cell. There, the convict offered his unsuspecting sibling a sedative-laced soda.
Giancarlo promptly passed out, waking up several hours later surrounded by concerned guards. Still groggy and disoriented, he told them what had happened. But prison authorities initially refused to believe the story, raising the prospect that Giancarlo might end up serving the remaining 14 years of his brother’s 16-year sentence for robbery and raping a minor.
“Yes, I do love him,” Giancarlo told a Peruvian television station when asked about his feelings for his fugitive brother. Forgiveness, he admitted, might be tougher: “I need to speak with him about that.”
The switch was resolved only after Giancarlo’s fingerprints were compared with those of his errant brother. Even then, authorities suspected he might have deliberately participated in Alexander’s breakout. After prosecutors decided not to press charges against Giancarlo, Carlos Vásquez, the head of Peru’s prison agency, still insisted that he had been complicit. “That alibi, only he believes it,” Vásquez said.
Peru’s interior minister at the time, Marisol Pérez Tello, described the escape as “incredible.” It was the first successful breakout from Piedras Gordas, supposedly one of Peru’s most secure penitentiaries, in 12 years.
A review of the prison's security cameras subsequently revealed that Alexander walked casually through six security checkpoints on the way out of the prison despite lacking the stamp on his arm that all-day visitors receive on the way in. The director of Piedras Gordas and several guards were subsequently fired for alleged negligence.
But Alexander's days on the lam came to an abrupt end earlier this week when detectives arrested him at a house in Callao, a port city abutting Lima. In a statement, the interior ministry said his recapture had been the culmination of months of surveillance work. A reward of 20,000 sols (about $6,100) had been offered for information leading to his capture, although it was unclear whether anyone had claimed that money.
As he was led handcuffed by detectives into a police station shortly after his recapture, Alexander was peppered with questions by local journalists. Responding to one about why he had escaped from prison, he blamed his “desperation to see my mother.”
Vázquez said that Alexander will now serve the rest of his sentence at Challapalca, an Andean prison located about 16,000 feet above sea level, which is reserved for Peru’s most recalcitrant prisoners.
But Challapalca, like most of Peru’s prisons, has been plagued with allegations of staff corruption and incompetence. It was the scene of a mass breakout of 17 prisoners in 2012.
Last year, the country’s overcrowded and crumbling jail system was home to more than 85,000 inmates, more than double its intended capacity. About 40 percent were in pretrial detention, with suspects frequently waiting years for their day in court. Meanwhile, it is routine for guards to allow sex workers, drugs and other contraband into such facilities. Despite those problems, however, there is little appetite in a nation racked by poverty and hunger to invest more resources into prisons.