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'The failsafe was death' | Daring story of how 2 inmates escaped — and the mysterious video of a body for ransom in Mexico

Casey Ridenour and Charles Kennedy strategized every detail of their escape from the Fentress County jail. It all went out the window as soon as they started to run.

Cole Sullivan

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Published: 3:42 PM EDT May 15, 2022
Updated: 10:15 AM EDT May 17, 2022

Watch the never-before-told story of this daring escape Monday night at 6 and 11 on WBIR Channel 10.

They would've made it if it weren't for the mosquitoes. 

Deep in the woods of Fentress County, Tenn., Charles Kennedy and Casey Ridenour burrowed into the mud to rest — and think. 

The jailhouse friends had run through the trees all day and into the night. At 7:48 on the morning of July 19, 2021, they bolted out of an unlocked door at the county jail, stole a jailer's car and escaped. 

Kennedy and Ridenour, charged with burglary and second-degree murder respectively, had evaded deputies and search dogs for hours. They carried makeshift mop-string backpacks, stores of peanut butter and bleach for water purification, a pink surgical mask disguise and a plan to steal two identities and get to Mexico. They just needed a moment to strategize and catch their breath. 

But the bugs kept biting. So they kept moving. Eaten alive and exhausted after more than a dozen hours on the run, the pair made a mistake late that night which cost Ridenour his freedom.

"We thought we would make it. We really, really believed we would make it," Ridenour said.

Kennedy did make it to Mexico but didn't enjoy his freedom long. In November, his sister received a ransom video from a Mexican criminal organization asking for money in exchange for his body, authorities said. 

In a series of jailhouse interviews with 10News, Ridenour described for the first time their weeks of meticulous preparation for the escape, their hours together on the lam and their plan for survival 2,000 miles south of home.

It's impossible to verify all of Ridenour's story. Law enforcement confirmed some key details, but certain records related to the investigation haven't been released. The TBI said its file will remain confidential.

The tale is one of friendship, conspiracy, luck and mystery — or, as Ridenour described it, "More or less a cowboy story."