Alleged prison break accomplice claims she was threatened

Alleged prison break accomplice claims she was threatened

PORTAGE, Wis. (WMTV) — The alleged accomplice in last week’s escape from the Columbia Correctional Institution reportedly told investigators that she had been receiving notes demanding she smuggle items into the prison or else they would “rape and kill [her] daughter.”

Holly M. Zimdahl claimed she received around a dozen of the notes, which instructed her to bring the items into the prison’s kitchen, where she worked as Food Service Leader, and leave them in the mild cooler, according to the criminal complaint against her. The document also stated that Zimdahl’s daughter worked in the prison as well.

Zimdahl, who was arrested last Friday, appeared in court for the first time Tuesday, where a Columbia County judge set her bond at $10,000 and scheduled her pre-trial conference for June 1st. Additionally, the 46-year-old Pardeeville woman was ordered not to have contact with other CCI employees and she will only be allowed to return to the prison once, in order to retrieve her stuff.

She has been charged with a single count each of being party to the crime of escape and delivering illegal articles to an inmate.

According to the Department of Corrections, Zimdahl has been placed on administrative leave without pay and the agency is conducting its own internal investigation alongside working with law enforcement on the criminal one.


One of the men she is accused of helping escape, Thomas Deering, reportedly told a member of the police department in Rockford, Illinois, where he was captured that the escape was worth it just to see the sunrise and sunset.

The criminal complaint filed Tuesday against Zimdahl also notes that Deering bragged about being the only person in Wisconsin to have escaped from two maximum security prisons.

According to the complaint, which revealed new details about the early morning escape, Deering and the other inmate, James Newman, were released from their cells to go work in the prison’s bakery shortly before 4:30 a.m. Instead of reporting for their shift however, the pair allegedly went to the fence area, where an officer later found makeshift ropes on each side and clothes covering barbed wire.

Outside the fence, the complaint said, lay a note, crumpled up on the ground, with apparent instructions on it:

Call first
302 N. Baldwin/Gorham walkdown Gorham-west towards the Capital
CAB 608-742-4700 CASH$ ½ hr before pickup
The Best Western Resort Hotel & Conference Center, 2701 County Rd. CX,
Portage WI 53901
Portage Municipal Airport 1011 SilverLake Dr., Portage, WI 53901

At that Best Western, a Portage Police detective says he found a pile of white clothes with blood on them. The complaint adds that the same detective then tracked down a Portage Cab driver who said she picked them up thinking they wanted to go to the Portage airport. The dispatcher who sent the driver told police the person who ordered the taxi claimed he wanted to go there, so he could interview for a mechanic’s position – a claim she found odd, knowing no one worked at the airport.

When the two men were picked up at the hotel, which was about 20 minutes after the escape, they gave here $100 bill and asked to go to Madison, the complaint continued. It stated that she replied she wasn’t allowed to go more than ten miles outside of Portage, so she wouldn’t be able to take them any further south than the Piggly Wiggly in Poynette. During that trip, one of the men sounded like he was making arrangements to be met there.

Because the complaint focused on the allegations against Zimdahl, rather than Deering and Newman, it did not detail where the inmates went from there.


As authorities investigated the prison break, the complaint states CCI Captain Kevin Pitzen turned over items related to a previous internal investigation. In addition to fourteen crisp $100 bills and two cellular phones, there was a handwritten note that read:

Insulated Carbide Tipped Electric Fence Cutters that can cut through 1/8” galvanized steel fencing. They have them at for $50.00, or you can get them at Home Depot-Lowe’s-or Farm & Fleet.

A search of Zimdahl’s home found two cellular phones and three SIM cards, despite her husband telling investigators that he only knew of her having one, according to the complaint.

When Zimdahl was interviewed by a detective she claimed she had been receiving the threatening notes since February, but did not know who was sending them, according to the complaint. A jailer at the prison also told investigators she remembered Zimdahl telling her about the threats.

Zimdahl claimed she received about 12 of those notes and that she knew what she was doing was wrong, according to the complaint. In some cases, she claimed, she couldn’t find the objects the note demanded, including one of the ones listed on the note investigators found. She reportedly said that she bought “like a Milwaukee clippers from Farm & Fleet or something.”


On the morning of Zimdahl’s arrest, both Deering and Newman were captured after they turned up at a Rockford shelter. The person who owned the shelter, Miss Carly, said she recognized them and called police. Then she kept them occupied until police arrived.

The men have not had made their first court appearance yet.

Columbia Co. Sheriff Roger Brandner said more arrests are expected in the prison break, but so far none have been announced.

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