Michael David Elliot, 40, was discovered missing about 9:30 p.m. Sunday from the Ionia Correctional Facility in mid-Michigan, the state Department of Corrections said.
"It appears that he created a hole at the bottom of the two perimeter fences of the correctional facility and then crawled through those holes," Department of Corrections spokesman Russ Marlan said in an email.
Department Director Dan Heyns said Elliot was dressed in a white civilian kitchen uniform, which might have helped him evade security and possibly blend in with snow at the prison. A review of surveillance footage suggests Elliot may have escaped about 6 p.m. or 7 p.m.
Elliot abducted a woman and stole her Jeep outside the prison in Ionia. She later escaped when he stopped for gas in Middlebury, Ind., some 100 miles to the south. The woman's red Jeep was found abandoned about 6 miles to the east in Shipshewana later on Monday, LaGrange County sheriff's office said.
An alert on Elliot has been issued to law enforcement nationwide. The woman told police that he said he wanted to get as far from the Michigan prison as possible.
"We had dog teams. We had a helicopter from the state police," Heyns said. "The response was good but he'd left the area by the time we were mobilized totally 100 percent. It didn't take him long to get down to Indiana. ... His flight path now has expanded dramatically."
Nothing in Elliot's record suggested he might escape, Heyns said.
"He had no assistance. This was an entirely one-man operation," the prisons chief said.
The LaGrange County Sheriff's Department said the woman Elliot abducted was able to call 911 from a concealed cellphone while he was pumping gas at the store near Middlebury in Elkhart County.
The woman ran to a restroom where she locked herself inside. Elliot knocked on the door, but she stayed inside until police officers arrived. She wasn't harmed, officials said at the news conference.
Elliot was serving life behind bars for fatally shooting four people and burning down their Gladwin County house in 1993 when he was 20 years old, according to court records. Elliot and his accomplices were trying to steal money from a drug dealer, police said.
He was arrested a few days later in possession of a gun that was tied to the slayings. One of Elliot's co-defendants testified against him, saying he laughed about shooting the victims in the head.
Elliot was convicted of first-degree murder in 1994 and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.