Joyce Mitchell is no stranger to drama.
Years before Mitchell allegedly became involved with two convicted murderers at the Clinton Correctional Facility in upstate New York, she was the center of another love triangle with her first husband and her current husband.
Mitchell, 51 – who is accused of helping convicts Richard Matt, 48, and David Sweat, 35, escape prison – left her first husband, Tobey Premo, for her current husband, Lyle Mitchell, when she worked at the now-defunct Tru-Stitch Slipper Factory in Bombay, New York, years ago, says Helen Premo, who is now divorced from him.
“I met Tobey a year and a half after they divorced,” Premo tells PEOPLE. “She cheated on Tobey with the man she is married to. They all worked together. He was a basket case when I met him. He was devastated.”
When Tobey learned of their affair, says Premo, “He was so mad, he followed Lyle to the bathroom and got into a fight with him. That caused tension between him and Joyce for a while. She denied it, though, for a while.”
Since all three worked together, Mitchell’s affair with Lyle was the talk of the factory.
“They were the gossip,” a former co-worker tells PEOPLE. “We were nosy and curious. Every day you had a new story with her.”
Now she is making headlines around the world. On June 12, Mitchell was arrested and charged with helping Sweat and Matt with their elaborate escape from the prison on June 6. They are still on the run as law enforcement continues its massive manhunt.
Authorities say Mitchell, who was a supervisor in the tailor shop at the maximum-security prison in Dannemora, New York, provided the pair with hacksaw blades, chisels, a punch and a screwdriver bit. She has been charged with promoting prison contraband in the first degree, a felony, and criminal facilitation in the fourth degree, a misdemeanor.
Mitchell had also discussed a plan to pick up the men when they emerged from a manhole cover outside of the prison, driving them to an unknown location seven hours away, before possibly murdering her husband, authorities said.
Even though Lyle still cares for her, said Dumas, “he can’t stand by her.”
A Tangled Web
Tobey fell in love with Mitchell, who is known as “Tillie,” in high school and married her soon after. “Tobey had it bad for Tillie, but she went to live with Lyle,” says the former co-worker. “Tillie was something else.”
Mitchell began working at Tru-Stitch – a basic cut-and-stitch finishing operation that employed approximately 300 people – right out of high school in the early Eighties when she was married to Tobey.
Her mother, Joyce Clookey, worked at the factory along with her aunt, who was the boss, says the former co-worker.
“They got Tillie the job,” says the co-worker. “The reason everyone called her Tillie was because her mother was already the Joyce at the factory.”
Her brother and her sister also worked at the plant for long periods of time.
“She was a pretty girl and she was friendly,” says the co-worker.
Mitchell worked mainly as a stitcher. But, adds another former co-worker, she wasn t good at the precision work involved and was moved from workstation to workstation to try to find a fit for her.
She was also known for her one-track mind in the lunchroom when it came to her favorite topic, says the former co-worker: “She would talk about men. That s all she would talk about.”
An Affair to Remember
While she was working at the factory, she fell for Lyle, who was married with two young daughters, say Premo and Mitchell’s former co-workers.
At the time, Lyle was working at the plant, first on assembling and stitching jobs and then as a mechanic and truck driver, making the short run back and forth between the factory and a nearby warehouse.
Lyle was universally well-liked, says the former co-worker. But, she says, it was clear that Mitchell “had the hots” for him. Mitchell and her first husband, Tobey, had a 1-year-old son, Tobey Jr., when she and Lyle began their affair, she says.
“He was humiliated,” says Premo.
After the prison break, authorities revealed that Mitchell had been investigated for having an inappropriate relationship with Sweat. She later fell for Matt and had sex “multiple times” with him in the prison, CBS News reported.
Even when she was involved with Lyle, “He watched her 24/7,” says the former co-worker. “He was like a hawk eye, the co-worker said, noting that whenever Tillie got up from her station, “he would lean way over to see where she was going and who she was talking with.”
Mitchell, Tobey, Lyle – and even Lyle’s ex-wife – continued to work at the factory after she and Lyle moved in together, says the former co-worker.
Joyce became a teacher’s aide after the factory closed in 1998. All that remains now is a big square metal-clad, empty industrial building between the train tracks and farm fields, with a twisted “for sale or for lease” sign dangling off the gate.
But those who knew of the scandal that exploded there will always remember it – and are in shock that Joyce is involved with one of the most elaborate prison escapes of all time.
“This kind of blew everybody’s mind,” says Premo. “This has put a whole lot of people in the area in danger. I feel for her – but she put herself in a bad position.
“It’s kind of boring where they live. You’re not going to find a lot of excitement. It’s near the Adirondacks. Even so, she was married, had a wonderful son, a house, a good job and a decent life and she blew it.”
While Premo says Mitchell has always been “a good mom” to her son, Tobey, now 21, she adds, “I don t know why she did this. I assumed she was happy after all these years.
“Now with this – what possesses you to do something like this?” adds Premo. “Everybody makes mistakes, but she is 51. What was she thinking?”
Want to keep up with the latest crime coverage? Click here to get breaking crime news, ongoing trial coverage and details of intriguing unsolved cases in the True Crime Newsletter.