The manhunt for an inmate who escaped from the prison wing of a New Jersey psychiatric hospital entered its fourth day on Friday, but officials say the convict is no longer in the town where he was spotted earlier in the week.

The state Department of Corrections has taken over the investigation into the escape of Arthur Buckel, 38, but would not comment on his suspected whereabouts, said spokesman Matthew Schuman.

"We don’t want the inmate, or anybody contemplating contacting the inmate, to know where we’re going to be searching," Schuman said, declining to say whether officials think Buckel had left Barnegat Township.

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Barnegat Mayor John Novak on Thursday said at a press conference that investigators believed Buckel was longer in the shore town, where he had been caught on surveillance video shopping at a CVS drugstore.

"There is information developed that Mr Buckel is no longer in the Barnegat area," Novak said.

The inmate, who was two weeks away from parole when he escaped, disappeared on Tuesday from a minimum security unit at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in Hammonton, about 40 miles west of Barnegat.

Buckel was serving a three-year sentence for aggravated assault, drug possession and burglary. He previously served a 25-year sentence for manslaughter in the killing of a 10-month-old baby.

Dozens of law enforcement officers from surrounding towns were searching for Buckel, said Captain Jack Sramaty, spokesman for the Ocean County prosecutor's office on Thursday. Residents were warned to keep their doors locked and vehicles secured.

Schools in Barnegat were expected to be under heightened security again on Friday.

"He wasn't armed on Tuesday morning when he left the prison, but who knows what he's found," Sramaty said.

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The department's canine and fugitive units were part of the search effort, along with numerous law enforcement agencies, he said.

Buckel, who would have reached parole eligibility on May 21, Schuman said, could now face an additional three to five years in prison for escaping.