A Russian prisoner charged with double murder on Tuesday escaped from one of Moscow's most impregnable jails by breaking a hole in his cell ceiling and climbing to freedom, the prison service said.

In a rare break-out, reportedly only the fourth in two decades from Moscow's Matrosskaya Tishina prison, Oleg Topalov "escaped through a hole in the cell ceiling that he had made and made his way onto the roof," prison service spokesman Sergei Tsygankov told the RIA Novosti news agency.

"From the roof he escaped over the main fence," he added.

It was unclear how Topalov managed to break a hole in the ceiling since cells are searched for banned objects. The only object he could have used was a spoon, a source in law enforcement told the Interfax news agency.

In an unusual move, the federal prison service released pictures of Topalov, 33, a slim man with dark curly hair, asking the public to call with any information.

Topalov was charged with murdering two people and with illegal arms trafficking as part of an organised gang. He had been held on remand since October 2011 and his case was sent to court last month, the Investigative Committee said in a statement.

He had been categorised as someone prone to escape attempts and with psychological problems, Tsygankov said.

Investigators opened a criminal probe into negligence after his escape, accusing prison staff of "dishonest or careless attitude to their work that was made use of by the prisoner Topalov."

Reports said Topalov shared a cell with around seven other prisoners and it was unclear what role they played in his brazen early morning flight to freedom.

Matrosskaya Tishina in northeastern Moscow has operated since 1946. Its name means Sailors' Repose, the name of the street where it is located. Its official title is Pre-trial Detention Centre Number 1.

Since 1995, three other prisoners have escaped from Matrosskaya Tishina, RIA Novosti reported.

The prison has its own hospital which is where lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in 2009 after being transferred from the notorious Butyrka jail in a case that sparked international outrage.