Fingerprint ruse catches U.S. man on the lam after 55 years
This pair of photo shows shows Harold Frank Freshwaters, left, in a Feb. 26, 1959 Ohio State Reformatory photo released by the U.S. Marshals Service, and right, in a May 4, 2015, booking photo released by the Brevard County Sheriff's Office. (AP / Ohio State Reformatory and Brevard County Sheriff's Office)
Kantele Franko and Mike Schneider, The Associated Press
Published Tuesday, May 5, 2015 2:10PM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, May 5, 2015 7:25PM EDT
ORLANDO, Fla. -- A man convicted of manslaughter escaped from an Ohio prison farm in 1959, then was allowed to slip away from law enforcement in 1975 and disappeared until a ruse to get his fingerprints led to his arrest in Florida this week, investigators said Tuesday.
Frank Freshwaters, 79, admitted his true identity when authorities confronted him Monday, according to the U.S. Marshals Service and deputies in Brevard County, Florida.
Marshals in Ohio had sought help from deputies there, and they created a ruse to get him to sign papers so they could check his fingerprints, which matched the decades-old arrest, said Major Tod Goodyear.
"We couldn't go with a picture and see if it's that guy," Goodyear said. "You look different than you do 50 years ago."
The man sent to the Ohio State Reformatory in 1959 had short, dark hair in his black-and-white mugshot. Now he has a white beard, a ponytail and glasses and lived in a weathered trailer in a remote area surrounded by palmettos and very few neighbours.
He had retired from a job as a truck driver and was living off Social Security benefits, Goodyear said.
He'd left clues about his identity over the past 56 years, and investigators traced those to his Florida doorstep, said U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott in Cleveland. He wouldn't discuss specifics.
Freshwaters was convicted of manslaughter for killing a pedestrian with a vehicle in July 1957, and his initially suspended sentence of one to 20 years in prison was imposed in 1959 after he violated his probation by driving and getting a driver's license, according to the marshals and old court documents they provided. He was imprisoned at the old Ohio State Reformatory before being moved to a lower-security camp, where he escaped in September 1959, the statement said.
His time on the lam was interrupted in 1975, when he was arrested on the Ohio warrant by the sheriff's office in West Virginia. When the governor there refused to send him back to Ohio, he was freed and disappeared again, the marshals said.
An investigation by a deputy marshal assigned this year to target cold cases led authorities to Florida, where Freshwaters was living as William Harold Cox, the statement said.
The Brevard County Sheriff's Office said he was jailed under the name Harold F. Freshwater and was ordered held without bond because of his status as an out-of-state fugitive. Court records listed no attorney for him as he awaited a hearing about possible extradition to Ohio.
Such cases of long-sought fugitives are not unheard of. A man who escaped from an Ohio prison in 1992 was arrested late last year at 71 in Indiana, where he lived under an assumed name. And in 2002, a convicted murderer who fled a Tennessee prison in 1970 was arrested in central Ohio after living under an alias there for three decades.
A list of wanted felons on Ohio's prisons website includes 15 people whose escapes date even farther back than Freshwaters'.