‘A lifetime of victims'
6 of the memorable cases in the 20 years the U.S. Marshals Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force has been chasing and apprehending fugitives
By Molly Walsh
CLEVELAND — Scavenging through garbage on a tree lawn, U.S. Marshals picked through scraps of paper that had been put through a shredder. After months of connecting the puzzle of pieces of paper, officers found an email written on a snippet of a document that allowed them to track down their suspect.
The discarded paper trail led officers to Mexico and a major arrest.
“We got him,” U.S. Marshal Peter Elliott said.
Thomas Longo was arrested in 2006 after detectives found a cache of guns in his house years earlier while investigating a sexual assault case. A former lawyer, prosecutor and judicial candidate, Longo died in jail in 2008.
Longo joined nearly 52,000 people who have been arrested by the U.S. Marshals Northern Ohio Violent Fugitive Task Force since its inception in 2003, Elliott said. Of those, 2,037 were accused of murder. The unit marks its 20-year milestone next summer. In that time, it has become a model for departments across the country.
“There’s always more victims than you know … a lifetime of victims,” Elliott said. “And when we solve a case, it’s great because we are bringing closure. But we never celebrate; we’re never jumping for joy. It’s just time to move on to the next case.”
Here are some of the most notable fugitives the unit has tracked:
In 1969, a young bank teller left his job at Society National Bank with $215,000 in stolen cash. Theodore Conrad, who was 20 at the time, pulled off one of the biggest bank heists in Cleveland history and subsequently one of the longest manhunts the U.S. Marshals Service has handled.
Last year, Elliott learned that a man named Thomas Randele had passed away in the Boston area. The obituary included key details of the man’s life. Before he died, Randele admitted that he was Ted Conrad. Elliott interviewed Randele’s wife, and she confirmed it.
“The obituary gave information that we knew was very familiar to Ted Conrad,” Elliott said.
Elliott said solving the mystery his father John had investigated decades ago as a deputy marshal was rewarding. John Elliott passed away in 2020.
“He used to talk about this case around the dinner table. To him, it was personal,” he said. “It means a lot that he was able to get credit for it.”
Longest unsolved case
In December 1973, Lester Eubanks walked away from the custody of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction while on a temporary honor furlough to go Christmas shopping in Columbus.
At the time of his escape, Eubanks was serving a life sentence for the November 1965 murder and attempted rape of 14-year-old Mary Ellen Deener. Eubanks had been sentenced to the death penalty, but his sentence was commuted to life in prison without parole in 1972.
Marshals are offering a $50,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest of Eubanks.
“You have to have the attitude of ‘we are going to catch you,’ " said Anne Murphy, the first woman to supervise the task force. “We’re running as hard as we can to catch up with fugitives before they get too far away, or we are closing their world down so there is nowhere to go.”
On Eubanks, Elliott said, “We’re following up on leads, and we’re going to capture him.”
The Shawshank fugitive
Frank Freshwaters eluded law enforcement for nearly six decades.
Freshwaters, then of Akron, on July 3, 1957, hit and killed an Akron husband and father while driving more than 50 miles per hour in a 35-zone on South Arlington Road. Freshwaters was sentenced April 25,1958, to five years of probation after pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter.
He violated his probation, and a judge sentenced him to 20 years in prison. He began serving his sentence at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, the prison where the movie “The Shawshank Redemption” was filmed years later.
He escaped from the Sandusky Honor Farm Sept. 30,1959, and he was dubbed “The Shawshank Fugitive.”
Freshwaters was arrested in 2015 after confessing his identity to officers at his trailer in Melbourne, Florida.
“They showed him a jail photo of himself from 56 years ago,” Elliott said. “The officers asked if he knew the person in the photo, and he said, ‘I haven’t seen him in a long time.’ "
On Easter 2017, Robert Godwin Jr., a 74-year-old father of nine and grandfather of 14 - walked into the path of a gunman at about 2 p.m. on East 93rd Street, just south of Interstate 90 in Cleveland’s Glenville neighborhood.
Earlier in the day, 37-year-old Steve Stephens, ranted in a video on Facebook about his miserable life and threatened to film himself shooting someone and post it to his Facebook page.
Afterward, Stephens bolted from Cleveland after the slaying. Marshals and police tracked him to Erie, Pennsylvania, where he died by suicide.
A community’s impact
Murphy said one of her more memorable cases involved the help of residents.
In 2018, a federal warrant was issued for a 27-year-old Mansfield man in connection with Facebook posts threatening to shoot then-President Donald Trump, a district attorney in Pennsylvania and a police chief.
Shawn Christy sent officials on a weeklong search through woods after abandoning a stolen truck and fleeing.
Authorities, including marshals and police, found Christy hiding in a cabin at a 183-acre camp in Mansfield, Murphy said.
She said residents brought socks and other dry clothing to law enforcement officers during the search as they were forced to traipse through mud for days looking for Christy. She said she was grateful for the community’s impact in the arrest.