A grave marker at Tamborine Mountain Cemetery in Queensland, Australia, bears the title John Vincent Damon.
For years, till he died on Aug. 6, 2010, at 69, that’s how he was identified to others, together with his household.
However his actual title was William Leslie Arnold, and he had a secret, darkish previous that was unbeknown to his spouse and two grownup kids in Australia and three surviving stepdaughters from a earlier marriage in the US.
When he was 16 and residing in Nebraska within the Fifties, he fatally shot his dad and mom throughout what was later described as a battle over the usage of the household automotive after which buried them within the yard of their dwelling. It took about two weeks earlier than the crime was found, the authorities mentioned.
Mr. Arnold pleaded responsible in 1959 to murdering his dad and mom, and he was sentenced to life within the Nebraska State Penitentiary. In his time there, Mr. Arnold was described by the authorities as a “mannequin prisoner,” however on July 14, 1967, he and one other inmate escaped.
The opposite inmate was quickly recaptured. However the authorities couldn’t discover Mr. Arnold for years, and the case ultimately went chilly. Over the previous couple of years, nonetheless, investigators with the US Marshal Service have been capable of collect proof that ultimately led them to crack the case by way of DNA testing.
The invention got here as a shock to his surviving members of the family, who the authorities mentioned have been fully oblivious to Mr. Arnold’s previous. To them, he was John Damon, a father and husband. To the American authorities, he was a convicted killer and escaped inmate.
Surviving members of the family in Australia and stepdaughters of Mr. Arnold in the US declined to remark.
Matt Westover, the U.S. Marshal deputy who cracked the case, mentioned in an interview that connecting Mr. Arnold to John Damon was a course of that spanned a number of years and concerned sifting by way of 1000’s of pages of paperwork and investigating a number of leads throughout the US in addition to in Brazil and Canada.
A number of regulation enforcement businesses through the years had tried to piece collectively what had occurred to Mr. Arnold after he escaped. The F.B.I. investigated the case into the Nineteen Nineties. Then it was turned over to the Nebraska Division of Correctional Providers. In the end, it was handed on to the U.S. Marshals and assigned to Mr. Westover in August 2020.
“I used to be obsessive about the case,” Mr. Westover mentioned.
Quickly after being assigned to the case, Mr. Westover reached out to Geoff Britton, who had labored on the case from 2004 to 2013 when he was with the Nebraska Division of Correctional Providers.
Mr. Britton, who’s now chief of the Workplace of Regulation Enforcement Help in California, mentioned that even after he left Nebraska, he continued to look into the case “as a passion.” Chief Britton mentioned that he and Mr. Westover talked ceaselessly about it over the previous few years.
“I spent lots of nights simply studying as a result of I used to be simply amazed in any respect the totally different data and simply looking for one thing, some type of lead,” Mr. Westover mentioned.
There have been loads of false leads.
One idea about Mr. Arnold’s whereabouts was that he had fled to Brazil. That was primarily based on an immigration doc with Mr. Arnold’s title on it issued to somebody in Brazil lower than two years after the jail escape. However Mr. Westover mentioned Brazilian officers didn’t have any file of Mr. Arnold, and it was unclear why his title was on that doc.
Mr. Westover tracked down an ex-girlfriend of Mr. Arnold, which led to a trove of letters that he had written to her and her household from jail. However there was no correspondence from after his escape that offered any clues as to the place he had ended up.
Mr. Westover additionally discovered a postcard from Canada and one from California with Mr. Arnold’s title. These leads have been additionally fruitless.
In a wished poster for Mr. Arnold, the U.S. Marshals Service mentioned that he was “very musically gifted and most certainly used these expertise to financially survive.” That element of his life additionally didn’t yield any leads.
“It simply appeared like every little thing was working towards us,” Mr. Westover mentioned.
Over time, varied leads led investigators to find out that after Mr. Arnold escaped jail, he had fled to Chicago, the place he began going by his new title, John Damon, and rapidly met and married a lady with kids. He then started to maneuver round, residing in Cincinnati and Miami, based on The Omaha World-Herald, which has chronicled Mr. Arnold’s life by way of a sequence of articles and a podcast. Later, he divorced his spouse and moved to California, the place he remarried and had kids, and ultimately settled down in Australia.
Lastly, in November 2020, Mr. Westover tracked down a brother of Mr. Arnold in Missouri, who agreed to offer a DNA pattern. Later, in August 2022, Mr. Westover related with a person from Australia who was attempting to study his late father, John Damon, who had advised him that he was an orphan from Chicago.
DNA samples from Mr. Arnold’s brother and Mr. Damon’s son indicated a match, and proved that Mr. Damon was actually Mr. Arnold.
“It was thrilling,” Mr. Westover mentioned. “I received’t say it’s like hitting the lottery as a result of I’ve by no means hit the lottery — I’m certain that’s a reasonably good feeling — however I used to be simply ecstatic.”
Then got here the onerous half: Mr. Westover needed to break the information to the person from Australia that the daddy he knew as John Damon was really an escaped convict who had killed his dad and mom. Mr. Westover mentioned he had advised the person over a video name.
“That was a very onerous dialog to have,” Mr. Westover mentioned. “Their household didn’t know any of these items, and so it’s onerous to not really feel unhealthy for them.”
Chief Britton mentioned that he has since spoken to Mr. Arnold’s household in Australia, attempting to assist reply questions on his historical past that they knew nothing about.
“They’re getting a brand new perspective on a person that they’d a very totally different view of,” Chief Britton mentioned. “That’s acquired to be onerous to course of.”
In attending to know the Damon household, Mr. Westover mentioned that he realized that Mr. Arnold had gone on to turn out to be a businessman in Australia, and ended up residing a “nice life and apparently modified his methods.”
“He was an ideal father to them,” Mr. Westover mentioned.
In March, Mr. Westover and different investigators traveled to Australia to wrap up the case. Whereas they have been there, they visited the grave of John Vincent Damon.
“I’m glad he’s useless,” Mr. Westover mentioned, explaining that if Mr. Arnold have been nonetheless alive, he could be dealing with arrest in his 80s.
“As unhealthy as that sounds, I’m glad as a result of I actually wouldn’t need to put their household by way of that,” Mr. Westover mentioned. “I believe they’d been by way of sufficient already, not to mention if I used to be to take their dad from them.”
Kirsten Noyes contributed analysis.