Just before Thomas Randele died, for nearly 40 years, his wife asked his golf buddies and his colleagues from the dealerships where he sold cars to come by their home.
They gathered to say goodbye to a guy they called one of the sweetest people they had ever known – a devoted family man who whizzed around his daughter, a golfer who never obeyed the rules, a friend to so many that a line stretched outside the funeral home a week later.
At the time of their last visit in May last year to Randele’s house in the suburbs of Boston, the cancer in his lungs had taken his voice away. So they all went without knowing the friend they had spent countless hours exchanging stories with, never telling them his biggest secret of all.
For the past 50 years, he was a refugee wanted in one of the largest bank robberies in Cleveland’s history, living in Boston under a new name he created six months after the robbery in the summer of 1969.
Not even his wife or daughter knew it until he told them in what the authorities described as a confession on his deathbed.
How he was able to leave one family and create a new life – while avoiding a father and son from the US Marshals Service who never gave up their hunt – is right now being pieced together.
Man steals A $ 2.2 million worth of trades today
Ted Conrad quickly found out that security was pretty loose at the Society National Bank in Cleveland after he started as treasurer in January 1969.
He told his friends, “It would be so easy for me to go out with all kinds of money,” Russell Metcalf, his best friend from high school, said in an interview with The Associated Press. They thought he was blowing smoke when he picked it up a few more times.
So just a day after his 20th birthday in July, Conrad went out at closing time on a Friday with a paper bag filled with $ 215,000 from the vault, a move worth $ 1.6 million ($ 2.2 million). USD) today.
When the missing money was noticed the following Monday, Conrad flew across the country. Letters sent to his girlfriend showed that he made stops in Washington, DC and Los Angeles within the first week.
In a letter, he mistakenly thought he could return in seven years when the statute of limitations expired. But when he was first indicted, that was no longer true.
Conrad apparently severed ties with his entire family, including three siblings and his parents, who were divorced.
Some family members eventually suspected he was dead because so many years had passed, said Matt Boettger, whose mother was Conrad’s big sister.
His mother, he said, was more relieved than anything to find out that her brother had lived a happy life.
“She thought she would go to her grave and never know it,” he said.
Father and son chasing refugee
The 1969 bank robbery did not capture the nation’s attention or even the city of Cleveland. Everyone else was focused on Apollo 11’s historic flight to the moon that week.
But for John Elliott, a vice marshal in the United States, it was personal. He and Conrad came from the same side of town. Elliott used to take his family to the ice cream shop where Conrad worked. They shared a doctor.
The problem was that Conrad’s lead allowed him to disappear and he was disciplined enough not to make any mistakes. The last credible sight came in October 1969, when a couple from Cleveland visiting Hawaii met a man they later realized was very similar to Conrad.
Elliott traveled across the United States looking for Conrad, and even after retiring in 1990, he came to the office almost every week and poured the records over, said his son, Pete Elliott, now the top U.S. marshal in Cleveland, who inherited the hunt. at Conrad almost 20 years ago.
His father died in March 2020, before investigators put together details from Randele’s obituary and signatures from his past. So in November, Randele’s family confirmed that just before he died, he told them his true identity and what he had done, Elliott said.
“It always remained in my father’s mind,” he said. “We continued this case because it was important to my father.”
Why did he commit the robbery?
Why Conrad committed the robbery has been analyzed indefinitely.
“It was not about the money. He always wanted to impress people,” said Metcalf, his high school buddy, who remembered how Conrad once stole a set of cards just to prove he could. “He was not scared. “
Investigators believe he was inspired by the 1968 film “The Thomas Crown Affair”, about a bank director who got away with $ 2.6 million and turned the robbery into a game.
Conrad watched the film at least six times, copying Steve McQueen’s character, driving sports cars and drinking high-end spirits, according to friends.
After the real robbery in Cleveland, Conrad ended up in the Boston area, where much of the film was shot. It’s a good chance he chose his new first name “Thomas” based on the movie, Elliott said.
“He modeled his whole life after the movie,” he said.
Conrad starts his new life by using a fake name
The man known as Thomas Randele emerged in the first week of January in 1970, investigators have found in recent weeks.
That was when Conrad walked into a Social Security Administration office in Boston, asked for an identification number under his new name and made himself two years older, Elliott said.
At the time, it was not unusual to wait until one was an adult, so his application did not raise any red flags. With a new ID card, he was able to open a bank account, build credit and create his new life, Elliott said.
During the 1970s, Randele worked as an assistant golf pro, giving lessons at a country club outside Boston and later becoming its manager. He spent a few winters playing golf in Florida, according to his obituary.
He also met his future wife not long after arriving in Boston. They were married in 1982.
Around that time, he started working in the automotive industry, selling Land Rovers and Volvos to a handful of dealers until he retired after nearly 40 years.
It was a job that put him in front of dozens of strangers every day.
What is not yet clear is what happened to the money. Marshals Service is investigating whether he lost it early due to poor investment.
While Randele and his wife, Kathy, lived most of their years in a cozy Boston suburb, they filed for bankruptcy protection in 2014. Legal records showed they then owed $ 160,000 in credit card debt and had few assets.
His wife told Cleveland.com in November that her husband was an amazing man and that she was still grieving. She has declined requests for interviews.
‘He was just a gentle soul’
No one would have guessed that Randele, who was 71 years old when he died, was someone trying to hide from the authorities.
Among the many people he became friends with over the years was an FBI agent in Boston, Elliott said.
He never avoided anyone on the golf course or in the car showrooms, where he held a set of clubs and swung his 7-iron when sales were slow.
“He was just a gentle soul, you know, very polite, very eloquent,” said Jerry Healy, who first met Randele at a dealership in Woburn, Massachusetts, where they talked daily for years.
The two were among a group of five or six car salesmen who held together for much of their careers. None of them, Healy said, had ever suspected anything like it in Randele’s past.
“It never dawned on us, and there are half a dozen guys who are not easy to fool,” he said.
His former co-workers said they never heard Randele say a bad word about anyone or raise his voice. They all said he was the best golfer they have ever known. Everyone wanted him on their side when there was a tournament.
He was not much of a drinker and never put any side bets down while playing, said Bob Van Wert, who first met Randele while playing golf and then worked with him.
They remembered he could always control his emotions and rarely got upset, even on the course where he had such a beautiful swing that he once beat Hall of Fame golfer Johnny Miller at a charity event, his former boss recalled.
Matt Kaplan, who ran two dealerships where Randele worked and played golf with him every Sunday morning for many years, called him the definition of a gentleman.
“The only way it makes sense is that at that age he was just a kid, and that was kind of a challenge,” Kaplan said. “It’s not like he became a professional bank robber.”
“If he would have told us back then, I do not think we would have believed him because he was not that kind of guy,” he said. “The man was different from the child.”
Friends collect traces of his death
In the early days after Randele’s identity was revealed, his friends could not believe it. But now that we look back, there are a few things that make sense.
How he always had a beard. The pictures of him wearing dark sunglasses on the golf course. His reluctance to talk about where he grew up, or his extended family.
“You know, in all the years I knew Tommy, I never heard him mention a sister or a mother or a brother or a father. Everything was kind of generalized,” Healy said.
“You could never pry anything from him,” said Brad Anthony, another close friend.
“I thought he might have a bad childhood and he would not talk about it.”
Yet he said it is almost impossible to believe. “It just seems so out of character to the Tom I knew,” he said.
All his friends agreed that what happened a long time ago has not changed their feelings for him.
“The man I knew didn’t change all of a sudden because of something he did a lifetime ago,” Healy said.
“He was a good man, he was my friend, and I think no less of him today than I did before it all came out. And I would love to play a round of golf with him.”
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