In a city in northern Ohio, Frank Freshwaters is locked up in a notorious prison, facing years behind bars for a careless crime. But suddenly, an opportunity presents itself. As a result, Freshwaters disappears, escaping punishment for his wrongdoings. For 56 years, he then manages to elude the authorities – yet now his day of reckoning has finally come.
The story started back in 1957, when 20-year-old Freshwaters was living in Akron, OH. One July evening, he was driving through the city when he caused an accident that would change his life. While going over the speed limit, Freshwaters struck and killed 24-year-old Eugene Flynt as he was crossing the road.
The following year, Freshwaters found himself in court charged with second-degree manslaughter in relation to Flynt’s death. He pleaded guilty and was subsequently handed a prison sentence of up to 20 years. However, the young man got lucky and found his punishment suspended.
Yet despite this initial good fortune, Freshwaters didn’t stay out of trouble for long. Although it was prohibited by his probation terms, he somehow managed to acquire a license and again got behind the wheel of a car. As a result, Freshwaters soon found himself at the mercy of the law once again.
Consequently, in February 1959 Freshwaters was imprisoned at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, OH. Months later, he managed to get himself transferred to a nearby prison camp, where inmates worked without supervision as part of an honor system. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, Freshwaters soon formulated a plan to escape.
On September 30, 1959, he subsequently disappeared from the camp near Sandusky, a city on the shores of Lake Erie. And for the next 16 years, authorities searched fruitlessly for the missing man. Then, however, in 1975 they eventually had a break in the case.
That year, the law finally caught up with Freshwaters in Charleston, West Virginia. And when police arrived at his property, they found the escaped prisoner hiding underneath a sink. Unbelievably, though, Freshwaters would avoid justice a second time.
Apparently, Arch Moore Jr., the Republican governor of West Virginia at the time, concluded that Freshwaters had become an upstanding citizen during his time in the state. Citing the convict’s “flawless residency,” Moore believed that Freshwaters had been rehabilitated and consequently refused to extradite him to Ohio.
So, yet again, Freshwaters was off the hook. Free once more, he disappeared into obscurity. And for the next 40 years, his file sat locked away in an Ohio police office. Then in early 2015 a deputy specializing in cold cases was assigned to take a closer look.
This time, the investigation led to Florida, where records showed a William H. Cox living in a trailer park outside the city of Melbourne in Brevard County. And, tellingly, this was the same alias that Freshwaters had been using when he was arrested back in West Virginia.
Thinking that they might finally have got their man, U.S. marshals in Ohio reached out to deputies in Brevard County for help in confirming their theory. Without tipping Cox off, they subsequently managed to trick the convict, now 79, into signing some documents.
Secretly, deputies checked the fingerprints on the documents against those on record for Freshwaters, and amazingly, they were a match. So, for the next seven days a team of marshals staked out Cox’s mobile home, waiting to make their move.
After conducting surveillance on Cox for a week, the marshals approached him with a photograph of Freshwaters just after his arrest in 1959. But because the image was so old, they couldn’t tell if Cox and Freshwaters were one and the same.
Instead, the police posed a question to Cox, asking if he had seen the man in the photograph. “He said he hadn’t seen that guy in a long time,” Tod Goodyear, a Major at the Brevard County Sheriff Office, said in a 2015 interview with the Washington Post. “Then he admitted it and basically said, ‘You got me.’”
It turns out that Freshwaters had been living quite a life since escaping from prison in 1959. Firstly, he had traveled to Florida, where he’d somehow acquired a social security number and other ID under the name William Cox.
After spending some time in Florida, Freshwaters – still using the alias Cox – had subsequently moved to West Virginia, where he had found employment driving trucks. Then, after his brush with the law in 1975, he’d returned to Florida, where he even went on to claim social security checks under his false identity.
By the time authorities caught up with Freshwaters, he was living in an old trailer near the coast. “It’s a nice place to hang out by yourself if you don’t want people to know you’re there,” he said. In May 2015, however, Freshwaters was removed from his Florida hideaway and sent back to Ohio to serve out the rest of his sentence once and for all.
However, in February 2016 there came another twist in the tale. At a parole hearing attended by Freshwaters’ family and friends – as well as relatives of his victim Flynt – the authorities decided that the senior citizen should be released from prison. So, as of April 24, 2016, Freshwaters has been a free man.
That said, not everyone has been happy with this decision. For Richard Flynt, who was just three years old when the accident happened, justice has yet to be served for the man who killed his father. “He got away with it for a long time,” Flynt said in a 2015 interview with Northeast Ohio Media Group.
Meanwhile, plenty of people have been quick to draw comparisons between Freshwaters’ story and that of Andy Dufresne, the fictional convict from 1994 movie The Shawshank Redemption. And, incredibly, some scenes were filmed at the Ohio State Reformatory – the very facility from which Freshwaters engineered his escape. Still, while the movie’s protagonist ends his adventure on a Mexican beach, Freshwaters looks set to spend his last days in a far more prosaic setting.