Frank Freshwaters was captured by U.S. marshals after 56 years on the lam
Freshwaters served at an Ohio prison where "The Shawshank Redemption" was filmed
For 56 years, Frank Freshwaters was a free man – though he shouldn’t have been.
But not anymore.
The 79-year-old’s life on the lam ended Monday when he was taken into custody at his Melbourne, Florida, mobile home. Freshwaters, who was living under the alias of William Harold Cox, is being held in the Brevard County Jail pending extradition to Ohio, said Maj. Tod Goodyear of the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.
The arrest ends a journey that took Freshwaters through numerous states, where he held various jobs and assumed multiple identities, according to authorities.
It started in Ohio, where Freshwaters pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter charges stemming from a 1957 automobile accident. He initially got probation, only to be sentenced again in 1959 to up to 20 years at the Ohio State Reformatory after a parole violation.
The Ohio State Reformatory may look familiar to moviegoers familiar with “The Shawshank Redemption.”
That 1994 film and the Stephen King novella that inspired it were set in Maine, but the movie was largely shot at the Ohio prison. In fact, people in Mansfield, Ohio, can take tours to see key locales from the movie – like the prison warden’s office, parole board room, “the yard” and the escape tunnel used by main character Andy Dufresne.
Dufresne, as played by Tim Robbins, benefited from being a favorite of Shawshank’s warden and prison guards. In that respect, his story resembles that of Freshwaters, who was “quickly able to earn the trust of the prison officials,” according to Peter Elliott, the U.S. marshal for the Northern District of Ohio
This trust helped to earn the Akron, Ohio, native a transfer to what’s called an honor farm, Elliott said.
Freshwaters escaped from that honor farm, not the prison. While it took Dufresne nearly 20 years to dig his way out of prison, Freshwaters managed to escape from custody after seven months. Authorities have not divulged details of how he did it.
CNN’s attempts to reach family members of Freshwaters in the Akron area as well as those of William Harold Cox in Melbourne were not successful.
Police: Freshwaters was rearrested in 1975 but released
Freshwaters lived in several states after his escape and worked some as a truck driver, the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office said.
His time on the run almost came to an end in 1975 when authorities in West Virginia’s Kanawha County found him living under an assumed name and arrested him, having determined his real identity, on an Ohio warrant seeking Freshwaters’ return. But he was released after West Virginia’s governor declined to extradite him, the U.S. Marshals Service said.
From what investigators can gather, the rationale to let Freshwaters go in West Virginia was that he’d been a good citizen during his time in the state, Elliott said.
Still sought by Ohio authorities, Freshwaters went back into hiding, Elliott said. He is believed to have settled in Florida’s Brevard County about 20 years ago, according to the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office.
His arrest this week comes three months after the Marshals Service created a cold case unit in northern Ohio. Ohio parole officials asked the unit to help find Freshwaters, and after some weeks of digging, the unit found information that led it to believe Freshwaters was living in Florida’s Melbourne area.
Elliott declined to specify what led to the discovery. He said these types of investigations typically check a fugitive’s possible links to other people; he added that no one tipped investigators to Freshwaters’ location.
“It was just good police work,” Elliott said.
U.S. marshals in Florida joined the investigation and helped confirm that Freshwaters was there, leading to his arrest Monday, the service said.
When investigators went to his mobile home to make the arrest, one of them showed Freshwaters a 1959 picture of the fugitive and asked him if he’d seen that person, Goodyear told News 13 of Orlando.
Freshwaters “said he hadn’t seen him in a long time,” Goodyear said.