ORLANDO, Fla. - When Frank Freshwaters escaped from an Ohio prison in 1959, Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, and Fidel Castro had taken power in Cuba.
By the time deputy sheriffs in West Virginia found Freshwaters in 1975, Gerald Ford was president, Watergate conspirators were headed to prison, and Bill Gates was co-founding an upstart company called Microsoft.
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But the fugitive wasn’t in custody for long. He was released after West Virginia’s governor refused to extradite him, and he soon went into hiding.
Freshwaters’ 56 years of freedom ended at a remote Melbourne trailer Monday when officials with the U.S. Marshals Service and the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office showed up with an old mug shot.
“We showed him the picture and said, ‘Hey, have you seen this guy?’ and he looked at it and said, ‘Not in a very long time,’” said Maj. Tod Goodyear with the Sheriff’s Office.
“At that time they confronted him with the information they had, and he admitted to them that they were right.”
Freshwaters, 79, had been living under a fake name: William H. Cox.
Before he assumed that identity, Freshwaters was arrested as a 21-year-old in Akron, Ohio, after a fatal auto-pedestrian accident in 1957 that led to manslaughter charges against him. He had been speeding by about 15 mph and killed Eugene Flynt, 24, according to his indictment.
After first telling a judge he was innocent, Freshwaters pleaded guilty and received five years’ probation.
In 1959, he got up to 20 years in prison for violating the terms of his probation by purchasing a car and getting a drivers license, prison records show.
After spending seven months at the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield — where “The Shawshank Redemption” was filmed — Freshwaters was transferred to a lower-security prison.
He escaped from the Sandusky Honor Farm in September 1959 and forged a new life.
Freshwaters lived in several states and worked as a truck driver, Goodyear said. He’s been in Brevard for about 20 years. It appeared as though he lived alone in the trailer with few neighbors near his large plot of land, Goodyear said.
Freshwaters had been considered “one of Ohio’s most wanted and long sought after fugitives,” according to a news release from the U.S. Marshals.
U.S. Marshal Peter Elliot of the Northern District of Ohio said the agency was able to “piece together” Freshwaters’ whereabouts but would not elaborate.
A U.S. Marshals cold-case unit took on the case when it was created three months ago. The Brevard Sheriff’s Office had been working on the case for about a month, Goodyear said.
Freshwaters was transported on no bond to the Brevard County Jail, where he will await extradition back to Ohio.