For more than 50 years, a Boston man kept a secret that not even his family knew until just before his death last May.
Before Thomas Randele died, his wife of nearly 40 years asked his golfing buddies and his co-workers 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 nicest people they’d ever known — a devoted family man who gushed about his daughter. This golfer never bent the rules, a friend to so many that a line stretched outside the funeral home a week later.
By the time of their final visit last May at Randele’s house in suburban Boston, cancer in his lungs had taken away his voice. So, they all left without knowing that their friend they’d spent countless hours swapping stories with never told them his biggest secret of all, his New Identity.
For the past 50 years, he was a fugitive 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 heist in the summer of 1969. Not even his wife or daughter knew until he told them in what authorities described as a deathbed confession.
How he was able to leave behind one family and create a new life — while evading a father and son from the U.S. Marshals Service who never gave up their hunt — is just now being pieced together.
Ted Conrad quickly figured out that security was pretty loose at the Society National Bank in Cleveland after starting as a teller in January 1969.
He told his buddies, “It’d be so easy for me to walk out with all kinds of money,” Russell Metcalf, his best friend from high school; they thought he was blowing smoke when he brought it up a few more times.
Then just a day after his 20th birthday that July, Conrad walked out at the closing time on a Friday with a paper bag stuffed with $215,000 from the vault, a haul worth $1.6 million today.
Conrad was flying across the country when the missing money was noticed the following Monday. Letters sent to his girlfriend showed he made stops in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles within the first week. He mistakenly thought he could return in seven years when the statute of limitations expired in one letter. But once he was indicted, that was no longer true. Conrad cut off contact with his entire family, including three siblings and his parents, who were divorced. Some family members eventually presumed he was dead because so many years had passed, said Matt Boettger, whose mother was Conrad’s older sister.
His mom, he said, was relieved more than anything to find out her brother had lived a happy life. “She thought she would go to her grave and never know,” he said.
The bank heist in 1969 didn’t 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.
The problem was that Conrad’s head start allowed him to disappear, and he was disciplined enough not to make any missteps. The last credible sighting came in October 1969, when a Cleveland couple visiting Hawaii met a man they later realized looked very much like Conrad.
Why Conrad committed the robbery has been analyzed endlessly.
“It wasn’t about the money. He always wanted to impress people,” said Metcalf, his high school pal, who remembered how Conrad once stole a deck of cards to prove he could. “He had no fear.”
The man known as Thomas Randele came into existence the first week of January in 1970, investigators have found recently. That’s when Conrad walked into a Social Security Administration office in Boston, asked for a social security number ssn under his new name, made himself two years older, and began building his new identity. Including a valid us passport.
At that time, it wasn’t unusual to wait until you were an adult, so his application didn’t raise any red flags. Elliott said he could open a bank account with a new identification card driver’s license, build credit, and create his new life. He even applied for and received a second passport.
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 golfing in Florida, according to his obituary. He also met his future wife not long after arriving in Boston. They were married in 1982. Around then, he began working in the car business, selling Land Rovers and Volvos at a handful of dealerships until he retired after nearly 40 years.
While Randele and his wife, Kathy, lived most of their years in a pleasant Boston suburb, they filed for bankruptcy protection in 2014. Court records showed they then owed $160,000 in credit card debt and had few assets.
Matt Kaplan, who managed two dealerships where Randele worked and golfed with him every Sunday morning for many years, called him the definition of a gentleman. In the early days after Randele’s identity was revealed, his friends couldn’t believe it. But now, looking back, there are a few things that make sense. How he always had a beard. The photos of him wearing dark sunglasses on the golf course. His reluctance to talk about where he grew up or his extended family.
“You know, 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 figured maybe he had a bad childhood, and he didn’t want to talk about it.”
“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 this all came out. And I’d love to go play a round of golf with him.”