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True crime. Casually done.

Ted Conrad: 52 Years as America’s Most Wanted

Everybody knows that crime doesn’t pay. Except for Simon, who will gleefully tell you at great length the extent to which crime does pay. And for Theodore Conrad, that couldn’t be more true. Should the old axiom be changed to “Crime doesn’t pay unless you’re really good at it or only up against an inept, small town police department”? That’s probably more accurate, but it unfortunately doesn’t apply here. Ted committed a brazen crime to which he confessed beforehand, and it wasn’t just some bumbling detective trying to track him down. Ted Conrad spent 52 years being hunted by the FBI, the U.S. Marshals, and anyone who owned a television. So what could Ted have done to wind up the subject of such an intense search by law enforcement? Was he a serial killer? A child molester? A chronic jaywalker? Luckily for Simon, there will be no rotting carcasses or heads stuffed inside Hello Kitty dolls today. No, today is a good old fashioned heist! Hopefully the title I gave you is clickbait-y enough that it won’t hurt your viewership too much.

Who was Ted Conrad?

Ted Conrad was just an ordinary kid, born in Denver, Colorado. While his parents did divorce when he was at an early age, there’s no evidence that he was ever abused or led any sort of troubled life. He was born in 1949, so early reporting would have referred to him as coming from a broken home, but that doesn’t seem to have had any sort of damaging impact on him. After the divorce, Conrad’s mother took Ted and his sister and moved to Lakewood, Ohio. Rather than a tragic upbringing leaving him an isolated loner, he was very popular in school. He was well liked enough to be elected to the student council, elections for which everyone knows have always been a popularity contest, having nothing to do with a student’s capability or proposed agenda. Just like real elections. He is also reported as being “very bright” with an IQ of 135. I’m not sure what that would translate to when adjusted for inflation, but I’m not impressed; a 135 would barely even get you into MENSA. Personal elitism aside, Ted graduated high school in 1967 and spent a semester at New England College, where his father was an assistant professor of political science. He then dropped out and went to community college back in Cleveland.

As a side note, when researching this story I found an article from a Cleveland publication from 2008 about Conrad skipping his 40th year reunion for his high school class. I understand slow news days happen and this was a major unsolved story, especially for the people of Cleveland, but I can’t possibly think of something less surprising or newsworthy. Twenty-four hour news coverage really has lowered the bar.

All of this information is mostly trivial, however. Aside from showing that Ted Conrad did not have the same sort of abusive, neglectful, or alienated childhood as your average criminal, it doesn’t really tell us who he is. A report from the U.S. Marshal Service tells us, in surprisingly flattering and almost poetic terms, who he was as a person: “To all appearances, Conrad was that All-American boy whose character was not questioned and seemed to be a model of responsibility during a turbulent time”. To anyone who met him, this is who Conrad was. The model of responsibility. And so, when he began working as a teller at Society National Bank headquarters in 1969, it’s no wonder that he was given a position that they only gave to trusted employees: working inside the bank vault to package the money to be sent to other Society National Bank branches around the city. He was a responsible boy with a responsible job. A job that had plenty of opportunity for advancement and the ability to have a truly lucrative and stable career, were he so inclined to pursue a life in banking and finance. But who has the time for that bullshit?

To all appearances that was who Ted Conrad was, but at only 19 years old in 1968, by my count he was still just a stupid kid. A stupid kid that had an intense summer romance. Not with a girl, but with a movie: “The Thomas Crown Affair”. It was a movie about a millionaire bank robber, and it was love at first sight. Conrad became obsessed, seeing the movie in theatres at least half a dozen times. When he started his job at the bank early the following year, he would constantly brag to his friends about how easy it would be to take money from the bank. In fact, he went one step further and told them he intended to do so. Rule #2: Don’t tell people about your crimes. Even if you haven’t commited them yet. While we don’t yet live in a totalitarian state where someone can be arrested for potential future crimes, who knows what tomorrow holds? The scuttlebutt is that if the Republicans take back the House of Representatives later this year that they’ll make Trump Speaker of the House, and if that happens all bets are off. For anyone confused, no, the Speaker of the House does not actually have to be a member of Congress, and is only two bullets away from the presidency. We’re getting a little dark though, and I promised Simon a lighthearted heist episode, so let’s get back on track!

The Heist

Now that Ted Conrad had fallen in love with the idea of a bank heist and had secured his job at the bank, all that was left to do was complete the crime. “The Thomas Crown Affair” features the robbery of a Boston bank, completed by four thieves and a getaway driver, all orchestrated by Thomas Crown. It is an elaborate plan, in which none of the parties involved ever met Crown, and they never even met each other before the day of the heist. Oddly, Thomas Crown does not spend the first 30 minutes of the film bragging to all his friends that he’s going to do this. But that’s a movie, not real life. Surely something so complicated and with so many people involved wouldn’t work in real life, would it?

No, probably not. Ted Conrad’s plan was much more simple. Like, as simple as a plan could possibly be. I’m not sure whether he’s a lucky moron or whether I undersold his rather quaint 135 IQ, but buckle your seatbelts because it’s time for the heist! Then unbuckle then, because this is going to be an extremely smooth ride.

On Friday, July 11, 1969, the day after Conrad’s 20th birthday, he went to his job in the bank vault as normal. During his lunch break, Conrad walked to a liquor store a block away and purchased a bottle of Canadian Club whiskey, which of course was both wrapped in a brown paper bag and also legal for a 20 year old American to do back then. It’s not a great whiskey, even for the price, but this was not meant to be a celebratory drink, so it didn’t matter. Once the bank was closed, he told his partner in the vault that it was okay to leave, and he’d finish up himself and be along in a few minutes. In typical American fashion, his partner was happy to cut corners with his work, no questions asked, and left Conrad alone in the vault to stuff $215,000 into his paper bag, leaving the bottle of whiskey in the vault. He left the vault, chatted with the security guard for a bit, and walked out. That $215,000 is $1.7 million in today’s money, and it’s one of the largest bank robberies in Cleveland’s history. But that was it, that was his whole plan. The bank had minimal security and he was the one to close the vault, so he just shoved the money in a paper bag and walked out. He did it on a Friday because he knew that no one would notice the money missing until they reopened on Monday, which gave him a two and a half day head start. It was also exactly a two and a half day head start. The detectives weren’t going to have to play a game of “Whodunit?” Ted Conrad closed the vault on Friday, didn’t show up for work on Monday, and the whiskey bottle that was supposed to be in the bag he walked out with was in the vault where the money would have been. Oh yeah, and he told all his friends and probably anyone who would listen to him how easy it was to rob a bank and that he was doing to do it. Yeah, you have exactly two days, Teddy Boy, so start running, because they know exactly who they’re looking for, and the FBI doesn’t fuck around.

Two days was enough though, and when Ted Conrad walked out of that bank, he vanished in a puff of smoke. Perhaps quite literally, because what the 20 year old smoker didn’t know at the time was that this habit would be the reason he would finally be identified. But he was a Marlboro man. Maybe if he had paid more attention to the advertisements he saw as a child, he would have remembered that more doctors smoke Camels than any other brand, and he would still be evading capture to this day. Say it with me Simon: the past was the worst.

The Hunt Begins

On July 15, 1969, the FBI was already in Cleveland investigating. This has been standard for bank robberies since 1933 when the FDIC started insuring banks, making these all federal matters. They had some leads, too. When he committed the heist, the handsome and popular Conrad had a girlfriend who was already receiving letters from him. One letter showed that it had been mailed from the international airport in Washington, DC. Within a few days, she received another letter, this time postmarked from Inglewood, California, where Los Angeles airport is located. Not to be confused with Anaheim, California, where Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Angels are located. I guess when your city has 4 million people, there isn’t room for anything those people actually want. In one of the letters to his girlfriend, Conrad wrote: “I do want to write, though I only ask that you burn my envelopes so the authorities don’t get the postmarks!” It’s unclear whether she didn’t heed his warning or if the FBI was intercepting the mail first, but much to my surprise, it seems unlikely that she turned them over out of spite. I assumed that she would have happily turned everything over to the authorities after he left with all the money but without her, but there are recorded phone conversations between her and Conrad after the wiretapping started. He also lamented in one of his letters that he gave her up for a mere $215,000, and seemed hopeful they would someday be reunited, but that was not to be. As for the investigation, there just wasn’t enough there to pin down his location. It was early on in the investigation, but the leads were all beginning to go cold.

Until October of the same year, that is. A retired couple from Ohio were vacationing in Hawaii, when they met a young man who struck up a conversation with the husband. They talked for about 20 minutes, and the stranger invited the retired man inside for a drink. I’m not sure what the wife was intended to do while they had that drink, but this was the 1960’s so I guess she probably didn’t have a vote yet in whether or not the couple were swingers, and it was up to the men to sort out the details. It was then that the retired man casually mentioned being from Beachwood, Ohio. Suddenly, the young man had to go and rescinded the offer of the drink. When the couple returned home, they saw the picture of Ted Conrad in the newspaper, and knew this was young stranger they had met in Honolulu. By the time the FBI arrived there to investigate, Conrad was gone. And this time, there would be no new leads. He had vanished without a trace. With no new leads, all they could do was build a profile of Conrad, what they called “life pattern activities”. They knew Conrad was left-handed, liked golf, billiards, and was a car enthusiast, particularly sports cards. They even reached out to Steve McQueen, the actor who portrayed Thomas Crown, in case Conrad tried to contact him. Yeah, I’d say they were running out of ideas.

Television Star

No, Ted Conrad didn’t get caught because he became a famous actor, but that didn’t stop him from making numerous television appearances, I’m sure much to his disapproval. Conrad was featured on multiple episodes of America’s Most Wanted, as well as on Unsolved Mysteries. Unfortunately, I can’t find the episodes that featured him, though I doubt they have anything to say that wasn’t covered by the countless Cleveland news stories about him. Still, this was an important step to take for the investigation, as before the television shows this nationwide manhunt hadn’t actually received a lot of national coverage. If you recall, the crime took place on July 10, 1969 and the FBI and U.S. Marshals weren’t involved in the case until July 15th. While this was a huge sum of money to steal from a bank and they knew this was going to be a nationwide search, it’s kind of hard to get anyone to pay attention to something as trivial as that when just five days later, on July 20th, we landed on the fucking moon. It turns out the Apollo mission completely eclipsed the heist coverage. There’s no way to know if this was a consideration in Conrad’s plan or not, but if it was…kudos.

We have to consider the history of America’s Most Wanted though. While ratings ultimately dipped and it is now off the air, it’s hard to consider the show anything other than a massive successful. Just four days after the first episode aired, they arrested one of the people featured on the show as a direct result. In fact, there are just under 1100 episodes of America’s Most Wanted and over 1200 arrests that are directly attributed to the show. That’s a lot of arrests. If you’re terrible at math, that is more than one arrest per show. And Ted Conrad was featured on the show multiple times, in addition to being on Unsolved Mysteries. I’ve seen some photos of him aged by police, and honestly most of them are pretty good. Without the original footage, I can’t say whether the photos I saw are the same ones they would have ran on these shows, but if they were of similar quality, someone identifying him based on these images would absolutely have been reasonable.

This only leaves one possibility as to how he was never turned in. Ted Conrad must have been the nicest guy and best neighbour ever. Seriously, no one saw the show and turned him in? Beyond growing a beard, he did little to change his appearance. I mean, he also got older, but that doesn’t count because that was going to happen anyway. We’ll talk about where and how he was found shortly, but I’ll share a little personal insight with you. For the vast majority of my life, Ted Conrad lived about 5 minutes away from me, in the next town over. Even if he was a really great guy, some law abiding citizen would have to feel obligated to turn him in wouldn’t they? Well, maybe not. Maybe they were okay with having a non-violent, former criminal live next door to them if the alternative was for a vacancy to open up in their upscale Boston suburb and allow “those types of people” to move in. Yeah, sounds about white.

The Dynamic Duo

There’s one part of the story that normally gets a lot of coverage, but I haven’t touch on at all yet. And that’s because I just find it really sad. John K. Elliott was a Deputy United States Marshal from 1969 until 1990 when he retired. He picked up the case immediately because he and Conrad where from the same part of town, and he took it personally. Very personally. He searched for Conrad for his entire career and even into his retirement. His son, Pete Elliott, followed in his father’s footsteps and took over the case when his father retired. That’s a testament to just how long this case went on, when two generations from the same family are trying to solve the same cold case. John never stopped searching, all the way until he died in 2020, 30 years after his retirement. But it’s not just the fact that the father died without ever getting closure that makes this part of the story sad. No, it’s because, as far as I can tell, these two did fuck all to solve anything (allegedly/in my personal opinion).

The Confession

Thomas Randele moved to Lynnfield, Massachusetts in 1970. Very coincidentally for our story, this wasn’t far from where “The Thomas Crown Affair” was filmed. He started working at Pembroke Country Club and eventually became manager. If you’re not from the US, you’d probably know it as a golf club. Basically, it’s a large area of gated property where rich people go to play golf and exclude people. Not long after arriving in the Boston area, Thomas met his future wife, whom he married in 1982. It was around this time he left his work at the country club and transitioned to a career in his second love, luxury automotive sales . Something something life pattern activities? U.S. Marshals, where you at? Just kidding, there’s no reason Thomas Randele would have been on anyone’s radar, because he was a total sweetheart. Everyone said he was a fantastic guy, an absolute gentleman, just a treat to be around. If you’re a wanted criminal, the only hope you could have of evading capture is to live a squeaky clean life, never breaking any laws. And that’s the type of person Thomas Randele was. His friends and colleagues say he never even once tried to bend the rules at golf. This is striking, because as far as I can tell, golf is about 20% skill and 80% cheating. Why do you think they keep score with pencils? But not Tom. He was the kind of person everyone liked, and no one would ever suspect could break the law. And even if they did suspect it, they still weren’t going to drop a dime on him.

Unfortunately for Thomas, he had a nasty habit that was ready to catch up with him. In May of 2021, he lay in a hospital bed, dying of lung cancer. He was 73 years old, or so his wife and daughter thought. It was here, at the end of his life, that he told them everything. His real name was Ted Conrad, and he was a wanted fugitive. He had robbed the bank where he worked back in 1969, and had been living under a false identity ever since. Since the legal drinking age in America was 18 back then, I have no idea why the 20 year old Conrad would have opted to make himself 22 instead of 18. Perhaps, after throwing his life into chaos over a childlike obsession with a movie, he was in a hurry to grow up.

Marshal Pete Elliott was tipped off to the obituary of Thomas Randele, and he immediately noticed a number of a similarities to Ted Conrad. They were both born in Denver, both attended New England College, were both born on July 10 just 2 years apart, both had a father named Edward and a mother with the much less common name of Ruthabeth, and both’s mothers had the same maiden name. It is unknown who alerted Elliott to the obituary, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was Conrad’s wife; after discovering his husband’s true identity, she no doubt saw the myriad of news stories about him online and wanted to give the father and son investigative team the closure they deserved, unaware that it was too late for the father. If true, she also did it in a very polite way, giving just enough evidence to make it obvious while still leaving him enough work to do to feel like he had a part in solving the case. I don’t mean to be this condescending, it’s just the way I was born. Pete Elliott was able to use official documents for both Conrad and Randele and have the signatures analyzed to conclusively prove they were truly the same person, and this wasn’t some bizarre deathbed hoax.

Eluding Capture

So how did Conrad change his identity and stay under the radar of law enforcement for so long? The FBI and U.S. Marshals had a lot of information on him and their investigation, and I mean a lot. There were 20 binders full of documents and reports on this one case. And these were not small binders either, they were taking this shit seriously. They had exhaustively searched every lead they had, from Ohio, to Colorado, to Washington DC, to Hawaii, to Texas. But you’ll note that Massachusetts was nowhere on this list. Even though it was only 6 months between Conrad leaving Ohio and arriving in Boston, it seems that was long enough for him to stop writing letters, making phone calls, and buying drinks for strangers.

As for changing his identity, convincing fake documents, especially Social Security cards, are very difficult and expensive to come by. But what if he wanted to ensure his credibility by doing one better and getting a real Social Security card under a fake name, wouldn’t that be nearly impossible? Actually, it’d be super easy, barely an inconvenience. [See if we can get a clip of Ryan George’s Pitch meetings here with that meme?] While these days Americans receive their Social Security number and card at birth, that’s not how it worked back in 1970. Back then, you had to go to the Social Security office and get it yourself. So one day, Ted Conrad walked into the Social Security Administration office in Boston, and said “Hi, my name’s Thomas Randele. Here’s my fake date of birth. I’d like a social security number, please!” And with that, he was able to get a driver’s license and open a bank account, all under a fake name, all with 100% authentic, government issued documents. Once again, the past was the worst.

There was still one more detail to not worry about: Ted Conrad and Tom Randele had the same fingerprints. I say this is a detail not to worry about, because, once again, back in 1970 it was not common practice for employees at a bank to be fingerprinted the way it is today. By the time I was 20 I had been fingerprinted at least twice, and I never even did anything wrong! One of them was my fault for taking that summer job at the US Post Office, but one was done when I was in elementary school. To the entire school. Good old Teddy, though, he had never been fingerprinted in his life, and Tom wasn’t fingerprinted when he came into existence. Sure, the authorities had the whiskey bottle he had left in the vault the day of his crime, but as long as Randele never got a job or committed a crime that would require him to be fingerprinted, they would never have anything to match it to.

But what happened to all that money? Well, that is the one part that remains unanswered, and the U.S. Marshals are still trying to figure it out. Perhaps he lost it early in a series of poor investments. Or perhaps he moved to Lynnfield where the average house currently costs $875,000. Really, who can say? This part of the case remains unresolved, but fortunately they aren’t trying to go after his family’s assets to recover what he stole.

Wrap Up

So there you have it, the blueprint to a perfect crime. All you need to do is simply be born 70 years ago when national security was a joke, commit a simple crime with no accomplices, then live the rest of your life as a kind, upstanding citizen so as to never draw suspicion from anyone. Seems easy enough for anyone who isn’t a condescending douchebag like me.

Dismembered Appendix

Do you know how the statue of limitations works? Ted Conrad didn’t! At least not at first. In an early letter to his girlfriend he commented that the statute was seven years, so perhaps afterwards he could come back and they could fall in love. He then jokingly said that they were just 6 years and 358 days until he could come back. Luckily for Ted, he never did. To start, he had the numbers wrong as the statute of limitations for bank robbery is 5 years for federal court and 6 years for the state of Ohio. That’s not important though, the important part is that this is how long the state or federal government has to bring charges against you. If they know who you are, they can indict you and put out a warrant for your arrest. Once that has happened, the statute of limitations can’t help you. If they know you committed a crime, you can’t outrun the law. Unless you are just really, really nice like Ted. But for those of you who got away with crimes without being indicted, be sure to GET IN THE COMMENTS and share your stories! I know it goes against the first rule of Casual Criminalist, but if you escaped the statute of limitations then feel free to gloat! Just remember, there’s no statute of limitations for murder, so keep those stories to yourself. Otherwise, I’ll be seeing you next episode.

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