NATIONAL NEWS

Father to daughter on his deathbed: He was a bank robber, fugitive

Dec 3, 2023, 11:20 AM | Updated: 1:44 pm

Theodore "Ted" Conrad was an unassuming bank teller when he strolled out of an Ohio bank with more ...

Theodore "Ted" Conrad was an unassuming bank teller when he strolled out of an Ohio bank with more than $200,000. (Ross Anthony Willis, Fairfax Media/Getty Images)

(Ross Anthony Willis, Fairfax Media/Getty Images)

(CNN) Thomas Randele was dying of lung cancer and had a secret.

In March of 2021, with his daughter at his bedside in suburban Boston after his first chemotherapy session, he made a stunning confession: He was a fugitive, and had been one for more than five decades. More than 50 years earlier, when he was 20 years old, he’d robbed an Ohio bank of $215,000. And his real name was not Thomas Randele but Theodore Conrad.

He implored his daughter not to look into the case. But after this bombshell revelation, Ashley Randele didn’t sleep much that night. So she did what most curious people would do.

“I’m alone in my childhood bedroom, and I Googled ‘Ted Conrad missing,’ and the first thing that came up said something like, ‘Vault teller robs bank.’ I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is my dad,’” she told CNN. “And there were hundreds and hundreds of articles about him.”

With every click, her father’s dark past unspooled before her eyes.

In Lynnfield, Massachusetts, Thomas Randele was a car salesman and a country club golf pro who adored his wife and only child. He doted on his daughter and showed up for her soccer games in khaki pants and fast cars. In an ironic twist, he also donated to local police charities and spent hours watching “NCIS” and other crime shows, his daughter said.

But back in Cleveland, he was Ted Conrad, an elusive bank robber. He was barely out of his teens when he’d pulled off one of the largest heists in Ohio history — the equivalent of $1.7 million today — inspired by his favorite movie, “The Thomas Crown Affair.”

Conrad’s boyish face was plastered on wanted posters and broadcast on episodes of “America’s Most Wanted” and “Unsolved Mysteries.” And a pair of father-and-son US marshals in Cleveland had made it their life’s mission to capture him.

“I told him, ‘I looked you up. And there are a million articles about you. And they’re also still looking for you, in case you didn’t know. And we have to tell Mom,’” said Ashley Randele, 38, who’s co-host of a new podcast on who her father was and what drove him to rob a bank.

A day or so after her father’s shocking revelation, Ashley told CNN she pulled her mother Kathy aside and told her.

“She was reading through the articles online, and she just kept saying, ‘Oh my God! Oh, my God!,’ for like 10 minutes,” Ashley Randele said. (Kathy Randele declined to comment to CNN.) “She’d known him for the better part of 40 years, and to learn this massive secret — I can’t imagine how traumatizing that was for her.”

Photos, a driver's license, the original warrant and other items from Conrad's 1969 robbery are shown on December 16, 2021, at the Carl B. Stokes U.S. Courthouse in Cleveland. (Ken Blaze, Associated Press)

Photos, a driver’s license, the original warrant and other items from Conrad’s 1969 robbery are shown on December 16, 2021, at the Carl B. Stokes U.S. Courthouse in Cleveland. (Ken Blaze, Associated Press)

Her dad was obsessed with a Steve McQueen movie about a bank heist

Conrad’s disappearance puzzled investigators for five decades.

Some compared it to the 1971 case of hijacker D.B. Cooper, who parachuted out of a plane with $200,000 in cash and vanished over the vast wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, never to be seen again.

Conrad’s heist also sounded like a story from a movie. On July 11, 1969, he showed up for work as a teller at Society National Bank in Cleveland. It was a Friday and his birthday weekend, so he bought a bottle of whiskey and a pack of cigarettes during his break. At the end of the day, he went into the vault, quietly stuffed $215,000 into a paper bag and walked away from his old life.

It wasn’t until Monday that the bank found out about the robbery, giving him a two-day head start.

Days later Conrad sent two letters to his then-girlfriend — from Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles — saying how much he loved and missed her. Then the case went cold.  Authorities could find no traces of him.

The week after his disappearance, Apollo 11 landed the first humans on the moon. The historic mission hogged the headlines, and the press soon forgot about the mysterious bank robber in Cleveland. Months turned to years and then decades.

But investigators didn’t give up. They got tips on alleged sightings in various states, including California, Hawaii, Texas and Oregon. The leads all turned out to be false. Frustrated, federal officials spotlighted his case on true-crime shows such as “America’s Most Wanted.”

Meanwhile, the former Ted Conrad was building a new life as Randele in Massachusetts. In an ironic twist, he chose to settle in a suburb north of Boston, the city where his favorite movie was set and filmed.

Authorities say Conrad was obsessed with “The Thomas Crown Affair,” the 1968 Steve McQueen film about a dashing millionaire businessman who robs a Boston bank for fun. (The movie was remade in the 1990s with Pierce Brosnan.) His friends in Ohio told investigators that he’d watched it several times before the robbery.

He’d even bragged about how he got a job as a vault teller without providing his fingerprints, and how easy it would be to steal money from the bank, investigators said.

Ashley Randele believes her dad loved the movie so much that he’d picked his new first name, Thomas, as a tribute to its main character.

She said her dad didn’t exactly live as if he was in hiding. He drove her to school daily and picked her up on his days off. Sometimes, she said, he chaperoned her school trips.

But little things started to make sense after his confession, she said. Her father, clean-shaven as a young man, always wore a beard and rarely took off his baseball hat in public.

And he never left the country. Ashley said she and her mom once begged him to go with them to France, but he refused, saying he was not a fan of overseas travel.

“He always said there were so many interesting things to see in the United States. He didn’t need to leave the country,” Randele said.

She realizes now that his false identity meant he had no passport.

She began searching for answers about her father’s shadowy past

His confession turned the Randele family upside down.

Ashley said she and her mother knew her dad likely only had a few months left to live, so they decided not to share his secret with authorities. The last thing she wanted, she said, was to see her ailing, 71-year-old father hauled off to prison.

“The first thing Mom and I said to him was, ‘We love you so much. And finding this out does not change that we love you. But we do need to talk about it,” she said.

“I wasn’t able to be angry with him at the time, because that just felt sort of unfair. I was trying to get as much information out of him as possible, just because you want to know … I was able to be angry after he passed.”

Ashley Randele said she once told her father she’d keep her last name after she marries so that it wouldn’t die with him.

But after his confession, she wondered: Was it even her name anymore?

“That was hard, that my name isn’t mine. It’s on my birth certificate. It is a real name. But that his name was fake,” she said. “For a moment, I did think about changing my name.”

Her father died in May 2021, two months after his confession.

In her new podcast premiering Monday titled, “Smoke Screen: My Fugitive Dad,” Randele discusses her struggle caring for a dying father while grappling with confusion over unwittingly living a life of lies.

The suburban Boston woman, who works in retail and customer service, said she believed there was more to her dad’s brazen robbery beyond his love for a movie. So she decided to start searching for answers.

She eventually tracked down some of her father’s old friends and girlfriends, who shared stories about him and helped her fill in some gaps from his younger years.

Working on the podcast, she said, has unearthed some answers, allowed her to grieve and helped her begin to reconcile the stealthy bank robber in Ohio with the doting husband and father she knew in Massachusetts. For example, her dad’s friends told her he was fluent in French, which surprised her because she had struggled with French homework as a kid and he didn’t offer to help.

“I wanted the world to know who my dad was. And I also wanted to learn about Ted Conrad, the bank robber, and Tom Randele, my dad,” she told CNN. “I wanted to know — where do they overlap?”

After her dad’s death, US Marshals showed up at her door

Ashley Randele said she and her mother made a pact to spend one year grieving the man they’d lost before sharing his secret with investigators.

She said they agreed to notify police in June 2022. But federal authorities beat them to it.

In November 2021, US Marshals showed up unannounced at the Randeles’ door in Lynnfield. The marshals reassured her and her mother that they would not face charges, Ashley Randele said.

Turns out that after Randele died of lung cancer in May, investigators got their first big break in the case. Someone had sent his obituary to a crime reporter in Ohio with a note saying the deceased man was likely Conrad, Ashley Randele said.

The obituary listed her father’s date of birth as July 10, 1947 — the same birthday as Conrad’s but two years older, US Marshal Pete Elliott told CNN. The obit also listed Conrad’s parents’ names, but with Randele added to the end, Elliott said.

Investigators began digging and unearthed a 2014 bankruptcy filing by Randele in a Boston federal court. The handwriting matched that on a 1967 college application Conrad had filled out, Elliott said.

Investigators then traveled from Cleveland to Lynnfield to confirm Conrad’s identity. Among them was Elliott, whose father, John Elliott, had spent much of his law enforcement career searching for Conrad before his death in 2020.

The younger Elliott, a US marshal in Ohio like his father, finally had an answer to the questions that had eluded his dad for decades. In the podcast, Elliott describes the case as “an elegantly simple but infinitely complex” mystery.

Elliott said his father wasted years chasing down false leads around the country and missing his son’s baseball games, and was angry that Conrad had stolen money it would have taken him many years to earn as a federal officer.

“Some people portrayed Conrad as a Robin Hood. And my dad called him nothing but a thief,” he said.

But that day in November 2021 brought a bit of closure. When Elliott knocked on their door and introduced himself as a federal marshal from Ohio, Ashley Randele said the expression on her face probably told investigators everything they needed to know.

“I think you know why we’re here,” she said Elliott told her.

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Father to daughter on his deathbed: He was a bank robber, fugitive