He is not as fast afoot as he was when he first began looking for the Clevelander who admitted he robbed a bank vault, but 48 years later, J.K. "Pete" Elliott is like a cat chasing a mouse.
He is relentless in his search for a fugitive who walked into his job in a Cleveland bank vault, quietly walked out with $215,000 and disappeared.
"I haven't had a good night's sleep since," said Elliott. It has been almost a half-century of tossing and turning in his bed since Theodore John Conrad vanished with the money he probably had tucked into a brown paper bag with the bottle of whiskey and the carton of cigarettes he had bought that day to celebrate his twentieth birthday.
The story of Conrad is filled intrigue because his was an "inside" job. Two years out of Lakewood High School, Conrad garnered a job working in the vault of the old Society National Bank (now Key Bank) on Cleveland's Public Square.
It was right after the 1969 bank heist Elliott got the assignment to track down Conrad. At age 80, the retired Elliott will not give up. "That warrant is mine," he said emphatically as he sat in the office of the U.S. Marshal for Northern Ohio. "The warrant doesn't belong to anyone else, and I want to see him apprehended," said Elliott.
The former deputy marshal is not the only one looking for Conrad. Most of the search is being done by Elliott's son, Pete Elliott, the marshal in charge of the district. Still, the father will visit his son's office and sit with deputies to determine what new they may have on Conrad. All in the office believe the fugitive is still alive.
"I know he's alive," said deputy marshal Dave Siler, whose eyes are piercing through the air as he voices his belief on Conrad. Siler is assigned cold cases in the marshal service's violent fugitive task force. "We're not going to just go away and forget it because the crime goes all the way back to 1969," he added.
The senior Elliott is in agreement. The bank heist so grabbed him in 1969, for years he brought the story home to his family on a nightly basis. "'Pass the mashed potatoes and where the heck is Conrad'," is all I heard him say at home said his son who was seven when he first heard the story.
The junior Elliott was so intrigued by his father's work in law enforcement, Pete Elliott went into the field, eventually gaining the office of U.S. Marshal for Northern Ohio.
If Conrad is still alive, he would 68. For years, the only photographs the marshals had was of Conrad as a Lakewood High School Class of 1967 teenager or as a man of 20. However, in recent days, the marshals have generated an age-progression picture of what they think Conrad looks like today. Add to that, a years-old clue that a Cleveland area couple thinks they might have sighted him in Honolulu, HI.
"We think he could be there," said Siler. So authorities are pushing the age-progression picture in that community, hoping someone in Hawaii would recognize the man.
Conrad has admitted he committed the robbery. There were two letters he sent to his then-girlfriend telling her what he had done. The letters were postmarked in 1969 from Washington, D.C. and Southern California. After that, the thin trail went cold. He had a lot of money to make his getaway and live in hiding. The $215,000 in 1969 would equal $1.3 million today.
The federal marshals theorize Conrad could be living a life perhaps with a family which would have no knowledge of his past. An assumed name and forged papers and the money he stole could set him up nicely if were able to blend into the population far away from Cleveland.
However, the law -- to use a cliche -- has a long arm. Federal marshals refuse to give up. Even the retired deputy marshal who first had the case and continues to drop into his son's office to see what is new in the search for the fugitive who has eluded capture for 48 years.
Marshals said they have interviewed his family and friends, but the interviews have provided no news as to the whereabouts of the one who got away. However, with the age-progression image of how they believe Conrad appears, they hope to pick up what was only a thin trail from Cleveland which then vanished like a vapor in the wind.