Before Thomas Randele was a luxury car salesman who played golf with his buddies in the suburbs of Boston, before he was married with kids, the feds believe he was Theodore Conrad, one of the most notorious bank robbers in Cleveland history. And he got away with it until his death.
Conrad was a 20-year-old bank teller in Cleveland when he walked out of work one day in 1969 with $215,000, equivalent to $1.7 million today. The bank didn’t realize the money was gone until a few days later, and Conrad vanished into thin air. It took five decades for the police to solve the mystery.
No Red Flags
Born in Denver, Colorado, Theodore John Conrad seemed to have a normal life. When his parents divorced while he was in elementary school, Conrad moved with his mother and sister to Lakewood, Ohio. He was popular in high school and elected to the student council. Conrad was a bright teenager.
After graduating high school in 1967, he attended New England College because his father was an assistant professor of political science there. However, he transferred to Cuyahoga Community College after one semester. It seemed like Conrad had a promising future ahead of him, and no one could have guessed what would happen next.
A “Trustworthy” Guy
In 1969, Conrad started a job at Society National Bank in Cleveland. He worked as a cash vault teller, packaging money to deliver to Society branches around town. It was a position for a trusted employee, and Conrad seemed like an all-American guy with an unquestionable character.
His boss thought he was the model of responsibility during turbulent times. However, Conrad’s friends painted a different picture. They said he was obsessed with the 1968 film The Thomas Crown Affair, in which Steve McQueen plays a billionaire who treats bank robberies like a sport. He thought he could pull it off.
A Job of Opportunity
On Friday, July 11, 1969, Conrad walked into work like it was a regular day. However, he went into the vault, stuffed $215,000 in cash into his bag, and left. The bank didn’t have much security, and cameras weren’t widely popular yet. Therefore, the theft wasn’t discovered until the following Monday.
Conrad had a two-day head start to flee and hide, and he took advantage of it. He was never fingerprinted, so they didn’t suspect him until he didn’t show up for work. When police discovered Conrad was missing, a warrant was issued for his arrest on charges of misappropriating funds.
He Bragged About It
Conrad’s friends said he bragged about how easy it would be to steal from the bank and even told them he planned to do so. When he disappeared, Conrad confessed to the theft in a letter to his girlfriend and said he regretted it. However, his friends and family didn’t contact the police.
He was daring, and authorities believe Conrad thought, “Hey, what if I do this and get away with it?” He wasn’t exactly worried about what would happen after he stole the money, but Conrad clearly had a getaway plan based on his actions. He knew what his next move would be.
Leaving His Old Life Behind
After stealing the money, Conrad fled to Washington DC before moving to LA. A few months later, he settled in Massachusetts. He knew the cops would eventually figure out where he had gone, so he changed his name to Thomas Randele and applied for a social security number.
Conrad cut off all communication with everyone from his former life, even his family. Most people assumed he was dead because they never heard from him again. As he started his new life in New England, Conrad did not talk about his past.
Meanwhile in Ohio
John K. Elliot was a member of the US Marshals Service in Cleveland who started the witness protection program in Ohio. He spent his life protecting and hiding other people’s secrets, but he couldn’t figure out what had happened to Conrad. In 1970, he couldn’t stop thinking about Conrad.
He had pulled off the biggest bank robbery in Cleveland’s history, and Elliot wanted to catch him. He took an interest in the case because Conrad lived and worked near him. He never stopped searching for the fugitive until he died in 2020.
Elliot took Conrad’s old college applications to compare to any future writing investigators would obtain. He started talking to Conrad’s friends and family and pulled documents, but nothing came up. He became obsessed with the case.
Elliot was so desperate that he handed his work over to the Interpol agency because he thought Conrad might have fled the country. He worked on the case long after he retired in 1990. Elliot’s son also became a member of the US Marshals Service and took over the case.
America’s Most Wanted
While Conrad was starting his life over, investigators followed leads across the country. They searched in California, Hawaii, Texas, and Oregon, but he never turned up. He was featured on America’s Most Wanted and Unsolved Mysteries because there were no leads.
They needed the public’s help because Conrad was nowhere to be found. Meanwhile, he was 16 miles north of Boston, establishing himself as a well-regarded community member. Soon the case grew cold because the police had nothing to go on, and there were more critical investigations.
His Other Life
When Conrad settled outside of Boston, he was introduced to a woman named Kathy. The two got to know each other for almost a decade before they married in 1982. He used some of the stolen money to start his life.
However, he didn’t blow through the money right away because he got a steady job to support his new family. Soon, Kathy and Conrad had a daughter, who was their only child. He had to make a living to pay for everything without raising suspicions.
A Well-Liked Member of the Community
Conrad got a job as a car salesman for a luxury dealership. He worked there for nearly 40 years while his wife worked for the town of Lynnfield in the planning department. Outside of his work, Conrad became an avid golf player.
In the summers, Conrad taught golf near his home, and in the winter, he played on a pro tour in Florida. He wasn’t trying to stay off the grid, yet no one ever noticed that he was a wanted fugitive because everyone trusted him.
He Didn’t Hide From the Law
Conrad had many friends in law enforcement. Maybe he was trying to be close to them in case they started investigating the robbery. He also loved shows like CSI and NCIS, which now seems odd, but it wasn’t a red flag at the time.
He had a quiet life and traveled a bit around the US. No one ever questioned Conrad in his new life because he was just like every other suburban husband. Unfortunately, the truth wouldn’t be revealed until Conrad was on his death bed.
Taking Over the Case
In 2003, Elliot’s son Peter became one of the youngest US Marshals in the country. He talked to his father about Conrad often and kept the documents his dad hadcollected over the years. Peter knew the case was important to his dad and wanted to solve it.
As his father got older, Peter didn’t want him to die without knowing what had happened to Conrad. Luckily, it was only a matter of time before the case was cracked open and Peter could finish his father’s life’s work.
He Got Sick
Conrad lived a cozy life when he got the unfortunate news that he had lung cancer. He had been an active guy, according to people who knew him. The diagnosis was unfortunate, but he thought he could beat it.
He started treatment, but he was already in his 70s. His wife and daughter wanted him to fight through it, but his condition worsened. Conrad knew his days were numbered and didn’t want to die with this big secret on his mind.
As the cancer started to spread, Conrad couldn’t fight it any longer. His family made sure he was comfortable in his dying days, but he was about to drop a bomb on them. In his last few days alive, Conrad told his wife and daughter the big secret.
He admitted that he stole the money and created a new identity. Conrad told them about his former life and how he had just left everything behind. They were in shock, but that didn’t change how much they loved him.
After fighting his cancer for a while, Conrad died at age 71. His family and friends gathered around him to say goodbye to one of the nicest people they knew. Conrad’s friends, who knew him as Thomas Randele, only saw a kindhearted family man.
He impacted so many people’s lives that the line at the funeral home was long. Unfortunately, only his wife and daughter knew the big secret, but they didn’t want to change everyone’s opinions of Conrad after he died. They only found out when the news broke.
Elliot’s Work Made a Difference
Although Elliot passed away before the case was solved, his work didn’t go unnoticed. All the documents Elliot saved, like Conrad’s college applications and other handwritten documents, came in handy after all. The third clue that helped them find Conrad was matching his handwriting.
All those years Elliot spent obsessing over Conrad were worth the frustration because they eventually got closure on the 50-year long mystery. According to the Pew Research Center, most cold cases like this go unsolved because of the lack of evidence.
He Solved the Case
A year after his father passed away, Peter finally put the bank heist cold case to rest. Although he declined to share how he found the obituary, Peter saw that a man named Thomas Randele had died, and the details of his life mirrored Conrad’s.
Conrad didn’t change many details of his past life when he died, besides his parents’ last names. The final clue that pieced everything together was Conrad’s college application signature that matched a signature from a 2014 court document signed by Randele.
Too Many Similarities
The information in Randele’s obituary mirrored Conrad’s genuine life. Conrad was born on July 10, 1949, and the obituary listed Randele’s birth date as July 10, 1947. It also listed his parents as Edward and Ruthbeth Randele, Conrad’s real parents’ names.
According to Peter, “When people lie, they lie close to home.” The obituary included his alma mater as New England College and his birthplace as Denver. There were too many similarities for it not to be Conrad. Unfortunately, he was already dead.
The Signs Were Telling
After the robbery and Conrad’s confession letter to his girlfriend, many people realized there had been some signs suggesting he was planning a heist. According to his friends, he thought of himself as Steve McQueen’s character from The Thomas Crown Affair. He started mimicking McQueen’s characteristics and high-end lifestyle.
He drove a nice sports car, drank expensive gin, and showed off at golf and billiards. Conrad shoplifted to prove that he could pull off the heist. He even told his friends that no one would find out until Monday if he took the money on Friday.
They Thought He Would Contact Someone
After Conrad disappeared, investigators thought he would contact his best friend, Russell Metcalf. He was the last one to see Conrad before the robbery because the two had lunch together that day. Metcalf said he heard rumors about Conrad’s whereabouts but didn’t say anything.
Although people said many bad things about Conrad, Metcalf defended him. He said he wouldn’t remember his friend as a thief but as the man who drove into a park during a tornado to find Metcalf’s siblings who hadn’t come home when the storm started.
His Wife Is Grieving
While everyone is talking about his past life, Kathy Randele is grieving the loss of her loving husband. He might have robbed a bank when he was young, but Conrad turned his life around to become a caring and responsible father and partner.
Kathy has been hounded for comments about her husband and her thoughts on his secret, but she is trying to get over his death. She and her daughter said they would only remember all the good things Randele did in his life.
His Old Friends Have Closure
For many years, Conrad’s old friends assumed he had died. However, when they discovered the truth after his death, it gave them closure. They were happy to know that he had a good life despite his mistakes because he was always a kind person.
In both parts of his life, Conrad was a respected man. He had many friends in high school, and everyone thought he would do something great with his life. Now they at least know what happened after he vanished all those years ago.
This Wasn’t the Man They Knew
His old friends might have gotten closure, but the people who knew him as Thomas Randele were confused by the news. When they found out about his criminal past, some said everything started to make sense because Conrad never talked about his family or where he had grown up.
One friend said, “The only way it makes sense is that at that age, he was just a kid, and it was a challenge kind of thing.” If Conrad had told them his secret, his friends said they never would’ve believed him.
His Father Can Rest in Peace
Now that the case is closed, Peter is happy that his father can rest peacefully because it haunted Elliot. Peter said, “I hope my father is resting a little easier today knowing his investigation and his United States Marshals Service brought closure to this decades-long mystery.”
Peter’s father dedicated most of his career to finding Conrad, so it was comforting to get closure after five decades. Peter feels better knowing he finished Elliot’s work and can finally move on. Everyone now has closure on the Conrad case.
What Happened to the Money?
Unfortunately, it is not exactly clear what happened to the money, but one can make assumptions. Conrad must have used some of it to start his new life. However, towards the end, he had financial problems. In 2014, he filed for bankruptcy.
Investigators assume that he lost most of the stolen cash in a bad investment. He didn’t raise suspicions about his finances because he had a good job as a luxury car salesman. His family wasn’t wealthy, but they had a comfortable life. Sadly, the money wasn’t recovered.
How Did He Get Away With It?
It is a wonder how Conrad evaded law enforcement his whole life. Due to the lack of security and technology in 1969, it wasn’t hard for him to pull off the robbery. There weren’t cameras, but they knew he did it because he didn’t come to work.
However, Conrad was never fingerprinted, so they had no way to identify him. He also changed his identity with a new social security number. Conrad disappeared into thin air, and because the rules were much laxer in the past, he didn’t have trouble becoming a new person.
This Couldn’t Happen Today
Conrad might have gotten lucky, but this would never happen today. With all the security that banks have today, he wouldn’t be able to walk out of the bank. Today, banks have security guards, cameras, and better screening for employees.
It also wouldn’t be so easy for Conrad to simply apply for a new social security number. Changing your name might not be challenging but creating an entirely new identity would raise red flags with law enforcement. Conrad’s heist was just a product of his time.
For our next article, we are looking into the story of how a crew of retirees pulled off the biggest heist in Britain.