Thomas Randele was on his deathbed when he confessed to his only daughter that he was one of “America’s Most Wanted” fugitives and had been on the run for more than five decades.
“It felt like a weird dad joke,” Ashley Randele told Fox News Digital. “He was the king of terrible dad jokes. At that moment, I felt like, ‘OK Dad, you changed your name, and the authorities are looking for you – sure they are.’
“But when he told me his name – his real name – I looked him up. I saw all of these articles like ‘Vault teller robs bank.’ I realized that this was my dad, and the authorities were still looking for him.
“That’s when I got scared. It wasn’t a weird dad joke.”
Ashley, 38, is now telling her story in a new true-crime podcast on The Binge, “Smoke Screen: My Fugitive Dad.” It explores how the patriarch’s shocking past would rock not only an unsuspecting family but a small community in Lynnfield, Massachusetts.
“I wanted to tell the story of who my father was,” Ashley explained. “I wanted the world to know Tom Randele. I wanted people to know how amazing he was as a dad, husband and friend. I don’t think you’re ever emotionally ready for that. But everyone else was spitting out these stories about a kid who loved fast cars, pretty women and lived the high life because he wanted to be Thomas Crown [from the movies].
“There was more to this person than July 11, 1969.”
Growing up, Ashley had a “wonderful” childhood with two parents who were “devoted” to her. They were a constant presence at every soccer game, school play and piano recital. Randele would tuck in his little girl every night at bedtime and even wrote a lullaby for her, “My Ashley.”
“I know it may sound silly, but I never kept secrets from my parents,” Ashley said. “My parents were the type that wanted to keep me safe. And we were an open family.”
Looking back, however, there were moments that, at first, “didn’t make a lot of sense.”
“When I was in high school, there was a chance through my French class to go to France,” Ashley recalled. “If my parents chaperoned, it would be a less expensive trip. I remember my mom saying, ‘I’ll be a chaperone, and Tom, you can be a chaperone too. It will be great!’ My dad’s response was, ‘Nah, I don’t need to go to France. You girls go have fun, and I’ll stay with the cat.’ At the time, I thought, ‘Weird choice, Tom, this is France!’ But then I thought, ‘Maybe he just didn’t have the travel bug.’
“There was another time when I was thinking about doing those at-home DNA tests to learn about your heritage,” she said. “They were a big thing, and I thought it would be cool for us to do them too as a family. My dad just said, ‘I don’t see the point of it. People have your DNA and that just feels weird.’ Then I was like, ‘That is weird – you’re sending your DNA to a company. You’re right, I won’t do that.’
“Looking at it now, my dad couldn’t have gone to France because he didn’t have a passport, and you can’t get a passport without a birth certificate,” she continued. “And imagine if I had mailed over my DNA, and it matched me with relatives that I didn’t even know existed? But the thing is, he was always super calm about it. He just casually shrugged things off.”
Tragedy struck in 2021. Randele was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer. He died less than two months after his diagnosis.
“He was in so much pain,” Ashley said. “It was so hard to see because my dad was always strong in my eyes. I used to call him He-Man – that was our joke. He would make these funny Superman poses and I would call him He-Man. The doctors had hoped that the chemotherapy would give him a few years, even a year. In less than two months, he was gone.”
“I can’t imagine how scary it is to know that you’re dying,” she said.
Before his death, Randele came clean to his family about his past as they were watching an episode of “NCIS.” Randele reasoned that he couldn’t take his secret to the grave. He was worried his wife and daughter would be blindsided if word ever got out.
Ashley was startled by the admission, but her research didn’t lie. And it turned out that the truth was stranger than fiction. Randele – whose real name was Theodore John Conrad – pulled off one of the biggest bank robberies in Cleveland’s history.
Conrad was a 20-year-old bank teller at the Society National Bank in Cleveland when he walked out at the end of his workday on a Friday in 1969 with a paper bag containing $215,000, authorities said. That’s the equivalent of more than $1.7 million in 2021 dollars. The theft wasn’t discovered until a few days later, and Conrad was never seen again.
In the years since, the case was featured on shows like “America’s Most Wanted” and “Unsolved Mysteries.” Investigators chased leads all over the country. But Conrad vanished without a trace. Some wondered if he was still alive.
According to authorities, Conrad had become obsessed with the 1968 film “The Thomas Crown Affair,” starring Steve McQueen, about a bank robbery for sport by a millionaire businessman. They said Conrad told friends that taking the money from the bank would be easy, even indicating plans to do so.
The podcast reveals there was more to Conrad’s motive. Ashley and her team were able to track down those who knew her father over the years.
“It wasn’t about the money – the money was more of a means for him,” Ashley explained. “He wanted to start over. He was living in not the best family circumstances. He just wanted to leave his life behind and start fresh. So, it wasn’t that he was on the run as he was running away.
“This was not something he did on a whim,” she continued. “It was premeditated. He’d checked to see how easy it could be to get a new Social Security card. In 1969, it was not very difficult. You could just go into the registrar’s office, and they give you a new one. At one point, he even invited his girlfriend and one of her friends into the vault where he was working during lunch. They were just hanging out in the vault holding stacks of money. So, the security wasn’t anything like it is now.”
Ashley and her mother were grieving Randele’s loss when they were still trying to figure out when they should go to the authorities. They knew that whenever the day came, life would never be the same as they knew it.
But that choice would be made for them.
According to the podcast, a true-crime writer in Cleveland spotted Randele’s obituary. It was then forwarded to Peter Elliott, the U.S. Marshal for Northern Ohio. It was a piece of a puzzle he had been looking for. His father, John K. Elliott, a U.S. Marshal in Cleveland from 1969 until his retirement in 1990, had been searching for Conrad, who had lived and worked near him. The patriarch died in 2020, never receiving the closure he longed for.
Elliott said documents his father unearthed from Conrad’s college days helped with the identification. To this day, Ashley has “no idea” how the crime writer put the puzzle together.
“It’s the one mystery in this whole thing that I’ve never been able to figure out,” she admitted. “And I don’t know if I ever will. … I completely understand why the U.S. Marshals protect confidential informants and that they’re not telling us. … But it’s still a mystery.”
Cleveland.com reported that, in his lifetime, Randele became a local golf pro, sold luxury cars and “was a fixture in a small town.” He married in 1982, a union that lasted until his death.
One afternoon, Elliott came knocking on Ashley’s door.
“My heart just stopped,” Ashley said. “But the first thing that came out of his mouth was, ‘You’re not in trouble.’ … It wasn’t about arresting anybody at that point because my dad had been gone for about six months. It was about understanding how somebody could disappear in plain sight and then live a full life.”
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