Shortly before Thomas Randele died, his wife of nearly 40 years asked his golfing buddies and his co-workers from the dealerships where he sold cars to come by their home.
The group came to say goodbye to a friend they described as one of the nicest people they’d ever known — a devoted family man who bragged about his daughter, a golfer who played by the rules, cared for by so many that a line stretched outside the funeral home just one week later.
At the time of their visit last May at Randele’s house in suburban Boston, cancer in his lungs had taken away his voice. So the friends left without knowing that their friend they’d spent countless hours with had never told them his biggest secret.
For the past 50 years, Randele was a fugitive wanted in one of the biggest bank robberies in Cleveland’s history, living in Boston under an assumed name he’d created six months after the heist in the summer of 1969. Not even his wife or daughter knew about his past until he told them in what authorities described as a deathbed confession.
The mystery of how he was able to leave behind one family and create a new life, all while evading a father and son from the U.S. Marshals Service who never gave up their hunt, is just now being pieced together.
Ted Conrad learned that the security at the Society National Bank in Cleveland was pretty lax after he started working there as a teller in January 1969.
Conrad told his friends that it would be easy to rob the bank, said Russell Metcalf, his best friend from high school.
One day after his 20th birthday that July, Conrad walked out of the vault with $215,000 from the vault, a haul worth $1.6 million today. By the time the money was found missing, Conrad was already flying across the country.
In a letter sent to his girlfriend, Conrad said that he thought he could return when the statute of limitations expired. But once he was indicted, that was no longer true.
Conrad completely cut off all contact with his family. Some eventually presumed he was dead, said Matt Boettger, whose mother was Conrad’s older sister.
His mom, he said, was relieved to find out that her brother had lived a happy life. “She thought she would go to her grave and never know,” he said.
At the time of the bank heist in 1969, the country was focused on Apollo 11’s historic flight to the moon, so the robbery didn’t capture the attention of the nation, or even of Cleveland.
But for John Elliott, a deputy U.S. Marshal, it was personal because he and Conrad came from the same side of town.
Elliott traveled across the U.S. looking for Conrad and even after retiring would check on the case, according to his son, Pete Elliott, now the top U.S. marshal in Cleveland, who took up the hunt for Conrad nearly 20 years ago.
Elliot’s father died in March 2020 before investigators pieced together details from Randele’s obituary and signatures from his past. Then in November, Randle’s family confirmed that just before he died, he told them what he had done, Elliott said.
Conrad’s motive for committing the robbery has been analyzed endlessly.
“It wasn’t about the money. He always wanted to impress people,” said Metcalf, his high school friend.
Investigators believe he was inspired by the 1968 movie “The Thomas Crown Affair,” about a bank executive who got away with $2.6 million and turned the heist into a game.
After the real-life robbery in Cleveland, Conrad wound up in the Boston area, where much of the movie was filmed.
Thomas Randele came into existence in January 1970 when Conrad applied for a Social Security number in Boston, Elliott said.
During the 1970s, Randele worked as a manager at a country club outside Boston where he met his future wife not long after arriving in Boston and the couple married in 1982.
Around that time, he started in the car business, selling Land Rovers and Volvos until he retired after nearly 40 years.
What’s not clear yet is what happened to the money. The Marshals Service is investigating whether he lost it early through bad investments.
While Randele and his wife, Kathy, lived most of their years in a pleasant Boston suburb, they filed for bankruptcy protection in 2014. She told Cleveland.com in November that her husband was a great man and has declined all interview requests.
No one would have guessed that Randele, who was 71 when he died, was someone trying to hide from authorities.
Among the many people, he had befriended over the years was an FBI agent in Boston, Elliott said.
“He was just a gentle soul, you know, very polite, very well-spoken,” said Jerry Healy, who first met Randele at a Woburn, Massachusetts, dealership where they talked daily for years.
“If he would have told us way back when, I don’t think we would have believed him because he wasn’t that kind of guy,” he said. “The man was different than the kid.”
When Randele’s identity was first revealed, his friends couldn’t believe it. But now looking back, some things began to make sense, including his reluctance to talk about where he grew up or his extended family.
“You know all the years I knew Tommy, I never heard him mention a sister or a mother or a brother or a father,” Healy said.
“You could never pry anything from him,” said Brad Anthony, another close friend.
Still, he said it’s almost impossible to believe. “It just seems so out of character for the Tom I knew,” he said.