Bob Van Wert
In what authorities are calling a deathbed confession, a Boston man revealed to his wife of 40 years and their daughter that he had pulled off one of the biggest bank heists in Cleveland, Ohio, history.
Thomas Randele was one of America’s most wanted fugitives for 50 years, and he lived in plain sight without anyone suspecting that he wasn’t who they thought he was.
Randele, previously Ted Conrad, was a bank teller at the Society National Bank in Cleveland in 1969 when he realized that security at the bank wasn’t up to par. Conrad’s best friend from high school, Russell Metcalf, reported that he bragged that he could “walk out with all kinds of money.” Conrad brought it up a few more times and finally followed through.
The day after his 20th birthday, Conrad clocked out and took with him a paper bag with $215,000 from the vault. The loot would be worth $1.6 million today.
The missing money went unnoticed until the following Monday, giving Conrad time to escape with the money. Letters to his girlfriend showed that the thief stopped in Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles within the first week. Conrad eventually cut off all contact with his family that included his parents and three siblings. Many presumed he was dead as the years passed by.
When many others gave up the search for Ted Conrad, U.S. Marshall John Elliott traveled the country looking for the fugitive, even after his retirement in 1990. Elliot’s son Pete took over the search 20 years ago and finished what his father started, even though his father died before investigators were told of Conrad’s deathbed confession.
“It always stayed on my dad’s mind,” Pete Elliott said. “We kept this case going because it was important to my father.”
The question has remained….Why did Ted Conrad rob the bank? His high school friend has a theory.
“It wasn’t about the money. He always wanted to impress people. He had no fear,” said Metcalf.
Investigators are convinced that Conrad’s bold move was inspired by the 1968 movie “The Thomas Crown Affair.” The film tells the story of a bank executive who stole $2.6 million and turned the heist into a game. Conrad reportedly watched the movie numerous times and emulated Steve McQueen’s character who drove sports cars and drank fancy liquor.
Conrad eventually moved to Boston, where most of “The Thomas Crown Affair” was filmed, and changed his name to Thomas.
How exactly did Ted Conrad get away with assuming a new identity and avoiding being caught? In early 1970, Conrad walked into a Social Security Administration office and obtained a number with his new name and made himself two years older. With that card, Conrad started a new life as Thomas Randele.
Randele married in 1982 and worked as began working as a car salesman, a career he stuck with until he retired after 40 years.
Randele, who was 71-years-old when he died of lung cancer, was known by his friends as a “gentle soul, very polite, very well-spoken.” Randele was one of six car salesman who worked together for most of their careers. Those friends never suspected that he was harboring such a dark secret.
“It never dawned on us, and that’s a half a dozen guys that aren’t easy to fool,” Jerry Healy said.
Matt Kaplan golfed with Randele every Sunday morning for years, and has his own explanation for his friend’s decades-old bank heist.
“The only way it makes sense is that at that age he was just a kid, and it was a challenge kind of thing,” Kaplan said. “It’s not like he became a professional bank robber.”
While Randele’s friends found it hard to believe that he was a wanted fugitive, they agree that knowing about his past doesn’t change how they felt about him.
“The man I knew didn’t change all of a sudden because of something he did a lifetime ago,” Healy said. “He was a good man, he was my friend and I think no less of him today than I did before this all came out. And I’d love to go play a round of golf with him.”