Frank Freshwaters: ‘Shawshank Redemption’ Fugitive Captured

shawshank redemption

Frank Freshwaters was captured after spending 56 years on the lam. Freshwaters, an Ohio man, escaped a Green Springs prison farm in 1959. Melbourne, Florida police officers caught the man the Shawshank Redemption movie was based upon, on Tuesday.

Freshwaters, 79, was serving a 20-year sentence for violating terms of his manslaughter conviction when he escaped from the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield. The man Shawshank Redemption was based upon was 21 and married when he was convicted of killing Eugene Flynt, 24, on July 3, 1957.

Legal documents released by U.S. Marshall Pete Elliot, who represents the northern Ohio federal jurisdiction, reportedly show that Frank Freshwaters was traveling more than 50 mph in a 35 mph zone when he hit Flynt in a car. “Flynt was run over by Freshwaters,” U.S. Marshall Elliot said.

Frank Freshwaters, a professional painter, was ultimately indicted on second-degree manslaughter charges. He pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter and was sentenced to five years of probation with a suspended sentence of one to 20 years, according to court records.

In February 1959, Frank Freshwaters was charged with violating his probation and sent to the Ohio State Reformatory in Mansfield, the state penitentiary featured in the Shawshank Redemption.

Correctional authorities said that Frank Freshwaters eventually “charmed prison officials,” gained their trust, and was considered as a model inmate. He was then sent to the Sandusky Honor Farm and remained there until he escaped on September 30, 1959. Freshwaters was once captured on an Ohio fugitive warrant in 1975, but the Florida governor at the time would not extradite him. Freshwaters was released and immediately went back into hiding.

Frank Freshwaters’ decades of freedom ended with a simple knock at the door. The years turned Freshwaters gray, and he was sporting a beard as he lived under the alias of William Cox. The former Ohio prison inmate was living in a “run-down” trailer west of Melbourne. When Freshwaters opened the door of his mobile home, he was staring straight in the face of a deputy from the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office “GAMEOVER” Task Force.

The Florida deputy held up a black and white photo of a young Frank Freshwaters and asked the man known as William Cox if he has ever seen the person in the image.

“He looked at the picture then told them, ‘I haven’t seen him in a long while,'” Major Tod Goodyear, a spokesman for the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office, said. “He said to him, ‘It’s you isn’t it?’ And that was it. He’s been living the retired life and was getting Social Security benefits, I believe under his alias. He’s been living under that alias for years,” Major Goodyear added.

The 79-year-old Ohio prison escapee was led from his Florida mobile home in handcuffs.

“He admitted who he was and owned up to everything,” Marshall Elliot said. The U.S. Marshall’s Office formed a cold case unit three months ago and quickly turned up a lead about Frank Freshwaters.

“He’s been in Florida for several decades. He probably tried to go as far south as he could,” Marshall Elliot said when noting that Freshwaters was one of the longest-missing fugitives in Ohio. The Shawshank Redemption inspiration told police officers that he had earned a living driving a truck before he retired. He will soon be extradited back to Ohio to face escape charges.

Shirl Cheetham, 34, of Palm Bay, said she had known William Cox for almost 15 years. Her children called Freshwaters “Grandpa Will” and the family had listened to him play guitar and enjoyed hunting excursions together. Freshwaters, or Cox, as she knew him, served as the best man at Cheetham’s wedding.

“He is just the sweetest man. I’m shell-shocked. After all this time, how he managed to keep from getting caught. He stayed out of trouble all this time,” Cheetham said upon hearing of the Frank Freshwaters arrest. “I’m still trying to wrap my head around it,” she added.

Freshwaters reportedly attended West Melbourne Community Church on occasion and volunteered at a local thrift store.

“This is someone who loved to laugh. I honestly think they should let him go,” Cheetham said.

“It’s really just good police work. No one thing led them to his doorstep. But now, he’s going to be brought to justice,” Marshall Elliot said.

What do you think about the Shawshank Redemption Frank Freshwaters capture? Should he still do time in prison?