An unsuspecting man discovered his loving father wasn’t the man he thought he was after submitting his DNA to an ancestry site.
The man, whose identity is being protected, wanted to find out more about his roots but, instead, learned the shocking truth about his family’s devastating past.
His father, John Vincent Damon, died at home in Australia back in 2010, to the heartbreak of Damon’s four kids and second wife.
However, the man who died was not born John Damon. Instead, this was a new name he adopted after escaping prison for murder.
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It turns out Damon was, in fact, a fugitive US criminal called William Leslie Arnold, who’d been sentenced to life in jail for shooting dead his parents back in 1958.
Arnold was 16 when he killed his mum and dad and buried them in the backyard after a seemingly petty dispute – allegedly lashing out after they refused to let him take their car to a drive-in movie.
The teenager pulled the trigger, took the car, and spent the night watching a film with his girlfriend. In a tasteless twist of fate, the movie was called The Undead.
Yet, despite trying to cover his tracks by telling everyone that his missing parents had “taken a trip”, he was caught after two weeks and convicted of the heinous double crime.
Then, in 1967, after serving just eight years at Nebraska State Penitentiary, Arnold and fellow inmate James Harding managed to break out of the prison, scaling a 12-foot wire fence and subsequently fleeing to Omaha.
From there, they caught a bus to Chicago, where they parted ways, according to Harding, who was captured within a year, CNNreports.
Arnold and Harding threw t-shirts over the barbed wire fence to escape Nebraska State PenitentiaryGoogle streetview
And yet, Arnold continued to slip through the next.
According to Matthew Westover, a deputy United States Marshal based in Nebraska who took over the seemingly cold case in 2020, the cunning fugitive changed his name a few months after the escape, then got a job in a restaurant where he met his first wife.
Over the years, the pair had four children and moved to Cincinnati, Miami and LA before divorcing in 1978. Records show that Arnold moved to New Zealand in the 1990s, before settling in Australia a few years later.
Geoff Britton, who worked on the case for years, and is now chief of the Office of Law Enforcement Support in California, clarified that no one in Arnold’s new family, including his second wife, had any knowledge of his former life.
“My heart goes out to that entire family,” he said.
Indeed, it wasn’t till that fateful DNA test that they learnt the unbelievable truth, as Westover explained.
Back in 2020, the deputy US marshal, contacted Arnold’s younger brother, James Arnold, to ask for his help with cracking the case.
James wasn’t home when the murders were committed, but he was happy to provide a DNA sample which Westover then uploaded to an ancestry site. Alas, it didn’t return any close matches.
That is, not for another two years.
Arnold's son had no idea a simple at-home kit would change his family's life foreveriStock
In 2022, Westover received an alert that James’s DNA had matched with a sample that was so similar, it would have had to belong to a close relative.
“I noticed right away that I had a match that was way higher than anything I’d had before. It was basically exactly what I was looking for,” Westover told CNN.
He said he also received an email from the match, saying: “Hey, I’m trying to find out more information about my father. He was an orphan from Chicago.’”
Pretending to be James (the unnamed man’s long-lost uncle), Westover gleaned more information about the man’s dad, including details of his death more than a decade earlier.
The marshal said he was cautious at first, not revealing “John Damon’s” true identity to his son and refusing to believe that Arnold was truly dead until he’d received sufficient proof.
“If [Arnold’s] this smart, and he was able to elude police for 50 years, who’s to say he didn’t fake his death and all the photos?” Westover asked himself at the time.
However, once local officials confirmed a death certificate for “John Damon”, he knew it was time to break the news.
The marshal wanted to be the one to tell the man about his father, so he arranged a video call with him and his wife. “I just wanted to make sure that he wasn’t alone because, I mean, there’s a lot to take on,” he said.
“[The man] asked me what [his father] did to be in prison, so I had to tell him,” he continued. “I told him, ‘Well, he was an orphan – he didn’t lie about that – but he killed his parents, that’s why he was an orphan.’”
Both Westover and his fellow investigator Britton, admitted that, in some ways, they were relieved that Arnold was dead by the time they tracked him down.
“The police officer in me always wanted to arrest him and bring him in. But you know, that wasn’t the outcome,” Britton told CNN.
“I gotta tell you, I have spoken to his family several times now. They are an incredible family. And I won’t say much about them out of privacy concerns, but what I will say is this – I think ultimately he became the parent who he wanted to be, or the one he wished he had.
“Because from everything I’ve noticed, it seems like he was a good provider and a good father. He raised some pretty great kids.”
In a statement, Arnold’s son admitted that though his dad’s terrible secret had shocked him, it would not tarnish his memory of the man he knew.
He said in a statement to CNN: “There’s no warning label on the DNA test kit telling you that you might not like what you find. But I don’t regret doing it, and I’m glad I now know the truth about my dad.
“Although it’s shocking to know that his life began with a terrible crime, his legacy is so much more than that.
“I want him to be remembered for being a good father and provider to us, and instilling in me a passion for music, and a drive to always be the best person I can be.”
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