The 80-year-old, twice-caught fugitive stepped out of the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Correction a free man Wednesday, nearly six decades after escaping a work farm where he was serving time in connection with a 1957 traffic crash in Akron that killed a father of three.
He was released to family members at 8:19 a.m. Wednesday, officials reported.
“He walked out today and has a smile on his face,” said attorney Gordon Beggs, who worked to win Freshwaters’ release. “And he’s very thankful to those who supported him with their prayers because he needed it. Right now he’s taking a nap,” Beggs told FLORIDA TODAY.
The Ohio Adult Parole Authority voted in February to place Freshwaters on parole with five years supervision. His release was delayed as authorities waited for his attorneys to turn in a required plan detailing where Freshwaters would live.
“He will be supervised by West Virginia,” said JoEllen Smith, spokeswoman for the state corrections agency in a statement to FLORIDA TODAY. Freshwaters’ son Jim Cox lives in West Virginia.
It was a long, storied road to freedom for Freshwaters, who once spent time at the infamous Ohio State Reformatory, a now-closed facility that was the setting for the classic 1994 movie The Shawshank Redemption. He was recaptured in Melbourne in May 2015 after decades on the run.
The gray-bearded man was living under the alias of William Cox in an old trailer on the property of Florida Sen. Thad Altman’s parents. He was a caretaker on the expansive marshland property, keeping mostly to himself while occasionally fishing and warding off would-be trespassers. More than 2,000 people from half a dozen states wrote in to the parole board to support him after an investigative series in FLORIDA TODAY.
Freshwaters was convicted in the 1957 traffic crash that killed a 24-year-old veteran in front of his Akron home. Then a baby-faced 21-year-old, Freshwaters was assigned to a Sandusky, Ohio prison camp in 1959 after failing to meet a court-ordered compensation agreement, state records show.
His attorneys went before a parole board earlier this year and contended that Freshwaters – who was using a wheelchair in the months since his arrest – had lived a quiet life during his escape. Freshwaters, they pointed out, did not commit any crimes while a fugitive and instead took on a number of steady jobs, including as a truck driver and a mobile librarian. In 1975, some 15 years after his escape, Freshwaters’ was arrested by West Virginia authorities on a fugitive warrant.
By then Freshwaters, who loved to play the guitar and enjoyed the music of Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard, had garnered a strong, positive reputation in the community, prompting the governor’s office to look at the case.
Then Gov. Arch Moore, whose controversial political career was couched in federal investigations, refused to turn Freshwaters over to Ohio authorities. Moore told Ohio officials in an official letter that while he didn’t excuse the deadly accident, he believed that Freshwaters was a good citizen.
Freshwaters was released and allowed to live quietly in West Virginia. By 1986, he turned his eyes to Florida and moved to Melbourne with one of his sons and his girlfriend. He later married, but his wife was stricken with terminal cancer.
Freshwaters' fate intersected with law enforcement again last year when his name somehow caught the attention of the U.S. Marshal’s jurisdiction in Ohio. Federal authorities committed resources and staffing to track down and take in the then 79-year-old man. Agents contacted the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office with their information.
Investigators then found Freshwaters living alone under his alias.
The widower was home alone when the agents knocked on his door in May, presented him with a picture of a 60-year-old mug shot of himself. He was booked into the Brevard County Jail Complex and later flown back to Ohio by U.S. Marshals.
Beggs said that Freshwaters is looking forward to the next chapter in his life but added that he will not be granting any interviews. “The time for controversy and media coverage is over,” he said.
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