Nebraska teen who shot his parents in 1950s carved out a life as a ‘devoted family man’ in Australia

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A Nebraska teen fugitive who killed his parents in the 1950s escaped his dark past and carved out a life for himself as a ‘devoted family man’ in Australia, new DNA evidence has revealed. 

Leslie Arnold, then 16, buried his parents in the backyard of their Omaha home after shooting them in an argument about the family car. 

The teen then attended school for over a week pretending the murders never happened, before he eventually confessed to the chilling crime and was sentenced to life behind bars. 

But within a decade the killer broke out of the Nebraska State Penitentiary, where he fled justice under the alias John Damon and made his way to Australia. He remained at large until his death in 2010. 

Leslie Arnold pictured in his booking mugshot on October 11, 1958

Leslie Arnold pictured in his booking mugshot on October 11, 1958 

Arnold became known as a devoted and loving family man during his time down under, and his family only learned of his disturbing past a decade after his death.  

Over a decade after the secret killer’s death, his son registered with a public DNA database and discovered the grisly truth.

‘It was just absolutely shocking,’ his son, who wished to remain anonymous, told Fox News. ‘It still doesn’t feel real’. 

Matthew Westover, a deputy US marshal who unearthed the story of Arnold’s escape over five decades later, said the 16-year-old carried out the killings when his mother, Opal Arnold, refused to let him take the family car to pick up his girlfriend.

Knowing that his mother disliked his girlfriend and felt she was ‘white trash’, Arnold responded by fetching a rifle from his parents’ room. 

When his mother said, ‘What are you going to do, shoot me?’, the teenager unloaded the firearm and killed her. 

Westover claims that just minutes later, his father Bill Arnold returned from the grocery store to find the tragic scene, leading the young killer to gun him down. 

In a further chilling move, Arnold then took the family car and took his girlfriend to the movies anyway, where they watched horror classic ‘The Undead’. 

An undated photo of Leslie Arnold when he was living in Australia as John Damon

An undated photo of Leslie Arnold when he was living in Australia as John Damon

The killer pictured with his first wife following his successful escape from prison

The killer pictured with his first wife following his successful escape from prison 

Age progression photos of William Leslie Arnold generated by law enforcement during the search for the killer

Age progression photos of William Leslie Arnold generated by law enforcement during the search for the killer 

Initially claiming his parents had abruptly left to visit his grandparents, Arnold buried his parents’ bodies in a shallow grace in the backyard the next night. 

And pressure mounted on the killer when his grandparents showed up at the house looking for his parents, leading him to confess to their murders. 

In a glimpse of his future family-oriented life in Australia, Arnold apologized to his neighbor in a letter as he faced life in prison, telling them: ‘(My parents) were wonderful people. This I learned too late, and I am sorry.’ 

‘How I ever went so wrong, I’ll never know,’ he added, according to the Omaha World Herald. 

Eight years into his life sentence, Arnold plotted a daring escape from the Nebraska State Penitentiary alongside fellow inmate James Harding. 

Aided by a recent parolee who threw saw blades and rubber masks into the prison yard, the men sawed the bars off a window in the prison music room before reattaching them with chewing gum until they made their escape. 

On July 14, 1967, the men tricked the prison guards by attaching rubber masks to their pillows, before they made a break for the window and scaled the barbed wire fence perimeter. 

Arnold was able to make it to Chicago before it became known he had escaped, and he initially settled in the Windy City as he married a divorcee with four daughters. 

He assumed the persona of a salesman named John Damon, moving the family to Cincinnati and Miami to stay a step ahead of law enforcement. 

The killer stayed under the radar as he made his way to Los Angeles, where he met his second wife and had a son and a daughter. 

Arnold’s son remembered him as a doting dad who spared no expense with his children, including moving them to New Zealand in 1992 then Australia in 1997. 

‘He was almost overly supportive,’ his son said. ‘He was so passionate and keen for my sister and I to have the best experiences, and the best opportunities possible.’ 

However, the son added that his fugitive father lied throughout his childhood, where he maintained that he was an orphan from Chicago. 

‘Everything he told us was always fragments of the truth,’ he said. 

A wanted poster for the fugitive released by the US marshals

A wanted poster for the fugitive released by the US marshals 

Leslie Arnold's wanted poster posed next to his grave in Australia, which was labeled with his fake alias John Damon

Leslie Arnold’s wanted poster posed next to his grave in Australia, which was labeled with his fake alias John Damon 

Decades of investigations into the murderer’s whereabouts all turned up nothing, until investigators were able to capitalize on advancements in DNA technology and uploaded a sample of a relative’s DNA to a public database in 2020. 

In August 2022, the DNA matched with Leslie Arnold’s son, revealing the truth about the family man’s checkered past. 

‘I don’t want to sugarcoat this story,’ his son said. 

‘He was a great father, and I feel so fortunate about the life I’ve had, but I know other people suffered because of his actions.’ 

Genetic Genealogy used by law enforcement

Genetic genealogy, or ancestry testing, which is the practice of entering a DNA profile into a public database to find relatives, has emerged as a powerful tool for identifying suspects who leave DNA behind at a crime scene.

Investigators can use it to construct a family tree that leads them to an otherwise unknown suspect.

The practice is the use of DNA testing to determine relationships between individuals, find genetic matches and discover one’s ancestry.

Forensic genealogy is law enforcement’s use of DNA analysis combined with traditional genealogy research to generate investigative leads for unsolved violent crimes. Forensic genetic genealogical DNA analysis (‘FGG’) differs from STR DNA typing in both the type of technology employed and the nature of the databases utilized. 

The tests employed by investigative teams allow scientists to identify shared blocks of DNA between a forensic sample and the sample donor’s potential relatives. 

Recombination or reshuffling of the genome is expected as DNA from each generation is passed down, resulting in larger shared blocks of identical DNA between closer relatives and shorter blocks between more distant relatives. 

Departments that employ the use of FGGS, must do so in a manner consistent with the requirements and protections of the Constitution and other legal authorities. 

Moreover, investigative teams must handle information and data derived from FGGS in accordance with applicable laws, regulations, policies, and procedures. 

When using new technologies like FGGS, the departments must be committed to developing practices that protect reasonable interests in privacy, while allowing law enforcement to make effective use of FGGS to help identify violent criminals, exonerate innocent suspects, and ensure the fair and impartial administration of justice to all Americans. 

 Source: United States Department of Justice

Post source: The List

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