On May 4, 2015, officers from the Brevard
County Sheriff’s Office in Florida were following
through on a tip.
The regional gang task force was about to
make an unusual arrest.
And in so doing, they would help the U.S.
Marshals close their longest-running manhunt
ever to catch a fugitive.
On a stretch of marshland near the western
edge of Melbourne, Florida, hidden by thickets
of palm trees, sat the isolated, run-down,
algae-streaked trailer that was home to a
79-year-old trucker, amateur guitarist, and
suspected outlaw, known as William Cox.
When Cox answered the door, one of the officers
held up an old black and white photo of an
Ohio man named Frank Freshwaters.
He asked if Cox recognized the man in the
Cox responded that he hadn’t seen that man
for a long time.
Pressing, the cop followed up, “Are you that
And indeed he was—once.
Cox went off with the police without protest.
His life had come full circle, and his 55
years and seven months on the lam were at
Frank Harold Freshwaters was the real name
of a man who’d been living under the alias
of William Cox since 1959, when he fled from
a prison camp in northern Ohio.
Freshwaters had served part of his sentence
at the Ohio State Reformatory in the city
That imposing, castle-like complex is where
the well-loved 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption
And so, perhaps inevitably, news reports following
Freshwaters’ 2015 arrest dubbed him “The Shawshank
Does that mean this is the real-life story
behind the movie?
Well, the short answer is no.
The connection was always fairly tenuous.
The Shawshank Redemption, which starred Tim
Robbins and Morgan Freeman, is based on a
Stephen King novella–that is, a work of
Both the movie and the story take place in
Maine, not Ohio, the location of filming notwithstanding.
The action takes place between the 1940s and
1960s, and so it does overlap with the period
when Freshwaters was an inmate at the penitentiary
But whereas the Andy Dufresne, the protagonist
in Frank Darabont’s movie and King’s story,
spends the better part of two decades behind
bars at the equally fictional Shawshank State
Penitentiary, Freshwaters was only locked
up in the Mansfield, Ohio, prison for a matter
He soon received a transfer to a minimum-security
Dufresne eventually makes his getaway by chiseling
a small hole in the stony prison walls.
Freshwaters wasn’t even being held at the
Ohio State Reformatory when he made his escape.
And while the character Dufresne, a banker,
was innocent of the double-homicide for which
he was wrongfully convicted, Freshwaters was
guilty, and remorseful, for the crime that
defined his early life.
So it’s a very different story, but in its
own way, it’s quite a cinematic tale as well.
At a little after 11:00 pm on July 3, 1957,
Eugene Flynt, age 24, an Army veteran and
father of three, was getting home from his
late shift working at the Goodyear Tire & Rubber
Company in Akron, Ohio.
From across the street, his wife, Garnet,
saw Eugene get out of the truck, and went
to put coffee on for him.
Young Frank Freshwaters worked for another
rubber company—rubber and tires were what
put Akron on the map, and it was a boom time
for the car industry.
And that night, Frank was burning some rubber
himself, tearing down the street in his 1953
Mercury, at 50 miles per hour in a 35 zone.
Hearing a crash, Garnet Flynt turned to see
her husband get hit and go flying.
Eugene Flynt died from his injuries in a hospital
less than an hour later.
Police cited Freshwaters for a non-working
car horn and broken emergency brake, either
one of which might have prevented or mitigated
But the real charge he’d face would be manslaughter.
At trial, Freshwaters already expressed horror
at his own actions, crying as he pleaded to
the judge, “It’s not something like a nightmare
which is gone in a day.
It stays with you.”
The comment was prescient.
Freshwaters gave a lowball estimate of his
speed behind the wheel, which didn’t stick.
But the sentence ended up being quite lenient
for Freshwaters, who was 22 at the time of
the trial the following April.
His 16-year-old wife, Patricia, had given
birth to their first son six months earlier.
For his crime, Freshwaters was given a prison
term of one to 20 years, but the sentence
That meant he never had to see the inside
of a cell, so long as he abided by his five-year
The terms included not driving a car, and
paying $5 per week in restitution to Garnet
The sum would only be around $44 in 2019 money,
but was to offer at least some assistance
to the widow and her children.
Nonetheless, the apparently cash-strapped
Freshwaters failed to keep up the payments.
On top of that, he was caught driving with
a fake license.
So the prison sentence became active, and
Freshwaters was sent to the facility in Mansfield.
But once at the penitentiary, Freshwaters
quickly developed a reputation as a cooperative
Thus, he was transferred to the Osborn Honor
Farm, adjacent to the city of Sandusky, Ohio,
and just inland from Lake Erie.
The farm grew vegetables and hogs used for
food elsewhere in Ohio’s prison system, and
would have been a relief compared to the stultifying
conditions at the Ohio State Reformatory.
Freshwaters was assigned to work in the mess
hall of the nearby Ohio Soldiers and Sailors
Home, a nursing facility for veterans a short
distance from the farm itself.
On September 31, 1959, Freshwaters and another
inmate made their escape.
They were last spotted on the road outside
the home, heading south just before 5:00 pm.
Both were in prison garb—blue jeans with
red stripes and gray-and-white striped shirts.
The exact circumstances for the escape aren’t
However they did it, that afternoon would
be the last time anyone saw or heard from
Frank Freshwaters for a long time.
Not long after the escape, the state of Florida
issued a driver’s license to one William Cox,
and thus was born the identity that the fugitive
would hold for more than five decades.
We’ll stick with that name for now—it’s
essentially a new identity he adopted.
Cox soon moved to a dot of a town, Hurricane,
For 16 years, he built a second life in that
state, settling down with his a new significant
other, Joyce Wade, and raising a son.
Ironically, given his record, Cox worked as
a truck driver.
A ninth-grade dropout himself, he also spent
time driving a mobile library around to promote
His work caring for horses earned him the
He rode in local parades.
But Cox and Wade became estranged, and Joyce
reported that she feared violence from her
When police came round Cox’s home near Charleston
to deliver a peace warrant, similar to a restraining
order, they discovered him hiding in a special
compartment he’d built under his sink.
The odd hiding place may have backfired, leading
to more suspicion than, for instance, not
hiding under the sink.
The deputies took him into custody, fingerprinted
him, and learned his true identity.
Wade stopped pursuing her case against Cox,
but he clearly had bigger problems at hand.
Held in the jail of Kanawha County, in which
the state capital of Charleston is located,
Cox shared his already-convoluted true story.
Probably the proximity to state government
helped the case find its way to West Virginia’s
then-governor Arch Moore, who became an advocate
for Cox, vocally denying Ohio their extradition
Moore claimed that the complaint Wade had
filed was bogus, but the actual or perceived
threat Wade felt remains a matter for debate.
Wade failed to show at the court hearings
against Cox, and later, she didn’t wish to
revisit the chapter of her life.
As far as Moore was concerned, Cox—the name
he would continue using–was a reformed citizen,
and welcome to continue life as a free man,
with a special provision for his monitoring
by the state of West Virginia.
And that was that, for about ten years.
Sometime in the mid-1980s, Cox became involved
with another woman in West Virginia, named
Brenda, and the two moved to Melbourne, Florida
in 1987, along with his son Jim Cox, by then
Jim, who would stick by his dad, later noted
that the backstory was no secret: he knew
who his father was.
As his son relates, Cox wasn’t so much on
the run as fully ensconced in his new life.
The move to Florida may well have been motivated
more by a yearning for warm weather than any
desire to lay low.
As before, Cox got work as a trucker, hauling
trees for a family who owned a large stretch
of marshlands on the western edge of the city.
Part of the deal was that he’d keep an eye
on their property, which was prime trespassing
territory for off-road vehicle enthusiasts
and poachers, and they gave him a trailer
to live in.
A bit cold and leaky in the wintertime, Cox
reasoned that it wasn’t as cold as Ohio could
Following the loss of his wife Brenda to cancer
in 1999, he was on his own in his dilapidated
But by now Cox was again growing close to
his neighbors in the new community, who knew
him as an affable cheapskate who loved country
music and fried chicken.
He stood up as best man for Shirl Cheetham,
a close female friend and hunting companion,
at her wedding.
Her kids knew him as “Grandpa Bill.”
But in 2015, the northern Ohio office of the
U.S. Marshals launched a cold case division.
And they didn’t get much colder than Cox,
aka Frank Freshwaters.
It’s not that hard to track down a fugitive
who’s not really even hiding—Cox’s cover
had been blown for decades.
And unlike in West Virginia, in Florida, there
was no one who would fight Ohio’s extradition
The uneventful operation to take Cox in and
send him to Ohio went forward.
Frank Freshwaters was back.
U.S. Marshal Pete Elliott, who had created
the cold case squad, commented that he didn’t
have any opinion regarding whether Freshwaters
deserved additional charges or additional
In Elliott’s view, if there was a prison escapee
on the loose, it was the job of the U.S. Marshals
to bring him in, and, essentially, it would
be up to the courts to handle the rest.
As Freshwaters awaited trial in a jail facility
for handicapped prisoners in Ohio—again
a compliant, model prisoner—friends and
family showed their support in writing, in
pictures, and on social media.
The prosecution noted, correctly, that Freshwaters
still owed restitution to the Flynt family,
who still felt the trauma of Eugene Flynt’s
death six decades later.
The state pushed for the reinstatement of
a four-year prison sentence, based on the
original conviction; they declined to press
any additional charges for the escape from
But in February, 2016, the sentence given
was very similar to that handed down in 1958:
five years parole.
Freshwaters, now nearly 80, could only walk
very short distances, and had trouble hearing.
His ill-fitting dentures rattled around.
There would be little opportunity for him
to violate the terms of his release this time
There was some delay as the state of Ohio
made sure there was a provision for where
Freshwaters would stay once released.
Finally on June 15, 2016, Frank Freshwater
smiled as he walked out of state custody for
the last time, to go and live with his son
in West Virginia, looking forward to a return
to private life after this last round of media
Do you think there should be a statute of
limitations on prison breaks?
Or are the U.S. Marshalls working to keep
criminals from escaping justice by pursuing
Let us know what you think in the comments!
Also, be sure to check out our other video
called New Evidence Shows Alcatraz Prisoners
Survived The Prison Escape”!
Thanks for watching, and, as always, don’t
forget to like, share, and subscribe.
See you next time!