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Killer's long run of freedom ends

In the 37 years after he escaped from a maximum-security military prison at Fort Leavenworth, convicted killer James Robert Jones carved out a new life for himself in Florida, living under an assumed name, getting married and working for an air conditioning company.

It all came to an end last week when Jones — or Bruce Walter Keith, as the former Army private was known in Deerfield Beach — was recaptured with the help of technology that was more sci-fi than reality when he broke out: facial-recognition software.

"The first words out of his mouth were, 'I knew this would catch up with me someday,' " said Barry Golden, a senior inspector with the U.S. Marshals Service.

Jones, 59, was one of the Army's most-wanted fugitives after his 1977 escape from the Kansas military prison, dubbed "The Castle" for its large walls and tower keeps.

He had been convicted of murder and assault in the 1974 killing of a fellow soldier at Fort Dix in New Jersey. Jones was found guilty in the stabbing death of Lonnie Eaton, 18, and the wounding of another man. Eaton and a friend were walking back to the base from a bar when they were attacked by three men with knives after one approached and asked if they had any marijuana to sell.

Jones was sentenced to 23 years in prison.

The marshals caught up with Jones on Thursday after using facial-recognition technology to match a Florida driver's license he was issued in 1981 in Keith's name with his old military photograph.

Jones was arrested outside the Pompano Beach business where he worked. He admitted his real identity as he was being fingerprinted, and the prints confirmed it. He is being held without bail at the Broward County jail, awaiting transfer back to Fort Leavenworth.

Property records show he and Susan Keith were married in 1983 and have lived in Deerfield Beach, an oceanside suburb north of Fort Lauderdale, since 1984. Susan Keith, 56, told investigators she had no idea her husband was living under an assumed name, Golden said.

Neighbors were shocked at the news.

"They are nice people. That's what I don't understand. I couldn't understand that he ever got involved with something like that. I just can't believe it," said Joe Onischuk, who has lived across the street for more than 30 years.

Tammy Deangelis, who lives next door, said: "We would all get together. It's a friendly quiet neighborhood. Good neighbors. Didn't even know he was in the military. If we had any air conditioning problems, we would go to him."

The investigation into Jones' escape had gone cold until last year, when an Army liaison to the Marshals Service happened to mention the case and asked for help. The marshals began working on it in January.

Jones' military photo was compared against Florida's database of driver's license photos and yielded a hit. The license issued under Keith's name had a different day and month of birth than Jones', but the year was the same.

After officers picked him up, Jones wouldn't even respond to his real name, perhaps because he had been living under an alias for so long, Golden said.

Killer's long run of freedom ends 03/16/14 [Last modified: Sunday, March 16, 2014 7:35pm]
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