William Leslie Arnold managed to escape from prison after being found guilty of killing his parents in 1958, then made his way to Australia where he reinvented himself as John Vincent Damon.
In 1967, a young man who’d murdered his parents as a teenager escaped from prison in Nebraska. For decades, it seemed that William Leslie Arnold had simply vanished from the face of the Earth. But recently, a DNA test tracked him down — all the way in Australia, where Arnold had led a new life, with a new name, until his death in 2010.
“There’s no warning label on the DNA test kit telling you that you might not like what you find,” Arnold’s son, who has remained anonymous, told CNN. “But I don’t regret doing it, and I’m glad I now know the truth about my dad.”
Arnold’s story began back in 1958, when he shot and killed his parents in Omaha, Nebraska, because they’d refused to let him use the family car to take his girlfriend to the movies. Arnold then buried his parents in the backyard and took his girlfriend to a drive-in screening of The Undead.
For two weeks, The Guardian reports that Arnold kept the murders a secret. When friends and family asked after them, he said that they were on a trip.
But Arnold was soon found out. He confessed to the murders, and showed the police where he’d buried his parents’ bodies in the backyard. In 1959, he pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree murder and was sentenced to life in prison in the Nebraska State Penitentiary at the age of 17.
There, Arnold was a “model inmate” for eight years. A talented musician, he spent most of his time in the prison music room. But as the years went on, Arnold and a fellow inmate started to hatch an ambitious escape plan.
In 1967, Arnold and his fellow inmate, James Harding, managed to escape. They parted ways in Chicago — and then Arnold seemed to totally vanish.
It was only later that investigators began to piece together his next steps. According to CNN, they found that Leslie changed his name to John Vincent Damon and started to build a brand new life. While working in a restaurant in Chicago, Arnold met his wife, married, and helped care for her four children. He and his family moved between different cities before Arnold and his wife divorced, and Arnold made his way to Australia.
There, Arnold became a salesman, remarried, and had children of his own. He died in 2010 as John Damon, remembered as a “great father.”
A decade later, in 2020, investigators collected a DNA sample from Arnold’s younger brother. Two years later, one of Arnold’s sons uploaded a DNA sample of his own in hopes of learning more about his father.
“Hey, I’m trying to find out more information about my father,” Arnold’s son wrote to the investigators who’d uploaded his brother’s DNA samples. “He was an orphan from Chicago.”
Once they ascertained that William Leslie Arnold, a.k.a. John Vincent Damon, was dead, the investigators told Arnold’s son the truth.
“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,'” Matthew Westover, a deputy United States Marshal who took over the Arnold investigation in 2020, told CNN.
Investigators noted that, whatever Arnold’s past, he seemed to have become “the parent who he wanted to be, or the one he wished he had.” While living in Australia, the escaped prisoner was a “good provider” and a “good father.”
Arnold’s son seconded them.
“Although it’s shocking to know that his life began with a terrible crime, his legacy is so much more than that,” he told CNN. “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.”
After reading about the double life of William Leslie Arnold, go inside the daring Alcatraz escape of 1962. Or, look through 11 of the most incredible prison escapes from history.