DNA Test Exposes Australia Family Man As Escaped Nebraska Con Who Killed His Parents In 1958
‘There’s no warning label on the DNA test kit telling you that you might not like what you find,’ says the son of William Leslie Arnold, who was 16 when he committed murder in Nebraska.
US Marshals Service
In the 1950s, a 16-year-old boy fatally shot his parents and buried them in the backyard of their home in Omaha, Nebraska. A family in Australia recently learned the father and husband they loved was a convicted murderer who escaped prison over half a century ago.
In 1958, William Leslie Arnold wanted to see the movie The Undead at the drive-in with his girlfriend, so he asked his parents if he could borrow their car. They refused, and he fatally shot them. He then went to the film and later told family and friends that his parents had gone away on a trip.
For weeks, the teenager went about his life, but he eventually admitted to the crime and was sentenced to life behind bars, according to the U.S. Marshals Service.
On July 14, 1967, eight years into his sentence, Arnold, then 24, and another inmate, 32-year-old James Edward Harding, escaped from the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln and avoided capture despite a massive manhunt. “We haven’t even had one rumor” as to where the fugitives could be, Warden Maurice Sigler told the Omaha World-Herald at the time.
Harding was captured around a year after the prison break. He claimed to investigators he and Arnold had made it to Chicago but then parted ways. Arnold seemed to have disappeared into thin air, and it would take over half a century and the determination of Matthew Westover, a deputy United States Marshal in Nebraska, to finally locate the elusive fugitive.
In August 2020, Westover was assigned the case, and he became “obsessed” with it, he told The New York Times.
As part of the reinvigorated investigation, Westover reached out to a past investigator who was still trying to crack the cold case — Geoff Britton, formerly with the Nebraska Department of Correctional Services. He also contacted Arnold’s younger brother to obtain a DNA sample and upload it to an ancestry site. Two years later, in 2022, Westover got a break when the DNA sample matched with a close relative.
“I noticed right away that I had a match that was way higher than anything I’d had before. It was basically exactly what I was looking for,” Westover said, CNN reported.
Feeling ecstatic, the investigator then received an email from the person who uploaded the sample. “It said, ‘Hey, I’m trying to find out more information about my father. He was an orphan from Chicago,” Westover recalled. “I was like, ‘This is the guy. There’s no way this isn’t the guy.”
Westover eventually determined the man who submitted the DNA was Arnold’s son. He then learned the son knew his father not as William Leslie Arnold but as John Vincent Damon.
According to the son, Damon died on Aug. 6, 2010, at age 69, and he was buried at Tamborine Mountain Cemetery in Queensland, Australia.
Westover at first didn’t reveal he was a law enforcement agent. “I felt guilty. I mean, he’s giving me all this information. And here I am holding the key to what he needed,” Westover explained.
When the man learned his father had once been incarcerated, he asked why. “So I had to tell him,” the deputy marshal said. “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.’”
In turn, Westover found out the felon changed his name not long after his escape and began working in a restaurant. There, he met the woman who would become his first wife. Arnold helped raise her daughters as the family relocated several times, including to Cincinnati, Miami and Los Angeles, according to CNN. The couple divorced in 1978.
In the 1990s, Arnold moved across the world to New Zealand and then Australia, where he lived with his second wife. Westover told The New York Times the businessman enjoyed a “great life and apparently changed his ways.”
The son, who discovered his beloved father hid a dark past, told CNN in a statement that while it was “shocking to know that his life began with a terrible crime, his legacy is so much more than that.”
“There’s no warning label on the DNA test kit telling you that you might not like what you find,” said the man, who declined to be identified publicly. “But I don’t regret doing it, and I’m glad I now know the truth about my dad.”
He added: “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.”
Westover said he’s thankful Arnold was already dead when he located him or he would have had to have forced him to face justice as an octogenarian.