DEERFIELD BEACH – In the nearly 40 years after he escaped from the 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 this week when Jones – or Bruce Walter Keith, as the former Army private was known in Florida – was recaptured with the help of technology that was more sci-fi than reality when he broke out during the disco era: facial-recognition software.
“The first words out of his mouth were, ‘I knew this would catch up with me someday,”’ Barry Golden, a senior inspector with the U.S. Marshals Service, said today.
Jones, 59, was one of the Army’s 15 most-wanted fugitives after his 1977 escape from the Kansas prison dubbed “The Castle” for its large walls and tower keeps.
He was convicted of murder and assault in the 1974 killing of a fellow soldier at Fort Dix in New Jersey.
According to the archives of The Times of Trenton, Jones, who is originally from Ontario, Calif., was found guilty in the stabbing death of Lonnie Eaton, 18, and the wounding of another man. Police at the time said 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 serving a 23-year sentence when he escaped.
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 was being held without bail at the Broward County jail, awaiting transfer back to Fort Leavenworth.
No one responded to a voice mail left at a number listed for Bruce Keith at his Deerfield Beach address. Property records show he and wife Susan Keith were married in 1983 and have lived there since 1984.
Susan Keith, 56, told investigators she had no idea her husband was living under an assumed name, Golden said.
No one answered the door today at their tidy, single-story, light-gray house. Parked in the driveway was a red pickup with a Miami Dolphins logo, and a fishing boat on a trailer was visible behind a fence.
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 January.
Jones’ military photo was compared against Florida’s database of driver’s license photos and yielded a hit.
U.S. law enforcement authorities frequently use such technology to track down fugitives or identify suspects at airports and in other public places.
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.
Jones was 23 at the time of his escape and was last seen working in the dining facility. Fort Leavenworth spokesman George Marcec said no one recalls anything about the escape because it was so long ago.
Between 1977 and 1998, there were seven escapes involving 11 prisoners at the disciplinary barracks, but all but Jones had been recaptured. The Castle was closed in 2002 and prisoners were moved to a new prison on the base.
It wasn’t immediately clear whether Jones would be court-martialed or simply returned to prison to serve out his sentence. He could also face escape charges, Golden said.