A beloved family man who died in Australia in 2010 at the age of 67 was revealed to be a teen killer who escaped a Nebraska prison in 1967. However, the discovery never would have happened were it not for DNA from one of his surviving children, which eventually allowed the truth to come to light.
At the age of 16, William Leslie Arnold killed both of his parents and buried them in the backyard of the family home because they wouldn’t let him borrow the car to take his then-girlfriend to a drive-in movie. While he initially tried to cover up the crime by telling everyone that his parents had gone on a trip, he eventually made a full confession and led authorities to the bodies.
Arnold was eventually given two consecutive life sentences at the Nebraska state penitentiary, where he was said to be a model inmate who would have likely qualified for early release. However, in 1967, he succeeded in making one of the “cleanest” prison escapes ever by climbing through the window of the prison’s music room and scaling a 12-foot fence with a t-shirt over it to avoid being cut by razor wire. The fellow inmate he escaped with, James Harding, was caught within a year. As for William Leslie Arnold, he seemed to disappear entirely.
It’s believed that Arnold got married within three months of his escape and lived in both California and Miami before leaving for New Zealand in 1978. He eventually settled in Australia, where he worked as a salesman, eventually getting married again and fathering two children. Of course, the FBI agents working to track him down for more than three decades didn’t know any of this at the time.
Geoff Britton from the US Marshals Office was obsessed with finding out what became of Arnold, and he worked tirelessly from 2004 to 2013 to track him down. “To kill your parents over the use of the car to go to the movies – that’s not normal. It made me wonder if something else was going on,” he told CNN.
By 2020, the case was handed over to Matthew Westover, a deputy marshal in Nebraska. Westover said taking on the case was seen as a bit of a joke given that no one actually expected to find answers after so much time. However, Westover came across a 2017 article published in the Omaha World-Herald called “The Mystery of Leslie Arnold.” In the article, journalist Henry Cortes referred to the teen killer as a solid student whose relationship with his parents was particularly troubled. Westover couldn’t get the case out of his head.
Soon, Westover was traveling five hours to meet William Leslie Arnold’s younger brother, James, who gave him a DNA sample to use as a reference on an ancestry site. It took two years before he got a hit, but he eventually did find one in a Chicago man who was searching for his father. He said his father’s name was John Damon, who told the son that he was an orphan. He was shocked to later discover that his father was only an orphan because he’d killed his parents.
“There’s no warning label on the DNA test kit telling you that you might not like what you find,” he told CNN. “But I don’t regret doing it, and I’m glad I now know the truth about my dad.”
While DNA ancestry sites like 23andMe, MyHeritage, and AncestryDNA don’t allow law enforcement to use its database to solve crimes, what Westover did – using DNA from a relative of the person they’re looking for to find leads – was totally legal and may come in handy in the future.
Britton said that the bizarre case did have a positive in that he believes William Leslie Arnold “became the parent who he wanted to be, or the one he wished he had.”