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Convict who escaped from psychiatric facility nabbed after 30 years on the lam

Associated Press Writer

NASHVILLE, Tennessee- Dollie Walton's children always found Thomas Fry, the man who had lived with her for nearly 30 years, to be a bit strange.

He was secretive about his past before he met Walton in Chattanooga in 1978, and he did not have a driver's license or a birth certificate, her son Jerry Walton said Thursday.

"He's always been an evasive person. He said he couldn't remember his Social Security number," Walton said.

But Fry's secret life unraveled Wednesday when U.S. Marshals arrested him at his Nashville home for escaping from a Michigan psychiatric facility in 1976.

Fry is actually 76-year-old Thomas Ball, convicted in 1964 of fatally stabbing 34-year-old Barbara Jean Eden, whose body was found at the Strand Hotel in Detroit on Sept. 3, 1963, according to news accounts at the time.

He served 12 years on a 20- to 40-year sentence at what is now called the Southern Michigan Correction Facility, then was transferred for treatment in 1976 to the Center for Forensic Psychiatry in Ypsilanti, Michigan, from which he escaped.

Authorities say Ball spent the next three decades hiding in Tennessee by stealing the identity of a dead man, posing as a married man, and using Dollie Walton to help him _ until marshals came knocking on his door.

"Maybe he never thought the knock would come, but it did yesterday," Deputy U.S. Marshal Danny Shelton said Thursday.

Ball and Walton passed themselves off as a married couple, although her son and daughter told The Associated Press that the two were never legally wed. Walton even changed her name to Fry.

Without any identification, Ball needed her help to get employment, said her son Jerry.

"So she'd get a job and then he'd use her to get a job at the same place," Walton said. The employment checks were always made out in her name, he said.

The couple moved to the Nashville area from Chattanooga and worked primarily at different storage facilities, sometimes living in attached apartments, said daughter Sue Roach.

Roach said she suspected that Ball was not being truthful about his past and said he would get upset when she questioned him.

"He didn't care about how you spelled his last name. He didn't collect disability and he refused to go to the doctor even though he had stomach problems," Roach said.

Roach said that although some in the family had suspicions about Ball, she does not think her mother knew he was a fugitive.

Ball likely would have never been caught if Dollie Fry had not died last year from complications from a stroke, Roach said. Fry's death left Ball without financial support, she said.

Federal authorities began looking for Ball at the request of the Michigan Corrections Department and discovered he had used his real identity to get federal assistance, said Bryan Matthews, a supervisor with the U.S. Marshals Service in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

"Through database checks ... we developed information that he got government benefits in the Tennessee area," Matthews said. He said marshals in Nashville then put Ball under surveillance and were able to confirm his identity.

Authorities do not believe he committed any crimes while living in Tennessee, and they said Ball was cooperative during his arrest.

Ball is being held without bond pending a Sept. 19 extradition hearing.


Associated Press reporter David N. Goodman in Detroit contributed to this report.

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