IMAGE: Thomas Ball
AP
These photos released by the Michigan Department of Corrections, left, from 1976, and the Metro Nashville Police Department, right, show Thomas Ball, 76, who was arrested at his Nashville home Wednesday by federal officers.
updated 9/14/2006 10:03:33 PM ET 2006-09-15T02:03:33

A convicted murderer who escaped from a Michigan psychiatric facility in 1976 was back behind bars Thursday after living most of his 30 years as a fugitive as an otherwise law-abiding family man in Tennessee, authorities said.

Thomas Ball, 76, was arrested at his Nashville home Wednesday morning, Deputy U.S. Marshal Danny Shelton said.

Ball had been using the name Thomas Fry and had run a storage business near Nashville for years with a woman he called his wife, Shelton said. After she died last year, he turned to the government for financial help, and that led the marshals to his door.

"Maybe he never thought the knock would come, but it did yesterday," Shelton said Thursday.

Ball was convicted in the 1964 stabbing death of a 19-year-old woman at the Strand Hotel in Detroit, said Michigan Corrections Department spokesman Leo Lalonde. He said Ball had known the woman for about a week.

Ball was sentenced to 20 to 40 years in prison and would have been released on parole by 1980 if he hadn't escaped, according to Michigan records.

Makes break from psychiatric facility
In 1976, he was at the Center for Forensic Psychiatry in Ypsilanti, Mich., when he made his break.

"He was transferred after some psychiatric problem," Shelton said. "He says it was because of a mental breakdown, but he could have done that to attempt an escape, because some of these facilities are less secure than a prison."

Authorities believe Ball moved to Tennessee shortly after his escape and assumed the name of a dead man who was the same age. Shelton said Ball didn't appear to have had any run-ins with the law there and was cooperative with the marshals during his arrest.

His longtime partner, Dollie Walton, had legally changed her name to Fry before her death in September 2005. Her daughter, Sue Roach, said she and others in the family had suspicions about Ball but she doesn't think her mother knew he was a fugitive.

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

No means of support after companion’s death
Ball never had a driver's license or a birth certificate, which made it hard for him to find employment, Walton said. "So she'd get a job and then he'd use her to get a job at the same place," he said.

After their mother's death, Roach said, Ball no longer had a way to support himself.

Bryan Matthews, an office supervisor with the Michigan Corrections Department, said his office alerted federal authorities on Sept. 8 after Ball tried to get federal assistance.

"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.

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