When neighbors in an oceanside subdivision in south Florida needed help with their air conditioner, they knew to ask Bruce Keith.
Nice fellow. Always willing to lend a hand. Good cookouts at his place in Deerfield Beach.
Of course, they didn’t know that back in 1974, he and some friends jumped out of a clump of trees on a road outside Fort Dix, N.J., and attacked two servicemen, killing one. He then spent three years fairly close to Kansas City — in the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, until he escaped.
Those Florida neighbors didn’t know any of that, or that his real name was James Robert Jones, or that he was one of the Army’s 15 most wanted fugitives.
They weren’t alone. His wife told authorities she had no clue of his past.
“They are nice people,” said Joe Onischuk, who has lived across the street for more than 30 years. “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.”
Tammy Deangelis, who lives next door, said: “Good neighbors. Didn’t even know he was in the military. If we had any air-conditioning problems, we would go to him.”
Soon after fleeing this area, Jones began to carve out a new life for himself in Florida. Over nearly 40 years, he got a new name, new wife, new house, new job.
It all came to an end this week when Jones, 59, was recaptured.
“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 Friday.
The apprehension came with the help of technology that was mere sci-fi back when he broke out of prison in the “Saturday Night Fever” era: facial-recognition software.
The technology that helped investigators find Jones has been adopted in 37 states, primarily as a way to combat driver’s license fraud.
When a person’s photograph is taken for a driver’s license or state identification card, it is added to a database of existing photographs.
Software analyzes the new photograph to determine whether there are other existing photographs with similar facial features. The technology works by creating a mathematical model of a face, measuring distances between specific facial features. Officials who work with the technology say those points and the distance between them do not change with age.
Jones, originally from Ontario, Calif., was convicted in the April 1974 stabbing death of Lonnie Eaton, 18, of Greensboro, N.C., and the wounding of Thomas White, of Buffalo, N.Y. Two other men were charged in the incident, though the case against one was dismissed, and the other was sentenced to a year on assault charges.
Jones was 23 at the time of his 1977 escape from the Fort Leavenworth prison 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 investigation into Jones’ escape had gone cold until last year, when an Army liaison to the Marshals Service mentioned the case. The marshals began working on it in January.
On Friday, Jones was being held without bail at the Broward County jail, awaiting transfer to Fort Leavenworth.
After officers picked him up, Jones wouldn’t even respond to his real name. Perhaps, said Golden, because he had been living under an alias for so long.