Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Fugitive’s secret life has victim’s family seeking answers (WI)

Fugitive’s secret life has victim’s family seeking answers (WI)

Even before he broke out of a Wisconsin prison in 1978 in a hot-wired El Camino, Thaddeus “Ted” Cydzik made headlines as a prisoner. Serving life for a fatal Brookfield supper club robbery, he became the first state inmate to earn a bachelor’s degree in prison.
Then he used his smarts to disappear, even from the FBI. He emerged in Florida with a stolen identity — calling himself Harold Qualls — started a technology company, married and built a large home in an affluent area of Tallahassee.
Then in early 2011, Qualls’ wife of 15 years became suspicious that he might be hiding his true identity. She moved out, talked to police and filed for divorce. Qualls committed suicide. It took six months for Florida authorities to figure out his true identity.
When they did, no one — not Florida investigators, court officials, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections or the FBI — ever notified the surviving relatives of Cydzik’s victim in the Brookfield fatal robbery. Only this year — by chance and Facebook postings — did they finally discover whatever became of Cydzik.
Now, they’re looking for some belated closure in a Florida court.
“I always thought he’d turn up, or something would happen. Then, after decades, you hope he never does. You have to live it all over again,” said Tim Wall, who was 8 when his father, Gerald, was killed.
“It’s time to clear the air and let everyone know the true story. His story is more than fiction,” Wall said. “It’s hard to even believe.”
Wall and three of his siblings sued in November to reopen Qualls’ estate in Leon County probate court. They contend that Qualls’ widow and her attorney intentionally failed to notify anyone in Wisconsin about Cydzik’s death, so that she alone would inherit his estate.
The family’s Milwaukee attorney, Shannon Allen, said they don’t yet know the value of the estate or of Qualls’ former company, Tree-D Inc., which makes laser measuring equipment for sawmills.
Wall said it’s not about money anyway.
“I want to be a voice for my mother, and my kids who never had a grandfather,” he said.
Dolores Austin, 82, Gerald Wall’s sister and the family member with the most memories of the events in the 1970s, said she doesn’t know how to feel about Qualls’ widow.
“I’m glad she decided to leave him,” Austin said. “I wonder how she feels now?”

Wrong place, wrong time

Cydzik was 19 when he and Donald J. Paulson, also 19, walked into LaBelle Supper Club on Blue Mound Road on April 16, 1971. Cydzik had tucked his long hair up under a hat. Paulson wore a fake mustache and sideburns and glasses.
They sat at the bar and ordered beers. The bartender served them on the house, noting the place was about to close. They showed their gratitude by pulling out pistols and announcing a robbery.
Gerald Wall, 35, was at LaBelle that night with potential clients of his glass and construction businesses. They had come to Brookfield to see an A-frame building Wall had constructed. They were interested in a similar design in South Dakota. The inspection had gone well, and they had cemented the deal over dinner.
Wall was walking the clients out to the parking lot to offer directions back to the interstate. Cydzik and Paulson thought he was gone for the night, but Wall had come back inside to use the restroom, a $1,500 down payment check from his new clients in his pocket.
Ignorant of the holdup, Wall stepped out of the restroom, smiled and walked toward the bar. Paulson panicked and shot him. Cydzik was already at the door. They fled with $540 in a paper bag.
Before their arrests 10 days later, Cydzik traveled to an anti-war rally in Washington, D.C.
Paulson went to trial first and testified that he was on LSD during the robbery, which he said was Cydzik’s idea.
In December 1971, Cydzik was convicted and sentenced to life in prison. He admitted to the robbery but claimed the gun he took wasn’t even functional and he never intended to shoot anyone. Evidence showed Paulson fired the fatal shot.
Cydzik appealed his conviction of first-degree murder, party to a crime, aiding and abetting, and armed robbery, but it was affirmed.
Austin was 39 at the time. She recalls attending every day of each trial with her father, who kept an exhaustive scrapbook of the case.
Not long after he entered prison, Cydzik was back in the news as one of three inmates to earn bachelor’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay while in prison. The two others qualified for the GI Bill, but the state paid Cydzik’s tuition for his political science studies. He was 23.
Cydzik had been an honor student at Milwaukee’s former Don Bosco High School and attended University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee on a scholarship before the crime.
In a suicide note written in 2011, Cydzik said he’d been accepted to Brown University and always resented that he couldn’t tell anyone he had a college degree.

Prison breakout

Cydzik had transferred to Kettle Moraine Correction Institution near Plymouth by 1978. He was working on a sewage plant outside the main prison when he hot-wired a supervisor’s El Camino pickup and smashed through a gate. The El Camino was found two hours later in a Fond du Lac parking lot. Another car in the lot had been stolen.
Cydzik would have been eligible for parole in 1983. In fact, Paulson, the accomplice who actually shot Wall, was paroled in 1986. Now 63, he lives in Oak Creek. Paulson did not return a reporter’s message seeking his comment for this story.
No one from the Department of Corrections contacted Wall’s widow about the escape. Wall’s sister saw a small story in The Milwaukee Journal about it and told her sister-in-law.
Sylvia Wall had tried to take over Gerald’s glass business with her brothers, and even became the state’s first registered female glazier, but it failed after about three years. She became a secretary and later sold real estate.
She and her children were afraid Cydzik might harbor animosity toward them. She told her children to always be aware.
“He could have been a patient, coming into my office,” said Tim Wall, now a dentist in Pewaukee.
“We were living on Chevy Chase Drive then and I remember the Brookfield police coming by a lot at night shining a light on our house,” Tim Wall recalled.
Sometime in the 1980s an FBI agent moved in next door to Austin, the sister. She asked him about the search for Cydzik. She said he checked and later told her Cydzik’s case either fell through the cracks or was a low priority, because the FBI wasn’t actively trying to find him.
Tim Wall said his mother kept the family together, but she felt Gerald’s loss for years.
“She’d always tell me, ‘It’s not the bad times, it’s the good times I can’t share with him,’” he recalled.
Sylvia Wall died of cancer in 1991 at age 52.

Building a new identity

Within a year of his escape, Cydzik had obtained a Social Security number in Florida. He incorporated his first business, Reliable Software, in 1983 and registered to vote in Tallahassee as a Democrat in 1988.
He married Julia Duggan in 1995 and formed his current firm, Tree-D, with three partners in 1998. Duggan is now listed as president of the company.
The couple built a luxury home on a five-acre lot in 2000. His only apparent run-in with the law was a speeding ticket in 1997. He went to traffic school and the ticket was dismissed, according to Florida records.
According to sheriff’s office reports, Duggan started asking Qualls about his birth certificate in late 2010, because he didn’t have a passport for a foreign trip she was planning.
At some point, she found a birth certificate for Harold Frank Qualls — and a death certificate. The person whose name Cydzik had adopted was himself the subject of a tragic news story.
The real Harold Frank Qualls was 15 months old when he and his 5-year-old brother rolled over the rim of the Grand Canyon in the family car, as their parents were taking pictures outside. Both children were killed in the fiery crash. It was 1958.
Coincidentally, a freelance writer had posted a travel article on the Internet in late 2010 about the boys’ ghosts some say now haunt the lookout where the accident occurred.
Allen, the Walls’ Milwaukee attorney, wonders if someone saw that story who knew Qualls in Florida and sent it to his wife, or if she found it herself when her suspicions were first raised.
Whatever she knew, Duggan was concerned enough to call authorities. They made a report, but when a detective went to interview Duggan, Qualls said she had moved out; the couple was divorcing.
At his deposition in the divorce on April 13, 2011, Qualls was asked about his identity under oath. He walked out.
Five days later, he was found dead near a woodpile in his backyard, shot in the head by his own hand. Based on his condition and uncollected newspapers, investigators concluded Qualls likely killed himself April 13, three days shy of the 40th anniversary of the Brookfield shooting.

Mystery corpse

In a suicide note left to Duggan, he admitted he wasn’t Qualls but didn’t say who he really was. He said he had been convicted for his role in a fatal robbery but didn’t mention where.
“There are things that simply have to be carried to the grave and these are among them,” Qualls wrote.
Duggan told investigators Qualls had claimed to be from Minnesota.
The initial death certificate listed the subject’s name as “Unknown,” but funeral services were held for Qualls on April 30, 2011. He was listed at 54 in a local obituary. He’s buried in Tallahassee.
The Leon County sheriff’s office started an investigation. An initial fingerprint check returned no matches. The office asked the FBI for help.
Six months later, on Oct. 31, 2011, the FBI faxed its findings to Tallahassee: Qualls was Cydzik, wanted on an escape warrant from Wisconsin since 1978. His real age at death was 59.
The sheriff’s office in Tallahassee contacted Kettle Moraine prison and got the full escape report. They later tracked down Cydzik’s only sibling, a sister who said she hadn’t had a single contact from him since he broke out of prison.
No one contacted Wall’s family.
An FBI spokesman in Milwaukee, Leonard Peace, would say only that records of the matter were in storage.
Joy Staab, speaking for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, said there was a victim registered in Cydzik’s case, but she didn’t know whether the Office of Victim Services was ever made aware of Cydzik’s death.
Stephanie Hove, director of victims services, did not answer an email.
“I’m easy to find,” Tim Wall said.

Who gets the estate?

Leon County sheriff’s investigators also gave Qualls’ widow the news of his true identity, and she asked that the information not be released to the news media, according to sheriff’s records.
But about a month later, in December 2011, a Tallahassee TV station did a story detailing how Qualls was living under an assumed name and was actually an escaped convict from Wisconsin.
Somehow, the sensational story never got picked up or reported anywhere else. One of Qualls’ former business partners, who works in Tallahassee, said he wasn’t aware Qualls had even died until a Journal Sentinel reporter contacted him.
Meanwhile, Qualls’ estate was moving through probate court in Leon County. Duggan, his widow, had been named personal representative in August.
Even after learning Qualls’ true identity, neither Duggan, her attorney nor any court officials tried to republish notice of his death in Wisconsin, in case there might be any creditors or claims against his estate.
The probate case was closed in December 2013. The couple’s home was sold for $515,000 in June 2012.
Duggan told a Tallahassee TV station in 2011 only that “the person known to us as Harry Qualls was a generous, capable man who was a beloved member of our family.” Her attorney, Joseph Boyd of Tallahassee, did not return several phone messages seeking comment.

Finally, discovery

In March of this year, Kurt Sommerfeld, a popular Milwaukee-area DJ, was on a Facebook page called “Remember When in Brookfield.” People were discussing the 2012 Azana Spa shooting when someone brought up the fatal robbery at LaBelle Supper Club, then the prison escape.
Someone else Googled the names and posted a link to the 2011 story from the Tallahassee TV station.
“I read the article. I had no idea. This was crazy. I called Tim and said, ‘Did you know about this?’ and he was just as surprised,” Sommerfeld said.
Sommerfeld said his mother and Sylvia Wall had been best friends. Their families lived in the same neighborhood and socialized often. Today, Tim Wall is his dentist.
“We were completely shocked,” by the news “and that nobody had notified us,” Tim Wall said.
After the shock, Wall said, he was offended by the Florida story’s portrayal of Qualls as a great neighbor and all-around good guy by people who knew him there.
“Such a great guy? I have a different opinion,” he said. “My dad never had life, and my mom, all the good times she couldn’t share, and how it affected us. My kids never got to have grandfather.”

Former partner, attorney stunned

Not everyone who knew Harold Qualls thought highly of him. Ralph W. Bennett, 71, moved to Tallahassee from Oregon in 1985 to develop new technology for sawmills. He hired Qualls to help him write software.
“Harry was extremely arrogant. He had a totally distorted view of his own value but was a hard worker and good at what he did,” said Bennett, since retired back to Oregon.
Qualls handled field operations, doing most of the on-site visits to sawmills around the southeast.
“He was pretty charismatic when he wanted to be,” Bennett said.
“Harry was pretty smart, but not terribly well-educated. He’d go on the Internet and find big words in mathematics, and try to use them with sawmill operators,” Bennett said.
Qualls often took credit for the work the other partners did in the business.
J. Wiley Horton, an engineer and lawyer who helped Bennett and Qualls patent some of their inventions, said Qualls had strong math skills.
“I don’t know where he learned it, but it wasn’t an act. He was a good engineer,” Horton recalled. “You really couldn’t fake that kind of thing.”
John Gay, 72, who worked in sales and marketing for Tree-D, said he happened to be watching TV news the night the one story ran.
“It was kind of a shocker,” Gay recalled.
Now retired, Gay worked closely with Qualls for about two years.
“It’s still hard for me to comprehend, really,” he said.
“I knew he didn’t have a degree, because I didn’t either and we talked about that,” Gay said. “He said he was self-taught” when it came to writing software. Gay said he called Bennett with the news and that even in hindsight, neither of them could think of anything that would raise questions about Qualls.
About five or six years along, Bennett said, the company was just getting by but had a strong future. He said Qualls wanted to try to make more money right away, and bought out Bennett and another founder in 2005. They left with about $40,000 each.
Bennett said Tree-D never boomed but remains open. He said he didn’t think it would be worth too much in the estate fight.
He said all Qualls ever said of his past was that he was from Minnesota and had a falling out with his family. Beyond playing racquetball once in a while, Bennett didn’t socialize with Qualls.
Bennett also said he hopes Qualls’ widow wouldn’t be hurt economically. He called her “a good person” and thinks she, like everyone else, never had a suspicion of Qualls until the passport issue came up.
“It’s extremely difficult to live a double life and not slip up, but I don’t think he ever did,” Bennett said. “He did extremely well at being someone he wasn’t.”
Fugitive’s secret life has victim’s family seeking answers
Bruce Vielmetti
December 27, 2014
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

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