Photo of Moundsville Penitentiary provided by Debbie Frye
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Debbie Frye shared more, “Growing up we only knew of two of our father’s crimes; the 1960 counterfeiting operation involving twenty-eight men and an ex-Cleveland cop and the 1967 armed robbery and kidnapping of a prominent West Virginia realtor. We became researchers at the Library of Congress and accumulated over one hundred newspaper articles detailing his life of crime. We conducted countless interviews with judges, lawyers, wardens, prisoners, accomplices, victims, friends and relatives. We even spent the night in the Moundsville, WV prison we visited him at when we were children. The prison is now closed but open to the public for tours.
We found that he was imprisoned a total of 9,277 days of his life. In addition to the two crimes that we knew about, we learned that the first crime he was arrested for was when he was just 17. He assumed the identity of a local business man and cashed forged checks; for this sentence he was sent to a reform school for boys.
We also found that our father joined a bandit gang which terrorized Pittsburgh. Police duped them the Wheelchair Gang because it was headed by a Fagin bound to a wheelchair.
After holding up a dice game in the 1940s and while being held in the Ohio County, WV jail, our father masterminded a sensational escape with five other inmates. When finally apprehended in Los Angeles on Hollywood Boulevard, newspaper reports indicate he was living better than a Hollywood playboy.
In the process of trying to help the adoptee, we befriended our father’s 1967 armed robbery/kidnap victim. Once we found him we wanted to meet him and apologize for our father’s actions, and to show him that we turned out okay, despite our father’s criminal ways. He is now 92 years old and encouraged us to write a book. He is eager for the story to become a movie before he passes.”
Do you wonder how these ladies found their way through such an investigation?
She explained, “We always thought that we would keep our childhood a secret. Turns out that the adoptee was not our sibling but merely a conduit to our past. If it was not for her, we would have never researched our father’s past and come to find closure. Re-tracing our father’s path in life has been a fascinating experience. We now have a better understanding of the man he was, not just the father we knew. Along the way, we learned it’s not where you come from it’s where go in life.
Our father found irony in the fact that my sister and I were both employed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA); he felt as if he got one over on the government. He really did not play a big part in my employment background investigation because I only lived with him for two years when I was a baby before he went back to prison. He was not a big influence in my life but my mother always encouraged all of us to get to know him. Because of the nature of our work with the CIA, gathering intelligence was second nature to us. We used many resources available to us to thoroughly and completely uncover our father’s past.”
Debbie has learned to let go, “Now, I truly have a better understanding of the man he was, especially after learning he was abandoned by his own mother as a toddler along with his sister.
When I was a child, I think I forgave him as soon as he was released from prison and was back in my life (at age 12). As an adult, I let go of all the hurt, but still felt ashamed. I avoided conversations about my father at all costs. I thought if I were to admit that my father was a criminal, someone might think lesser of me. I was just holding onto the feelings that I had as a child. Now that I am openly admitting his criminal past, I have even let go of the shame.
I am grateful for my life experiences as I continue on my life journey. I try to avoid and eliminate relationships that require too much energy. There is no need for negativity; by changing the way you think, you can change your life. I am hopeful that by sharing our story we can help others overcome their own childhood adversity.”
Her thoughts about life, “Our lifetime experiences shape us, especially our childhood ones. When I was a child there were no resources available to us to help us deal with having an incarcerated parent. I found a great organization that I donate to and volunteer for locally called Opportunities, Alternatives and Resources (OAR). Since the family also serves the sentence with their incarcerated loved one, it is important for the family to be supported; they are often the forgotten victims. OAR has many programs available to mentor the incarcerated as well as support the families of the incarcerated.
As my mother’s primary caregiver, her situation and rapid mental decline forced me to place her in a nursing home earlier this year. It has been very difficult to see a woman who was so strong and independent her whole life suddenly become dependent, scared, anxious and maniacal at times. I visit her on a daily basis so she knows I am still there for her, but because of the changes in her brain function, she has stopped walking and does not follow verbal commands. She has good days and bad days; some days she still loves me but other days, not so much. A family friend once told me, ‘Just hope when you are old and in need, there is someone there that loves you as much as you love your mother!’
Because I work from home, I am fortunate enough to have four Labrador Retrievers as my co-workers. Our work breaks consist of playing Frisbee and ball. They were all rescues but it’s true, they rescued me. Each one has a personality of their own and the ability to love unconditionally. Someday I will have a dog farm and house rescues that will be trained to become emotional support companions.”
Debbie and her sister captured this investigative journey.
Her closing words, “This journey was unlike no other two sisters could share. We uncovered the sad beginning of a boy abandoned in his youth, left on the porch of relatives along with his sister and a basket of damp laundry. It was said that he was a boy that had more brains and guts than he knew what to do with! He grew up to become a notorious opportunist whose crimes netted more money than many legendary outlaws. He once told us, ‘I could tell you stories that could sell a book.’ Unfortunately, we never asked him to elaborate.
www.OurFatherWhoArentInHeaven.com in an electronic format or paperback. Additionally, the book may also be purchased on Amazon.com or BarnesandNoble.com.
I can be reached through our website or via e-mail at OurFatherWhoArentInHeaven@gmail.com”