September 20, 2002 at 4:38 PM EST - Updated July 3 at 3:36 PM
COVINGTON, La. (AP) - By changing just one vowel in his last name, an Ohio man charged with the murder of his wife was able to elude authorities for 30 years before he was finally arrested here, authorities said.
Frank Hill, who was going by the alias Frank Hall, is accused of strangling his wife, Erma, in Cleveland. A murder warrant was issued for his arrest in 1972.
On Thursday, he was taken into custody at his home by FBI agents and local police. He was transported to the St. Tammany Parish jail, where he is awaiting extradition to Ohio, police said.
Authorities said they weren't sure how long Hill, 71, had been living in Covington, but a friend said he had been there 25 years.
News of Hill's arrest and secret past left the people who knew him shaking their heads in disbelief, including his housemate, Clarence Stewart, 57.
"I still can't believe it," Stewart said. "It just does not seem like Frank. It just doesn't seem real. He was the nicest guy you'd ever want to meet."
Stewart moved in with Hill a few months ago and said he has known him for more than 25 years. Stewart said he thought Hill was from Mississippi, where Hill said he had a brother.
"He didn't seem to have a hidden life," Stewart said. "Nice fellow to know. If he could help you, he'd do it."
Hill is accused of choking his wife to death Aug. 5, 1972, in their East Cleveland home during an argument. In 1971 he was charged with shooting at her, the FBI said.
Hill disappeared after the murder warrant was issued Sept. 21, 1972. He was later spotted visiting friends in Akron and Cleveland in 1996, according to the FBI.
Cleveland FBI agents were aware of Hill's alias, but it took a simple search of public phone books to find him. Recently, an FBI search of public records -- including phone directories -- indicated he might be living in Covington, where he was seen riding around on an electric wheelchair festooned with an American flag.
The agents forwarded the tip to the FBI's New Orleans office, and those agents made the arrest.
(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)