HELENA, Mont. (AP) - The aging Frank Dryman, a notorious killer from Montana's past, had hidden in plain sight for so long that he forgot he was a wanted man.
In an exclusive jailhouse interview with The Associated Press, Dryman detailed how he invented a whole new life, with a new family, an Arizona wedding chapel business - and even volunteer work for local civic clubs.
"They just forgot about me," said Dryman, in his first interview since being caught and sent back to the prison he last left in the 1960s. "I was a prominent member of the community."
That is, until the grandson of the man he shot six times in the back came looking.
Dryman had been one step ahead of the law since 1951 when he avoided the hangman's noose, a relic of frontier justice still in use at the time.
Less than 20 years later he was out on parole. Not content with that good fortune, he skipped out and evaded authorities for four decades. After a while he even forgot about hiding and signed up for V.A. benefits from his days in the Navy in 1948.
Now the 79-year-old Dryman is back behind bars, likely for what remains of his life.
He was caught only after his long-ago victim's grandson got curious and started poking around.
Dryman was hitching a ride from Shelby cafe owner Clarence Pellett on a cold and snowy day in 1951 when he pulled a gun and ordered Pellett out of his own car and began firing.
Dryman does not deny the crime - just that he's not the same man today. He has been Victor Houston for decades. At the time of the murder, and after being discharged from the Navy for mental issues, he was going by yet another name: Frank Valentine.
"That kid, Frank Valentine, he just exploded," Dryman says of his crime. "I didn't shoot that man in the back. That wild kid did. That's not me.
"Victor Houston tried to make up for it by being an honor citizen."
Dryman says he served his time, which he did until paroled. But a Montana Parole Board not accustomed to leniency on those who walk away from supervision was not impressed with Dryman's subsequent good deeds. Last month the board sent him back behind bars to serve what remains of his life sentence.
Dryman said he disappeared from parole in California to get away from a wife he didn't like. He said he's not sure why he just didn't leave the wife and remain on parole.
But once gone, he said, he didn't look back. His new wife and family knew nothing of his past. He put down roots in Arizona City painting signs, a trade learned in prison, and performing weddings.
"I never thought I was a parole violator. I was Victor Houston. I never looked over my shoulder," Dryman said. "I just forgot about it."
On his birthday he used to get two cards from his brother: one for Houston and one for Valentine.
"I thought it was cute. I had no fear," Dryman said.
He said the details of his past are just coming back: the shooting, his original sentence and the cause he became for opponents of the death penalty, and his first stint in prison.