By TRISTA PRUETT
Northwest Florida Daily News
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Timothy Wall was 8 years old when his father was killed.
He has only a few vague memories.
“I remember taking his shoes off when he came home,” he said. “I know I look like him.
“It’s a void that I’ll never get back,” Timothy said of the lost memories.
Timothy’s father, Gerald, was killed after walking out of a bathroom into the middle of an armed robbery in Waukesha County, Wis., in 1971. Two men were convicted in the death.
One of the men, Thaddeus Andrew Cydzik, escaped from prison in 1978, where he was serving a life sentence.
In place of the memories Timothy and his four brothers and sisters would have had of growing up with their father, they remember police officers shining spotlights through their windows on a regular basis.
They feared that Cydzik might try to harm the family, according to court documents.
Gerald’s children are now fully grown and living their own lives. One is a nurse, another a dentist.
They worked together to find a lawyer in Florida after hearing that Cydzik had been identified, after living for decades as successful businessman, Harold Frank Qualls.
“There were a lot of lives that were irreversibly affected when he took my dad’s life,” Timothy said of why his family was pursuing the case. “(Cydzik) didn’t really pay his dues.”
The family is now asking a judge to reopen Cydzik’s estate, three years after he committed suicide in the backyard of his Tallahassee residence.
He died on April 18, 2011. Six months later, the Federal Bureau of Investigation confirmed that the man everyone had known as Qualls was in fact Cydzik.
In documents filed earlier this month by Fort Walton Beach, Fla., attorneys Dina Foster and Lawrence Keefe, the children of Gerald Wall made the request as “interested persons and potential creditors.”
Foster called the story remarkable, but noted that a father was murdered.
“One of the individuals responsible for this act was allowed to escape from prison and fraudulently live as another individual for over 30 years, financially benefiting from this escape and false identity,” she said.
She noted that the case could take some time.
“These facts and circumstances are extraordinary, unusual, and there is no legal precedent that we were able to locate in the state of Florida with similar facts,” Foster said.
Timothy said he hopes that the case will “correct the record” on the man people described as “a great guy” after his death.
Timothy said any monetary gains from the case would go to the grandchildren Gerald never got the opportunity to meet.
“(Cydzik) gets a life where my father never got a life,” he said, noting the unfairness.
After his escape, authorities, including the FBI, searched for Cydzik, but he had successfully changed his identity.
He assumed the name of Harold Frank Qualls, a toddler who died in a fiery car crash in 1958 at the Grand Canyon, according to documents.
The obituary that young Harold shared with his brother, James Lloyd Qualls, age 5, was published in a Texas newspaper on Nov. 12, 1958 and is part of the official court record.
The obituary said the boys “died in a tragic accident when the family car went over a cliff dropping several hundred feet into the canyon below.”
While living as Qualls, Cydzik got married, raised a stepson, patented a piece of laser scanning equipment and built a business.
In 2011, WCTV reported that amongst Cydzik’s goodbye letters was a note to law enforcement, assuring them that no one, not even his wife, knew about his true identity.
Wall’s children, now adults living in Wisconsin, filed documents arguing that no amended notice was filed, and they weren’t notified of Cydzik’s death until March.
They argue that once he was identified as the convicted murderer, Cydzik’s widow concealed his real identity, allowing herself to “substantially benefit economically” as his sole beneficiary, documents said.
Calls from the Daily News to Joseph Boyd, who is listed as the attorney for Cydzik’s widow, were not returned. Boyd also didn’t immediately respond to a telephone message Wednesday from The Associated Press.
The heirs assert that she prevented them from filing a claim against his estate, and are requesting a judge unseal the inventory of “the assets of the estate of the individual who murdered their father and who benefitted (sic) from a fraud for over thirty years.”
Timothy said that the loss was especially difficult for his mother, left to provide for five children, the youngest of whom was only 7 months old at the time.
He said his mother said it best, and noted that the loss wasn’t as keenly felt when times were tough.
“She said it was always harder when the good things happened,” Timothy remembered, noting that his father was missing from all of the graduations, weddings and other happy memories. “There was no one there to share the good times.”
Information from: Northwest Florida Daily News (Fort Walton Beach, Fla.), http://www.nwfdailynews.com