A Dad-of-three Was Declared Dead In 1986, But 25 Years Later Cops Got A Tip Off About A Fake ID

Arthur Gerald Jones exited his house in Highland Park, Illinois, in the spring of 1979. He told his family that he had a job to do, but Jones never came back to his wife and three kids. As a result, they had him declared legally dead in 1986. But there’d be one last twist in his story when cops fielded a call about a fake ID a quarter-century later.

Joanne Esplin and Arthur Gerald Jones both spent their childhoods in Highwood, Illinois, but they didn’t meet until he got a job in her dad’s shop. What started as puppy love blossomed into the real thing – by 1979, the pair had been married for close to two decades.

Jones went on to manage Esplin’s father’s store before becoming a broker at the Board of Trade in the mid-1970s. His wife told the Chicago Tribune in 1979, “Art was quick with numbers. He bought his seat on the board three years ago, and I thought he was very successful.” The pair had a seemingly picture-perfect home life, too.

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The home Jones and Esplin shared sat on two acres of land in an affluent suburb called Highland Park. They also had three children, and Esplin had fond memories of the trio playing volleyball in the backyard with their father. According to Donald Verbeke, the district’s lead detective at the time, “Mr. Jones was a very regular guy, a good family man.”

Not all that glittered was gold for Jones, however. In November of 1978, for example, Jones had to give up his place on the Board of Trade. He reportedly received a payout of more than $200,000 in return, although that money went straight toward paying off the 40-year-old’s gambling arrears, Esplin revealed. Verbeke corroborated this, saying, “[Jones] had a reputation as a gambler.”

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In one instance, according to Esplin, her husband made a $30,000 wager on the outcome of a basketball match. Another time, Jones took out a second mortgage on their home – forging his wife’s signature in the process – to help fund his gambling. On top of that, Esplin later came to believe that he had mob links.

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Another incident that affected Jones was the murder of his fellow commodities broker Carl Gaimari. Two men wearing masks gunned Gaimari down in the spring of 1979, and Esplin said it had a severe impact on her husband. He “was not himself,” and he “paced about the house” after he heard the news, she explained.

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Still, Jones and Esplin appeared to be going on with their lives, in spite of this change in his behavior. Later in 1979 they scheduled a holiday in California, in fact, and they even bought plane tickets. However, Jones subsequently requested that they put off their trip for a week, and Esplin suspected that he was waiting for a payout of some kind.

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That trip was never to be for the couple, though. On May 10, 1979, Jones let his wife know that he had a work meeting to attend that afternoon and said he’d be home later. Esplin thought it odd, though, that he’d be meeting a professional contact in what he had on at the time: a tennis shirt and casual trousers.

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“How can you go out looking like that?” Esplin enquired of her husband. “The meeting is not in a business office,” Jones responded. After that, he got into the driver’s seat of his 1977 Buick – and he never came home. Thus, the mystery of his disappearance began.

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Esplin, for one, had no idea of the details of the meeting that her husband apparently was due to attend that day. She could, however, tell “he was upset about something.” That became even clearer when she realized he’d left his favorite accessory, a bracelet, behind. Esplin said Jones “never went anywhere without it.”

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Initially, the investigating officers didn’t know what to think, either. Verbeke explained, “All police know for sure is that he is gone – vanished completely. There has been no demand for ransom, so a kidnapping is out of the question.” He also noted, however, that Jones might have had some secrets, such as a gambling problem. And, by extension, this could have created issues with some of the city’s bookmakers.

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In addition, investigators later found out that Jones had been lying to his wife about his whereabouts. As far as she knew, her husband commuted daily to Chicago. But Jones had neither work colleagues nor a place of employment. His former Board of Trade coworkers hadn’t seen him for months, in fact.

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That revelation led Jones to believe that her husband’s mental health might have declined. “I don’t know if his disappearance was foul play, or if he had a nervous breakdown and doesn’t know what he is doing,” she said. “But if he is running scared of somebody, I feel he at least would have called me.”

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With the case still fresh in the spring of 1979, Verbeke could only promise that he was “trying to keep an open mind” about what happened to Jones. The detective declined to share any theories relating to the father-of-three, however. Even if he had, though, it’s doubtful that anyone could have guessed what was to come.

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Jones’ case eventually went cold. By 1986, in fact, authorities had still yet to find a single strong lead that pointed to the husband and father’s location, or even whether he was dead or alive. As a result, a court proclaimed Jones to be legally dead, a motion that’s typically taken in two very specific scenarios.

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Sometimes, a person deemed to be in grave danger just prior to going missing will be declared dead, even without proof or a body. For example, passengers on the Titanic who didn’t end up on a lifeboat received this declaration. Otherwise, a court will wait for a designated period of time and, if no evidence providing proof of life appears, then they’ll deem the person to be legally dead.

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A quarter of a century later, though, the truth about Jones’ disappearance would come out. It all started with a man named Clifton Goodenough, who, like Jones, grew up in Illinois. By 1979, Goodenough had signed up for the U.S. Army and found himself based in Missouri. Then, in the mid-1990s, he relocated once again, this time to Arizona.

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Filing taxes in Arizona in 1995 left Goodenough perplexed. He seemed to owe additional money on income that he hadn’t actually received. “Things would show up on my Social Security, $18,000 to $20,000 on income and the taxes weren’t paid,” he told the Las Vegas Sun in 2011. “They were earnings associated with casinos.”

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Goodenough subsequently passed on his findings to the relevant authorities and enlisted the help of a CPA to take care of his taxes. He eventually received a temporary new social security number, but this didn’t solve Goodenough’s problem entirely. That’s because somebody tried to use his code to set up a bank account.

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For Goodenough, the situation became more and more stressful over time. Having to pay extra taxes weighed heavily upon him, and it began to affect both his personal health and his work life. Moreover, the Nevada Department of Employment did little to help him.

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Eventually, Goodenough had to abandon his pursuit of justice, since the authorities had been of little assistance, and he’d struggled to drum up any leads on his own. The IRS had presented him with one interesting nugget of information, however. A man named Joseph Sandelli had apparently attempted to use Goodenough’s social ID at the DMV.

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With the help of his wife, Goodenough subsequently got hold of Sandelli’s phone number – and he called him to find out what was going on. “I thought he’d be as angry as me about the confusion, but he was just deflecting. He would say, ‘Well, there must be some kind of mix up but I’ll change my Social Security number,’” Goodenough recalled.

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At first, Goodenough thought it had been an unfortunate mix-up between two men from similar backgrounds. “I told him I was born at Lake Forest Hospital, and he said, ‘Oh, so was I,’” the veteran explained. But later he would realize that Sandelli waited for Goodenough to share a detail before agreeing with whatever was being said.

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That exchange led Goodenough to believe that Sandelli was actually just “a good con man.” Of course, the veteran didn’t tell Sandelli about his suspicions. “I was afraid that if I mentioned [that] or threatened to contact law enforcement, he might have bolted,” Goodenough said. But what the veteran did do is to reach out to Arizona Senator John McCain.

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As instructed, Goodenough sent in all of his tax details, as well as his Social Security information. From there, it only took the Social Security Administration and the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles a few months to find the man they were after. And they realized that his real name wasn’t Joseph Sandelli.

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The 72-year-old man posing as Joseph Sandelli in 2011 had once gone by a different name, in fact: Arthur Gerald Jones. Indeed, the man who had gone missing from his Highland Park home in 1979 had spent the previous 32 years living under a new identity, until the authorities finally caught up with him.

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A Nevada DMV arrest record states that in the year he disappeared, Jones purchased a fake ID for $800 from a work associate. The package included a Social Security card, as well as a birth certificate and a driving license, all bearing his new name: Joseph Richard Sandelli.

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With his new identity sorted, Jones eventually made his way to Las Vegas. He subsequently managed to find work at both the Desert Inn and Summerlin’s Rampart Casino. Ironically, the man who’d built up huge gambling arrears had become a sports book writer.

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Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles’ spokesman Kevin Malone explained how Jones had managed to avoid being apprehended for so long. “The laws used to allow us to accept another state’s driver’s license or ID at face value, and that is what appears to have happened in this case,” Malone told the Toronto Star in 2011.

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“He bought a false driver’s license in Chicago, eventually brought it here, turned it in and we gave him a Nevada license without questioning him,” Malone continued. But with more rigorous checks into an applicant’s background nowadays, it’s apparently become much harder to obtain a license under a fake identity.

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Malone described the modern process, saying, “Now you have to provide proof of identity, birth certificate, etc., and we also verify social security numbers online and use facial recognition. You can’t hold multiple identities because the facial recognition software will catch you.”

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Renewing the license in 2008 was one of the reasons why Jones had gotten caught, in fact. Of course, some of it had to do with Goodenough’s persistence, too. To that end, all the veteran said he wanted was to return to normality after being saddled with another man’s taxes for years.

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However, the likelihood of Goodenough being reimbursed seemed “pretty thin” to Judge James Bixler, who presided over Jones’ case. The former broker faced a class E felony charge for fraud, which he accepted in January of 2012. He wouldn’t face time in jail, but Jones would have to serve probation and was ordered to pay restitution to those he’d cheated.

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Bixler ordered Jones to pay $11,000 to Goodenough for the financial and emotional burden the veteran had endured for well over a decade. The judge also said that Jones had to pay back all of the social security his family had received on his behalf.

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That meant Jones owed just under $90,000 for his disappearance and subsequent wrongdoings. Bixler believed that Jones wouldn’t be able to repay that sum, however, since he isn’t employed at the casino anymore. The fraudster actually relied on Social Security benefits, in fact, which he would now need to use to pay off his debts.

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Just before Bixler handed down the sentence, Jones had the opportunity to say something. He began by making an apology for his actions. Then, however, he claimed, “I was not under the impression that it was a false identification. It was my fault for not checking it out and pursuing it.”

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Jones subsequently shared the details behind his purchase of the ID papers. The judge reiterated, “The purpose of which was to make you a new identification, right? And give you a new name, right?” Jones responded, “That’s what I honestly thought at the time.”

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Beyond that, Jones didn’t provide any other details about how he’d left Illinois – or why. Investigators believed that it had to do with his gambling or a link to organized crime. Bixler instead suggested that Jones had just wanted a new start, escaping relationship difficulties he was going through with his wife.

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Perhaps Jones’ lack of clarity explained why the judge didn’t hold back when responding to the criminal’s comments. Bixler said, “You certainly created a big mess. It really won’t be undone. It’s only going to be partially remedied. But it’s certainly not going to be unwound. This is going to go to your grave. And this one will be your real grave.”

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