Losing a child was difficult enough for Thomas and Margaret Laskoski, whose infant son, Nathan, died in 1972 when he was just 3 months old.
But finding out through Ancestry.com that a fugitive had assumed Nathan’s identity reopened painful wounds — and sent the Texas couple on a surprising journey to seek justice.
After allegedly escaping from a halfway house in Texas in 1996, Jon Vincent, 45, of Pennsylvania, spent the next two decades getting married and divorced twice and becoming the father of twin girls – all while posing as Nathan, court records show.
On Sept. 7, the family finally found justice when Vincent was sentenced to 27 months in federal prison for stealing the dead child’s identity.
Vincent pleaded guilty in May to Social Security fraud and aggravated identity theft crimes for using the deceased baby’s identity for more than two decades, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
After everything the Laskoskis went through, “they are really grateful,” Assistant United States Attorney Amanda R. Reinitz tells PEOPLE. “This brought them closure.”
Ancestry.com Yields Clues
The family’s strange odyssey began when Margaret Laskoski’s sister began researching their family’s roots on the ancestral website Ancestry.com and clicked on Nathan’s name.
“She was expecting to see that he was born and died in 1972 and instead sees information that indicates he is alive and has been married twice and has two ex-wives who have the Laskoski name,” says Reinitz.
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The child’s parents “were understandably upset,” she says.
They were also determined to find out who stole their child’s identity. “They went into their local social security office in Texas where they confirmed their suspicions — that someone was using their son’s name and had gotten a social security number using his name,” she says.
The Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General launched an investigation that revealed just how far Vincent went to assume someone else’s identity.
In 1991, Vincent was convicted of indecency with a child and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, according to court records. When he was paroled halfway through his sentence, he was sent to live in a halfway house, the U.S. Attorney’s Office says.
But in 1996 he escaped — and set out to do whatever he could to change his identity to elude capture, he later admitted.
“I was told by a stepdad of mine about how to change one’s identity so I did it and it worked,” Vincent wrote in a signed confession, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Shortly after his escape, Vincent visited a Texas cemetery and found a gravestone with a birthdate close to his own birthdate.
That gravestone belonged to Nathan Laskoski.
In court, “Mrs. Laskowski spoke about how upsetting it was to know that someone had stood over their son’s sacred final resting place and had memorized or written down his information to be able to live as him,” says Reinitz.
A Disturbing Phone Call
Vincent crossed more boundaries when he called the family to try to finagle information out of them to obtain documents he needed.
He called and spoke to Mrs. Laskowski, who answered a couple questions before becoming suspicious and then hanging up, says Reinitz.
“But in that phone call, he got enough information to go and request a copy of the birth certificate,” she says.
He was also able to get a driver’s license and a social security card with his new name.
Reinitz says she is happy that justice was served for Nathan and his family.
“I was moved to tears to see the length that these parents went to,” says Reinitz. “They came up from Texas for the sentencing and directed the court in person. Tthe fact that they would do that for a child that died 45 years ago spoke to what amazing humans the Laskowskis are.”
Vincent’s lawyer could not be reached for comment. The Laskowski family did not return calls for comment.