A personal ad appears to have been the undoing of Jaroslaw "Jerry" Ambrozuk, the Canadian fugitive living large in Plano under the pseudonym Michael Lee Smith. Yesterday, Ambrozuk entered a plea of not guilty in Flathead County, Montana, district court on a charge of negligent homicide for the death of his girlfriend in a mysterious plane crash in Montana 24 years ago.
Ambrozuk had been on the run since 1982, when he vanished after a Cessna he was piloting crashed into Bitterroot Lake in the Flathead Valley of Montana. He was then 19. The body of his girlfriend, Diane Babcock, 18, of Vancouver, was found in the plane at the bottom of the lake. She had drowned. Ambrozuk later told a friend she couldn't get her seat belt undone. But somehow Ambrozuk managed to get out of the plane not only alive, but toting his luggage and his girlfriend's savings: $20,000 in cash. Not long after the accident, a friend got a phone call from Ambrozuk, who had made it by then to Dallas. His trail then went cold. Babcock's death and Ambrozuk's disappearance was featured several times on Unsolved Mysteries, but no solid leads turned up.
Ambrozuk was arrested in August by police in Plano, where he's been living for the last six years as Smith, allegedly using a false Social Security number and a fraudulent passport. Reports say he was working out of his home as a consultant, designing computers for race cars. In his driveway was a Dodge Viper.
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Oddly, The West Australian has been following the story closer than The Dallas Morning News and came up with this tidbit: After successfully hiding from authorities for two decades, Ambrozuk was undone by searching for love on Yahoo's dating service.
There, he wrote: "A couple of things about me: I am honest and don't cheat or play games. I also believe that there are people that you come across in your life that are very special, but there are very few of them that you can call 'soul-mates.'" Well, not so honest. Ambrozuk listed his age as 34; he's actually 43. But when he met a woman who answered the ad, Ambrozuk gave her his real name and date of birth.
So, of course, she Googled him. After discovering a story by the Daily Inter Lake about the mystery, the woman called the sheriff of Flathead County, who notified Plano police.
Ambrozuk's personal ad has been taken down. The story of what happened in the plane crash will come out during court proceedings. But I wonder about another mystery. Why Plano? Everybody likes to make fun of the suburb for its cookie-cutter houses and "soulless" economic centers, but there are a lot of nosy people in Plano. People who want you to buy their kids' candy for fundraisers, people who complain if you don't mow your lawn with enough regularity. People who notice that you are driving a Dodge Viper worth $75,000. In a lot of ways, Plano is really a small town. But it wasn't a neighbor who was Ambrozuk's undoing. Thanks to Google, the world is this big and getting smaller every day. --Glenna Whitley