The title ‘Catch Me If You Can’ for a biography on killer Dana Ewell relates to a villain who played a game of ‘cat and mouse’ with the police for years. Only there is little humour to be found in the grisly crime that shocked and captivated America during the late 90s. Ewell, at just 21-years-old, arranged for the slaughter of his entire family for the sake of getting his hands on his father’s empire.
At the time of the murders in 1992, Dana Ewell was a spoilt, Armani clad young man who wanted for nothing in life, certainly not materially. His father Dale was known to be strict and a ruthless businessman who had built up a fortune setting up the company, Western Piper Sales Inc, selling small aircraft. Mother, Glee was a respected and much liked civic activist and had once been a teacher in Fresno, California where the family lived.
Dana attended the University of Santa Clara and was obsessed with money and designer clothes. He had a BMW at his disposal and enough money to spend at a whim on jewellery or anything that pleased him. His older sister, Tiffany, at 24 and a graduate at Fresno University, was down to earth in comparison.
From the outside the Ewells appeared to be the perfect American success story. Dale Ewell had been brought up in the Depression and had later joined the Air Force. After starting up his aircraft business he invested his money in buying several farms and accumulating great wealth. His empire at the time of is death was worth around $8m.
At an early age Dana showed a tendency to lie and fabricate stories. Having a comfortable home, money, expensive clothes and a secure future wasn’t enough for the well-educated and highly intelligent Walter Mitty character. He was ambitious, like his father, but unlike his father wasn’t prepared to work to gain status and wealth. Even during his time at the University of Santa Clara as a student Dana felt the need to fabricate vainglorious stories about himself and achievements that simply didn’t exist.
He was a compulsive liar and managed to con fellow students and staff members into believing that he owned a company which grossed $2.7m. Part of his web of tales included the impression that he had become a stockbroker at eighteen and an aircraft salesman, eventually leading him to the position of ‘president’ of his own aircraft company.
What outsiders weren’t aware of was the reality of a father-son relationship that was strained to the point of non-communication. There is little doubt that revelations about Dana’s concocting of absurd tales about himself embarrassed his father and may have led to confrontations. But there is no evidence of physical abuse or any allegations that Dale beat his son. The reality was that for all his privileged upbringing, Dana Ewell had become a selfish, egotistical young man who seemed to only care about status and money.
But there was still no indication why a compulsive fibber with a fertile imagination and a high IQ (180) could be capable of plotting the slaying of his own family. Perhaps Dana was a sociopath from the very beginning, someone who was ‘born broken’, but whatever the cause of his callous actions no doubt the knowledge that he would inherit $8m together with becoming the executioner of his grandmother’s $400,000 trust account on the death of his parents, fuelled his deadly fantasies.