Joseph Pannell, an American fugitive for 35 years, put down deep roots in Canada as Douglas Gary Freeman, with two of his four children going to French-immersion school in Mississauga and one playing for the Canadian Football League.

He lived a quiet life with his wife and children in the Toronto suburb, with even his closest neighbours knowing very little about him.

But he still travelled to the United States -- and visited his family there, one former neighbour said.

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"I used to babysit the two cats when they went away, and the Freemans went down at least once for a family reunion with Gary's side of the family," Heather Keyes said.

The four Freeman children attended different schools in the area, she said. Mr. Pannell and his wife, Natercia Coelho, both of whom worked at the Metro Toronto Reference Library, wanted their children to be in French-immersion classes, she said.

"Natercia is from Quebec, and she wanted her children to be able to speak both languages," Mrs. Keyes said.

If the family was well known for anything, it was their athleticism, neighbours commented.

Their son, Mace Freeman, was a wide receiver for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats from 1999-2002, and was cut from the Montreal Alouettes just before the 2003 season.

He was born in Montreal and went to the University of Toledo on a football scholarship from 1994-1998.

"Mr. Freeman and his wife were both very well-educated and articulate," said Mike McCarthy, a scout who originally helped Mace Freeman land one of his first professional contracts, and who is now working for the San Diego Chargers.

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"Mace was signing one of his very first contracts in my office, a small-time thing, and his parents came down with him to watch him to do it," Mr. McCarthy recalls.

"I was pretty surprised. The parents and the son came dressed up in ties and skirts, and it was touching to see how much the mom and dad cared for their son. They were obviously very proud of him."

Tempie Freeman, the middle of the three sisters, is a star centre fielder for the Canisius College baseball team in Buffalo, according to a recent article in the Mississauga News.

In the last year of her four-year program, the 23-year-old had a batting average of .400.

All three sisters -- Leila, Tempie and Patia, now in their 20s -- were often seen rollerblading or jogging with their father, neighbours said.

The family moved often, living in at least four different houses in the past decade. They had just moved into a new home, but had already planted hydrangeas and lilies in their backyard.

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Neighbours described Mr. Pannell as a "gentle and shy man."

"He would always come over and ask if we needed help with our shovelling," one former neighbour commented.

"The family was polite and well-behaved -- and Gary and his wife wouldn't even accept a drink if we offered to them, as they said they were teetotallers," Mrs. Keyes said.

Mr. Pannell, who was born in Washington, lived in Quebec for more than 18 years before moving to Mississauga in April of 1987.

It was while in Quebec that he was fined $300 under the Customs Act for smuggling and his fingerprints were taken. Police picked up his trail after those prints were compared with a set provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Mr. Pannell had gone by several different names over the years, including Yusuf and Joe Nathan, according to court documents. His son Mace wrote his father's name as Yousuf Freeman when he filled in his biography form at the University of Toledo.