Usually, in most “war” stories, you always hear or read about the wives, the girlfriends, and the mistresses, but rarely do you hear or read about what lurks on the far side of the story—the law. In my years on the grind, I had two police, in particular, that dogged me relentlessly. The first was a FBI agent, Joe Kenny, and the second one was a vice cop called Rambo. Both operated very differently, but both were very good at what they did which was putting niggas in jail.
I feared neither one of them, but I sure as hell didn’t take either for granted either. Joe was the most professional, and popped up in my life when I started robbing banks. When me and my boys started knocking off banks, it was pretty much a white thing, meaning that only white guys were robbing banks, so when we came along it was a new day in the game. The feds felt that once brothas started running up in banks that we would get violent, and that some bank teller would end up getting shot, so their agenda was to stop us before we could get started. They failed because once the first robbery went off successfully, it was open season on banks in Charlotte. There was at least one a day and it got worse.
The day when Joe Kenny really came out of the woodwork was after we had knocked off a bank uptown. By this time I was freelancing, doing some work outside of my original crew. In fact, I had mobbed up with a cousin of a young woman I was dealing with at the time, and we had put together a crew. One day, my girlfriend’s cousin, Old Pro, took me to a crib where there was a guy who had just escaped from prison. He needed some money so he could get out of town. Even though I didn’t know the brotha, the bond was there because he had escaped from da joint. I decided to knock off a bank and to give him some money to go wherever the hell he wanted to.
Me and my other crew had had our eyes on the uptown bank for a minute, and since it looked so sweet, we never hit it. It was our “honey hole”, a sweet lick that we could hit in an emergency. I decided to hit it. On the morning of the lick, we hit a snag because a few of the guys were late getting to our meeting place. I got mad and left. We wouldn’t be working that morning. To remedy this, we all decided to spend the night at the same place. This way, everyone would be ready.
We got up early because we had to buy gloves and pantyhose so we went to a drugstore that opened early to make our purchases. The place, Pike’s Drugstore on Graham Street, also had a breakfast counter so we ate. After we had finished breaking bread, we casually went about the business of buying the shit we would require to run up in the bank. For some reason, most of the stick-up boys I knew loved to use pantyhose as a mask, and it was no different in my crew. Everyone loved using pantyhose as a mask except me. I, personally preferred to use a bandana tied across my face because I couldn’t breathe when I wore pantyhose over my face. It fit too damned tight. Anyway, the surgical gloves we purchased that morning in June of 1972 were green, and not a single man, among us, gave a damn about the color although before now, we had always bought white ones.
In any event, we robbed the bank, and when Joe Kenny and the other feds got to the bank, a green, surgical glove was found outside the front entranceway of the bank. Joe, being the G-Man he was, instantly knew that this was an odd color. He also knew he couldn’t get any prints from the gloves, but he had another idea. If he could find out where we had gotten the gloves from, maybe—just maybe— he could set up a trap for us. And he did. He and his partner, Marty Cohen, went all over town, took them days, looking for a store that sold green surgical gloves. When they found the store, they figured that we would be back at some point to buy some more gear, so he told the manager to take down the license number of any car that brought gloves and panty hose.
Within a very short time, I was broke. Don’t get me wrong, the bank jobs were lucrative, but the 70s were a period where the attitude about money in the hustling world was “easy come, easy go! Now, let me set the record straight because I did not subscribe to that ‘easy come, easy go’ bullshit, but I spent money under an absolutely different pretense. My private myth was that I had foolishly compelled myself to believe that I wouldn’t live to see my 25th birthday, and since I couldn’t take it with me….I would have fun spending it.
Nevertheless, a short time later, I’m back with my original crew, and we decide to hit that same First Union Bank uptown. Basically, I’m cool with that since I had already been inside it once, so we repeat the same procedures, ending up with another early morning run to that same drugstore. As before, we ate and we bought gloves and pantyhose. Unknown to us, the manager takes down the license number of our ride which was was a personal ride, a red Caddy, belonging to a friend of a friend. Our plan would be to switch to our work car, a stolen, shit-colored ride with four doors, later when the time approached for us to gear up.
So, now the one thing the feds know to be true is that a bank robbery is about to go down somewhere in the city. They just don’t know where the hell it is going to jump off. As prompt as a banker, when the bank opened at nine, we were robbing it ten minutes later. After the commission of the deed, we unceremoniously, but urgently, go back to my girlfriend’s house in Piedmont Courts to “bust the money up.” With money on our pockets, and no longer in need of each other’s company, we go our separate ways. I hook up with a few non-bank robbing friends from the hood and we walk to the movies. I leave the red Caddy parked directly in front of my girl’s crib.
A few hours later, when I return to the projects after watching ‘SuperFly’ at the theater, I enter from the ass-end of Piedmont Courts down across 11th Street so I can check out everything before I actually step foot on the street when the ride is parked. I look for any strange cars. Seeing nothing, I approached the apartment from an angle that permitted me to see between two adjacent row of apartments to where Julia, my girlfriend lived. I immediately see that the red Caddy is gone! Right away, I know—without a damned doubt– that something is wrong because I have the only key to the ride. I want to get missing because my instincts are warning me that to do anything other than to get missing was stupidly absurd, but I couldn’t break camp. I needed to know if my woman was okay, or if they had locked her up to make me come forward. Still, I didn’t want to walk into a trap, so I paid a guy to go next door to my girl’s crib to get info. He came back with the news that the feds had confiscated the car!
Immediately, I contact my Moms and find that Joe had been there. She told me that Joe had given her a business card for her to give me. My Moms made me proud. She told me that she had torn the card up in his face because she knew I would have nothing to say to him. My Moms surely knew her son!
That incident made me know how relentless Joe was, and he had us in his sights, but we got help from a source that he never counted on. Life is full of twists and turns. The girl who worked at the counter , and who had rang up our purchases for the gloves and pantyhose had been a childhood girlfriend of mine. We didn’t recognize each other since it had been over ten years since we had seen one another. We weren’t really boyfriend/girlfriend since we had only been about eight or nine. We had lived in the same neighborhood, a block away from each other and she was the one that I gave my Valentine’s Day candy to when I was in elementary school. Anyway, when we get busted, she saw my name and she knew who I am, so she refused to testify. In open court, when the government put her on the witness stand, she recanted her previous statement, and refused to participate. They declared her a hostile witness and without her testimony, they couldn’t link us to the gloves and as a result, a critical element of their case collapsed. Guess what? We beat the case! You know something, I have told myself to do it a thousand times, but I am going to find that sista and thank her. I always envisioned myself showing up on her doorsteps with a bouquet of roses and some money. I don’t have any money, but I can afford the flowers. Yes, I really need to locate sista,JB. I just put that on my bucket list. Find JB.
Anyway, I think I may have mentioned somewhere about in one of the episodes about this bank in Cherry. It was a NCNB that looked sweet so we found someone who let us move in so we could case the bank. We also needed to lay low for a minute since Joe had started that bullshit and was turning the heat up. My baby Mama was mad at me because she told me that Joe had visited my daughter at school and had questioned her. I took that personal. Leave my ten year old daughter out of this.
I made plans to leave town right after the NCNB job. There was this guy, may he rest in peace, that knew who we were and what we did, so he was our go-to guy when we needed an errand run. We lived in this big house on the top floor of a quadriplex apartment house on Amherst. It was a perfect hideout, and the hostess couldn’t have been any more gracious. I love you, GM. Anyway, when we started planning our next job, for some reason, we didn’t plan for the bank in Cherry, deciding to hit one across town. During our planning, our girlfriends would sometimes be present. Of course, our ‘go-to” man was there. On the morning of the robbery, we made a couple of on-the-spot changes. This bank was a two-door which one of my partners loved, but we decided to come in from the back rather than the front as had been our original plan. We also decided to hit it earlier that we had it scheduled for. These minor changes allowed us to get to the bank earlier and by coming in from the back, we had a great view. We saw police surrounding the bank from the other side. They never saw us, so we drove off. At first, we chalked it up as mere coincidence, but it happened a second time. Now, there was a lot of tension within the crew because we believed that one of our girls had started talking. The next time that we made our plans, it was a closed door session, so only we would know what was what. This time, we were hitting the NCNB in Cherry.
It was late on a Friday evening when the June heat was still oppressively suffocating. We had never attempted to rob a bank this late in the day, and though it did not violate any of our work-place rules, it still felt as if we were somehow ‘going against the grain’. And to complicate matters further was the fact that when we get to the bank, it was as crowded as hell. DAMN!
It was like rushing headlong into an inferno, and when we hollered that this was a robbery, hoping to inform the bank patrons that ‘we were now in charge’, no one paid us any attention. Left with no alternative, one of the crew fired shots into the ceiling, and, quite imaginably, all hell broke loose. People started running all over the bank, screaming in terror. As luck would have it, I was the shotgun man that day which meant I had to make everybody lay down and to maintain order on the floor. I had my work cut out for me, so I started snatching people down by their hair. I didn’t intend to hurt anyone, but I had to get them on the floor. One young girl whom I had yanked down by her long. blonde hair started to cry and I reached down and comforted her. I stopped what I was doing and patted her on the shoulder, telling her that everything was going to be a’ight. The next morning, the newspaper had a picture of me holding my shotgun, patrolling the bank floor. They called me “The Gentleman Bandit”!
To make matters worse, a man came inside the bank and when he saw what was going on , he tried to run, but thankfully, I got to him in time to stop him. Turns out the man was Kays Gary, a top newspaper editor in my hometown. Guess what, we got to be real cool after that. He wrote me while I was in prison, and told me to get into journalism and when I got busted for the robbery I didn’t commit, he stepped up to help me.
To make matters even more worse is that there was a man in the parking lot. His wife was inside the bank and when he heard shots inside the bank, he decided to play hero. When we came out of the bank, he opened fire on us. After a brief shoot-out in the parking lot, we drove off.
To make a long story short, our go-to guy had been the one talking to the feds. This meant the feds knew that a bank was going to get robbed and though our boy couldn’t tell them which bank it was, he sure as hell did tell them where we were going to split the money up. Yes, the big house in Cherry! No sooner do we get to the house than we take all the money wrappers off the money, and change clothes. We put the money wrappers, our clothes and the guns in a bag and send them across the hall. Then guess what happens next? The police blockade the house. I look out the window and almost had a heart-attack. We can’t shoot if out since we don’t have any weapons. A few seconds later, there is a knock at the door. It was Joe Kenny and Marty Cohen who walk in like they were the landlords.
I mean they were as cool as cucumbers. No introductions were needed since Joe knew everyone and we knew him. Joe sits down and starts talking about how nice the weather is. He acts like he is a long-lost partner, and after about five minutes, he gets up for the chair he had taken, and I would never have believed this if it hadn’t happened to me, but Joe told us that he didn’t like it that someone had told on us. He said that he didn’t need anyone to help him do his job. He told us that he knew we had robbed the bank and for us to keep the money and to enjoy it. He said that he would get us his way, and on his terms. I didn’t ask what way that was, and neither did I question the terms, but just as soon as the cops were gone, we all got missing. We left the money in the house in case this was a trap to catch us outside with the money. No one bothered us. We got the money when it got dark and everyone left town.