SECURITY GUARDS ARE TRAINED TO NOTICE THINGS, and a car blasting rap with heavy bass at 5:20 a.m., parked across from the ATM Solutions building on Grandel Square, was hard to miss. Still, it was more annoying than ominous. Michael Smith reached into his pocket for the building keys, bullets for his Smith & Wesson clutched in his other fist. He lived in Illinois, so he never loaded until he reached work.
As he walked toward the door, he heard a scuffle of feet, moving fast. When he turned, two men in black masks and clothes were running across the parking lot, straight at him.
Smith hurled his bullets and keys at them and ran. If he could make it around the building to the shadows in back…
They reached him first. One of them shoulder-checked him into the concrete building, took his gun from his pocket, and struck him across the cheek with the butt of a dull silver semiautomatic pistol.
When he opened his eyes, there were four men, not two. All armed. The shortest waving an AR-15 military-style rifle.
It wasn’t hard to pick out the leader. He didn’t cuss or use slang the way the others did. He had a sense of self-assurance.
And he wanted the vault opened.
“It’s on a timer—you need two people to enter different codes,” Smith said.
“Bullshit!” one of the men yelled, and they began arguing.
“No, we can wait,” the leader said. “Take the tape out of the security camera.”
There was no tape; it was a DVR. They saw a disc inside and broke it—not realizing that the footage was intact.
At 5:50 a.m., the second guard, Alan Knarr—older, a nice guy, just months from retirement—came in the door as usual, and a man in what he later called “a ninja costume” shoved a long-barreled gun in his face. Knarr looked over and saw Smith, his hands crossed in front of him and secured with duct tape.
Knarr slowly punched in his code, and the vault door swung open.
There was too much money.
Bundles of mainly $20 bills, bagged in clear plastic and stacked high on carts. Fifty or sixty bags full—way more money than they could squeeze into their Grand Prix getaway car. They’d just had its windows tinted, too. Now what? They’d have to steal one of ATM Solutions’ armored vans.
Load the money, they told Knarr, and start the ignition. “Be cool, old man,” the leader added, “and you won’t be hurt.” A manager would be there by 6 a.m., Knarr warned, and the leader yelled at the others to hurry. The minute the cash was loaded, he slid behind the wheel and revved the engine.
Another vehicle was in the way. He tried to back out but banged into the door frame, tried again and ran into a push cart, pulled forward a third time and zoomed out—whacking the side mirror off the van.
Ripping the tape from his hands, Smith ran to the landline in the vault room. He was calling 911 when the branch manager walked in.
They assessed the damage. Five million had already been packaged and counted the previous Friday, the manager said—plus there was a second bin with money picked up Friday and not yet counted. In time, they’d calculate the grand total: $6.6 million. In weight, about 1,000 pounds of money. All of it gone.
Four masked men—the press would literally refer to them as “bandits”—had just committed the biggest heist in the history of St. Louis.
SMITH WAS RIGHT when he decided that the guy with the smooth diction and shaved head was the leader.
John Wesley Jones, also known as “Face,” was 35 years old at the time of the robbery—August 2, 2010. He stood well over 6 feet tall, and a tattoo ran down the side of his face, heading toward his thick-muscled neck. Just two weeks earlier, he’d been released from parole. He’d done time for burglary, robbery, and possession of marijuana and a loaded handgun, and he’d made a name for himself in a Kentucky prison by trying to escape (switching his ID armband with another prisoner’s).
Jones grew up rough and talked smooth; he was capable of violence and practiced at intimidation, but he could charm a woman into just about anything, and he enjoyed the role of mentor. (A manager at the Amanda Luckett Murphy Hopewell Center was about to regret calling him an “inspiration to young men” who needed a role model.) He tended to hang out at places—a hair salon, a car-detailing place—the way other people go to a day job. Beefy and imposing, he was handy to have around; one glance in his direction, and customers weren’t going to complain too loudly. But he wanted to do more than stand guard. A childhood friend would tell police that Face was always “looking for a lick,” restless to steal something.
Face had plotted this one with a 23-year-old who stayed across the street from him on Fair Avenue, Myron “Pie” Kimble. They talked to a former ATM Solutions employee, and she told them how things worked. After following a few ATM vans on routes, they decided that it made more sense to hit the vault.
But just before the heist, they argued. Kimble wanted to go home and be with his girlfriend, who’d said in coy, honeyed tones that she was missing him. Jones wanted him to stay put so they could wait together like soldiers before a military op.
So Kimble went AWOL and Jones paired up with Ryechine Money (yep, that’s his legal surname).
Each man brought along a protegé. For Jones, it was 19-year-old Larry Romel Newman. His nickname was sweet—“Li’l Larry”—but he had “head” tattooed on one forearm and “busta” on the other to cut the sugar. “He and Face were tight,” Kimble says, “almost father-son tight.”
For Money, whose nickname was “Wicked” but who was a little chubby, loved music, and had a pretty benign reputation, the young ’un was Aaron Hassan “Laron” Johnson.
Pumped with adrenaline and exhilaration, the four sped away from ATM Solutions, heading for a house on Page Avenue where Face’s new girlfriend lived.
FACE STEERED THE VAN into Latunya Wright’s small alley garage, scraping the door frame and knocking off the other side-view mirror. When the van’s engine stopped, everybody jumped out, relieved and excited and—“Who’s got the keys?”
They’d locked themselves out of the van and had to smash a window to get back inside. Quickly, they unloaded the money. Then Jones had the young’uns drive the van several blocks away, to Evans Avenue, and ditch it.
By now, Kimble had learned that the heist he’d helped orchestrate was going down without him, so he showed up at the Page house, too. “Man, she didn’t say there was going to be this much!” he said, taking in the stacks of cash.
“Bro, we didn’t even get all of it,” Face told him.
They tore off the purple and white currency bands, bundle by bundle. Started counting. Stopped.
That afternoon, they drove to Prime Sole on New Halls Ferry and celebrated by buying four pairs of Air Jordans—and a wee pair of Nike Dunks for Johnson’s new baby.
Back at the house on Page, the multi-millionaires ate Imo’s pizza and fried chicken and made their plans. They’d need to stay low. Wicked started cutting off his dreadlocks. “Don’t worry about that now,” Face said. “Wait till we get to Miami.”
They’d take a little money with them, maybe $200,000. They’d be chauffeured by two strippers Jones and Money knew. They already had a place to stay.
Except for the shock of all that money, everything was rolling according to plan.
BACK ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE LAW, FBI agents and city detectives had teamed up, and they had a few good leads to follow.
Around 7:15 a.m., a woman had been driving to her mother’s house to drop off her toddler. She was talking to her mom on the phone when she heard a police helicopter. Just as her mother said chattily, “There was a big robbery at ATM Solutions,” a damaged ATM Solutions van came out of an alley and pulled in front of her car. A black Dodge Charger pulled out behind her, went around, and slid into place behind the van. Both ran a red light at Page, and she saw the Charger’s driver motioning to the van to turn left on Evans.
She called 911.
What she’d seen, no doubt, was the young’uns on their way to ditch the armored van. Around 7:30 a.m., it was found on Evans, locked but with its engine running. Scrapes suggested that it had been rammed into a small garage.
Later that morning, the getaway Grand Prix was found in front of a detailing shop on Dr. Martin Luther King Drive, also locked and with its engine running.
That night, the city fire department was called to two alley fires near the Page house. They found charred stamps (part of the ATM loot), currency bands, clothing, bits of shiny computer disc, a flip phone in four parts, and an ATM cartridge melted enough for Salvador Dalí.
At 8 the next morning, the air was already thick with heat; the temp would shoot to 102 degrees by midafternoon. Clad in jeans and bulletproof vests, detectives Roger Murphey and William Briddell canvassed the area around the bonfires, looking for a black Dodge Charger. They paused to compare notes.
A black Dodge Charger and a gold Hyundai Sonata pulled out of a driveway and sped from the alley.
The detectives took off, Murphey driving, Briddell on the radio. The driver of the Charger—though they didn’t know it yet—was John Wesley Jones.
“He went southbound in the northbound lanes of Vandeventer,” Murphey recalls, “then east on McPherson and ran a red light where it T’s into Lindell and continued to violate every light going east on Lindell. We threw the dash light up and put the siren on.” Anybody with a vested interest in such things would know that their boring silver Chevy Impala was a police car, but innocent citizens might not notice the flashing light in sunshine, so they took it easy. The Charger was weaving—other cars were skidding out of the way—and the detectives didn’t want to add to a pileup.
On Olive at Compton, the Charger clipped the front of an elderly woman’s car and kept going. At 3100 Olive, Jones took the curb like he was riding in a steeple- chase. The Charger bobbled across a grass lot toward an alley and stopped at the fence. Jones got out, jumped onto the roof, and went over the fence.
The officers drove down Olive, cut over, and saw him running from the alley. Briddell jumped out and chased him. “Finally, he just turned around and gave up,” says Murphey. “He was out of breath.” He didn’t seem angry, though. “More…nonchalant.”
They cuffed and shackled him and opened the Charger’s trunk, and when they unzipped the black duffel bag and wheeled suitcase, money spilled out.
“Where did that come from?” Jones asked, straight-faced.
He had another $4,995 in his pocket, and a .40 caliber Sig Sauer semiautomatic pistol lay beneath a backpack on the floor of the passenger seat. The gun’s chamber was empty, but there were 10 cartridges in the magazine. Murphey and Briddell were just glad he hadn’t resisted: prison build, very buff, muscular, versus two out-of-shape 50-year-olds …
For now, they had to drop off their suspect and get back to the Page house the Charger had come from, secure it until the FBI showed up. It was easy to find, a skid of burned rubber making a path. When they reached the garage, they spotted fresh damage, like somebody had tried to pull in a vehicle too big to fit. The ATM van?
They wondered, when it was found that morning, whether they were dealing with terrorists and might find three or four dead guys locked in the van. Street robbers didn’t do million-dollar takeovers.
But they still weren’t sure they’d collared the right guy. So they waited—it took hours for the FBI to show up—and worried. It was so damned hot, it felt like their shoes were melting, fusing to the pavement. They stripped off their vests.
“This guy is going to be nothing to do with it,” Murphey thought, “and we’re in trouble. He crashed into an elderly lady!”
They waited some more. Murphey had quit smoking, but he lit up anyway.
Then his cell rang: “You guys got him!”
“Yeah, right,” Murphey said, adding a few other choice words.
“No, seriously. There was more than a million dollars in that trunk.”
WHEN THE FBI BANGED ON THE DOOR of the Page house, they got no response. Assuming it was occupied, they treated the situation as a standoff.
In came an armored tank with a helmeted rifleman poking out of its top hatch. On a bullhorn, a hostage negotiator urged anyone inside to surrender. The FBI SWAT team and city SWAT team lobbed tear gas inside, smashed windows, sent in a robot, set off flash-bangs for distraction…
Latunya Wright, on her way home, spotted all the commotion and made a quick U-turn.
Her neighbors weren’t so lucky: They were stuck inside watching the five-hour operation, sweltering behind closed windows because the power had browned out.
Dripping with sweat, agents and police officers gathered money bands and stamps, a money counter, and $250,000 they pried from under the attic insulation. There were bullets under the stove and on the living room floor.
But there wasn’t a single clue to identify the other three masked men.
Clutching leads like threads strung through a labyrinth, the investigators moved forward a step at a time. The Grand Prix traced back to Heavy Hitters, a custom-car business in Hazelwood. When investigators paid a call, they found Latunya Wright and her brother (both of whom worked, informally, for Heavy Hitters) in intense conversation with another employee. They refused to say what they’d been talking about.
Meanwhile, behind the shop where the Grand Prix was found, a barbecue smoker held more half-burned evidence: a black ski mask, two black T-shirts and a hoodie, a radio/scanner… Police were told that an officer had come earlier and retrieved a Taurus .45 caliber pistol—but he hadn’t opened the smoker’s lid.
Other tips flew in, naming people who’d been flashing money or sharing it around (and not with the tipsters). On September 7, John Wesley Jones’ sorta-estranged wife, Tameka Jones, told detectives that his girlfriend, Latunya, had brought her money to pay for a lawyer. Latunya said she’d only told law enforcement “what they needed to hear,” Tameka reported. Latunya and a few friends she called her “Girl Scouts” had put cash into vacuum-sealed bags and hidden it in a storage locker rented in the name of “a Christian person.” She was, she told Tameka, having a hard time trying to hide all the money.
AFTER JONES’ ARREST, the other three masked men scattered.
Ryechine Money took some money and Jewel Dorsey (“The Stripper”) to Texas.
Aaron Johnson stayed with women in Kansas and Arkansas, then went to Houston, staying with someone called Big Homie. They burned through phones every three days or so. When Johnson bought a new phone, he’d text the new number but alter it by subtracting Big Homie’s address.
Johnson came home for the birth of his son, then hurried back to Houston.
Meanwhile, there were enough accomplices running around St. Louis to cast a reality show.
On August 20, police spotted co-conspirator Myron Kimble—they were seeking him for an unrelated offense—and chased him through Forest Park. His Cadillac Escalade sailed right into the water.
“I didn’t know it was a lake!” he’d say later. “I can’t swim! I’m seein’ ripples in the ground and thinking, ‘That’s got to be water.’ So I got out. I’m hangin’ on the door, holding on. And then I did a little doggie paddle, and then I felt the bottom.”
Kimble had lost the police or FBI—he wasn’t sure which—but he knew he couldn’t linger. “I ran through some bushes on the train tracks to a bus station and paid somebody $20 for his Arby’s work shirt. All my money was wet. He said, ‘You want this?’ ‘Yeah.’ So I put it on. He told me I had little stickybugs all in my hair.”
AND WHERE WAS THE MONEY from the largest heist in St. Louis history?
A little of it was divvied up among parents, girlfriends, and anyone who’d help hide it. Bills were paid off, shopping sprees conducted.
The feds had the money found in the Page attic and the $1.25 million seized from Jones’ Charger.
A lot more was stashed in a bunch of suitcases Latunya bought at Walmart the night of the robbery—paying with money peeled off a big roll of bills.
Why not buy them earlier? “Because we didn’t know there’d be so much money,” groaned one of the conspirators, adding that she was supposed to buy duffel bags. Who buys that many suitcases at once?
John Wesley Jones had been the leader; now he was in jail, and Latunya was his deputy. She had the chutzpah: Styling herself MzBiz, she’d built a tiny empire buying and selling cars, cash only. One of her neighbors described her as “a hustler.”
Slinging the money-stuffed suitcases into her Lexus, Latunya drove over to a girlfriend’s house. Her idea was that the reluctant friend, Yolanda Willis, would take the vehicle and its treasure cargo to a storage space for safekeeping. Meanwhile, they left the Lexus there and went shopping.
“You left it parked in her driveway, unattended?” investigators asked, incredulous.
Gradually, the circle widened to friends of friends and friends’ relatives. The detectives would struggle to keep them straight, what with Tasha and Posha, Candi and Suggar, Bright Eyes and The Stripper… Hiding places shifted. Johnson’s girlfriend’s sister overheard him saying there’d been too much money even to count—which spiraled his suspicion that he wasn’t going to get his share.
A sizable chunk was taken to a storage space in Bellefontaine Neighbors. But two days later, while Latunya was being interviewed by the FBI, she stepped out and made a phone call, asking Willis to go back to the storage space, cut the padlock, smash the Lexus’ window, and retrieve all the money except maybe one bag. Willis enlisted two of her uncles, whom she later accused of pocketing some of the money. “What could I do,” she’d exclaim, “tell the police they stole my stolen money?!”
One of the uncles, Robert Oliphant, would later talk about the caper, according to a cellmate. Supposedly he, too, muttered that there was “too much money” and said he’d taken as much for himself as he could fit into a saddlebag. From that stash, he gave $21,000 to someone to buy him a house—but the friend then told him the money got stolen.
The same thing happened to Latunya’s brother’s girlfriend—her stolen money got stolen.
Police found the storage unit in North County, but their bolt cutters wouldn’t slice through the padlock, so they had to call the Riverview Fire Department. When they finally got inside, the rear hatch window was shattered and there were three bags of money—one big, two small—remaining.
And the rest of the money? A big stereo speaker box was custom-made with a secret compartment that would hold $700,000. A great deal of cash was vacuum-sealed, driven to Texas, and buried beneath an outdoor bench in somebody’s former girlfriend’s back yard. Then it was dug up, hidden in a Hummer, and driven into a storage space in Atlanta.
Latunya’s brother, James Wright III, got involved. When investigators asked Yolanda Willis, she insisted that James was a “good person” with no connection to the money-hiding. They pointed to more than 25 calls between her and James August 4–6. She said she’d kept his dog for a while; the calls must’ve been about the pup.
When Face tried for a plea bargain, he said James (who seemed to grate on his nerves) was in contact with someone he called Osama in Milwaukee. Osama had offered inside information on ATM Solutions because he needed the money to fund three terrorist attacks—in Chicago, in Indianapolis, and in St. Louis.
The ATM investigation screeched to a temporary halt, and the joint terrorism task force took over. An expert in terrorist threats went in to talk to Jones.
“He very quickly came out,” recalls FBI Supervisory Special Agent Daniel Netemeyer, “and said, ‘These dots aren’t even connected.’ The best we can figure, John Jones realized that his chances for freedom were rapidly dwindling, so he came up with a story that he thought would get our attention. He was going to talk about this whole thing starting as a terrorist plot and how he was forced into it.”
Jones’ new version implicated the owner of Heavy Hitters, Sufian “Sam” Rahman, and one of his employees, Hussein “Vinny” Odeh, both of whom are from Jordan.
Heavy Hitters was, you’ll remember, the custom-car business where the getaway car was prepped, Latunya made car deals, James did occasional work, and Jones hung out. It is true that Odeh took about $20,000 of the ATM loot to Milwaukee in a shoebox. On the drive up, police stopped the vehicle because his friend was driving too slowly. Odeh told them he was bringing money to a friend in Milwaukee. They searched, found the money, and waved the men on their way with no citations.
The hollow speaker box was also reportedly driven to Milwaukee, and nobody knows—or, at least, is saying—where that money wound up. When the ATM investigation heated up, Rahman fled to Jordan. Mention was made of a plan to hide the money under an airplane wheel well, so who knows? The cash may have made it all the way to the Middle East.
JONES IS AN INVENTIVE GUY. When he was caught, he had a story ready: He’d run into a guy at a bar who asked whether he was interested in “moving some packages” for $50,000. He said yes and was met by two guys in a black Monte Carlo. They loaded the currency into his Charger and gave him $4,000 or $5,000, which he put in his pocket. Once he got downtown, the vehicle he was to meet would honk twice and flash its lights twice. He said the only reason he agreed was that he was behind on his car and house payments—and he’d only brought a gun for his own protection. Because he didn’t want to get robbed.
After hours of interviews, the feds were developing a grudging admiration for this guy. “If you looked through the crime, looked at the person, he was a decent guy,” says Netemeyer. “Of course, he was a hardened criminal, but to the core, there was some decency there. A vibrant personality. If you met him in a bar, you’d have had a conversation with him.”
“It would have been a conversation of content,” chimes in Assistant U.S. Attorney Tom Mehan. Had Jones chosen a lawful path, he adds, “I could see him as a logistics guy, solving problems. He had a Svengali approach to people.”
And he had a Houdini approach to incarceration.
While Jones was being held in the Ste. Genevieve jail, the FBI got a tip that he was plotting another escape. (He’d tried once before, in Kentucky, but fingerprints had foiled his plan.) Now he was swiftly moved to a more secure facility: the jail in Lincoln County.
Two months after the ATM Solutions heist, on November 15, 2010, Jones and a new friend, inmate Corey Durand Cross, waited for the 3 a.m. head count. When the deputies had moved on to another pod, Jones climbed onto a metal railing and through the drop ceiling in their cell block. Pushing aside the ceiling tile, he grabbed a pipe for the sprinkler system, pulled himself into a 3-foot crawl space, and waited for Cross to follow. Tearing off part of a ventilation duct, they crept along for 10 feet, reached a huge exhaust fan, used a broom handle to break its bolts loose, and emerged on the roof. They made it 5 miles on foot, then stole a truck at a gas station in Moscow Mills.
Two days later, U.S. marshals searched the Swansea home of one of Jones’ acquaintances. Netemeyer and Mehan were listening from the marshals’ St. Louis office. They heard, “Oops, we got him! He just fell through the ceiling!”
C’mon, Mehan thought. Enough with the jokes.
But John Wesley Jones had just fallen through the ceiling from the attic. He was on the floor, covered in insulation and drywall dust.
Once again, the game was up.
FOUR DAYS AFTER JONES WAS RECAPTURED, at 4 p.m. on a Sunday, two teenage girls, Latunya’s daughter and her cousin, were pulled into a car outside their grandmother’s house.
Li’l Larry Newman, 19, had been paid $50,000 for the heist, with a promise of more to come. He’d begun to think he’d been screwed. So his pal Pie, Myron Kimble, came out of hiding to help him, and they devised a plan to kidnap the girls.
“We didn’t know how young they were!” Kimble says. “We spoiled ’em. Went to Walgreens and bought one a whole new jogging outfit and panties” (she’d wet her pants in fear). “I said, ‘We’re not gonna hurt you!’”
But the FBI had no way of knowing that. The kidnappers used one of the girls’ cell phones to call the girls’ grandmother. They were asking for $50,000, delivered by Latunya’s brother, James. When the ransom dropped to $15,000, the feds realized that all they really wanted was a way to pressure James for robbery money. “I think we could have talked them down to a Cabela’s gift card,” Mehan says dryly.
He’d already been working tightly with the investigators, interceding with judges and finessing legal details so nothing would jeopardize the case. Now he was pulling all-nighters at the FBI office on Market.
“We knew from the beginning Latunya was lying to us,” he says. “That Sunday, I got a call from her lawyer, who said she’d gotten a call from James, who’d gotten a call that the girls had been kidnapped. I asked the lawyer, ‘Where are you right now?’ and he said, ‘I’m on my way home.’ I said, ‘Your client’s daughter and niece were kidnapped, and you’re going home?’ We had an ongoing pen register [dialed number recorder] on James Wright’s phone, and we could establish that yes, he did just receive a phone call like this. He came up from Florida the next day, met with an FBI agent at the airport, came to the FBI office, and started negotiating with the kidnappers.”
Mehan and Netemeyer were downing vats of caffeine and vying for the Snickers bars in the vending machine, quick energy to keep them going. “When a child goes missing, everything goes out the window,” says Netemeyer, who was glad to have Mehan there to frame the delicate legal negotiations with James.
“The girls were 14 and 16,” Mehan says. “You give up what you can to get them back.”
The kidnappers had taken the girls to a Budget Inn overnight, and they kept driving back and forth between Missouri and Illinois. “Never sat in one place long enough to allow us to catch up with them,” Netemeyer says. But on Monday, the 14-year-old was released near South Kingshighway and Manchester. “We think they thought she’d call James, and they waited to see if he came to pick her up.”
The official deal, though, was that the other girl would be exchanged for the money that James brought to a Schnucks parking lot in Bellefontaine Neighbors.
Kimble pulled up with the girl, saw another car drive near the planned location, panicked, and raced away—driving smack into an oncoming FBI car. He took off running—and once again, he got away.The girl was safe, but she refused to get into the agents’ car until they showed her ID. The team arrested James (who squawked in outrage) and turned to the manhunt.
Kimble, meanwhile, burst into an apartment in Spanish Lake and held its occupants at gunpoint for a few hours. He says he told them, “‘I’m not trying to hurt you—I’m just trying to get away from somebody.’ I made up a story about a shootout with somebody I had to get away from, which is not something that happens so much in that part of town, but it does happen.”
Finally two of the women offered to drive him someplace, just to get rid of him. He had a brainstorm: “Give me your clothes.” He changed—and three “women” walked out of the apartment. They drove to a gas station at I-70 and North Grand.
“Why you dressed like a fairy?” yelped Lawanda Carraway, the girlfriend he’d called to pick him up. He was wearing a red-and-white jacket embellished with a heart, skinny blue jeans, and black boots with fur. The pink hoodie under the jacket was pulled up over his head.
“They dressed me up,” Kimble said, adding faintly, “You really don’t wanna know what’s going on.”
One of the women came up to Carraway’s car and demanded her boots back.
“I felt really gay,” he recalls. “The crazy part was, when I was leaving I asked the girls to give me a full-length mirror, so I could make sure I was walking right. ‘Am I swishin’ too hard?’ ‘No, you perfect.’ ‘Well, let’s go, then!’ There was police everywhere.”
He even thought to borrow a bag so he could stuff all his clothes inside. Carraway just shook her head. It was her Escalade he’d drowned in Forest Park. Afterward he’d told her that he was in a high-speed chase but swore he left the truck in good shape; the police must have put it in the lake.
KIMBLE MANAGED TO STAY FREE for another eight days, until the law caught up with him at St. Clair Square. They collared him—in the women’s room.
He swears it was just coincidence.
“Before I could even close the door, they were ramming the door open. They said, ‘You are not getting away this time.’”
Investigators had plenty of questions for Kimble. But when they got to the kidnapping, he furrowed his brow in puzzlement and asked what kidnapping they were referring to—was it the one he’d seen on TV?
Yeah. It was. And they now had Kimble and three of the four masked men in custody.
Texas authorities had picked up Ryechine Money back in November, using a warrant from a June 2009 case in Splendora. The charge? Alleged possession of 205 grams of cocaine and 41 pounds of marijuana, compressed into a single block that was swathed in plastic and dryer sheets inside a big cardboard box.
“A guy that was arrested in Oklahoma bringing dope to St. Louis couldn’t wait to tell what he knew,” explains Netemeyer. “He’d bragged about the robbery.” The courier remembered the street where the dealer lived and a basketball hoop in the driveway, so the feds took him on a quick street-view tour on Google Earth, and he identified the house.
Money had a bit of the ATM loot; he was reportedly planning to invest it in marijuana, a clothing store, and a cathouse in Houston. Instead he found himself agreeing to plead guilty to robbery and firearms offenses. The police had his fingerprints on cigarette butts in the Dodge Charger and his DNA on a charred black shirt from the barbecue smoker, plus there was footage of him on a local business’s surveillance camera climbing over a fence and dumping stuff in the smoker.
So he pleaded guilty—then changed his mind. He appealed, saying his sentence was unreasonable, the court had erred by refusing to let him withdraw his guilty plea, and he shouldn’t be characterized as a career offender.
The court was unmoved.
LATUNYA WRIGHT PLEADED GUILTY in April 2011 to conspiracy and transporting stolen property. “There’s a lot I’d like to state, but I’m at a loss for words,” she told U.S. District Judge Jean Hamilton, who remembered her from a 1999 federal fraud conviction. Latunya still hadn’t finished paying the $31K restitution in that case.
Latunya said what she needed to say to get out of any situation. “We’d look at her and say, ‘Latunya! Stop lying to us!’” Mehan recalls, laughing.
“I don’t know that she knows the truth,” Netemeyer remarks.
She’d been on Judge Joe Brown’s TV show about six months before the heist, arguing over a vehicle she’d sold. Her dream was to snag a spot on the reality show Bad Girls Club. She was already writing a book about the ATM case.
“That’s how I’m getting paid,” she told a friend. “I said I wanted to be on TV, but not this way. I was trying to get on a reality show. And this [is] reality, but damn, I can’t get paid for it. Not yet, anyway.”
Instead, she was ordered to repay the missing $3.6 million in ATM money and sentenced to 51 months in prison.
Jones’ sentencing was one month later, on May 12, 2011. He seemed restless, shifting his weight from one foot to the other and jangling the chains that bound his wrists and ankles. Finally U.S. District Judge Carol Jackson snapped at him to stop. His attorney, Joel Schwartz, relayed his statement, saying, “It would be disingenuous for him to apologize or say he’s sorry or a similar cliché, because he’s not.” Later, Schwartz told the press, “He’s probably truly sorry—that he was caught.”
In the courtroom that day was a young man who also lived on Fair Avenue—where Jones and Kimble had met. He’d come to watch. And though you’d think a 32-year sentence would read as a warning, it seems to have inspired him.
Mario Darnell Smith began sending emails, purportedly from Ameren, seeking to arrange an armored car pickup of about $180,000 from Ameren’s account at U.S. Bank in Chicago. Alerted, the FBI traced the email form to Bigdaddyallday—Smith’s tag on YouTube. Agents arrested him at a Quiznos and slid his laptop and four cell phones into a protective bag so they couldn’t be wiped remotely.
The FBI had thwarted Smith’s hopeful little heist, but they had yet to recover a sizable chunk of the ATM booty that might have fed his imagination. And one of the masked men was still at large.
“We’d been told that the day of the robbery, when they all bought tennis shoes, Aaron Johnson bought some booties for his new baby,” says Netemeyer. “We thought it was nonsense. Then we found receipts for four pairs of tennis shoes and one pair of booties. A year later, we realized the baby was about to turn 1. We set up surveillance at the girlfriend’s house, and here comes Aaron Johnson down the street, holding a gift bag. The last thing I said to him was, ‘Happy Birthday to your son.’ He said, ‘How do you know that?’ I said, ‘How do you think we caught you?’ And he’s saying, ‘Shit. Shit.’”
After a 54-week manhunt, the fourth masked man was in custody.
Each of the other three robbers had said, at some point, that there was just “too much money.” The phrase came up so often, it was a running joke for the investigators. So there they sat, listening to the interview with Johnson, waiting, waiting…
And then he said it: “Too much money.”
Late that month, the law enforcement team found a Hummer in a storage unit in Atlanta. They lifted the hood and saw…
Piles of vacuum-sealed bags of money blanketing the engine.
THERE WAS ABOUT $660,000 in the Hummer (which was probably bought with ATM money). Also a pink Disney blanket that matched a blue one from Latunya’s house on Page.
Something spooked her, and she went to Atlanta to check on the storage locker. Her car and all the money were gone.
Furious, she showed up at Mehan’s office with her attorney. Ceremoniously, Mehan presented her with a photo of money stacked on the hood of the Hummer.
“She looked at the photo,” Mehan recalls, “and said, ‘Wait a minute! The money wasn’t stacked up on the hood! You got my money!’”
He grinned and said it nice and slow: “No, Latunya, we got our money.”
IN SEPTEMBER 2013, when Jones was brought from federal prison to the Justice Center downtown to await a different trial, he unlocked his handcuffs.
He’d sweet-talked a nurse he’d met years earlier, when he was in the St. Charles County jail, into providing a key. (Also a gun.) Hands freed, Jones unhinged the toilet and sink in his cell and started hacking at the plumbing space behind the wall. Justice Center staff found a bundle of clothes and sheets hidden there.
John Wesley Jones now lives behind locked doors at Hazelton, a high-security federal prison for men in West Virginia. His release date is October 4, 2038—unless he manages to get out sooner.
Ryechine Money is in Oklahoma City, scheduled for release in April 2028.
Aaron Johnson is serving a 15-year sentence in Bonne Terre for an unrelated robbery; when that ends, his federal sentence will begin.
“His grandma’s still calling me,” Mehan says. “He said, ‘I’ll tell you where some of the money is if you cut my sentence down.’ I said, ‘Aaron, you’re not a very good poker player.”
Li’l Larry Newman is at the Beaumont penitentiary in Texas, scheduled for release in 2032.
The four masked men have all been ordered to pay back $3.6 million. So have most of their accomplices, who’ve served varying prison terms. So far, only James Wright has made any restitution; he paid $2,625. And Ryechine Money forfeited $5,250 when he was arrested.
Mehan says Rahman’s been in touch—he doesn’t like it in Jordan, and he wants to come back. “I said we would recall the warrant so he could fly back and meet an FBI agent in New York who’d bring him down here. But he never called me back.”
The only accomplices still in prison are two who took part in the kidnapping. One is Kimble, who’s serving a 26-year sentence at Jefferson City Correctional Center. I drove there to talk to him.
“It don’t hurt no more, but it used to drive me crazy,” he says. “I wouldn’t be here if they wouldn’t’ve—I was gone. I dropped off the face of the Earth. Moved my daughter and my baby’s mother right up there with me.” Wherever that was, he transformed himself: “I’m wearing glasses, I’m wearing polo shirts, I’m not saggin’. Sometimes I tucked my shirt in!” He sighs. “But I got back in that mode.”
When he was captured at St. Clair Square, he says an officer asked him the same question that was running through his mind: “Why’d you come back?’”
He says he got tired of wiring Li’l Larry money and came back to help him get his share.
“And now everything I had accumulated is in disarray, ’cause I gotta come back and put my feet in this muddy water.” He looks around the gray visiting room, scooching his plastic chair back, then forward. Mainly because there’s not much else he can do.
“I’ve never been to prison before,” he says. “The control thing, I can’t get used to it.” Above all, he misses his two baby girls. The older daughter has just sent a letter: “She said, ‘I’m bad sometimes, Daddy, but I still love you.’ I said, ‘Listen, you gotta get rid of that being bad sometimes, cause that’s going to hold you back.’”
Kidnapping, armed criminal action, facilitating a felony… “I wasn’t plannin’ on hurtin’ nobody,” he insists. “It was just scare tactics.” He’s leery of talking to me—they all agreed not to talk, and he has loved ones he worries about. At the same time, he’s lonely and frustrated. “I could apologize,” he says halfheartedly, “but a lot of people wouldn’t understand the mindset of a person that’s on the other side of that wall. People would be saying, ‘Well, you could have went to school.’ Well, that’s the future. Right now I’m hungry as f—k. So we gonna starve to death trying to make it to the future?”
Yet Kimble does think in future terms. He’s less impulsive than many criminals, more canny and thoughtful. He talks about a time he wanted to shoot someone who was cheating him, did a quick count of how many others he’d have to kill to get away with shooting one, and lowered the gun.
Like Jones, Money, and several of the others, he grew up rough—and more resourceful than a lot of prep-school kids. These guys weren’t interested in violence, except as a threat—but it was a threat they might have carried out at any point, a matter-of-fact weighing of the odds in a world where violence is routine.
I ask Kimble how he learned to strategize. “I just pay attention to everything,” he says, “I guess from looking at how irresponsible my mom was. This is back when food stamps used to come in the mail. She’d get them, and they would all be gone the next day, so today we eat good, but tomorrow we be looking stupid.”
I ask what he’d do if he had the missing money. “I’d be in Ireland,” he says instantly. Then he glances down at his forearm and laughs. “Nah, that wouldn’t work. I’d better go to Cuba!”
When I mention the comment that keeps cropping up in interview transcripts, he laughs. “You can never have too much money. I don’t understand how they figured that was the problem.”
At an award presentation for the agents who worked the case and one of the citizens who offered a useful tip, Mehan held up one of the $20 bills they’d seized. “$6.4 million taken,” he said wryly, “and this is what we’ve got.”
The bill now hangs on his wall, in an evidence bag. A permanent reminder of the $3.6 million that’s still out there somewhere—maybe spent or scattered, maybe buried, maybe (though the feds doubt it) squirreled away in the Middle East.
“We continue to get tips,” Netemeyer says. “Nothing valid.” As the robbers are released, will the feds keep tabs?
“We are going to be open to any tactics or techniques that will lead us,” he promises. “This case isn’t over.”
Illustration by Ryan Inzana