Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ambush: the Brink Robbery of 1981

The Explosion

New York street with brownstones
New York street with brownstones (AP)
Brownstones stand like soldiers in a row on tree-lined West Eleventh Street in lower Manhattan. Many were built at the turn of the century when pride in workmanship still prevailed in the building trades. Eleventh Street is just three blocks north of famed Washington Square Park, once a public execution ground in the 19th century, and extends west through Greenwich Village, past historic Hudson and Bleecker Streets, ending finally at West Street on the shore of the Hudson River. A long line of artists, writers, actors, musicians and celebrities of every manner and fashion has called this area home. Herman Melville and Walt Whitman once lived here. And Edgar Allen Poe wrote The Raven when he lived in a boarding house on Greenwich Street in 1844. The great “Satchmo” played the blues here from time to time and Sara Vaughn often performed in Village jazz clubs, along with Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, “Cannonball” Adderly, Monk and Miles Davis.
On March 6, 1970 at 11:55 a.m., Susan Wager, former wife of film actor Henry Fonda, was in her basement at 50 West Eleventh Street with her housekeeper sorting her laundry. A few minutes before noon, she heard a tremendous explosion outside her building. “We both looked at each otheryou could feel it, a real quaver ran through the ground,” she later told reporters. Immediately, she heard two more rapid-fire explosions. Mrs. Wager hurried up the steps and out into the street. She saw that the explosions came from building number eighteen. As she ran down the block, Mrs. Wager saw the flames blowing out the front windows of the townhouse. There was concrete debris lying on the sidewalk and large pieces of the townhouse on the tops of parked cars. In the doorway, she saw a “red, incandescent glow, more scary than flames” emanate from inside the 1st floor hallway.
It was then she took notice of two girls that staggered out of the burning townhouse and into the street. One girl was wearing blue jeans. The other was completely naked. The explosion had burned the clothes off her body. Mrs. Wager thought they were both around twenty years old. The girls were dazed and covered with soot and ash but they did not appear to be seriously injured. A large chunk of the building fa├žade then crashed to the street just feet from where the girls were standing. Both victims were trembling and appeared to be in shock. Mrs. Wager took them over to her house, just yards away and brought them into her living room. She took them upstairs to a bathroom and gave them some clothes to wear.
Mrs. Wager then went downstairs, told the housekeeper to make some coffee and went back outside to look for more victims. When she reached the building at 18 West Eleventh, it was fully engulfed with flames. Residents were outside on the street and sirens could be heard in the distance. Within minutes, the fire apparatus was pulling into Eleventh Street from Fifth Avenue. The fire was roaring and neighbors were evacuating the block. Mrs. Wager then went back to her home to check on the two girls.
When she entered her living room, her housekeeper said the girls were gone. “Well the girls have left, they were going to the drugstore to get some medicine,” she said. Mrs. Wager thought that was odd.
Meanwhile, the fire consumed the townhouse as gas lines exploded and windows shattered into the street. But firefighters were able to get hoses on the inferno quickly and soon, it was brought under control. In the early evening, a man’s body was found in the basement and a short time later, a woman’s torso was discovered on the first floor. Police also found several handbags with personal identifications that were stolen from college students over the previous few months. Late that same night, cops located at least 60 sticks of dynamite, a live military antitank shell, blasting caps and several large metal pipes packed solid with explosives. Neighbors, including actor Dustin Hoffman, who lived next door, began leaving in droves.
The dead man was later identified as 23-year-old Theodore Gold, a leader of a student strike at Columbia University in 1968. He was a member of the Weathermen, a radical group of college students who believed that the only way to change America was through confrontation and violence. The dead girl, whose body was horribly mangled by the powerful blast, was eventually identified as Diana Oughton, another former college student. Seven days later, police managed to locate another dismembered body of a male. His identity remained a mystery until the Weathermen later claimed it was Terry Robbins, one of their own members.
James P. Wilkerson, a radio station owner from the Midwest, owned the townhouse. His daughter, Catherine Wilkerson, 25, was also a known member of the Weathermen. She was currently out on $40,000 bail on assault charges in Chicago where she struck a police officer with a club during a political demonstration. A close friend of Catherine’s, a girl named Kathy Boudin, was staying with her at the time of the blast. Boudin, too, was out on $20,000 bail on similar charges in Chicago. Neither of the girls could be located. Police soon speculated that the town home was being used as a bomb factory and the occupants were probably assembling bombs when something went very wrong.
But it was just speculation. Only those inside the house could say for sure. Three were already dead and the two girls who had fled from the house after the explosion could not be found. One of the girls was identified through photographs as Cathy Wilkerson. Police were almost certain that the other girl who disappeared was Kathy Boudin.

The Weathermen

The Sixties were a tumultuous era on American college campuses. The specter of Vietnam hung over the nation’s youth like an executioner’s axe. Every college student was theoretically subject to the draft and many young people did not like the idea of fighting a war in a faraway place where the goals were not clearly defined. During the period 1967-1969, as the war intensified, press coverage of lurid battle scenes frequently appeared on television. The killing and destruction in a distant, backward nation displayed on the nightly newscasts, both repelled and frightened America.
Student  protest rally, late 60s
Student protest rally, late 60s (AP)
Slowly, the tide of public opinion began to turn against the war. But supporters of the Vietnam effort were many and those that were against the war were often denounced as traitors, cowards and worse. The issue tore America apart in a way not unlike the Civil War. It turned friend against friend, brother against brother and father against son. Passions were strong on both sides. Columbia University in New York City and Berkeley University in California were two institutions where radicals assumed center stage. Various political groups and peace organizations sprung up everywhere but especially on college campuses where anti-war factions found fertile ground for recruitment.
One such political organization was the Students for a Democratic Society (S.D.S.). The S.D.S. wanted action, not words. But as time passed, several groups broke away from the organization to form their own ideological cells. Such a camp was the Weathermen, named after a line in a Bob Dylan song, “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” The line went like this: “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.”
The Weathermen were radicals. They wanted their people to get involved, demonstrate, get arrested and force change down the throat of the “establishment.” They fought at the Democratic Presidential Convention in 1968 and converged in Chicago in 1969 for an event that came to be known as “Days of Rage.” The more violent extremists during that era were responsible for a score of bombings in places like Harvard University, various corporate headquarters and a number of government institutions. They praised Charles Manson and freed Dr. Timothy Leary from prison. Wherever there was violence and chaos in the name of dissent, the Weathermen were there. But after the townhouse explosion in New York City in 1970, the group was forced to go “underground” and remove itself from the prying eyes of law enforcement and public scrutiny.

Chipper, Ed and Pete

Officer Waverly Brown
Officer Waverly Brown
Police Officer Waverly Brown, 45, sipped his coffee while sitting in the diner on Broadway in the village of Nyack, New York on the afternoon of October 20, 1981. Nyack was a small community of 6,000 people situated on the banks of the majestic Hudson River. Officer Brown, known to virtually everyone as “Chipper,” was a popular figure in the village, especially to young people, who frequently saw him as a counselor and friend. He was on the job for 13 years and, since the retirement of another African American, Officer Brown was the only black cop on the 22-man force. He served in the United States Air Force after the Korean War and later both his daughters also joined the military. When he finished his 20 years with the police, Chipper planned to retire to Virginia where he owned a house and some land. He was a solid six feet tall, had an easy smile and loved to garden and cook. He finished his coffee, tipped the waitress and walked out to his parked police unit.
At the same time, a short distance away in the Nyack Police Department radio room, Sergeant Ed O’Grady, 33, was talking with the police dispatcher. O’Grady was born and raised in Nyack. He knew everyone and everyone knew him. He served with the Marines in the Vietnam War during the 1960s and when he returned home, he joined the police department. O’Grady retained the discipline and conservatism of the Marines; his uniform and appearance were always exemplary. He was enrolled at St. Thomas Aquinas College and was close to receiving his bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. Ed O’Grady and his wife, Diane, had three small children, Edward, 6, Patricia, 2, and Kimberly, six months.
A few miles away, on Route 59, a busy highway that runs east and west through Rockland County, an armored car was approaching the sprawling Nanuet Mall. Inside the truck, Brink’s security guard Pete Paige, 49, was looking forward to the last pickup of the day. He was a hard-working, quiet sort of man and a veteran of the United States Navy. Pete was the guard that day. It was his role on that shift to guard the carrier of the money. Pete and his wife, Josephine, had three children, Susan, 19, Michael, 16, and Peter, age 9. He worked as an armed guard for the Brink’s Corporation since 1956 and had never been involved in a robbery.
This would be his first, and his last.

The Robbery

Brinks armored car
Brinks armored car (AP)
The armored truck’s final stop was the Nanuet National Bank on the second level of the mall. The crew was due to pick up almost $1.6 million dollars in cash from the bank. Inside the truck was an additional several hundred dollars in cash from earlier collections. Pete Paige was assigned to guard his partner as he handled the cash. His partner was assigned to enter the bank, retrieve the moneybags with Paige and place them into the back of the armored vehicle.
Jeral Wayne Williams (AKA Mutulu Shakur)
Jeral Wayne Williams (AKA
Mutulu Shakur)
Also in the same parking lot that afternoon was a red Chevy van that cruised the area while the guards went inside the mall. The rear and side windows had been covered with plastic so no one could see inside. Inside the van was a man named Mutulu Shakur, 31, already a veteran of several armored car and bank robberies committed in the Bronx, Mt. Vernon, NY and Paramus, NJ. Shakur was an adopted name. His real name, or slave name as he described it, was Jeral Wayne Williams. He was a black nationalist who ran a financially corrupt acupuncture clinic in Lincoln Hospital in New York City, the first such clinic in the Bronx. Williams was an articulate and persuasive individual who recruited many disciples to follow him. Under the banner of black self-determination, he convinced his accomplices that it was up to them to seize funds from legitimate sources and “redistribute” the money to various black causes. With each robbery committed, the gang improved on its methods and became more sophisticated. They studied the reaction of guards and the police. They took the time to learn how police handled and investigated such crimes. Then, they made the appropriate adjustments on the next job.
In the back of the red van were Cecilio “Chui” Ferguson, 35, Samuel Brown AKA Solomon Bouines, 41, Samuel Smith AKA Mtayari Sundiata, 37, and Donald Weems AKA Kuwasi Balagoon, 35. There were others present, but it has never been proven who, or how many. All the men in back of the van were members of a group they called “The Family.” Most of them had ties to the Black Panthers or the Black Liberation Army, radical political groups that had many violent confrontations with police during the 1970s.
As the red van drove aimlessly through the lot, the men sat quietly in the rear section. They were armed with an assortment of weapons including shotguns, automatic rifles and 9mm handguns. Each had a specific, pre-arranged role in the robbery that was about to happen. The van pulled up behind the armored car while Weems got out and sat on a bench outside the entrance to the mall. He would act as a back up and provide assistance when needed.
About a half-mile from the Nanuet Mall, a medium-size U Haul truck waited in the parking lot of a Korvette’s shopping mall on Route 59. A white man named
David J. Gilbert, 37, rented the vehicle that same day in the Bronx. Gilbert was a long time member of the Weather Underground and a fugitive from the state of Colorado where he faced charges of assault and possession of explosives. The passenger in the front seat of the U Haul was Kathy Boudin, on the run from the law since the townhouse explosion in 1970. The couple had dropped off their one-year old child with a babysitter in the morning and was waiting for the return of the red van. There were others also present, but police investigators were never able to prove conclusively who they were. The plan was to make a vehicle switch, dump the bags of money into the truck and have all the black participants in the robbery hide in the back of the vehicles as they made their getaway. They knew that in the confusion following the robbery, the police would be looking for black men in a red van. They would not be too concerned about a U Haul being driven by a white couple. Also parked in the same lot were two other getaway vehicles: a yellow Honda and a white Buick. But it was never determined exactly who was driving these escape cars.
At approximately 3:55 p.m., Paige, a 24-year Brink’s veteran and his partner, Joe Trombino, 48, exited the doors to the Mall rolling out the moneybags on a hand truck. They walked over to the Brink’s truck and began to load up the bags onto the rear deck. Simultaneously, the red van pulled up and the rear doors swung open. One of the suspects, armed with a shotgun, ran to the front of the truck and immediately fired two blasts directly at the bulletproof windshield. The guard in the front seat ducked just in time and was unhurt.
Armored car windshield
Armored car windshield
Another suspect, wearing a ski mask, opened up with his M-16 automatic rifle before his feet even hit the pavement, striking Paige in the neck, arm and chest. He was killed instantly. Joe Trombino fired just one shot before he was hit several times in his upper arm and shoulder. The bullets all but severed his arm off his shoulder. “I’ve got no arm!” he screamed. But Trombino would survive that day, only to perish years later in another terrorist attack at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
The robbers grabbed several moneybags and threw them into the rear of the van. Then, they jumped into the van and sped away, narrowly missing several moving cars and pedestrians who were running in terror from the shooting. The entire operation, from start to finish, was over in less than two minutes.

Ambush

U-Haul truck
U-Haul truck
The red van fled quickly down Route 59 toward the Korvette’s parking lot. In the meantime, inside a house behind the same lot, a young college student was working on a school assignment. She happened to glance out her kitchen window when the red van pulled in. The men, some armed with rifles, jumped out of the van, removed the moneybags and tossed them into the U Haul and the Honda. The student had the presence of mind to call the police.
“It was a little yellow Honda sedan and a U Haul truck,” she said over the phone. “They went to the right maybe 304. Toward the Mobil Car Wash. A Honda Accord maybe,” she said to the police dispatcher. Within seconds, the information was over the police airwaves.
Police units from all over the county converged on Nanuet and the surrounding communities. Stakeouts were set up on all the escape routes and especially the Tappan Zee Bridge, which crosses the Hudson. On one of these stakeouts, South Nyack/Grandview Police Chief Alan Colsey, 29, who was just promoted to the position of chief, monitored the broadcasts. He heard Sgt. Ed O’Grady report a sighting of a U Haul truck near the thruway.
“U Haul truck going to enter the thruway here. Do you have any description of the subjects?” the radio said.
“No, at this time all we have is a yellow Honda and a U Haul trailer or truck. We’ll get it to you as soon as we have it!” the dispatcher reported.
At the intersection of Route 59 and Mountainview Ave., Nyack Police Officers Waverly Brown, Brian Lennon, Sgt. Edward O’Grady, and Detective Artie Keenan pulled over a U Haul truck occupied by a white man and a white woman. P.O. Lennon had his shotgun pointed directly at the van as it came to a halt a few yards before the thruway on ramp. Sgt O’Grady asked both parties to step outside the van. The man, who was never positively identified, and the woman, later identified as Kathy Boudin, exited the front of the U-Haul and stood on the street. When the woman saw guns drawn she immediately protested their innocence while waving her hands in the air.
After she pleaded with the cops to lower their guns, they relented. “Put the shotgun back,” said O’Grady, “I don’t think it’s them.” Lennon walked back to his police unit but Detective Keenan, apparently not satisfied, tried to open the rear door of the U-Haul. “I just wanted to know what was in there,” he said in a recent interview. “When I tried to pull the door up, it wouldn’t move. I think they were holding it from the inside because there was a pull up strap on the back side of the door.” Keenan shook the door several times. “I called out to O’Grady who was by the front cab, but before he could answer, before anyone could do anything, the door flew up and out they came!” he said.
Without warning, the rear door to the U Haul instantly slid up with a loud bang. Six men crashed out of the back of the truck, military style, firing automatic weapons at everything that moved. Keenan rolled on the ground behind a pine tree, which probably saved his life, but still managed to return fire. “I was shot in my leg and a bullet grazed my side,” he said. Officer Brown was shot repeatedly with an M-16 rifle as he fell to the ground, already fatally wounded. A bullet that entered his shoulder traveled downward piercing several arteries including the aorta. While he lay there in the street, one of the men shot him again with a 9mm handgun. The panic-stricken suspects fired hundreds of rounds in all directions. The bullets slammed into a gas station across Route 59 and dozens of holes were later found in the gas pumps out front.
Terrified pedestrians ran for their lives from the furious gunfire. O’Grady managed to shoot one of the suspects as he himself was struck several times by a rain of bullets. The suspect staggered but he did not fall. He was wearing a bulletproof vest. As O’Grady fumbled to reload his .357 magnum revolver next to a police unit, he was shot several times by a man with an M-16 rifle. The bullets shattered his liver, diaphragm and punctured his kidney. He would die ninety minutes later on the operating table at Nyack Hospital.
Lennon, who was trapped in his car by the heavy gunfire, tried to exit out the front passenger door, but O’Grady’s body was wedged up against the door. He watched as the killers jumped back into the U Haul and sped directly towards him. Lennon fired his shotgun several times at the speeding truck as it collided with his police car. The back window, struck by M-16 gunfire, shattered into a thousand pieces.
On the thruway overpass just yards away, Donald Weems, still armed with a 9mm handgun, suddenly realized he had nowhere to go. Two women, Norma Hill and her 81-year-old mother, sat in a white BMW, idling on the overpass watching the incredible gunfight. When Weems realized he had no way out, he ran over to the BMW and pulled Norma out of the car. “Get out of the fucking car!” he screamed. As Norma tried to unbuckle her mother’s seatbelt, Weems kicked her in the side and sent her tumbling to the pavement. Then he slammed down on the accelerator and drove off the overpass.
Nyack Police badge
Nyack Police badge
Simultaneously, the yellow Honda pulled in front of the U Haul. Some of the suspects piled into the car and it immediately took off up Mountainview Avenue. Det. Keenan, though wounded himself, crawled over to “Chipper” Brown. “There was no pulse even then,” he said recently. The battered truck, pieces of the front fender falling off into the street, its tires and engine smoking and bullet holes in its sides, was abandoned on the ramp. Another passing motorist, Dr. Ronald Dreyer, had his Oldsmobile carjacked at gunpoint by one of the robbers who then raced up the street leaving $759,000 in cash, three shot cops and a river of blood behind.

“He Shot Him! I Didn’t Shoot Him!”

Kathy Boudin
Kathy Boudin (AP/World Wide)
When the shooting started, Kathy Boudin was in the street on the driver’s side of the U-Haul. As the bullets flew, she started to run from the scene. At that moment, an off duty New York City Corrections Officer, Michael Koch, was driving his camper northbound on the thruway when he noticed that the police had stopped a U-Haul truck on the entrance ramp. As he slowed his vehicle, he saw a girl sprinting full speed away from the police cars. For no reason other than instinct, he decided to apprehend the girl. He jumped out of his car and gave chase. Running across six lanes of mid-day traffic, which almost cost him his life, Koch chased the girl down until he caught her. It was Kathy Boudin and she was frantic.
“He shot him, I didn’t shoot him, he shot him!” she screamed over and over. Boudin tried to get away from Koch but he pushed her in front of him and forced her back to the shooting scene.
At the same time, Detective Keenan, though wounded, managed to get to his police radio and call for help.
“We’ve got two officers shot up here! Mountainview Avenue!” He said. Dr. Dreyer, who attempted to give medical aid to the wounded, picked up the radio microphone in P.O. Waverly Brown’s car.
“Hello? Hello?” he said into the mike, “Officer here” The dispatcher then interrupted with an urgent announcement.
“I have a report that my cars are supposedly involved in a shooting with a U- Haul van at Waldron and 59!” he said.
Every police officer in the area began the race to the thruway ramp. Chief Alan Colsey started in that direction on Rt. 59. Det. Jim Stewart of the Rockland County D.A.’s Office and his partner were already en route, having heard the original Brink’s robbery broadcast. As police units closed in on the village of Nyack, police dispatchers updated the available information.
“381 units, 381 to all units responding. I have a report that all of the occupants involved in the shooting jumped into a large white Buick that was heading north on Mountainview Avenue. There are definitely automatic weapons involved!”
The intersection of Mountainview and the thruway ramp was complete pandemonium. There was blood everywhere. Police cars had their windows shot out. Pedestrians and witnesses clogged the streets trying to help or do whatever they could. More and more police arrived at the scene. They screamed over the radio for medical aid, supplied additional information and gave conflicting descriptions of the suspects. There were many witnesses to the shooting including terrified motorists who were forced to stop in traffic while the firefight went on right in front of their eyes. Cops shouted questions at Boudin who meekly denied any involvement. A passing ambulance was commandeered after two other ambulances became involved in accidents while responding to the scene. Sirens blasted away in the distance, growing louder and louder as they got closer to the scene. Everywhere, people were running around the intersection, not sure what to do and yet wanting to do everything. And in the midst of all the chaos, Chief Colsey’s desperate voice could be heard in between frantic radio transmissions requesting assistance at a car crash where someone was being held at gunpoint.

“Freeze! Don’t Move”

Chief Colsey
Chief Colsey
A few minutes before, Chief Colsey, who continued to search for the suspects, saw a speeding yellow Honda approaching him in the opposite direction on Christian Herald Road.
“I backed into a driveway to turn around to give chase and when I did, a white Buick comes flying by and misses my front bumper by an inch!’ he said in a recent interview. “I reported the situation to Nyack P.D., direction of travel, descriptions, license plate numbers while south on Midland Avenue at 80 miles an hour!” he said. He watched as the Buick barreled past the Honda and approached a “T” intersection at Sixth and Broadway. The Buick negotiated the sharp 90-degree turn successfully with wheels spinning but the Honda crashed head-on into a concrete wall. Chief Colsey pulled his unit directly behind the smoking Honda.
“I turned the front wheels of my car so my engine block was in direct line between me and the Honda,” he said. The Honda tried to move but its wheels were stuck in the ground and the front end was heavily damaged. The female driver, Judith Clark, opened her door and searched for something behind the seat. “I found out later that the rear passenger, Samuel Brown, had dropped a .9 mm handgun on the floor and they couldn’t reach it,” the chief said. Brown was still in the back seat, badly injured from the impact.
“FREEZE! DON’T MOVE!” Colsey screamed at the occupants. The passenger, later identified as David Gilbert, crawled out of the wreck onto the ground and asked for help. He was a white man with a large, bushy head of hair and full beard.
“We need help, my friend is hurt!” he pleaded. Colsey, however, wasn’t persuaded. Gilbert failed to convince the chief to lower his guard as he held the three suspects at gunpoint. Colsey didn’t know at the time that Gilbert planned to keep him distracted while Brown retrieved the handgun to kill the chief.
“People are hurt here! People are hurt!” screamed Gilbert.
“DON’T MOVE! GET OUT OF THE CAR WITH YOUR HANDS UP!” he shouted at the girl. But Judith Clark continued to search for the missing gun. In an act of true courage and police professionalism, Colsey held the three suspects at gunpoint for several minutes until help arrived.
“Orangetown Police Officer Michael Seidel arrived with a shotgun in hand. I wanted to kiss him! It was just a minute or two but it seemed a lot longer than it was!” Colsey said. Det. Jim Stewart pulled up to the scene with his partner seconds later. “When I got there, we had to pull Brown out of the back seat through the rear window. He was fighting all the way!” he said recently. “It took all of us to get the cuffs on him,” he said. Other back up arrived and the three suspects were soon under control.
The Honda
The Honda
All three supplied false names when they were later booked at Nyack Police headquarters. Boudin gave her name as Barbara Edson.
When cops searched the Honda, they found a loaded .9mm automatic in the back of the front seat and $800,000 in cash from the Nanuet National Bank in the trunk. But something even more telling was inside their clothes. When police later examined the clothes of Gilbert and Clark, there were dozens of tiny pieces of glass trapped in the folds. Lab technicians compared these fragments to the windshield of P.O. Lennon’s vehicle. It was a match.

The Links are Uncovered

David Gilbert mugshot
David Gilbert mugshot
The F.B.I. entered the case immediately since deposits in the Nanuet National Bank are insured by F.D.I.C. Any theft that involves such funds constitutes a federal crime. Through their intelligence files, agents were able to ascertain that Boudin, Gilbert and Clark had previous connections with the Weathermen organization. Boudin, of course, had been on the run since 1970 from the Manhattan townhouse explosion and Gilbert was being sought for assault and possession of explosives in Colorado. Clark had served a prison sentence for her role in the “Days of Rage” demonstration. After police conducted their initial investigation, they quickly arrived at several conclusions. Somehow, over the previous ten years, the Black Liberation Army and the Weather Underground, a militant faction of the Students for a Democratic Society, had teamed forces. This unlikely coalition was apparently committing robberies to obtain funds for the advancement of their respective “causes.”
In Rockland County, one of the lead investigators on the case was Detective Jim Stewart, who had helped capture the three suspects at the Honda crash. “The case was massive, just massive. To give you an idea, we logged in over 10,000 pieces of evidence those first few days. The crime scenes included the Nanuet Mall, the rear of the Korvette’s, the Mountainview shootout scene, which in itself was huge, the Honda crash site and various safe houses,” he said recently.
Police quickly traced the license plate on the white Buick to an apartment in East Orange, New Jersey that was rented by a Carol Durant. A Joint Terrorist Task Force entered the apartment on the afternoon of October 21. They found a supply of automatic weapons, shotguns, ammunition, bomb-making material and something else that made their blood run cold: detailed blueprints of six Manhattan police precincts. Investigators also were able to identify the “Carol Durant” as an alias used by a girl named Marilyn Jean Buck.
Buck grew up in Austin, Texas, the daughter of a minister. She attended the University of California at Berkeley and, later, the University of Texas. Always socially conscious, Buck became interested in the S.D.S. and was soon working for the organization. She then gravitated toward California where she was arrested in 1973 for buying a large quantity of ammunition and two guns for B.L.A. members. Buck was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in federal prison. When she was granted a furlough in 1977, she never returned and her long run from the police began. It was Marilyn Buck who rented the apartment in East Orange and she was also the owner of the white Buick used in the Brink’s robbery.
While at the apartment, cops also found papers that listed an address on E. Third Street in Mt. Vernon, N.Y., a small city in Westchester County about 20 miles from Nanuet. When cops raided that apartment on Third Street, they found bloody clothing, ammunition, more guns and ski masks. Investigation later revealed that the bloody clothing belonged to Marilyn Buck who had accidentally shot herself in the leg when she tried to draw her weapon during the shootout at Mountainview.
White Buick
White Buick
The next day, late in the afternoon, police located the Buick that was seen fleeing with the yellow Honda after the Brink’s robbery. It was parked on a lonely side street in Pelham, N.Y., a small village about 20 miles from Nanuet. There were parking tickets on the windshield and the doors were unlocked. It was found less than a half-mile from the Mt. Vernon address. All the plates on the vehicles seen near the Mt. Vernon address were entered into the nationwide N.C.I.C. system. Cops didn’t have to wait long for a “hit.”

Shot Dead in Queens

On October 23, just two days after the killings in Nanuet, plainclothes N.Y.P.D. detectives in Queens were cruising the area of South Ozone Park. Det. Lt. Dan Kelly, 53, spotted a license plate last seen outside the Mt. Vernon address on a red Ford. It was now on a 1978 Chrysler containing two occupants heading towards the Van Wyck Expressway. When cops tried to pull it over, the car took off at high speed. Within minutes, dozens of N.Y.C.P.D. police units joined the frantic chase through the crowded streets of Queens. The car raced down Northern Boulevard where hundreds of frightened pedestrians jumped out of the way. As cops tried to block the streets by pulling police trucks in its path, the Chrysler jumped a concrete barrier and became air borne, crashing back into the street and making a furious, smoking U turn. Minutes later, the fugitives lost control of the car and it spun out of control, smashing front first into a building at 127th and Northern Blvd.
The two suspects jumped from the car and immediately began firing their automatic handguns at the police, who dove for cover. The desperate men ran through residential back yards where terrified homeowners screamed in horror as the gunfight continued. Bullets pierced living room walls and smashed through passing cars. When one of the suspects climbed over a fence and found himself trapped inside a construction yard, he turned and fired on police who were in hot pursuit. They promptly returned fire, striking the shooter in the neck and face. He was killed instantly. Simultaneously, the other suspect, later identified as Nathaniel Burns, 35, AKA Sekou Odinga, hid under the wheel well of a parked truck. When he tried to fire his 9 mm handgun at the approaching police, the mechanism jammed. He was captured after a violent struggle. Cops found another fully loaded 9 mm in his waistband.
William Kunstler
William Kunstler (AP)
The next day when defense attorney William Kunstler was asked why his client wore a vest and was carrying several guns, Kunstler replied: “He is a black living in Brooklyn. Carrying a 9 mm and wearing a bulletproof vest shows careful planning for the possibilities.”
The dead man was identified as Samuel Smith, 37, but to his friends he was better known as “Sundiata.” At the time of his death, Smith was wearing a protective vest. Cops later discovered that his chest showed signs of blunt trauma, the kind of injury associated with a bullet impact on a vest. Inside his shirt pocket, police also found a flattened .38 caliber slug. Rockland District Attorney Kenneth Gribetz called a press conference to announce what many cops already suspected.
“The bullet found in his pocket, a flattened .38 caliber, was shot from Sgt. Grady’s gun!” he told reporters.

The Investigation

Soon, the F.B.I. and numerous local police agencies were involved in a complex investigation that had national implications. In Rockland County, Detective Jim Stewart and a police investigative task force began the arduous job of sorting through and categorizing the mountain of information that came pouring into the office. The new and startling revelation that diverse radical groups had banded together to commit these violent crimes was something law enforcement had not seen before. “Since the suspects considered themselves prisoners of war, they would not cooperate in any way with the police or the jailers,” Det. Stewart said. When it came time for line-ups, they resisted by any means possible. The D.A. had to obtain use of force orders from the courts in order to proceed. “They had to be physically dragged from their cells. We had to bolt benches to the floor and restrain them with strait jackets. Clark was fitted with a neck brace and had to be held down by D.A detectives,” he said. The suspects were often described as “urban terrorists” in the press and cops everywhere were deeply worried about the role of the Black Liberation Army.
The B.L.A. was a notorious and violent group of extremists who planned and carried out unprovoked shootings of uniformed police officers. During the 1970s and early 1980s, there were several of these types of killings of which the B.L.A. were suspect. On May 20, 1971, New York City Police Officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones were shot and killed in an ambush in Harlem. The following year, on January 28, 1972, officers Gregory Foster and Rocco Laurie were murdered outside a restaurant in Manhattan. Another such shooting occurred on the night of April 16, 1981 when uniform cops pulled over a suspicious van in the St. Alban’s section of Queens. Without any warning, two men jumped out of the rear of the van with machine guns and opened up on the unsuspecting cops. Both were immediately killed. This cold-blooded killing enraged cops everywhere. A later investigation indicated that an escaped radical, Joannne Chesimard, one of the most sought after individuals in America, may have been in that van. She was serving a life sentence for her role in the murder of a New Jersey State trooper in 1973 when she escaped from custody in 1979. This theory was never proven, but to this day, many of the investigators who worked on that case believed it to be true.
All the “safe houses,” which the Brink’s suspects visited after the robbery, were carefully analyzed and processed by crime scene technicians. Many fingerprints were lifted and identified, which gave cops additional leads. Several other members of the Weather Underground and the B.L.A. were soon arrested in coordinated raids with local law enforcement. One Cynthia Boston was located and arrested in a ranch house in Gallman, Mississippi in late October. The ranch was owned by another radical organization called the Republic of New Africa. Although she did not actively participate in the crime, Boston was charged with conspiracy in the Brink’s robbery and held on $500,000 bail. Two other suspects, Jeffrey Jones and Eleanor Raskin, were arrested in the Bronx when cops went to an apartment to execute a search warrant. Jones and Raskin, former members of the Weather Underground, were charged with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution after cops found bomb-making material in a Hoboken apartment in 1979.
Over the next few months, the F.B.I. continued its relentless search. On January 20, 1982, the F.B.I. located and arrested Donald Weems, AKA Kuwasi Balagoon in the Bronx. Two months later, on March 26, 1982, the Joint Terrorist Task Force arrested Chui Ferguson and Edward Joseph, AKA Jamal Baltimore, in a raid on a Bronx apartment. But the main target, the man that planned and carried out the murderous carnage in Nyack, Jeral Williams, AKA Mutulu Shakur, escaped and later fled the New York area.

The Wheels of Justice Turn

The first state trial took place in Goshen, New York, a small upstate village where increased security procedures were put into place that most cops had never seen before. The notorious violence of the Brink’s gang was widely publicized by then and their propensity for breaking their friends out of jail was well known. There were many rumors in Rockland County that summer that Jeral Williams and the B.L.A. would be trying for a mass jailbreak. Everywhere around the Orange County Courthouse, there were dozens of cops armed with shotguns and automatic weapons. They were taking no chances.
Judge David S. Ritter sat on the bench, a jurist who tried to keep peace in the courtroom while at the same time, ensure the rights of unpopular defendants. Judith Clark, David J. Gilbert and Donald Weems were the first of the Brink’s robbers to go on trial. But they declined to use an attorney and chose to defend themselves. They sat at the defense table together and at every opportunity attempted to give lectures in court about the proceedings, which they felt were unjustified. When things didn’t go their way at the very beginning of the trial, they shouted slogans at the judge and walked out. “Death to U.S. imperialism!” screamed Judith Clark. “All the oppressors will fail!” said Gilbert. Their contention was that since they did not recognize the authority of the United States, the trial itself was an illegitimate extension of that baseless authority.
“We are at war and have no respect for the laws, the verdict or the sentence. We will continue to maintain our position as freedom fighters!” they said. More than half the time the court was in session, the defendants boycotted the trial. They called the robbery an “expropriation” of funds that were needed to form a new country in a few select southern states that ideally would be populated only by blacks.
The defendants called only one witness, Nathaniel Burns, AKA Sekou Odinga, who claimed to be a soldier in the B.L.A. He said that his organization was “fighting for the liberation and self-determination of black people in this country.” Burns testified that the killings were suitable because the three dead men had interfered with the “expropriation” and therefore deserved to die. In his view, the theft of money was morally justified because those funds “were robbed through the slave labor that was forced on them and their ancestors.”
Clark and Gilbert, who sat in respectful silence while Burns testified, seemed impressed. When Burns completed his testimony, Gilbert thanked him profusely. “I just want to greet you, Comrade Odinga, and express my respect for you for twenty years of commitment, self-sacrifice for the New Afrikan people, and all oppressed people. Stay strong and I am really thrilled to have someone speak the truth in this courtroom for a change. Free the land!” Gilbert said.
But the jury wasn’t swayed by the often rambling, arrogant testimony of Burns, who was already convicted of federal charges concerning other armored car robberies and shootings. On September 14, 1983, the jury, after deliberating four hours, found the defendants guilty of all charges. When the verdict was announced, Clark, Gilbert and Weems decided not to appear in court. They remained in the basement holding cells, drinking coffee and railing against, what they perceived to be, a racist court system.
“I don’t think any interest is served by forcing them to be here,” said Judge Ritter. Rockland County D.A. Kenneth Gribetz told reporters: “We’re upset, frankly, there’s no death penalty. Our goal is to see that these people, who have contempt for society and have shown no remorse, will never see the streets of society again!” Judge Ritter apparently agreed. On October 6, 1983, he sentenced each defendant to three consecutive 25-years-to-life prison terms.

Brown and Boudin

On the very day that David Gilbert was convicted, he and Kathy Boudin were married at the Orange County Jail. After the ceremony, they were separated and left to deal with their own individual destinies. Kathy Boudin, unlike the other members of the B.L.A. and the Weather Underground, had private attorneys. Her father, the noted civil rights attorney, Leonard Boudin, had secured one of New York City’s best criminal lawyers, Leonard Weinglass. Her defense team imagined that they had a reasonable chance to get her acquitted of the murder charge. She hadn’t fired a gun, no one could put her at the Brink’s robbery scene and she came out of the U Haul truck with her arms raised. It would have helped her to have Gilbert’s testimony in support. But because Gilbert imagined he would be considered a “traitor” if he testified, he declined.
In April 1984, Weinglass told D.A. Gribetz that Boudin would be willing to deal. A guilty plea would benefit both sides and also bring this part of the case to a conclusion. The District Attorney’s Office had already spent millions of dollars of taxpayer’s money to prosecute the case and there was no end in sight. Boudin’s family had also spent a great deal of money and was emotionally exhausted. Kathy had already spent nearly three years in jail and had yet to go to trial.
In a stunning turnaround, on April 26, 1984, Kathy Boudin stood in a Westchester County Court in the City of White Plains and pled guilty to murder and robbery charges in the Brink’s holdup. To a quiet and subdued courtroom, she told of her involvement in the shooting and expressed regret. “I feel terrible about the lives that were lost. I have led a commitment to political principles and I think I can be true to those principles without engaging in violent acts,” she said. Boudin received a 20-years-to-life sentence. Many people were unhappy with that result. If she was found guilty at a trial, she could have received three consecutive 25-years-to-life terms. At her sentencing, she sounded less remorseful. “I want my motivations to be understood. I was there out of my commitment to the black liberation struggle and its underground movement. I am a white woman who does not want the crimes committed against black people carried out in my name,” she said.
Samuel Brown
Samuel Brown
That left Samuel Brown to face prosecution alone. Since he had nothing to lose by going to trial, he elected to have one. His trial was held in the same Westchester County Court as Boudin. Various witnesses came to the stand to describe how they saw Brown shooting at the Nyack police officers at Mountainview Avenue. Others also testified that they saw him at the Brink’s robbery scene when security guard Peter Paige was murdered. Chief Colsey testified as to how he arrested Brown, Gilbert and Clark after their car crashed into a wall in Nyack. Brown also chose to take the stand. He told the court he had no idea that the others were planning a robbery. He said that he was in the back of the U Haul because he was supposed to do some work for a man he couldn’t identify. After riding in the U Haul for a while, he fell asleep and when the shooting started, he just wanted to get away from the scene. Brown said he then jumped into a car with some white people and later, the car crashed, which explained how he was arrested.
But the jury didn’t buy it. Witnesses had placed Brown at both the Brink’s robbery scene and the Mountainview shootout where Sgt. O’Grady and Officer Brown were killed. Other witnesses identified him as one of the men firing at the cops. And, of course, he was arrested along with Gilbert and Clark at the Honda crash scene.
After six hours of debating the issue, the jury returned with a guilty verdict on all charges. He was later sentenced to 75 years to life.

Dragnet

Since the time of the robbery and the murders, the F.B.I. and the Rockland County Task Force worked relentlessly to locate and identify every person who gave support to the suspects in the crime. On several occasions, the leader of the gang, Jeral Wayne Williams, AKA Mutulu Shakur, evaded capture. When federal agents arrested Joseph and Ferguson in the Bronx in 1982, Williams managed to escape. And when cops closed in on him in 1983, Williams escaped once again.
In November 1984, Susan Rosenberg, another suspect in the robbery who may have been driving one of the escape vehicles, was arrested in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. She and an accomplice had rented a storage facility under a false name. Later, there was confusion concerning which facility she actually rented. The site manager called the police who responded and spoke with Rosenberg. At the time, she was unloading odd-looking items from a U Haul trailer. When cops investigated further, they discovered automatic weapons, blasting caps and 640 lbs. of explosives. As she was taken in handcuffs to the local police lockup, Rosenberg wept in the back of the police unit. “I guess this is your lucky day!” she said to the cops in the front seat.
When F.B.I. agents looked into the recent activities of Rosenberg, they were led to the city of New Haven, CT, where residents identified photographs of Marilyn Jean Buck as one of the people who visited Rosenberg’s apartment. She was also the person who rented the U Haul trailer for Rosenberg under a fictitious name. From Connecticut, agents followed the trail to Baltimore, MD, where they missed Buck once again. Inside her apartment though, the F.B.I. found detailed plans to bomb numerous federal office buildings and other institutions in Washington, D.C.
In May 1985, agents located Marilyn Buck and followed her to a diner in Dobbs Ferry, New York, a small village on the banks of the Hudson River. She was taken into custody without incident along with a friend, Linda Sue Evans. At the time of their arrest, Buck was armed with a .38 caliber revolver and Evans had a 9mm automatic handgun. Buck was later convicted of a multitude of charges relating to the Brink’s murders and other armored car robberies. She is serving a 50-year sentence in a federal prison in Florida.
The mastermind of the Brink’s robbery was finally located in Los Angeles in 1986 by two New York City detectives. Jeral Wayne Williams, AKA Shakur, listed on the F.B.I. Ten Most Wanted list, had outstanding federal warrants for his arrest for bank robbery and racketeering. Detectives were hot on his trail and pursued uncountable leads as to his whereabouts. On February 13, 1986 police spotted Williams walking down Packard Street in East L.A. When they tried to grab him, Williams ran. But pursuing cops used a flying tackle to bring their man down.
Although Susan Rosenberg was never convicted of any Brink’s-related charges, court testimony indicated she was a member of “The Family” and may have driven one of the escape vehicles. She was later convicted of charges relating to possession of explosives and received a sentence of 58 years to life. But in December 2000, President Clinton decided she had served enough time in jail. Susan Rosenberg and Linda Evans were among the long list of questionable pardons and commuted sentences, which Clinton granted in his final days in office. U.S. Attorney Mary Jo White, in the Southern District of N.Y., initiated a criminal investigation of those pardons, which continues as of this writing. Kathy Boudin, currently serving her term at the Bedford Prison for women in New York, failed to win her freedom at a parole hearing in 2001. A determined effort by the victims’ families, Rockland County law enforcement and the local communities successfully opposed her release. She can reapply for parole in two years.
Donald Weems, AKA Kuwasi Balagoon, the man who carjacked the BMW and may have been the one who actually killed “Chipper” Brown, died of AIDS in prison in 1986. And Jeral Wayne Williams, the alleged planner of the Brink’s robbery and leader of the strange criminal alliance between the B.L.A. and the Weather Underground, was convicted in 1988 and sentenced to sixty years. He is currently in a federal pen in California.

Twenty Years

20th anniversary ceremony
20th anniversary ceremony
A persistent, but gentle wind swept through the solemn crowd at the intersection of Mountainview Avenue and the New York State Thruway. On this crisp and beautiful autumn day, not unlike October 20, 1981, over 500 people had gathered there for the 20th anniversary of the murders of Sgt. Ed O’Grady, Officer Waverly Brown and Pete Paige. Chief Alan Colsey spoke at the ceremony, recalling fond and emotional memories of the two men whose loss belongs to the Nyack community as well as their respective families. “While we mourn our loss, we also seek to celebrate the lives they lived, the families they loved, the friends they made, the hearts they touched. These were all respected, dedicated and honorable men sons, brothers and fathers to fine families, examples of the best of the American spirit,” he said in a brief but eloquent speech. A solid granite bench was dedicated at the site, which consisted of a stone marker, a flag atop a twenty-foot pole and a paved brick walkway.
But the “cause” for which these crimes were ostensibly committed has long ago disappeared. It is forgotten by most, and today, those that do remember it, ridicule the notion that any of these crimes were committed for political reasons. We know from the suspects’ own words that they were driven by a hatred and bitterness towards our country that most of us simply cannot understand. Some paid for that belief with their lives. Those that survive may spend the rest of their lives behind prison bars, contemplating the misguided ideas that put them there. “They were enemies of America,” said Lt. Jim Stewart of the Brink’s gang, “they wanted to build a separate country, renounce their citizenship. How else can you describe them?”
Chief Alan Colsey stood before a vibrant and colorful wreath placed at the memorial, while a lone bugler played the mournful sounds of taps in the distance. As a police sergeant in a flawless dress uniform shouted out the order “PRESENT ARMS!” several hundred cops brought their arms up to a rigid salute. In the stillness, only a six-year-old child, full of life and joy, oblivious to the solemn proceedings, played on the neatly trimmed grass in front of the assembly. The boy sat down on the ground and then lay on his back staring into space, his heart and mind in a different place than the rest of us. We could look up and see the American flag rolling in motion with the breeze, its stars and stripes, its colors vivid against a cloudless sky. It made a flopping sound in the wind, somehow familiar and comforting, its history and the passions it arouse ever so powerful, especially in these times. Its fleeting shadow passed intermittently over the crowd, upon their faces, hiding for just a moment the tears of friends and loved ones, sweeping over the granite bench and across the simple words, etched forever in stone: “American patriots and men of peace.”

The Agony of Parole

Kathy Boudin
Kathy Boudin
“This is a slap in the face of every officer in our state and our nation who put their lives on the line every day to protect the citizens of our country. It is the worst travesty of justice that I have seen in a long time!” Such were the words of Fraternal Order of Police President Frank Ferreyra when he learned of the New York State parole board decision to free 60-year-old Kathy Boudin.
Boudin, a former Weather Underground member, has been in prison for the past 22 years for her role in the notorious Brinks armored car robbery in Nyack in 1981, during which two police officers and a security guard were murdered. On August 20, 2003, the two-member parole board voted to release the 1960s radical as early as it may be feasible.
Boudin said of her early years, “I had an ideology…that said essentially, white people, beause of having privilege, are essentially bad.” But the parole commissioners took notice of the good work performed by Boudin during her incarceration, including her assistance to inmates who have AIDS.
Her attorney, Leonard Weinglass, told reporters. “It’s only just and fair she be released in accordance with the agreement.”
Her son, Chesa Boudin, 23, told the press that her mother wants to apologize personally to the victims’ families. “It’s very important to her that the families of those three men – know how terribly she feels about what happened,” he said.
Chesa’s father, David Gilbert, who drove one of the getaway vehicles in the bloody hold-up, is serving a 75-year-to-life sentence in Attica prison and will be eligible for parole himself in 2056. Gilbert has never cooperated with authorities in the investigation of the crime, which netted Boudin and friends $1.6 million in cash.
Chesa was later raised by comrades Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn and recently graduated from college. “If there is anything any of us could do to go back and change history, we would,” he said recently to reporters.
The decision to parole Boudin enraged the law enforcement community in New York, especially in Rockland County where the robbery took place. Local groups have consistently opposed the release of Boudin and have worked tirelessly to make their feelings known to the parole board and the governor’s office.
The Village of Nyack has erected monuments to the slain officers and holds an annual ceremony in their memory. Officer Waverly Brown, 45, and Sgt. Edward O’Grady Jr., 33, were killed on October 20, 1981 when they stopped a U Haul truck occupied by gang members who had murdered Brinks’ guard Peter Paige just minutes before. When the officers tried to open the rear doors of the U Haul, the suspects, who were never all identified, came out shooting. Brown and O’Grady were instantly killed by a barrage of bullets from automatic weapons. Kathy Boudin, a passenger in the front seat of the truck, was apprehended as she ran from the scene of the carnage. She was already on the lam for over ten years as a result of an explosion in a Greenwich village townhouse-bomb factory that unintentionally killed three fellow terrorists.
In a letter published by the New York Post, Diane O’Grady, widow of Sgt. Ed O’Grady and mother to their three children raised without a father, addressed the parole of Boudin. “I do not believe that there is a shred of guilt, shame or remorse felt by inmate Boudin,” she wrote. “To see and hear of the celebrating by Boudin and her supporters was hurtful and indecent.” Mrs. O’Grady also responded to Boudin’s request for a face to face apology. “I want to set the record straight and leave no room for doubt,” she wrote, “I will never meet with inmate Boudin or her son. I would never dishonor my husband’s memory with such a meeting. Nor do I have any desire to help Boudin ease her conscience or to give her a better public image for her next book.”
South Nyack-Grandview Police Chief Alan Colsey, who arrested three of the suspects as they fled from the scene of the murders, described his feelings in a recent interview. “I was shocked beyond words by the unfathomable decision of the parole board to grant Boudin her parole,” he said. The record of the violent nature of the crimes, the savage execution of the three officers, the complicity of the defendant in decades of criminal actitivity…This case is about sons and husbands and fathers, killed before their time, and the lifetime of sorrow each family member has been sentenced to endure..”
But one thing is sure: Kathy Boudin, now 60 years old, will walk out of Bedford Prison a free woman. Her debt to society for her actions on August 20, 1981 will have been paid. She will start a new life, much to the dismay of some people. There have been published reports that Manhattan’s St. Luke’s Hospital has already offered her a job to work with AIDS patients. Undoubtedly, her image will appear on television talk shows, media events and the inevitable book deal may soon follow. New York’s “Son of Sam” law, which prevents those convicted of crimes to profit from them in movie or book contracts will apply to Kathy Boudin, but other criminals have gotten around the law. It remains to be seen if Boudin has such ambitions.
In the meantime, her family and supporters are ecstatic. “Right now, she’s hysterically happy,” attorney Weinglass said to reporters recently. “It’s a pretty overwhelmingly joyous moment,” Chesa Boudin told the Associated Press from his home in Chicago. But in Nyack, where the blood of murdered cops once flowed through village streets, there was a different reaction.
It’s nothing to celebrate,” Diane O’Grady wrote to the Daily News recently, “Nine children are still without fathers.”

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