A family walks into a talent agency. It's a father, mother, son, daughter and dog. The father says to the talent agent, "We have a really amazing act. You should represent us."Fri, July 23, 2010 - 7:25 AM permalink - 2 comments
The agent says, "Sorry, I don't represent family acts. They're a little too cute."
The mother says, "Sir, if you just see our act, we know you would want to represent us."
The agent says, "OK. OK. I'll take a look."
Two weeks ago, Mr. Williams pulled out a gun inside the Madison Avenue store of Sarar, where Sol Tezcan is the manager.
It was July 9 in Sarar, at East 46th Street, one of many boutique clothiers behind shiny window displays. The robber was 63, but appeared possibly older, carrying a cane in the hand that was not pointing the gun. His getaway car, a black Cadillac with Alabama plates, was parked across the street. He would seem, from a distance later, after his shots missed and no one was hurt, like perhaps some character in a gravel-voiced blues song or a movie about a flinty old desperado who needed one last score.
But as more details emerge about the robber, Arthur Williams, the romantic portrait crumbles to reveal a hard man, a thief beyond rehabilitation who, in his final days, embarked on a three-state crime spree that defied logic and reason.
It can be said that many criminals lead a double life, but rarely is one of those lives that of a man of such age and infirmity. He was a jailhouse preacher who thanked God in daily conversations. He promised to help troubled youth when he was paroled. He made his payments on a recent loan, arriving at the office in rural Alabama in person and speaking again of God.
Then he returned and robbed the place.
He died beside a Maryland highway in the early hours of July 11, thrown from that black Cadillac after losing control during a police chase. Inside the car were clues to who he was and where he had been.
Mr. Williams, one of 10 children born to Lucille Williams, of Hamilton Heights, Manhattan, spent most of his adult life as a prisoner of New York. In Manhattan’s Midtown North detective squad, Lt. T. J. Moroney called him a “heavy-duty career criminal” with at least 134 convictions, mostly for robbery, on his record. Newspaper articles from the 1970s coined him the “Elevator Bandit” after a string of robberies in apartment buildings.
He was behind bars for more than 33 of the 34 years between 1975 and 2009, and in a two-month burst during a brief period of freedom in 1986, at age 40, he robbed at least 38 people in Manhattan in their apartments. He would explain why years later, at a parole hearing: “Heroin and cocaine.”
Sometimes he disguised himself as a friendly doorman — “Good afternoon,” he would say, before drawing a gun — or a messenger or a Vietnam veteran, the authorities said. He once used two knives during a robbery.
He was denied parole four times before a final hearing in 2009, and his hopes were high.
“I really would like to be released,” he said, and cited his various illnesses, according to a transcript of the hearing. His family said later that he had emphysema and diabetes, and that he had undergone regular dialysis.
Committing crimes, he said at the parole hearing, would kill him. “And I’m not suicidal,” he said. “To try that would be death.”
The State Parole Board apparently agreed, and he was released from prison on July 9, 2009. He moved to Gadsden, Ala., and lived with his wife, Bettie Williams, in a modest home beset by trees on South 15th Street. "God saw the best in him, and I saw the best in him," she said Wednesday. She said he had put the past behind him. "He used to say, 'I don't know that person.' "
Fifty-one weeks passed.
He had borrowed money from the Family Loan Company, two miles from his home, and was known to make payments in person, chatting with a loan officer as recently as June.
“My employee is a Christian gentleman, and in fact, he witnessed to him at that time,” said James Chamblee, president of Family Loan. “That’s not something we do just as a general rule to anybody.”
About two weeks later, on July 1, a man wearing a hat and a bandanna entered Family Loan. “He was kind of running in and carrying a gun, and told my employees that he didn’t want to kill anybody, and for them to get on the floor, and they followed his instructions,” Mr. Chamblee said. “He asked the young lady for the cash, and she gave it to him.”
The gunman ordered the three employees into a bathroom and barred the door with a chair. Then he needed to rest.
“He proceeded to take off his mask and his cap, and we got good pictures of him on the surveillance cameras,” Mr. Chamblee said. Yet no one at Family Loan recognized the man. The police distributed pictures, and tips came in, but not for the right man.
Five days passed. Mr. Williams’s dialysis treatments took place on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and so on July 6, he told his wife he was off to his appointment, the police said. She never saw him again. She believes he did not tell her he was leaving because she would not have approved; he was suffering severe headaches and memory lapses on top of his other ailments. "He had no business driving," she said.
He underwent his dialysis, and then dropped his car, also a Cadillac, at a garage to have some work done. He picked up another car, the black Cadillac, which his wife told the police she knew nothing about.
He drove north. The roughest of itineraries can be pieced together from five pieces of paper in the smashed-up Cadillac five days later.
That first night, he slept in a Motel 6 in Knoxville, Tenn., paying his $45.36 in cash, according to the receipt, said Detective Cpl. Greg Alton of the Washington County, Md., sheriff’s office. The next night, at 7:10 p.m., he was pulled over and ticketed for driving 80 miles per hour in a 65-m.p.h. zone in Shenandoah County, Va.
He was in Manhattan the next day, Thursday, July 8. He got his oil changed in a gas station on West 145th Street. The police later found the receipt for $77.25 in the Cadillac.
The fourth piece of paper was a ticket issued for double parking on the afternoon of July 9, in front of 507 West 144th Street. Mr. Williams knew the street well. His mother still lives on the block. She is 92.
“He didn’t do nothing but talk to the family,” she said in an interview. “He was a good person. He prayed — preached, he did. He really served God. He served him the last 10 or 20 years.”
She could not explain his criminal past. In moments of confusion, she thinks he is alive and back in prison. “He’s just so disappointed in himself,” she said. “He left the family.”
He had two sisters in the same neighborhood. “He was a decent person until he — you know,” said Henrietta Johnson, 70, a sister who is blind. “I really couldn’t say what was on his mind.” No one could say whether Mr. Williams received dialysis treatment on Thursday, his usual day, in New York, or what the effect would be of a missed treatment in the days to come.
Seven hours after the parking ticket was written, Mr. Williams walked into Sarar on Madison Avenue. He wore a dark cap and a red shirt, with a tube running from his nostrils to a bag slung over his shoulder. He stopped at a rack of white dinner jackets and designer raincoats near the door. There was one other customer in the place, and the manager, Sol Tezcan.
“He told me he needed a pair of pants to match that jacket,” Mr. Tezcan said. “In the meantime he told the customer, ‘stick up,’ which I didn’t hear. So I turned around, pulled up the pants from the rack.”
The customer bolted for the rear, where there was an exit. The gunman turned to Mr. Tezcan and asked, “You want one?” Mr. Tezcan said. And he fired, leaving a knuckle-deep divot in a metal shelf displaying shirts. Mr. Tezcan ran for the rear, too, and the gunman fired again. That bullet tore through eight suits, back to front on a rack, before stopping in the breast pocket of a ninth. A third shot also missed.
“Then he ran away — the car was just opposite the street,” Mr. Tezcan said. “I saw Alabama license plates.”
He kept running, out of town. A clue to his next move was also found in the battered Cadillac: printed MapQuest directions from West 144th Street to his home in Gadsden, a 915-mile trip.
He departed from his route soon enough, gun in hand.
In the early hours of Sunday, July 11, he walked into the Super 8 motel in Hancock, Md., bound a desk clerk and her 16-year-old daughter with telephone cords and duct tape and ordered them to lie on the ground and keep their eyes off his face. They obeyed, until there was a bizarre break in character: He sat down to catch his breath, pulling the bandit-style bandanna off his face. He saw them looking.
“He said, ‘Do that again, I’ll shoot you,’ ” said Harsh Ajmani, the clerk’s son, repeating what he had heard from his mother and sister. The robber took about $580 and left, but evidently he wanted more.
At a Sleep Inn in Clear Springs, Md., a short while later, he entered and pointed his gun at the face of the young man behind the counter. “Williams said, ‘Don’t move,’ or he’d kill him, and the employee very quickly ran out the back door and got out of Dodge,” said Detective David Sanders with the Washington County sheriff’s office. Mr. Williams climbed over the counter, found no money and left the way he had come.
A Maryland trooper noticed a Cadillac driving erratically, crossing the center line, and he began to follow it. It was about 4 a.m. Suddenly the car sped up. As the trooper pursued the Cadillac, a report came over the police radio of an older man wanted in connection with two holdups.
The chase lasted over two miles at speeds above 120 m.p.h., until Mr. Williams’s Cadillac went off the road through three front yards and flipped. Driver and belongings were flung wide in a field, but the pistol was found near the passenger seat.
Mr. Williams suffered severe head trauma and died. There were four spent shell casings and one live round. He had fired three shots in the clothing store. Where and when that fourth round was fired remains a mystery.
Also in the field, amid the strewn wreckage of what was left of a grim life, was the device that had kept it going a while longer: the oxygen tank.
For the longest time, the agent just sits in silence. Finally, he manages, "That's a hell of an act. What do you call it?"
And the father says, "The Aristocrats!"
This morning I woke up in a beautiful stranger's bed, staggered to her bathroom and vomited all of last night's victory celebration into the tub.Wed, November 5, 2008 - 12:05 PM permalink - 20 comments
"Did you take a shower?" she asked, lazily, when I returned.
"Not exactly." I said.
I blame Obama.
December 21, 2009
May 31, 2009In Rendall's surreal world of kempt phantasmagoria and moody empathy for irascible strangers tormenting each other, there's an "outside", and there everyone is jogging, riding their bikes, playing hewky-sacks or whatever that is that the crusty boys&girls in the rainbow-burlap do. There is nothing but hale advantage to be gained by stepping from our filthy, slovenly hovels to leap out, out into a world of hope and joy, kissed by bountiful sunshine, clean and combed as white protestant childhood, carried aloft on the wings of a community esprit - god damn it, yes, yes, I'm coming, I'm coming outside, wait for me, wait for me
December 19, 2008The Earth hurtles around the sun at 1070 miles per hour. In an opposite orbit, obscured behind the sun, is the Earth's secret twin, Ukrainian Meatball Planet. Язηdall, being a citizen of the galaxy, is at home on either. And as if that wasn't Thrillionairing enough, he took me to Mars. Totally drulicious.
October 3, 2007Язηdallicious!!!!
YUM YUM YUM!!!
September 18, 2007JEEBUS IS COMING!
Better look busy.