Column: A bold bank robbery and brutal homicide, both on the same day in Ann Arbor
The robbery last week of the Bank of America on Eisenhower at Packard reminded me of an incredibly busy day for the Ann Arbor Police Department that happened eight years ago.
Thankfully, major incidents like a bank robbery or homicide don’t happen often in Ann Arbor. Two major incidents happening within an hour is almost unheard of, but that's what happened on Aug. 12, 2002.
Just after 10 a.m., a man called 9-1-1 to report a possible homicide at a west side video store. The entire detective bureau mobilized when there was a homicide. This was part of our “investigative blitz,” to get the most information in the quickest possible manner.
The “first 48” hours of a homicide investigation are absolutely critical to solving the case. We gathered our equipment and headed to the scene.
The scene of the murder was particularly brutal, and there would be a lot of forensic work ahead of us. It is the detective sergeant’s job at major incidents to manage the crime scene and make sure that everything that has to be done to solve the crime gets assigned to an officer or detective and to provide the resources necessary to get those jobs done.
Shortly after arriving on the scene, my counterpart and dear friend at the Washtenaw County Sheriff's Department called me and to say he would be sending as many detectives as he could spare to assist us with the homicide. (We often shared personnel and resources to assist each other at homicide scenes).
Soon after that conversation, at about 10:45 a.m., the “tones” over the police radio announced a major crime in progress.
An alert citizen had observed masked bandits enter the bank at Packard and Stadium and called the police. Patrol officers were therefore arriving at the bank as the bandits were fleeing. The officers gave chase.
The bandits shot from their getaway car at the officers and struck their patrol car. Meanwhile, the pursuing officers narrated the chase over the police radio.
We scrambled about two-thirds of the officers and investigators from the homicide scene toward the officers pursuing the bandits. The officers responding from the homicide scene were coming from the west side of town.
The Washtenaw County Sheriff’s detectives who were responding to the homicide were only about a mile or so east of the bank when the chase began.
The FBI’s Ann Arbor office was notified of the bank robbery, and all available agents in the office descended on the bank from the north, as did University of Michigan Police officers.
I'm not sure where the Michigan State Police came from, but it’s a good bet that they came off I-94 from the south toward the bank and chase.
The bandits had been relatively well-organized in the setup and robbery of the bank. Their timing, however, was lousy.
The homicide had brought out many more officers on the street than normal. About 60 law enforcement officers from various departments converged from all points of the compass and surrounded the area when the robbers ditched their getaway car and ran in different directions through a southeast side neighborhood.
Even with that many officers, it took several hours before all the suspects were located and arrested. Those bandits were later convicted and all received lengthy prison terms.
Meanwhile, back at the homicide scene, the skeletal police staff guarding the exterior of the crime scene had a difficult time keeping people out of the barricaded/yellow-taped area. Frenzied video renters were lifting the “Police Line Do Not Cross” tape and attempting to get near the video store to drop their videos off and avoid late fees.
This was such a problem that the officers working the perimeter placed boxes near their cars to collect returned videos from citizens. (FYI: crossing a police line is considered interfering, hindering and opposing a police officer and may be punishable by up to two years in prison).
That particular homicide scene was forensically so extensive that we held it for two or three more days after the victim had been removed. Outside the scene interviews, canvasses and analysis continued.
That investigative teamwork, the observant eye of a detective and an outstanding interview of the suspect by a relatively new detective at the time resulted in the arrest of the killer. The terrific forensic work inside the scene and prosecutor’s presentation of the case in court resulted in a conviction and mandatory life sentence for the killer.
The killer turned out to be a 20-year-old co-worker the victim had mentored and had recently promoted. The motive for the murder was to cover up a theft the killer was committing.
Anyone who has information on last week's bank robbery is asked to call Det. Michael Lencioni at 734-794-6930, ext. 49317, the tip line at 734-794-6939 or e-mail email@example.com.
Lock it up, don’t leave it unattended, be aware and watch out for your neighbors.