The Bank Hold-Up: June 21-28, 1982 (Part 1)
OK. The Hold-Up. Without sounding egotistical, this story is kind of a legend in my hometown of Groton, MA. I can’t tell you how many free drinks I have received when someone who didn’t really know me said “THAT Brian Johnson?” in a bar in Groton. I also cannot tell you how many times that they usually said “You could’ve been killed!” (OK, every time.) It’s a funny story, but there are some parts that are kind of scary & sad. It’s a human story, albeit a STUPID human story. A story of a crazy 17 year old kid who didn’t realize that sneaking up to a bank with a toy gun, wearing army fatigues, in the center of town ACROSS FROM THE POLICE STATION would possibly be a bad idea.
It all started with Massachusetts Proposition 2 ½…
There was a guy, a friend, a mentor, a really good person. He lost his job because of Prop 2 ½, and since we had done a bit of camping & hiking, he & all of his favorite people in my HS class decided to celebrate by going on a week long canoeing/camping, and apparently DRINKING trip down the Saco River.
The crew consisted of “P”, our leader, me, my closest friend John the straight-laced jock, the class macho semi-douche Mike, a guy who I always liked but who was very weird (and is even weirder now) Dean, our class outdoorsy-hippie type Eric (who cancelled 15 minutes too late because of a flu), the semi-anonymous (to our group) creative art-chick Gretchyn (and don’t take that wrong, we got to know everyone all too well that week!), jocky-chick Renee, and class staple Heidi. Sorry if my descriptions are off-putting, so here is mine: semi-geek, semi-jock, semi-freak, really silly, kinda wild skinny kid with a cute girlfriend and who was, dare I say dashingly handsome!?
So, we decided to leave what I think was Monday the 21st, or maybe Tuesday the 22nd. We all met at Dean’s family’s house, and while we loaded up the cars & trailer, Dean & I and I think someone else chugged like 2 beers each in the kitchen. I may or may not have smoked a couple hits of a joint. I can’t remember, but it helps to dismiss my stupidity.
Just as we were almost ready, John & Heidi decided that they needed to get some $ from the BayBank/Harvard Trust branch in the center of town. Eric, since he was ill and not going, offered to drive the 2 of them, with me tagging along (3rd beer in tow). We drove into town and John & Heidi went into the bank.
Here is the first problem. Each canoe decided to have a “theme.” P bought the beer and was the trip leader, so he didn’t have a theme. Mike and Dean (aka SMEGMA) were the “saloon canoe” as they would be carrying the beers. Outfitted in straw hats & old-timey striped bartender vests. John Wadd & Heidi were the “Batman” canoe, with Batman logos sewed onto their shirts (this was before Tim Burton’s Batman). Now Renee & I were gonna be the Star Wars canoe. We drove up to the Nashua Mall (exit 6) the Saturday before, and looked for Star Wars shit. Wouldn’t you know in 1982 we couldn’t find a fucking lightsaber to save our lives. So, seeing an army toy display, we became the “COMMANDO CANOE!” (I also bought the Scorpions “Blackout” that day and we rocked it on Renee’s cassette deck all the way back to Groton).
So, the day we set off, Renee & I had plastic army-green army helmets, I had on a vest I had made of my uncle’s fatigues from Vietman. We had big cop sunglasses. Oh yeah, and we had toy M-16s.
So back to the bank. Wadd & Heidi go in to take out dough. Eric sat in the car, moaning from the flu, and I downed my beer. Then I got got really great, I mean stupid idea: why don’t I sneak up to the bank commando/SWAT style, DRESSED AS A WHACKED OUT COMMANDO WITH A TOY M-16? Fool proof plan, huh? What could possibly go wrong?
Well, as it turns out, a whole shitstorm worth of shit can go wrong. Here is my advice to kids out there today: If for some reason you are 17 and beer-buzzed and dressed as a militia nut, carrying a toy M-16, and decide to sneak up to the front door of a bank that HAPPENS TO BE ACROSS THE STREET FROM THE POLICE STATION IN THE CENTER OF TOWN AT NOON…trust me. It turned out OK for me, but it is an extremely BAD FUCKING IDEA.
So there is 17 year old half buzzed Brian, standing by the entrance to a bank, ambush style, looking through the ATM entrance window, laughing to himself ‘cuz this is gonna be really funny. Oh, it turned out funny, just not for him.
Suddenly I hear “FREEZE! DON’T MOVE!” and I look across the street to the Town Hall/Police station and see some cop aiming a gun at me from around the corner of the building. I honestly thought it was John Dristillaris, as he was a volunteer cop in Acton, and hung out at GPD. “Yeah right.” I said. Then he said “I’m not kidding! Drop the fucking gun!”
I started to get nervous.
“But it’s a toy gun.” I whimpered. Then CHIEF OF POLICE Eddie Morse said “I don’t give a shit, just drop the fucking gun.”
Whoops. I did. I heard the PLASTIC gun rattle like a plastic gun on the sidewalk. I watched the big silver sticker that said “Now with REAL rat-a-tat sound!” as it bounced. “Oh shit” is what I thought.
“Fast” Eddie (as he became know as after this – which I regret, but more on that later) told me to put my hands up & walk toward him. I gladly obliged because of the big REAL fucking handgun he had pointed at me.
What I didn’t know was while I was performing my giggly, too-fucking funny commando assault on the bank’s door, someone went into his office & said “Chief, someone’s robbing the bank across the street.” Now, 2 or 3 years earlier, some guys held up another bank in the center of Groton (Mr. Byer my 9th grade English teacher had been there) and they fired a shot while escaping. This may have put GPD on alert to shenanigans like this. So, Chief Morse called out an APB to all 9 towns that surround Groton, sealing off the border. “This is not a drill!” I later heard he had shouted. He also called in every cop in Groton, off duty, auxilliary, everyone.
Chief Morse then came out & confronted me. In the paper it said he charged at me with weapon drawn, and I don’t mean to speak ill of the dead, but Fast Eddie hid behind the corner of the building, as he should’ve if I were an actual criminal instead of a dummy with a toy gun.
So, he ordered me to proceed to the middle of the side street between the bank & Town Hall. It was usually very busy at noon, and I remember he made me walk into traffic, and some woman in a pickup screeched to a stop, looking at me and screaming “OH MY GOD! OH MY GOD” silently behind her windshield. He ordered me to my belly in the street, and to put my hands behind my head. As I lay there he came up and told me not to move. So, I looked up.
There was the biggest, widest, blackest gun barrel a couple of inches from my left eye. “Don’t move or I’ll blow your fucking brains out!” the Chief said. I swallowed dryly and croaked “I, I, I’m not m-m-movin’.”
(Now how does he remember what was exactly said? If you have ever found yourself in this spot, you fucking remember. Trust me. Like fucking yesterday.)
Unknown to me until later, John & Heidi came out of the bank, and saw the Chief aiming his gun at something. John thought, “Oh must be a rabid dog.” So what did my closest friend and another good friend do when they came out & saw me? They got in the car and told Eric to get the hell out of there. Went back to where we were packing and told P that I had been arrested.
Then, the 90 year old auxilliary cop, Scott Emslie came up and Chief gave him his moment to shine: he let him cuff me. Wicked fucking hard. They hauled me up, pushed me across the street & into the Police Station. Fast Eddie slammed me against the counter and in his most total cop-hard-on-biggest-bust ever voice told the dispatcher/receptionist “Book ‘im!” She was wide eyed and stammered “on what charge?” Chief Morse looked at me and said “Attempted armed robbery of a Federal Reserve Bank.”
Ok, he was wrong. It wasn’t a Federal Reserve Bank, but he was HARD over this huge career bust. I started telling them that I was 17 and just a kid and just fucking around and it was a toy gun. The woman just looked at me and Morse said “BOOK HIM!” Just then another cop came in, my toy M-16 on a pencil through the grip. “Chief, it’s a toy gun.” He said.
Morse screamed and slammed me balls first into the counter.
I was booked, and during the process the father of my classmate Jimmy Downs came in from off duty. He had on cop pants but a long underwear shirt and wood chips all over, in his hair (he was cutting wood). Officer Downs knew me and was being really cool. He then proceeded to take 3 sets of fingerprints from me. I asked him why 3. He told me one for GPD, one for the Mass State Police & 1 for the FBI. “FBI?” I cried out, “How long can I get for this?” Officer Downs replied “Oh, 25 to life.”
Ok, then I started bawling like a little girl.
“I’m only seventeen I was just kidding it’s a toy gun I didn’t mean it I am sorry please please please”
Officer Downs, being the cool guy he was calmed me down and said it was just a formality. (NOTE TO SELF: get fingerprints expunged from Mass State Police & FBI records)
I was taken to a conference room in town hall where some cat roamed who roamed the Town Hall freely had made into it's HQ. Stroking that cat's fur while Chief & Officer Robertson (our only Detective & prosecutor for Groton) questioned me for about 15 minutes was the only thing that helped keep me calm. They soon realized I was indeed just fucking stupid & fucking around. They tried to get me to admit to drinking (“I split 1 beer with my friend, that’s it!”) and drug use (“Oh no sir, I never have used drugs before.”) Hah ha! Bought that shit fools!
Anyway, they realized I was only guilty of having EXTREMELY poor judgement, put me in the same cell I had slept in 10 years before when my Dad’s car had broken down on the way through Groton during a blizzard, and let me call my Dad.
Now my Dad doesn’t remember this, but as I said, I remember everything that day. Here is a fairly accurate transcript:
Me: Hi Dad.
Karl: What’s up?
Me: I, I uh got arrested…for robbing a bank.
Karl: What bank?
Karl: That’s MY bank!
So they take me over to Ayer courthouse. Dad meets me there. I get arraigned, but only for disorderly person. They let me go until my court date next Tuesday.
I go on the Saco trip, wowing everyone with my brave tales of BEING A FUCKING STUPID IDIOT. We canoe. We drink. P shaves his beard. We drink more. We drink even more. We come home. More on this week in the next posts. Beware accomplices, I am outing us all.
I go to court next week. My lawyer tells me to “plead to sufficient facts” and ask for a “continuance without a finding.” I memorize this, go before the judge, and enter that plea.
Detective Robertson stand up and says “Your Honor, this is the BayBanks/Harvard Trust case” and then, I swear to fucking god, he winks at the judge like he is in an episode of the Little fucking Rascals.
“Oh. Guilty.” Says the Judge.
I got fined $25 for disorderly person.
And I can honestly say, that was the greatest $25 I have ever spent in my whole fucking life.