One night last month, two men in dark clothes walked into a Family Dollar on Houston Avenue in south Macon. One had on a ski mask. The other covered his face with a white cloth. One was tall, the other was short. The short guy had a rifle.
It was 9:32 p.m. and they were there to rob the place. They wanted cash from the store’s safe. But a woman who works there told them it would take at least 15 minutes to unlock it.
The short fellow pointed his gun at the store’s manager.
Empty the register, the gunman said.
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The manager stuffed about $200 into a plastic bag and forked it over.
The holdup, which followed the script of many armed robberies — gun, give up the money, goodbye — would last less than two minutes. But before the crooks left, something unusual happened.
A car pulled up outside. One of the robbers noticed it and got spooked. He called out to his partner in crime — by name.
“D.J.,” he said, “hurry up, someone’s pulling in!”
With that, at 9:33 p.m., the bandits took off toward some nearby apartments and vanished.
Details of the Dec. 8 robbery are noted in a Bibb County sheriff’s report, which goes on to mention that the robber who blurted his partner’s name “looked shocked … as if he didn’t mean to.”
Though it remains to be seen whether the gunman’s apparent slip-up will help investigators track down either of the culprits, the bandit’s apparent blunder is an example of how on-the-fly and unorganized armed robberies can be.
“There’s desperation,” says Marcus Baker, a Bibb County sheriff’s investigator. “There’s no forward thinking.”
In Macon, there is a robbery — armed or unarmed — at a place of business about once a week. (There were 50 holdups in 2014 and 46 in 2015.)
The store where the bandit mentioned his accomplice’s name is near Bruce Elementary School, down below Eisenhower Parkway amid a two-and-a-half-mile swath of struggling neighborhoods sandwiched by Broadway and Interstate 75.
Carl Fletcher, a retired Macon police detective who helped collar criminals for more than a quarter-century, says robbers tend to hit what he considers “soft targets.” That is, stores and other places staffed by fewer than three people — where often there aren’t many customers inside at the same time.
“When’s the last time you’ve seen an armed robber go into the Macon Mall or the Shoppes at River Crossing? You don’t,” Fletcher says, “because there’s a lot of people there.”
About 12 hours before the Family Dollar on Houston Avenue was held up, a stickup at the Family Dollar on Emery Highway in east Macon ended when a woman who worked there was shot in the leg.
Though it was unclear whether the episodes were related, one of the bandits in the Emery Highway heist pulled a pistol, demanded cash from the register and ordered a clerk to open the store’s safe. He made his way behind the checkout counter and told the clerk he didn’t want to hurt her. The clerk handed over about $100 from the till, but said she couldn’t open the safe.
About that time, a man described in a sheriff’s report as the gunman’s accomplice — a lookout man, perhaps — walked in and told the gunman, “Mel, come on.”
The gunman, who had on a camouflage jacket, shot the safe. His bullet ricocheted and struck the clerk’s left leg.
That’s when the shooter leaped over the checkout counter and left. But a customer heard the shooter telling the accomplice that they needed to “get out of here.” In doing so, the gunman also said something else: his accomplice’s name, “Chris.”
The culprits got away that day, and even though a security camera recorded grainy surveillance video of the shooter, the two apparently haven’t been caught.
The rash decision to open fire on the safe, though, was likely proof of the lack of forethought in such capers. Fletcher, the former Macon cop, recalls robberies where gunmen forgot to pull their masks down over their faces until they’d already been seen.
“A lot of them are juveniles and they panic,” Fletcher says. “They’re scared and they might blurt out their partner’s name because they don’t think about it.”
As it turned out, Dec. 8 was a particularly busy day for holdups in Macon.
About 9:15 that night, a few minutes before the stickup at the Houston Avenue Family Dollar, a man armed with a toy gun tried to rob a Subway sandwich shop.
The robber, informed there was no money, took off empty-handed.
He had on an orange ski mask and a sweatshirt, and as he hustled across the old Kmart plaza nearby at the corner of Eisenhower Parkway and Pio Nono Avenue, a Bibb sheriff’s deputy spotted him outside the Mrs. Winner’s chicken place.
He bolted into a patch of woods. The deputy who ran after him later noted in an incident report that the chase raced past a fence where the alleged bandit unwittingly left a clue.
“His sweatshirt,” the deputy’s write-up noted, “apparently had caught on the fence.”
The suspect, 37, was found in an abandoned house not far away. He was hiding in a closet, the deputy’s report went on, with “what appeared to be a toy gun.”
Baker, the sheriff’s investigator, speaking of bandits in general, says they tend not to consider the consequences of getting caught.
“You know how some people will think about, ‘What’s life gonna look like in five years?’ They’re thinking about, ‘What’s life gonna look like tonight?’” Baker says. “And it’s hard to reason with a person that thinks that way. … They’re thinking about surviving tonight.”
When asked why they did it, Baker says, often enough their reasoning comes down this: “I needed the money.”