May 1st, 2011 Comments Off on Chapter Ten
The blizzard that developed on the day of Ernesto’s release tied up Lansing for four days and all available members of the Rodriguez clan celebrated the storm and Ernesto’s return with a thirty six hour party at Carmen’s house on Emily Street. Everyone except Lencho, Paco, and Rosie was there. Lencho had settled in down in Eagle Pass, Texas. Paco’s plane had been unable to land in the storm. And Rosie and her boyfriend were trapped in Detroit. But present for the party were Jesusa, Jose, Sulema, Ernesto, Carmen, and Angelita with their spouses and children. Jesusa, the matriarch, had moved to Lansing to be near her children and she attended with Chico Enriquez, her new boyfriend.
Ernesto Rodriguez, age 26, taken by Bob Meadows at Marquette prison
Chico, whom Jesusa later married, was twenty years her junior and in time became a devoted and good husband to her.
Ernesto again felt a keen sense of insecurity when he was released from prison. He floundered in his freedom, not knowing what he wanted to do or for whom. Adjusting to a totally free life after being in a highly regulated, coercive environment for almost eleven years left him with uncharacteristic apprehensiveness.
Johnnie Walker Red Label and women were part of Ernesto’s prison dreams. Not necessarily in that order, they were the two excitements he wanted to sample first when he was released. He had more than enough whiskey at the Rodriguez family party, but it took him longer to line up the female companionship.
His first job in 1967 was with the Hausman Construction Company in Lansing and the hard, cold, common labor he did for Hausman paid three dollars an hour for the two months he worked at it. He quit the construction job because of the harsh cold weather and the fact that he could see that no Mexicans were ever picked to become apprentices in the skilled trades. Those vacancies were for Anglos, not Hispanics. His second job involved Dyer’s Sign Company where he was only paid two dollars an hour and he kept the job , long enough to learn the trade. The experience he’d gained in prison certainly qualified him for the work but, again, the pay was poor. He started at two dollars and twenty five cents an hour and every six months could look forward to a twenty-five cent increase in the union shop until he reached the going contract rate. At Dyer’s he did hand lettering, sign framing, sign erecting, art work, embossed plastic signs, neon signs, plastic spraying, and silk screening work for which the take home pay was about seventy-three dollars a week.
Ernesto bought a second hand car, a Chevrolet Bellaire, and to establisha good credit rating he was very careful to make his payments on time. He also found an apartment for which he paid eighty dollars a month, including utilities, and skimped wherever he could. The “green money” he had exported from Marquette and Jackson tided him over initially and made it possible for him to move out of Carmen’s and into his own place. For any man who planned as active a love life as Ernesto did, having his own apartment was, of course, a necessity. He didn’t want to get into a fight with one of his girl friend’s husbands if the guy came home unexpectedly.
During the nine months following his release from prison Rodriguez pursued and caught or was pursued by and caught by a bewildering array of women, most of whom had husbands who didn’t understand them. There was a Diane, a Millie, A Nancy, a Judy, an Estella, and a Carol, each of whom had unique attractions. More often than not Ernesto was carrying on with several of them during the same week. The young lovelies had to take a number. They were divorcees, widows, and wives who did their level best to help the passionate Mexican make up for his forced abstinence. None of them were, or had been, married to men whose ardor, if that’s the right word, was a match for Ernesto’s.
One of them, Estella Almazan, a widow with three children, hadn’t, as she told Ernesto, had a man in two years. She was a Mexican who claimed she was unable to have more children and surprised both of them later by giving birth to Ernesto’s son. Estella and her family were to figure in his life again.
Many things were new to Rodriguez. Television, now standard equipment in prisons, was something with which he was entirely unfamiliar. He had never seen a Polaroid camera until he used one to take several rather informal pictures of his girlfriends. It was difficult for him to keep straight in his mind all the fancy names of automobiles, the foreign designation given to different models. But when it came to various baubles and the creature comforts in life Ernesto was a fast study. He was out to enjoy life as much as he could.
he Dyer Sign Company went on strike four months after he joined it so Ernesto, after doing a bit of freelance sign painting with an acquaintance of his from Dyer, went to work for General Motors Fischer body plant in town. The pay was better than it had been at Dyer and he needed the money to pay the rent on his apartment on Pennsylvania Avenue.
One of the phenomena common to war veterans is also common among prisoners. A bond grows between men who share a common danger or experience and thus it was with prisoners Ernesto had known at Marquette and Jackson. It wasn’t necessary that the men had been close friends of his in prison, it was enough that they had shared the same punishment.
“Red” Nix, a short sturdy ex-con Ernesto had known up at Marquette, made contact with Rodriguez one day. According to Nix, one of their mutual prison friends, a man named Bob Meadows, wanted to meet with both of them in Detroit whenever it was possible. The two men, Rodriguez and Meadows, had much in common, both having been behind bars while still in their early teens, so Ernesto told Nix he’d be glad to meet with the two of them at Meadows’ apartment on Euclid Street in Detroit the following day. He was curious to know why Meadows wanted to see him.
When he was a teenager serving time at Bushy Mountain, Tennessee, Meadows had become depressed by his prospects, so depressed he tried one evening to end his life by slashing his wrists. Later he would have a better understanding of anatomy but at Bushy Mountain when he tried to end it all by slashing his wrists crosswise he severed veins, not arteries. With blood dripping from both arms, he pulled the cot’s blanket over his head and prepared for death. When he awoke in the morning he found a very messy blood coated bed, but no fleecy clouds or pearly gates. That was the last time he’d try that nonsense he thought to himself.
Meadows’ family, one of some substance, migrated to Detroit, taking their son with them but there Bob got into big trouble. He was much enamored of hand guns and often carried one. On one particular day when he stopped off at a tavern it might have been better if he hadn’t been carrying a piece. Meadows and another bar patron got into a heated argument which ended in blows. Meadows was knocked to the floor and while still lying on his back pulled out his gun and shot his assailant twice in the head, killing him instantly. Regaining his feet, he fired the remaining four shots into his victim’s body. He was convicted of second degree murder and sentenced to twenty to forty years in prison.
Perhaps “renaissance man” isn’t a perfect description of him. But Bob Meadows was a man of many talents. He was a hockey player, gymnast, and mathematician, to name but a few of his many skills. An uneducated man ten years older than Ernesto, Meadows reportedly had an I.Q. too high to measure. When he was at Marquette he taught Algebra, solid Geometry, and Calculus, all of which he had learned from his own reading. For recreation he coached and played on the hockey team as well as working out on the rings and the parallel bars in the gym. He was also persuasive enough to talk a Mexican, into taking up ice hockey, a graceful form of mayhem that naturally appealed to Ernesto. They became close friends and remained so until their release.
During his stay at Marquette, Meadows decided to escape. He and a man doing a life sentence, Ray Hunter, who was also a friend of Ernesto plotted an escape. The school building, where Meadows worked as a math teacher, was adjacent to the administration building, or B Block, which served as an outside wall of the prison. Both men had short pieces of threaded pipe made and accumulated them in the school building until they had what they needed to carry out their plot. The plan was to thread the pieces of pipe together, tie a rope at the end of the pipes with a metal hook at the end of the pipes. Bob was to push the pipe out while Hunter raised the end of the pipe with the rope from the second floor window of the school building. Once they managed to get the pipe, the hook and the rope to roof top, the hook would be anchored to the roof and the rope would used to swing themselves arm over arm to the roof, and then drop off on the other side to freedom. The escape was planned for a movie night when most guards would be watching the prisoners in the theater.
While the inmates were marched past the school building towards the movie, Meadows and Hunter would slip into the school building, for which Meadow had keys, and execute their escape.
Things went as the two men had planned. Bob Meadows made it to the top of the administration building roof by swinging himself arm over arm on the rope. Ray Hunter made it half way and slipped to the ground. Bob dropped from the roof top to help Hunter and the plot was put off for another day. They stashed their escape gear and waited.
The two men waited quietly in the dark, for the marching inmates returning to the cell blocks from the movie. As the inmates marched past the school building, Hunter and Meadows slipped back into line and returned to their cells.
Snitches are like hungry rats on the prowl, always tuned in to any sound that may lead them to information they can use to gain their freedom or gain some favors from the administration. The guards searched the school building and found the escape gear.
Hunter died on the same day he was to be released. And Meadows was later transferred to Jackson where Ernesto was. Meadow was released from Jackson after serving twenty two years of his sentence and was release shortly before Ernesto was released.
The meeting between the three men at Meadows apartment was part reunion and part strategy session. “Do you want to make some big money?” Meadow asked. “Remember how we talked about going to Acapulco, and making some big bucks? Remember?”
Meadows handed Ernesto an army .45 automatic and a full box of shell. “This is for you—a gift from me to you. You always said you wanted a .45 automatic. It’s yours.”
Meadow explained that he and Nix had been doing some armed robberies and wanted Ernesto to join them.
Ernesto wanted revenge, he felt they, society, owed him a long vacation for the many years he was kept in prison and all the shit he had to put up with. It was his turn to be in control, the loaded gun felt powerful in his hand, and he quickly agreed that he would love to join in on the armed robberies.
They discussed and agreed upon a plan Meadows had dreamed up.
The plan involved armed robbery out of state, not in Michigan. They were not about to “shit in their own nest”, so it was Saint Paul Minnesota, the targeted city and the bulls eye was any store thought to be loaded with cash. Meadows wanted Nix to go ahead to Saint Paul, case the city for a good target with plenty of cash, learn everything he could about the manager or owner and all his habits. Nix had been a salesman and was thought to have the best gift of gab for the investigating job for the heist.
The plan was for three of them to go to the owner’s home on a Sunday morning. One of them would remain at the house, holding the family hostage, and the other two would escort the owner to the store where he would empty the safe which should be bulging with case. It was a bold scheme, they knew, but the pay off would be huge and well worth the risk if their plans were carefully made.
A few weeks after that meeting in Detroit Ernesto during a work break on the night shift, called his girl friend, Nancy. She was at his apartment and told him that Meadows had called and wanted to leave that night for Saint Paul Ernesto had been promoted from hanging doors on to car frames to fastening door hinges and lubricating locks. Unable to get permission to leave work, he quit his job.
When the three men met in St. Paul it became immediately apparent that Nix’s investigation had been superficial and inadequate. The one thousand dollars Meadows had advanced to Nix for travel expenses had been wasted and he wanted no part of any robbery so poorly planned. Nix didn’t know where the safe was in the store or how much money was likely to be in it. He didn’t know what the family did on Sunday mornings. Did they go to church together? Did people visit them after the services? How Many? It was sloppy work that could lead to too many surprises. The job was called off because if they were going to involve themselves in hostage taking and kidnapping, plans had to be perfect and the reward, beyond any doubt, a great one.
None of the three wanted to waste the travel expenses already incurred so they decided to hit two places the following day, Friday. Both of them, a savings and loan office and a Robert Hall clothing store, had been scouted by Nix and appeared to be promising targets.
They hit the savings and loan office first. After parking Ernesto’s car some distance away, they drove to the office in the other car because it would be easier to find a suitable parking place for one car than two. With them they had enough short lengths of rope to tie up the employees and customers. Ernesto’s job was to do the tying, Nix’s to hold the gun on their captives, and Meadows would pick up the available cash. Only Ernesto wore a mask because it was thought best to conceal the fact that one of the gang was a Mexican.
They learned from the first robbery. It wasn’t necessary to tie people up, only to herd them into washrooms and to threaten to shoot anyone who came out. Tying took too long. Speed and surprise were the big things, While the first robbery was underway a telephone rang unanswered on one of the captive’s desks. Ernesto thought if a secret alarm had been sounded, the telephone call might very well be the police verifying the alarm.
“Let’s get the hell out of here!” he yelled to the others. “That’s someone calling to see what’s going on.” He was right. Even as they pushed through the office’s door to the street they could hear a siren’s scream grow louder and louder, closing on them. Nix took the wheel and the other two, with drawn guns, crammed together on the floor of the back seat.
“Take it real slow, Red. I mean real slow,” Meadows cautioned.
“You’re not in any goddamn hurry. But I want you to tell me if the cops signal you to pull over, like they’re going to check on us. I don’t know about you guys, but I’ll shoot it out. I ain’t ever going back.”
Red Nix looked right into the eyes of the police officer driving the car that careened into the parking lot. The three robbers had come within seconds of going back to jail, or worse, and they knew it. At the next place they’d have to get in and out faster, much faster, and they knew that, too.
For weapons the men had different preferences. Ernesto carried a .45 Colt automatic, Nix a Smith & Weston .357 magnum, and Meadows carried a 9 mm Walther PK as well as a Smith & Weston .38 caliber aero weight. It was an imposing array of weapons calculated to impress. As Ernesto said, they didn’t “carry no bullshit .22s.”
The savings and loan robbery was not a very profitable one, netting them slightly less than two thousand dollars. Meadows recovered the one thousand dollars he had advanced Nix and he gave Rodriguez and Nix the two hundred dollars each of them said they wanted. The rest, they agreed, he should keep.
They robbed the Robert Hall clothing store a few hours later. The men picked up an easy three or four thousand but, more important than the money, they learned how to pull off a job very quickly and with a minimum of fuss and danger.
Their recipe for success was simple. Meadows, dressed in conservative street clothes, would find the store manager. Opening his suit coat to reveal his revolver, Meadows would quietly announce that it was a stick-up and that he wanted everything in the safe put into a bag he handed the manager. At that same instant, Ernesto and Nix would pull their weapons and herd customers and sales clerks together.
Ernesto, masked, placed an open bag on the floor and ordered their captives to throw in their wallets, purses, and jewelry. When that was completed everyone in the store was herded into the two restrooms and told to stay there while the robbers took a few more things. Anyone who opened the restroom door would be shot at, they were told.
They didn’t, of course, taken anything else from the store. Rather, they walked out of the store at a leisurely pace and drove away unnoticed. The total elapsed time from start to finish was less than three minutes.
Despite Meadows’ earlier warnings to leave the scene of a robbery at a leisurely, legal rate of speed, one that wouldn’t attract attention, Nix, who was driving his own car, left the parking lot with squealing tires at a high rate of speed. Ernesto, who was driving his own car with Meadows stretched out on the rear seat, drove sedately out of the lot and joined the traffic at the same rate of speed the other vehicles were traveling. When they were almost half an hour out of town, nearing the Wisconsin border, Meadows joined Ernesto in the front seat. “Where’s Red?” he asked, studying the traffic in front of them.
“That guy was changing lanes, driving much faster than the other cars. He was driving like a real asshole so I stayed back.”
“Good, you were smart Ernesto. That’s the last time I do a job with him. Too fucking dumb. He’ll get us all caught.”
On their way back to Michigan they rehashed the last robbery. It had gone well but they could do better, they ought to be able to cut fifteen or twenty seconds off the time. Some aspects of it were favorable. Chain operations usually had the same store layout. The safe, the cash registers, and the restrooms would usually be in the same places. Chain store managers were told to go along with robbers’ demands, the company had insurance, and managers were not supposed to risk anyone’s life. Saint Paul was also an ideal spot because it was close to another state’s border. By the time the police arrived at the site of a robbery they’d just pulled off they could be in a different state. Small robberies wouldn’t mobilize the police forces of two states. It was penny ante stuff, especially if there was no shooting.
Several days later the three men met at Meadows’ apartment in Detroit where they divided what they’d made in Saint Paul on their last job. With Ernesto staying out of it, Bob Meadows told Nix that he was no longer interested in working with Nix because he was sure to get them all caught. Nix wasn’t offended and didn’t argue. It was okay, Nix said, because he really could operate better as a loner. They agreed to sell credit cards they’d picked up in Saint Paul to a friend of theirs from Jackson days named Poteet for one hundred dollars apiece.
Poteet, a white man who shaved his head, would steal or buy any items he could profit from, be they semi-trailers or credit cards. Poteet would dispatch pick-up trucks drivers with stolen credit cards to nearby states where their drivers bought whatever merchandise, such as automobile or truck tires, Poteet could easily sell. Before the advent of the computer it took a few days longer to alert merchants to cancelled credit cards, but even in those days Poteet was careful to buy credit cards which were quite fresh from their owner.
With Nix out of the picture, Ernesto and Bob Meadows decided to team up. Until the Saint Paul caper Meadows had only committed one other robbery, one in which he and Nix had robbed a liquor store in Green Bay, Wisconsin. Nix was the man who had made robbery his specialty but Meadows and Rodriguez wanted none of his methods. As a team, they thought they could do it a hell of a lot better than Nix did. He’d been sent to jail for being stupid. They were smarter and they knew how to keep their cool.
It was early October, 1967, that Meadows and Ernesto decided to do something about their dream of visiting Mexico, so, fortified with a few thousand dollars of travel money, the pair decided to head south in Ernesto’s second hand Chevy. There was no schedule or special itinerary for them to adhere to and they both were curious tourists. They enjoyed seeing the sights. On the way down they decided to drop by Kansas City, Kansas, and Kansas City, Missouri, which combined, perfectly fit even their strictest robbery criteria. They were big enough to have chain stores and only a river separated the two cities and states.
On the way to Kansas City, Missouri, Meadows suggested hitting a number of places, including Chicago, but Ernesto demurred, claiming one excuse or another for not agreeing with Meadows’ choice of target. The truth was that he was afraid to pull off another robbery. However, by the time they arrived in Kansas City he knew he’d have to fish or cut bait, that no more excuses were possible.
It’s hard for Ernesto to remember which stores they robbed in the two Kansas Cities. He thinks one might have been a Robert Hall. But after a while the men pulled off so many it has become difficult to remember the sequence of events and which store was in which city. Things became jumbled and blurred. Both robberies came off without a hitch and took less than one minute and twenty seconds. The take wasn’t large in either place but they more than made expenses. They hit Missouri first, then Kansas, and circled back to Missouri on their way south to Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
In the Baton Rouge area they ate their weight in fresh shrimp, fresh oyster, cat fish with hush puppies, sampled Cajun cooking, and saw the sights. It was their custom to save money by staying in clean, modest motels but to skimp on nothing when it came to eating. Often they drove all night, taking turns at the wheel.
From Louisiana they headed for Eagle Pass, Texas, by way of Beaumont and San Antonio. In Beaumont they passed a store which was so ripe for the plucking they couldn’t pass it by. They knew they now had the perfect recipe for a successful robbery. Safes took six seconds to open, cash registers less, they allowed no one to leave the store when the robbery was in process, and they didn’t try to go for the big bucks or the last dollar on the premises. Speed was more important. Their technique was to stage many quick, small robberies and be gone before it was possible for the police to get close to them. The typical job netted between fifteen hundred and two thousand dollars, big one three or four thousand, a small one as little as five hundred.
In San Antonio they visited the Alamo like all good tourists do and then headed south for Eagle Pass, where Lencho, Ernesto’s father, was living in a house Paco had bought for him in Eagle Pass and the two travelers could stay with him for a day or two until they could figure a way to smuggle their four guns and ammunition across the border. When they arrived they decided to stay with Lencho for one night, leave the bag containing the guns and ammo at his house, and then rent a motel room on the Mexican side of the border in Piedras Negras. They could practice driving and walking across the bridge until they knew what the Mexican customs procedures were.
Ernesto explained that they had no plans for pulling off any robberies in Mexico—that would be stupid, because they knew they’d rot in jail if they were caught—but they had become so accustomed to carrying weapons they felt naked and vulnerable without them. Lencho wouldn’t mind if they left a bag at his house for a night or two.
“What do you have in those damn bags, guns?” Lencho growled when he lifted the suitcase in which their weapons and ammo were stored.
“Guns? Are you crazy or what? What would we want with guns?” Ernesto replied.
On the Piedras Negras side of the border tourists could travel freely in a restricted area of several miles, but if they were going into Mexico for any distance they needed a document indicating they’d been given clearance to travel throughout the country. All luggage had, also, to bear a sticker to show that the contents had been cleared, but customs never searched the clothes of people entering Mexico. They went through the luggage and automobiles very carefully but didn’t pay any attention to what pedestrians, drivers, or passengers were carrying on their persons.
With this discovery the rest was easy. The two men shoved the hand guns in their belts, hid the ammo in their overcoat pockets, and breezed through customs.
Ernesto and Meadows also learned there never was anything wrong with a minor Mexican official that a few pesos—twenty five or fifty—wouldn’t cure. There was no particular opprobrium attached to the receptive attitude shown by Mexican officialdom; it was only fair, people thought, that visitors return favors.
With the back seat loaded with four spare tires they’d been advised to take along because of several stretches of poor roads, the two men made their way uneventfully down to Mexico City They had decided to sightsee for a week there before heading to Acapulco. They had with them four thousand dollars apiece, more than enough for their unjaded tastes.
Driving in Mexico City’s heavy traffic was not unlike being an involuntary participant in a demolition derby. They saw more accidents in one hour there than they’d seen on the way down from Detroit, three thousand miles north. It was easy to see why people who drove the way they did in Mexico City enjoyed bull fighting for relaxation, Ernesto thought.
They stayed at what was then one of the comparatively few motels around, the Maria Barbara. It was inexpensive by U.S. standards, their telephone didn’t work, but it was clean and suited them perfectly. It was a good base from which to explore.
They had not found the Maria Barbara without difficultly. Ernesto, who did the talking for both of them because Meadows didn’t speak a word of Spanish, had stopped a man on the street to ask directions to a motel. The man took them for what was at least an hour’s drive before they ended up in what was certainly one of the oldest, most decrepit sections of the huge, sprawling city. Telling them to stop at a street which was little more than an alley, the man told them there was an excellent place to stay at the end of the street. As Ernesto made his way to the Inn he was impressed by the number and size of the rats he saw scampering across the ancient, odorous passageway. One look at the Inn told him this was no place for them.
When he returned to the car and was discussing the problem with Meadows a policeman approached them. “Are you tourists?” the officer asked.
“Si,” Ernesto answered and explained how they happened to be there.
The policeman told them they were in a very dangerous part of town, to get out quickly while they still had a penny to their name, to say nothing of their automobile. It was good advice he was giving them, the officer assured the two, and they believed him. He told them about the Maria Barbara, gave them the general direction, and wished them well.
Their Journey wasn’t yet over. They had turned on to a one way street shortly afterwards and were driving with the traffic flow when they were pulled over by two policemen who had, of course, seen their foreign license plates.
“What’s wrong?” Ernesto asked one of them.
“You were driving on a one way street,” the officer explained.
“I know that, but I was driving with the traffic. I saw the sign and—”
“Meester, if you want to argue with me, we’ll take you to the police station. Or do you want to pay the fine right here?”
The “fine” was five dollars American money for each of them. Mexico’s finest were doing their best to cut down on paperwork.
After a day or two of sightseeing in which they traveled by crowded public buses, they decided to check out the night life at a club that had been recommended very highly to them. It was a place where girls were available for dancing, drinking, and other meaningful relationships.
The night club, La Casa Blanca, was a big place, with a large dance floor, a good sized orchestra, and at least a hundred hostesses from which to choose. The two travelers were shown to a table, ordered drinks, and studied the girls who were standing, lined up along one wall, hoping to be chosen for the night.
“One of them, “Ernesto recalls, “was a beautiful small girl. She was a young Mexican broad who dyed her hair blonde and danced like a butterfly. She had a real cut figure, not big or anything, and Meadows couldn’t take his eyes off her.
“‘I want that one,’ he told me. ‘I want that one at all costs. You pick out your own but that one’s mine.’
“I invited the blonde over to our table and picked out another nice one who looked like a friend of the blonde’s for myself, one with a real cute little ass and nice boobs. The deal was we was supposed to buy the girls and ourselves drinks, the more the merrier. The girls were paid half of what we ordered at our table. We paid full price for their drinks but we knew they were only colored water. Yeah.
“I told the girls we wanted to take them both to our motel afterward and screw. They said that was fine, that they’d like to go to our motel, but that it would cost us one hundred pesos for each of them and that they couldn’t leave until the joint closed. We also, they explained, would have to reimburse them for the forty pesos they had had to pay the night club owner to let them work there that night. That was no problem, I told them. “I paid each of the girls the forty pesos they wanted and, of course, by now we’d all had quite a few drinks. The girls was doing real good. Then the blond one, Bob’s girl, surprised us when she said she’d talked to her boy friend and he didn’t want her to go to our motel. The bitch figured she’d made enough money off us so she didn’t have to.
“Look,” I said, “tell your boy friend that my partner paid you the forty pesos to get you outta here, he bought you all those drinks, and that we’re going to go to the motel and have a good time and we’re going to pay you for that, too, so what’s the beef? Doesn’t he want you to make money?
“‘Well,’ she huffed, ‘it’s gonna cost you two hundred pesos!’
“Two hundred pesos was about eighteen dollars. “I don’t give a damn,’ I said. ‘I don’t care about that.’
“She went over and huddled with her boyfriend again—he was a little jerk with one of them pencil mustaches—and then came back. I put my hand in my pocket like I had a gun. ‘Look,’ I told her, ‘let me tell you something. Me and my partner have spent a lot of money at this place. I don’t want to have to shoot you, but I’m going to put a hole in you if you pull this shit.’
“I did that to scare her and I told Meadows to put his hand in his pocket like he had a gun too. ‘I’m going to get these bitches into that fucking cab,’ I told him. My girl was all set to go. Just that dumb blond of Meadows was acting cute. He’s said he wanted her at all costs so I was going to see he got her. He’d had women before, but he didn’t want none over eighteen. This one was young.
“Things was ready to close for the night and I guess the other people in the joint had heard our disagreement and was watching us. There was about twenty Mexican men with that blonde’s boyfriend and they was lounging against the wall near the exit which we’d have to pass when we left. They was giving me the bad eye, trying to scare, me, I guess.
“I was feeling my oats, I’d had a few drinks, and I was mad. I stood up and Bob stood up and we both had our hands in our pockets. I turned to those characters lounging against the wall—now that I think of them. I’m sure they were the pimps, boyfriends, or husbands of the hostesses—and told them loud enough so they could hear. ‘We bought these girls drinks all night. We paid them their goddamn forty pesos it cost to hustle here. And they’re coming back to our motel to screw with us like they promised. And we’re going to pay them. I don’t want to shoot nobody, but I’m going to do it rather than take shit from anybody there. Anybody here. Anybody!’
“The owner must have heard me, too, because he came up to me sorta out of breath. ‘What’s the matter?’ he asked. ‘What’s going on here?’
“I told him we’d been buying two of his girls colored water all night, paid their work fees, and stuff, and that the blond one was getting cute, wasn’t coming with us like she had promised. I told him we was going to shoot her if we had to.
“‘Well, whatever you do,’ he said, giving the girls a dirty look, ‘don’t do it here, not inside the club. Get out!’
“When we was outside the Mexican guys formed sort of a half circle around us. Me and Bob was next to each other, facing them and the two girls, looked like they was about to jump us. Yeah.
“I was pulling the blond by the arm and my girl joined me. She really wanted to go to the motel. ‘Get in that cab!’ I ordered the blonde, pointing my pocket at her
“‘I’m not going to,’ she said, struggling to get loose.
“You want me to shoot you right here?” I asked, looking at her real mean. “She was beginning to believe I would. You could see it in her face.
“All of a sudden a cop comes up and wants to know what’s going on. I told him everything, about all the stuff we’d bought, and what they’d promised. The officer he listened carefully, his eyes kinda sizing up the two broads, and then he unsnapped the leather strap on his pistol and put his hand on the butt.
“‘Get in that cab, bitch!’ he ordered the blond in Spanish, and he pushed her towards it. Then he spun on the blonde’s boy friend and them twenty surly Mexican bastards who’d been crowding in on us and made himself real clear. ‘What are you guys doing? Get outta here! All of you!’
“When the other three were in the back seat I stood outside the front door and asked the officer what I owed him. ‘Nothing! You don’t owe me nothing,’ he explained. ‘I’ll get it from them when they come back to work. How much you paying them’
“Two hundred pesos each,” I told him.
“‘Shee-it!’ he laughed. ‘You’re the ones getting screwed.’
“On the way to the motel the cab driver started giving us the run around. Pretended he didn’t know where the Maria Barbara was at. But I did. I had a switch blade with me and I told Bob I was going to put a shank on the driver, pass the bastard into the back seat, and drive myself. That dumb idiot’s eyes looked like a pair of new golf balls when he felt that long blade on his throat.
“‘I know where it is! I remember now, I know where it is!. He yelled, like he was begging for mercy.
“When we got to the motel I gave the cabbie a ten dollar bill and told him to wait for the girls, to take them home when we were through.
“After the girls showered and stuff we went at it on the twin beds. My woman was hot as a fox and experienced, y’know, knew lots of ways and enjoyed variety. Bob’s blonde didn’t seem to know anything except the missionary position and while Bob was screwing her she kept watching me and my girl.
“‘What’s he doing now?’ she’d ask Bob. ‘Oh, now look at them!’
“Shut up and fuck, you dumb bitch!’ Bob scolded her out loud.
“After a while Bob was through and I was just getting into gear with my girl. There was a bang, bang, bang on the damn door and I had to interrupt what I was doing to go answer it because Bob didn’t speak Spanish. It was the guy who we paid to watch our car, so there’d still be four wheels on it the next morning.
“I asked him what he wanted and he told me that we weren’t supposed to have women in our rooms. I gave him five bucks, said I knew we wasn’t, and told him to go back and watch our car.
“About ten minutes later—I was going at it again—there was another bang, bang, bang and this time I took my .45. I opened the door a crack and shoved the gun in his face.
“If you knock on this door again, you son-of-a-bitch,” I told him, “I’ll blow your fucking head off!
“‘Don’t shoot! Don’t shoot!’ the guy yelled, backing up like a crab.
“If that goddamn cab driver sends you here one more time,” I told him, “Tell him I’ll blow his fucking brains out, too. Now beat it, vayase!
Tomorrow I’ll tell the lady who owns this place about you. I’m paying for this room and you ain’t making her no money—vayase de aqui!
“The cabbie figured I’d keep giving them some jerk money to stay away. They could split that, y’know, and he was getting tired of waiting for the girls.
“When I was done, Meadows, talking about his girl, announced that ‘She may be a very pretty girl, but she’s the lousiest fuck I ever had.’
The girl could speak enough English to understand what he’d said and she told him she was like she was because she had three children, needed the money, and that he’d forced her.
“‘Get lost!’ Meadows told her.
“After the girls left we found out one of them had stolen the Instamatic camera we’d used for taking pictures of them and other sights. We had enough money to buy another one, y’know, but it sort of pissed us off that they’d do that kinda shit.”
Later the two men realized that they had damn near put themselves into a position from which they might not have escaped alive. They hadn’t been carrying guns when they had the confrontation at the nightclub. That was all bluff. And with twenty young toughs lined up against them, all certainly carrying knives, the odds weren’t good. Meadows was not a knife fighter.
The two men spent a week longer in Mexico City, still traveling by public buses because they wanted to leave town with their car in one piece. The buses were as adventure in themselves, complete with chickens, goats, and all manner of jostling, laughing, and swearing people. Most of the old buses were so badly overloaded the tires bulged out and threatened to blow at the next bump or pot hole. However, the inconveniences were transitory and the two men had managed to see all of the city’s major sights by the time they left.
When they found themselves driving through the Sierra Madre Mountains new experiences met them in several of the wilder stretches.
They often saw young Indians who lived in the mountains walking along the side of the road and always offered them a lift. The Indians always appreciated the chance to hitch a ride, but they got onto the car not into it. They sat on the fenders and jumped off when they wanted to.
On one stretch of very mountainous, narrow road they heard what sounded like gun fire up over the ridge ahead of them. Ernesto had his .45 automatic ready and Bob had his .357 Magnum long barrel drawn for what they were sure were the mountain bandits they had heard so much about. As they approached the ridge, a man materialized on the road in front of them and motioned them to pull over to the side. The quaintly dressed man spoke to them pleasantly and explained that a parade was coming their way along the very narrow road and that children accompanying it were blowing off fire crackers. The marchers were carrying a statue of the blessed Virgin and a popular local saint from one village to another, where there would be a festival and a wedding, too. Both Americans were invited to attend, but they declined. The friendly Mexican never knew how close he’d come to having his head blown off.
When Ernesto and his pal arrived in Acapulco they did what other North Americans do when they visit. They sun bathed on the beaches, swam, watched the divers, and ate and drank to their felonious hearts’ content. Ernesto had spent ten years and ten months and Bob could claim twenty-two years behind bars and they both rested hard, knowing they had earned a vacation. That other people were inadvertently paying for their vacation was too bad. As they saw it, if other people—people on the outside—had made a better society the two of them wouldn’t have had to spend so much time in jail– they’d need a vacation. Yeah.
When they’d had their fill of sun and sand they headed leisurely back home by way of Taxco, Cuernavaca, Tampico, and Brownsville, Texas. At Taxco they visited the church built by Jose de la Borda in 1751. De La Borda had struck it rich in silver mining and wanted to commemorate his blessing by building the beautiful twin spired Santa Prisca Church.
Next they visited Cuernavaca and inspected the beautiful decaying de la Borda gardens and the nearby church of Guadalupe, a structure which, when God rode with the conquistadores, Hernan Cortes had ordered built in the sixteenth century.
They crossed into the United States without difficulty and made their way north via Texarkana. Ernesto wasn’t very keen on the idea of pulling off any robberies in Texas because he knew that prisoners in that state chopped cotton, something very distasteful to him, to put it mildly. But Texarkana was situated so perfectly for their purposes, right on the border, that they decided to rob a store there, despite his concerns. They knocked off that store, another one in Louisville, and a last one in Fort Wayne.
Rested, and a peace with the world, the two men arrived back in Lansing two weeks before Christmas, 1968. Each of them had a little more than three thousand dollars with which to buy gifts. Every niece, nephew, and family member of Ernesto’s would get a present. Uncle Ernesto could play Santa Claus and after the holidays there would be plenty of time for Santa to build up his bank roll again.
Bob and Ernesto, by now proud of their professionalism and prowess, decided next to swing east. There were many sights to see along the way and, of course, there was always the nation’s capitol. Their families hadn’t taken them there when they were teenagers. Hell, maybe they could even get a tour through the FBI Building.
On their way east they pulled off robberies in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, Trenton, Newark, and Cleveland again. About the only excitement they had on the whole trip was when Bob Meadows, who was driving at the time, was stopped for speeding by an officer in an police car near Sandusky, Ohio. Meadows suffered from one bad eye and did not notice he was passing a police car until it was too late.
Their operations were well executed, quick, and smooth. There was no shouting and yelling, no dramatics. They never waved guns around unless they had to, usually preferring to open their suit coats to expose their weapons. They were also both very good actors whose instructions were obeyed by frightened victims without hesitation. They were convincing because they were prepared to really do what they threatened.
Earlier, they had stopped taking watches and jewelry because they were a bother to dispose of and incriminating evidence if discovered in their possession. Mostly, they sought cash but sometimes they took credit cards if they could move them quickly. Fresh credit cards were still good for one hundred dollars apiece.
Ernesto moved to an apartment on Larch Street in Lansing and added a new girl to his current and active list of pillow pals. He began dating a girl named Diane Highfill whom he had known before but had never taken to bed. She was a sturdily built brunette, a mother of children five, seven and nine who appealed to Ernesto because she’d do anything and go anywhere. She was as wild as he and from his description of Diane she sounded much like ‘Hot Hephzibah” a character in one of Max Schulman’s books. If memory serves, Hot Hephzibah was a woman of long ago who dated Benjamin Franklin, whom she called “Old Lightning Rod”. It was said of her that “she’d play any man in any land any game he could name for any amount he could count”. She was a sport and so was Diane when it came to Ernesto and his lightning rod.
“Yeah, she was a hell of an individual,” Ernesto smiled, thinking back to their early days. “I remember one night when we were in a bar. Those were the day when I liked to get in fights just for the hell of it. Get a little exercise, y’know. I was fighting a guy and two of his friends circled around and tried to jump me from behind. Diane was carrying my gun in her purse—I think it was my .45—and she saw them try that bull shit.
She swung that purse and I mean she cold cocked both them bastards, knocked them out cold.”
Ernesto frequently exchanged his car for hers when he went out for a series of robberies. Diane knew he robbed for a living but she was never privy to the details and didn’t want to be. Nor did she mind if he kept several gallon jugs of loose coins in the house for her children to pilfer.
The two had an agreement between them that if he was ever caught robbing when he was driving her car. He’d call her and she could immediately report her car stolen.
When Rodriguez and Meadows weren’t ripping off stores in the neighboring states they kept in close touch. They visited with other inmates from Marquette and Jackson who made up the good old boy network and exchanged latest crime techniques. It was difficult for one crook to know everything.
One of the men, a light skinned black named James Moody, was a drug distributor as well as a hit man. He wanted Ernesto to become his body guard.
“You’re the only man I’ve ever known I’d trust with my life.” he told Rodriguez. “I’ll give you fifty percent of my take. You name a number, it’s fine. I need a guy who can look after my wife and kids, too. I don’t want some damn punk suing them to get at me. You understand? Name your price.”
Ernesto turned his friend down for two reasons. He didn’t care for the cocaine and heroin business, didn’t approve of it, and there was too much killing connected with it, as he told Moody. The hit men were the glamour guys to the kids on the fringe. They made big bucks and made it fast. When a drug dealer in Detroit was busted and the stool pigeon identified, the hit man would approach several other drug dealers and ask each of them to ante up fifteen thousand dollars apiece to get rid of the “stoolie”. To knock off a couple of them a month wasn’t unusual.
James Moody, who went both ways, distributing and killing, was a big and feared man in Detroit. He had a beautiful light skinned wife, two good looking children, and fancy cars. He had on time entered a bar in broad daylight, carrying a paper bag which concealed a revolver. He had walked up to a table at which three men were seated, and shot and killed each of them at point blank range. He walked out as solemnly as he entered, he was recognized by others, but the witnesses were much too frightened of him to say a word.
Big time hit men were like the fast guns who had “reps” in the days of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday. The trouble was there was always some punk who wanted to make his own name by knocking off one of the big time hit men. No one knew that better than James Moody.
Later that year Ernesto dreamed that James Moody had somehow died, and one week after his dream he learned that Moody’s tall, lanky body had been found in the trunk of his Cadillac, parked at the Detroit airport. The head and penis severed from the rest of it. One of the last jobs pulled off by the Rodriguez-Meadows team was one they did in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They found what appeared to be the perfect target. The building was close to a busy highway and there was good parking for a quick getaway. In the back of the store one man minded a pharmacy and a safe. There were many rows of miscellaneous merchandise which, when selected, were checked out at a single cash register near the front entrance. The girl at the cash register and the pharmacist were the only employees and as a rule there were seldom more than two or three customers in the store at any given moment.
Knocking off a place like that would be a yawner, they knew. There was only one hitch, a pay phone which was mounted on the side wall at the front of the store. The middle aged woman using the phone when they cased the store had a panoramic view of the entire operation and could also wave to passerby outside. If she saw that a robbery was taking place it would be easy for her to alert others. From the looks of her she was a woman who would never have survived her teens had the telephone not been invented, a woman who could stretch a juicy tidbit into a full hour for a lousy dime.
Neither man wanted to rob the store and have that old windbag say, guess what, Tillie, we’re being robbed. Call the cops. Better to wait, they decided, until gossip drums quieted down, so they waited. And they waited. Finally worried lest the store close before it was robbed, they acted.
Both men walked to the back of the store, each taking a position at opposite ends of the pharmacy counter. Meadows, with drawn gun, announced to the startled owner that this was a robbery and that they wanted the money from the safe quickly and quietly. The pharmacist’s eyes sought Ernesto’s for confirmation and in less than thirty seconds all three, with the safe’s money, were headed toward the young woman at the cash register.
One of the customers was a elderly gentleman who had little money and didn’t want to part with it. “I’m retired and live on social security,” he explained. “My watch ain’t worth much and I’ve got a few dollars, but I need them worse than you.”
Rodriguez told him to keep what he had and didn’t bother him further. They emptied the cash register and departed several thousand dollars richer than they’d been to minutes earlier. As they departed they noted with amusement that the woman on the pay phone was still telling Tillie things Tillie would never believe. What they wondered, would Tillie’s reaction be when police officers with drawn guns roared into the store. It would certainly give her something to talk about, my dear.
When they returned to Lansing the two men stopped off at Diane’s house. It was there they counted and divided the money. They were joined at Diane’s by Meadows’ young friend, an American Indian, whose name Ernesto forgets.
It was a very, very, foggy night and Ernesto urged Meadows and his friend to stay in Lansing until the fog cleared. The two men could use Ernesto’s apartment and Ernesto could stay with Diane and the kids. If Meadows and his companion attempted to return to Detroit, they would not only have to battle the fog, but they would be violating the curfew still in effect after the Detroit rioting. They might be picked up by the Michigan National Guard. But Bob would have none of it, claiming that by the time they reached his apartment the curfew would be lifted.
Meadows made it through the fog safely, and within a block or so of his place on Euclid, he found a parking place on the street and stepped out into the murk.
“Hold it, Mister! Don’t move!” a voice on the other end of a pointed rifle ordered. “You are violating the curfew. Let’s see your identification.”
Meadows and the Indian showed the National Guardsman their driver’s licenses, but that wasn’t enough. “All right, let’s see what’s in your car. Open up the trunk!”
“You don’t have a search warrant,” Meadows countered, and—”
“Look buddy, I ain’t asking you, I’m telling you to unlock it or I’ll shoot out the lock. Move it!”
When the guardsman opened up the back trunk he found more than one thousand in bills, several hundred dollars in rolled up coins, two revolvers, a ski mask and gloves. Meadows explained that the two men had been playing poker in Chicago and didn’t know about the curfew was less than persuasive. Both men were transported to jail.
The robbery money was impounded, of course, but Meadows had enough money in the bank to post bail for himself. He did not, unfortunately, have enough money to spring his friend. Innocent as he was, the kid would have to stay there until Meadows came up with the money to bail him out.
Meadows called his colleague in crime two days later asking him to pull a quick job, one that would net enough to raise the bail money.
Ernesto was quick to oblige. The two men found an easy target in Toledo a day or so later and Ernesto donated his share of the swag to the cause.
It was one of the last times because Meadows had decided to go straight, to quit robbing, when he discovered that he could make eighteen honest dollars an hour working for a construction company. His mathematical skills, his speed with a slide rule, and his ability to calculate odds would, he was sure, permit him to move up in the company. Having spent twenty-two years in jail, Meadows knew himself well enough to know that he would kill, or be killed, before he went back to jail. He was a realist and understood odds much better than his pal in crime.
Meadows hired a lawyer who won the case. He claimed the search was illegal, the judge agreed, and Meadows and his friend were freed.
Ernesto also learned that thereafter, Meadows went to work for a construction company and was injured. Several cement blocks fell from a wall hitting Meadows on the head. According to ex-convict rumors Meadows suffered severe brain injuries and was confined to a wheelchair. Meadows disappeared. Needless to say, Ernesto mourned for the loss of his best friend.
To occupy himself between heists Ernesto served as bouncer at a restaurant known as the El Tango, a place mentioned earlier. On one occasion when he was on duty four members of the “Nomads” gang, the “Dexter brothers and Annie Oakley,” carrying their helmets, stormed into the place. Three of the bikers were men Ernesto judged to be in their late teens or early twenties and the leader, an American Indian woman called Annie Oakley, and a free ticket she was, appeared to be about the same age.
Pointing to a female restaurant customer sitting across the room from the entrance, Annie the leather jacketed biker announced to all and sundry that they were going “to beat the shit” out of her. Ernesto was at the biker’s side immediately. “You can’t do that,” I told her. “I’m the bouncer here.”
“‘Hold him boys,’ she ordered and they grabbed me.
“I spun away and hit the first guy. Split his lip and knocked him flat on his ass. I chopped on the back of her neck and she went down in a pile. The second guy charged me and I used his momentum to throw him out the door, bounced him off a car fender. One of the customers saw what was going on and he gave me a hand with the third guy. We whipped his ass good.”
“When we restored order—had things under control—I collected all four of the dumb bastards and sat them in chairs at a table, I ordered each of them a bowl of chili. When the chili came I explained we never refused service to anyone and told them to eat, I shoved their faces into the chili—what a mess.”
“When they were safe, outside the El Tango, they screamed they would get me and all that bull shit…”
A week or two passed and no more was heard from the Dexters. There were five or six of them in Lansing, Ernesto seems to remember.
Then one day when Diane and Ernesto were eating at the El Tango, sitting at an end booth, one of the Dexters and his girlfriend, or wife, came into the restaurant. Diane was facing the door and saw the man approaching.
“Diane was carrying one of my gun, a twenty five automatic, in her purse. As a convicted felon, I didn’t want to get caught carrying a gun.
When she saw the guy she quickly handed me the gun, under the table.
“Just as I grabbed the gun, the asshole stuck his face in mine and said, ‘I’m gonna get you!’
“I shoved the gun up his nose, jamming his head back, and warned him, ‘You better make it soon.’
“That fucking broad grabbed Dexter’s arm and screamed, ‘Come on. Get out of here! He’s gonna kill you! He’s gonna kill you!’
“You better move, punk,” I told him and he did.
“It wasn’t too long after that that a friend of mine, an ex-cop, and I went to a place, a night club sort of, called Don and Al’s. Had music. I’ll be damned if we didn’t run into Dexter again. I was beginning to get sick of him. He was disturbing my peace. As soon as he saw me he reached under his sweater like he had a gun and told me, ‘I’m gonna kill you, you bastard, I’m gonna shoot you. You hurt me and my brothers pretty bad.’
“I had a glass in my hand and I was thinking of running it up his nose but the night club’s bouncer came between us, so I went home and got my gun.
“When I got back to Don and Al’s I went right over to Dexter’s table. They stopped playing the music and all that shit. I pulled him away from the table and told him, come on, we’re going outside.’
“The guy said, ‘But I don’t want to go outside,’ the ex-cop I was with grabbed him by the collar, and told him real clear, ‘But you are going outside, motherfucker—move it!’ and hustled him to the parking lot.
“We were out in the parking lot and I faced him. ‘Get your gun out!’ I ordered. I didn’t wait or anything. I thought about shooting him but I didn’t. I hit him with the gun above the eye and raked down. Did it two or three times. Shit, he was a mess. Blood everywhere. I was stomping on him and kicking him in the nuts and face when that Indian bitch of his came up on me with a knife. We was facing each other a couple of feet away, me with a gun and her with a knife.
“You stick that knife in me, bitch,” I warned her, “and I blow your pussy away. Go ahead bitch! Try me!” and Ernesto put the gun right up to her pussy and waited. When she did nothing, Ernesto demanded she hand him the knife, and she did. The ex-cop then took Dexter to the entrance of the club and threw him inside.
“She backed off and I got out of there. Had to because I thought maybe the management might have called the cops and I sure as hell didn’t want to be caught with a gun.”
Ernesto was right. From that moment on the Lansing police knew that he, an ex-offender, sometimes carried a gun. And nothing would please them more than to catch him with it.
Some time during the summer of 1968—Ernesto’s not sure exactly when—Robert Almazan, Estella’s son, and Ernesto drove down to Brownsville to visit friends of Robert’s. The two men, the twenty-two year old and the seasoned stickup man, got along well together. Robert was in between Estella’s daughter Maria, who was twenty-four, and Kathie who was sixteen. None of the children knew yet that their mother was carrying Ernesto’s child. The baby was due in September but she showed no signs of it.
When Robert and Ernesto were down in Brownsville, Ernesto ran out of money. He thought about pulling off a robbery by himself to replenish his funds but decided against it because of Robert. If Ernesto got caught and his car was seized, the kid would have to pay for his own way home or he’d be stuck there. Robert had brought money of his own along so Ernesto solved the problem by borrowing fifty dollars, fifty dollars in those days would buy enough gas and food for them to get home.
Several days after they had returned to Lansing Ernesto happened to mention to Robert that when he’d run out of money in Brownsville he’d damn near pulled off a robbery. He told him why he hadn’t.
“I didn’t know you were into that stuff,” Robert countered. “Robbery! It sounds exciting as hell. How about taking me along sometime? That’s if you can use a partner. I can handle a gun okay.”
That’s how Robert Almazan and Ernesto became a team. The kid was smart, he followed instructions, and the rest, the “presence” or authority, would come in time. Robert lacked the skill to command, or move people.
For instance, when he’d say, “Come on, lady, this is a hold-up. Get over there!” The lady usually didn’t budge, but would look at the nice boy with annoyance as if to say, don’t be silly, she hadn’t yet found the right cat food. Fortunately, it only took a word or two for women like them to forget their cats. Soon Robert and Ernesto had four or five successful robberies under their belts. As a team they were off and rolling.
Ernesto’s social life remained so busy the women of his acquaintance had to take a number, as it were, if they expected to spend the night with the Mexican Lochinvar. He played the field, they knew it, and they didn’t appear to mind. In return, he made few demands of them.
On one memorable day Ernesto was babysitting Diane’s three children until she came home from work. She had a fairly responsible administrative position with the Veterans Administration and he didn’t mind helping out once in a while. On that particular night, though, Diane didn’t come directly home from work. When she turned up about three hours later than Ernesto had expected her she was half drunk and unapologetic. Rodriguez was furious.
“Look,” Ernesto announced as soon as she walked in,” I don’t mind your going out. That’s okay. But, god damn it don’t do it when I’m babysitting for you. If you’re going to be late, call me, tell me, but don’t fuck around with me. Got it?”
“‘No, I don’t,’ Diane snapped back, pissed off at my tone, or something. ‘You don’t have any god damn ties on me!’
“I dodn’t want no ties,” he explained, “but that don’t mean I want to do your babysitting when you’re doing whatever the hell you were doing. Can’t you get that through you thick head?”
“She told me to go fuck myself so I hauled off and smacked her, I grabbed her by the hair, dragged her upstairs, and whipped her ass good. There were some neighbors, kids around and I guess they heard our fight because they was yelling, ‘Jesus Christ, Ernesto is whipping Diane!’”
Whipping her ass, according to Ernesto, meant kicking her butt until it was black and blue and slapping her face repeatedly and hard, like bitch slapping in prison.
It’s been said that men who strike women are cowards but that description certainly doesn’t apply to Ernesto. More likely, he beat up Diane because what she’d questioned or threatened was his “machismo”, the holy of holies to Hispanic males.
“I told her to get her ass out of my place and to stay out,” he remembered. “I was real mad. When she reached the bottom of the stairs, she looked back and me, crying and said, ‘You know I love you.’”
On September 21st, 1968, Ernesto’s son Tommie was born to Estella Almazan. Her children had been happily surprised a week before her confinement to learn that their mother was expecting and Maria, her twenty-four year old daughter who was unable herself to have children, marveled that her mother still could. Because Estella was a diabetic the family was glad to learn that little Tommie was free of it and showed every sign of being a normal healthy child. There was much excitement and when the infant came home Estella’s children vied with one another to see who could take care of their little half brother.
A day after Tommie came home Ernesto and Robert planned to leave for a robbery or two in Wisconsin, a state which they had so far ignored.
It was time, they thought, to give Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois a rest. Robert expressed concern about leaving at the time picked because his horoscope that day cautioned him not to travel on weekends. Ernesto brushed Robert’s concerns aside and told him it was silly to believe that horoscope shit. They would leave on Friday and pull off their first robbery on Saturday.
Adding to the confusion of their departure was Diane. Having forgiven Ernesto his trespasses she, too, worried about the trip he was about embark upon. She wasn’t superstitious, or anything, but her instincts said the trip would bring trouble.
“Don’t go Ernesto, I beg you,” she pleaded and dropped to her knees at his feet. “Please don’t go. I have the strangest feeling this one won’t work, that you’ll be caught or something. Don’t go, I beg you!”
Ernesto reviewed his plans, could find no fault in them, and chose to ignore everyone’s vibes, feelings, and worries. The heist must go on, he decided. The money would be very useful to a new father.
As the two approached Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from the south Ernesto noticed in his rear view mirror that a patrol car had slipped in behind him. He was driving a few miles under the speed limit, as was his custom, and wondered why the officer had singled him out for surveillance. Soon the patrol car pulled out from behind him and disappeared up ahead. What a silly thing to worry about, he thought.
The sight of that patrol car continued to bother him and he couldn’t figure out why. If those damn deputy sheriffs weren’t waiting in ambush for some speeding vehicle, they had to be somewhere so why not behind him. Or behind the next car, or the next car.
Then it hit him. What, he asked himself, if Diane had set him up. She knew he was going to Milwaukee. She knew his car and license plate numbers. He’d beaten her up pretty good and what if she’d tipped off the police in Lansing to get even with him. If she’d done that it would be easy for the cops in Michigan to get in touch with the State Patrol in Wisconsin and give them a description of the men and the car. They’d be on the alert certainly if Diane had told them the occupants of the car were robbers. The Lansing cops would love to nail him for something after that pistol whipping episode.
But, hell, Diane wouldn’t do something like that. She was a good sport, she wouldn’t pull a chicken shit trick like that. They’d made love after their fight and women don’t squeal on a man who makes them feel the way he made Diane feel, not with all those I love yous and oohing and ahhing. No, she wouldn’t do that.
The sight of her on her knees, the tear streaked cheeks came back to him. How she’d begged when she said she was afraid he’d be caught. She would have known he would be, of course, but she could never admit it.
She’d tipped off the cops when she was still hurting from the beating and then she was sorry she had after he’d laid her, that must be it, so he’d have to be extra careful not to get caught.
Ernesto had told Robert Almazan of his concerns about the patrol that followed them and said that to be on the safe side they should skip the thought of pulling off a robbery in Milwaukee and, instead, head for Madison. They could shake anyone following them in Milwaukee’s traffic and there was still plenty of time to reach Madison before the stores closed.
When they arrived in Madison one of the first places they spotted was a Robert Hall store, easy pickings, but Ernesto was still suffering from the feeling they were being followed so he took precautions. He drove the car back onto Highway 151 South, an expressway, and stopped along the side of the road a few yards before he reached the exit leading to the Robert Hall store. If another car pulled to a stop behind him, they were being followed. No one did and the robbery was on.
“As we entered the store,” Ernesto explained, “I saw this woman standing at the door and I said to Bob, ’Look, you get that woman away from the door. Soon as you get in you put the gun on her and walk her to the back of the store where the money is. Don’t linger and for Christ’s sake don’t let her hold you up none, move it.
“I was going straight to the back where the manager and the safe were. Bob pointed his pocket at the woman and said. ‘This is a robbery, lady, get back there! I was about half way back to the manager and the manager he was smiling’ at me like we got customers or something. I could see from the corner of my eye the kid was having trouble with the woman and needed help . She was saying, ‘I’m not going anywhere, I’m not going anywhere!’ He told her, look, he didn’t want to shoot and that shit, but she just kept saying , ‘Get away!’
“I had to pull my gun out and the manager saw me do it. That was a mistake. I raced over to the woman, grabbed her arm, and told her, ‘Come on bitch, move it!’ And I mean she moved. But that gave the manager, now that he knew it was a robbery, a chance to hide all the big bills, the twenties and fifties. He must have swept them into a trash basket with his arm and covered them with paper and forms and shit.
“When I told him to open the safe there was practically nothing in it. I knew something was wrong, but couldn’t figure out what. If I hadn’t gone back for the dumb bitch he couldn’t have hid that stuff, y’know. I told him he was hiding things on me but he said, no, the money’d been picked up earlier, that what I saw was all he had. Maybe we got four hundred and twenty dollars, just shit.
“I still had that funny feeling of being railed and I always believed in leaving everything we didn’t get in the first sixty seconds or so. Best to get out, I thought. So we herded the few people in the store into the bathroom and beat it. I didn’t see him do it, but as we was leaving Bob took an arm full of size forty-two suits off the rack and threw them in the back seat. They were his size. I drove the car and he was lying in the back seat. That way if people saw two robbers only one would be seen in the car.
“I was on Washington Avenue approaching Lake Monona when the shit hit the fan. One car coming the opposite direction suddenly pulled straight in front of me and I had to slam on the breaks. The car behind me pulled up real tight and three more squads pulled in from the sides.
We were hemmed in and cut off. Couldn’t move, in just seconds. They were outta their cars, hiding behind their hoods with their shotguns and rifles pointed at me. Two of them ran over and one stuck a .357 magnum in my ear.
“‘Don’t move, or I’ll blow your fucking brains out!
“What’s the deal officer?” I asked, trying to sound innocent. Robert was lying in the back seat pretending he was sleeping.
“‘Get out of the car!’” he ordered.
“For what’s” I asked.
“I knew they had no identification on me or Robert. It was dark and even if they did, they could not have identified me in the dark. Nothing made sense except that I was tailed. The robbery had gone off very quickly for them to have gotten any information on us.” Ernesto explained.
“Five to six cars don’t come out from nowhere—they were in communication with each other before they stopped our car. They don’t use five or six cars to just pull anyone over on suspicion.”
“We were hauled off to the Madison County Jail and booked for Armed Robbery.
Bob and I were appointed a lawyer; I told Bob I wanted him to pretend he was turning state’s evidence against me. There’s no way we were going to get out of this one, I told him. There are eight people out there and they caught us with the suits and money. Tell them anything you want to about this robbery, tell them I talked you into to helping me, but that you had no gun, that the guns were mine. Just don’t say anything about any other robberies, if you do, both of us are dead asses.
“Hell no, I ain’t no snitch,” he argued, “Look,” I explained, “Your mom has my kid. If you get out of this, it means you can help your mom and that means you can help my kid. As long as you and I know you are not no fucking rat that’s all that counts.
“‘Yeah, but what about—’
“Listen kid, I’m asking you to do me a favor and go home and take care of my son for me. You can’t help me if your ass is in prison. I want to get you out of this. You don’t have a record. You’ll get probation. Me, I’m dead, I’m going to prison no doubt about it.” Ernesto explained.
Bob and Ernesto put on one hell of show before Judge Maloney of the Dane County Circuit Court. Ernesto swore at Bob and called him a dirty snitch and promised to kill him once they reached the penitentiary.
Robert went on to tell the Judge, that he had never robbed anyone and didn’t want to do this one, but that Ernesto had forced him to do it—he said he never owned a gun—the guns belonged to Ernesto.
Ernesto yelled out to Robert to keep his mouth shut, and pretended he was about to attack Robert right there in the court room. When the judge ordered the restraints to be put on Ernesto, he yelled at the judge saying that his constitutional rights were being violated, claiming that the stop of his car and the search were illegal.
Judge Maloney fired back at Ernesto “Your constitutional rights were violated? According to your record, you are a murderer, you are a stick-up man, you are a very violent man, and you came here and put a big .45 in someone’s face—what about their constitutional rights, Mr. Rodriguez?”
“The state furnished me with a lawyer, can’t remember his name, the poor bastard. He told me that he didn’t know why he had been appointed. That he didn’t know anything about criminal law. I told him not to worry about it, that we’d work on the illegal search and seizure angle.
“We did everything we could, filed motions and all, but the judge said we could file all the motions we wanted to but he wasn’t going to listen to that crap, words to that effect. The end results were that I was sentenced to fifteen years in the Wisconsin State Prison at Waupun. Bob got one year’s probation and went home free. The Judge bought into our act, and I was happy that Bob would take care of my son Tommie.
Robert Almazan, at this writing, had been working at the General Motors Oldsmobile Division since he was seventeen. He’d joined the Michigan National Guard and had an excellent work record. Today he holds down a high paying, responsible job in electrical maintenance work for General Motors and lives in a large home, Tommie has lived with Robert all his life and has been treated with great care and affection by all of his half relatives.
On or about January 5th, 1969, after spending six months in the Dane County Jail, Ernesto was sentenced and transported to Wisconsin’s penitentiary in Waupun.