Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Joshua Armstrong

The Seekers in Action

Though captures have their similarities, Joshua Armstrong would never say that any capture is routine. Each fugitive is different, and the search for him will be as individual as he is. Some fugitives are found hiding in the Seekers' own neighborhood while others leave the country. But no matter where a fugitive goes, it usually isn't long before he gets back to his old habits, be it drug dealing, burglary, robbery, pimping, extortion, whatever.

In one memorable case Joshua Armstrong was asked to find a Colombian drug kingpin named Herrera* who had skipped out on his bail in Newark, New Jersey and fled to Florida. Herrera had secured bail from a bondsman by putting up an expensive house as collateral, but the bondsman found out too late that the deed was almost worthless. Herrera had already defaulted on two home-equity loans secured by the house. Herrera's bail had been set at $250,000, so the bondsman and his surety company were very anxious to get him back.

Armstrong was able to locate Herrera's new address in a ritzy neighborhood of Pompano Beach, Florida. Herrera was known to have a violent temper, and he traveled with a heavily armed entourage. Armstrong decided to take two Seekers with him on this mission, Zora and Jedidiah. Together they flew down to Florida to bring him back alive.

Pompano Beach, Florida (CORBIS)
Pompano Beach, Florida (CORBIS)

In Florida they rented a van, bought some ladders and roof racks, and had signs made for the doors that said "J & J Roofing" with a toll-free telephone number that was picked up by an answering machine in Joshua's home in New Jersey. Posing as roofers, Armstrong and Jedidiah were able to infiltrate the posh neighborhood and observe Herrera's house. In the meantime Zora put on a skirt and high heels and visited the local bars and lounges, making chitchat with the locals and keeping her ear to the ground.

After several days of surveillance, the "roofers" concluded that Herrera's house was unoccupied except for a caretaker who turned lights on and off and moved the cars in the driveway to make it look as if someone was there.

An old Hispanic man at one of the bars Zora visited seemed like a promising source of information. He was chatty with the bartender, and from what Zora had overheard, he seemed to know everybody's business. Gradually, over a period of days, she got to know himsuperficial conversations at first, talk of the weather and what was in the news, then little by little they ventured into more personal territory. Finally the old gentleman asked her what she was doing in Pompano Beach.

"I'm looking for someone," she said. "Someone who owes my father money."

The old man seemed concerned. She took out a photo from her bag and laid it on the bar. It was a photo of Herrera in a bathing suit, his skin glistening with tanning lotion. She had gotten it from the bondsman's file on Herrera.

As the old man looked at it, his eyes widened. She warned Zora that this was a bad man, and that no matter what Herrera had done to her father, she should stay away from him.

Zora pretended to be skeptical and asked how he knew so much about Herrera. The old man replied that he had a friend who worked for Herrera, and he had heard many stories. The old man's friend was the caretaker at the house. Zora kept the conversation going until the old man revealed that the caretaker did not sleep at Herrera's house. The caretaker's wife wanted him home at night.

Armed with this information, the three Seekers went into action. At three a.m. the next morning, Armstrong and Jedidiah broke into the house through a skylight. Zora behind stayed in the van, ready to provide backup if it was needed. The three of them stayed in touch via wireless headset micro-transmitters.

After sweeping Herrera's opulent home, Armstrong and Jedidiah settled in to wait for his return, planning to take him by surprise. The problem was, they didn't know when he would return.

Rather than both of them standing guard, they took turns to let the other one get some rest. Armstrong took the first shift while Jedidiah sprawled out on the floor under a bed in one of the guest rooms. If he fell asleep and someone suddenly arrived at the house, he would be hidden from view.

The hours dragged on. The gray dawn gradually became a sunny morning. Armstrong maintained a state of restful vigilance by meditating. At 9:15 a.m. the sounds of voices and car doors slamming roused him. Someone was in the driveway. Summoning Jedidiah, they ran to separate windows to see who had arrived. It was Herrera's wife, children, and bodyguards, but Herrera himself was nowhere in sight. They were all coming in. Armstrong and Jedidiah had to make themselves scarce, fast.

They ran back to the guest bedroom. Jedidiah, who is not a small man, squeezed into a crawlspace inside the closet. Armstrong got under the bed. He lay there motionless, listening intently, whispering updates to Jedidiah through his headset micro-transmitter.

At first Armstrong only heard the cacophony of domestic squabblingtwo unhappy children, a frazzled mother, and an annoyed grandmother. Male voices could be heard intermittently, but what was being said was nearly impossible to discern. Armstrong knew that Herrera was no shrinking violet. His would probably be the loudest voice in the house if he were out there.

Armstrong was just about to get out from under the bed to investigate further when someone walked into the room. It was the grandmother who lay down on the bed and soon went to sleep. Armstrong remained still under the bed and stayed that way until the woman woke up hours later and left the room.

It wasn't until late that afternoon that Herrera returned home with an entourage that included several bodyguards and associates. They were in a joyous mood when they entered the house, and an impromptu party broke out in the living room, just down the hall from the guest room where Armstrong and Jedidiah were now listening from behind the door. Armstrong ventured into the hallway to get a look at what they were up against. Peering carefully around a corner, he saw five men sitting around the coffee table, sipping beers. One man had an automatic revolver jammed into his belt. Armstrong assumed that this man wasn't the only one who was armed.

Armstrong ducked back into the hallway and signaled to Jedidiah to join him. They both had their guns out and ready. Hugging the wall, they waited, estimating how long it would take Herrera and his men to be well into their second beers. Armstrong looked at Jedidiah, and Jedidiah nodded back. They'd worked together on difficult pickups many times before. Words were unnecessary.

On Armstrong's signal, both men sprang out from the hallway.

"Freeze!" Armstrong shouted. "Hands up! Hands up!"

"Don't move!" Jedidiah boomed. "Don't fucking move!"

Their guns were leveled at Herrera and his men.

The drug dealers immediately raised their hands, except for Herrera who moved slowly, disgust dripping from his disdainful expression. One of the men was so frightened he soiled himself. Deciphering the spitfire Spanish they spoke was difficult, but Armstrong pieced together that Herrera and his men thought he and Jedidiah were hit men sent by a rival drug gang.

"Who sent you?" Herrera barked. "Who sent you?"

"You sent me," Armstrong replied.

"What?"

"You sent me," Armstrong said.

Armstrong ordered Herrera to get up, but the kingpin refused to move off the sofa. Jedidiah walked around behind Herrera and buried the muzzle of his gun in the base of the man's neck to convince him that they weren't fooling around. Reluctantly Herrera stood up and stepped toward Armstrong who quickly spun him around, kicked out his knee, and forced him onto his stomach on the floor so that he could be handcuffed. As Armstrong secured the fugitive, he called to Zora through the micro-transmitter and told her to bring the van into the driveway.

Jedidiah held the other men at bay as Armstrong hustled Herrera out the sliding glass doors that led to the patio and across the lawn to the driveway where Zora was just pulling up. Herrera grumbled and cursed as Armstrong shoved him into the backseat and snapped his seatbelt into place. Armstrong took the seat next to the prisoner while Jedidiah jumped into the front passenger seat. As Zora quickly backed into the street, Herrera took one last look at the luxury cars in his driveway. It would be a while before he drove those again, and he seemed to know it.

Zora drove fast but didn't speed. Once they were on the highway, Armstrong offered Herrera a book, saying it would be a long way back to Jersey. Herrera sneered at Armstrong's offer and stared out the window instead. The Seekers drove him to the airport at Tampa instead of the closer airports in Miami or Fort Lauderdale just in case any of Herrera's minions decided to mount a rescue mission. They dropped off the van and took a late night flight back to Newark. As with all air transports, Armstrong checked with the pilot before boarding to let him know that he had a prisoner. The pilot agreed to allow them on board his craft as long as they stowed their weapons, which is standard procedure, and they kept a jacket over Herrera's handcuffs so as not to alarm the other passengers. They boarded the plane first and took the last rowthe row usually reserved for prisoners and their escortsand deplaned last when they arrived in Newark. Herrera kept his bad attitude to a low grumble during the flight, and none of the other passengers ever suspected that anything was amiss.

The Seekers delivered Herrera to the Essex County Sheriff's Department in New Jersey. He was later tried and convicted of drug trafficking and is now serving a 20-year sentence.

*Armstrong will not reveal Herrera's or any fugitive's actual name. As he says in The Seekers, "I believe that a person's past should not poison his or her future... Everyone has the choice to stay the same or evolve. If a person chooses to remain stagnant and make the same mistakes over and over again, so be it. But it's not my job to brand that person. He brands himself."

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