Playing the System: The Martin Appel Case
Under questioning, both men denied any involvement in the robbery. They claimed they had been in their car in the vicinity of the bank that morning, but did not know about any robbery. When they had been stopped, they claimed they'd been on their way to try out a new revolver at a gun club, but there had been no gun in the car.
They were taken back to Appel's trailer for a search, where the guns were located in odd hiding places and confiscated for ballistics testing. The suspects continued to assert their innocence for several hours, but officers remained with them at their trailer, and by early evening tests confirmed that the weapons had been fired at the bank. Even then, Appel denied he was involved. However, the stolen money had turned up in his refrigerator, wrapped in foil, and inside the car police had found coin drawers taken from the bank.
Appel and Hertzog were transported to the state trooper barracks and charged with three counts of homicide, two counts of aggravated assault and attempted murder, one count of robbery, and six counts of criminal conspiracy. They were held without bail at the Northampton County Prison. Appel asked for a lawyer, but shortly after he was arraigned on June 9 he said he wanted to make a full confession.
On videotape, Appel described how he had prepared for the bank robbery and had intended to kill all the witnesses; there should have been five people dead, not three. He had planned the robbery for months. He and Hertzog had actually broken into the bank early one morning the week before to study its layout, taking nothing at the time but destroying a lot of equipment. The two had practiced with the weapons at the Tri-Boro Sportsmen Association, all the way up to the day before the robbery. Appel had also estimated how long it would take the nearest police to arrive on the scene.
The account took about an hour, and Appel assured the police that the plan had been his alone, including the elimination of witnesses. He had done most of the shooting. He also mentioned the significance of D-Day. When asked if he was aware that what he had done was wrong, he said he was. The massacre had simply been incidental, to remove obstacles to his personal enrichment.
It was a death penalty case, plain and simple. The suspect was clear-headed, articulate, and willing to cooperate. Investigators had all the evidence they needed to ensure a conviction. While this was the worst massacre in the county's history, it appeared to be a straightforward process to resolve it and punish the offenders. But the authorities had not counted on just how clever Martin Appel was.