The Daring Escape of the
The Texas 7 did not remain in San Antonio for long, however. With their meager cash supply quickly running out, they left the city that is famous for The Alamo and Lackland Air Force Base and headed east toward Houston where, they hoped, they could replenish it by committing a planned holdup. George Rivas had a long history of committing armed robbery, and he patterned the latest one after those that had landed him in prison. They ended up at a Radio Shack in Pearland, a Houston suburb.
Newbury and Rivas had entered the store earlier in the day, and asked employee Michael Drab, 19, about lens caps for binoculars. They also asked to use the restroom, after which they left. However, they returned just before closing time and announced to the employees and customers that they were there to rob the store. Drab, frightened over the ordeal, began to hyperventilate.
"Take deep breaths, Michael," Newbury said, reading Drab's name from his identification badge. "We're not here to hurt you...now, everyone empty out all of your pockets."
Newbury picked up the wallets, the money, and any change that had fallen onto the floor.
"Could you please give me my keys back?" asked one of the victims. "I need them for my work." Newbury agreed and handed the keys back to the man.
"How about my credit cards?" asked the same man. "Could I please have those back, too?" Newbury again agreed, and handed the man his credit cards. He handled them by their edges so that he would not leave fingerprints on them.
Meanwhile, Jim Drab, 53, a Pearland resident, was driving in his van to the local Radio Shack to pick up his son, Michael, listening to the radio. As he pulled into the parking lot at about 10 p.m. to wait for Michael, the last thing on his mind was that he might run into any of the escaped prisoners that were by now on nearly everyone's minds. But that is exactly what happened.
Rivas saw Drab park his vehicle near the store, and asked the employees inside if anyone knew him. He was told that the man was Michael's father, picking him up from work.
Drab had just turned off the engine when he saw a man, about 30, walking towards him. Drab rolled down the window to see what the man wanted. He didn't know that it was George Rivas, at least not at first.
"You here to pick up Michael?" asked the stranger, Rivas.
"Yes," Drab responded.
"Well, he's going to be a little late," Rivas said.
"Okay," Drab said, thinking that the man must be a new store employee sent out by his son. "I guess I can kill a little time and do some shopping." There were other stores nearby.
"Hey, would you mind buying me a Dr. Pepper? I'm really thirsty," Rivas asked, smiling. Drab looked at him quizzically, but agreed as Rivas handed him four quarters. Rivas then turned and walked away from the van. However, before Drab could get out of his van and go into a nearby store, Rivas returned and leaned against the door of Drab's van. Rivas was carrying a cardboard box.
"I don't know how to tell you this," Rivas said. "But you caught us in the middle of a robbery." Rivas calmly opened the box he was carrying and displayed a handgun inside of it to Drab. "Michael and the rest of the employees are in the back, tied up in the store. Nobody's going to get hurt as long as you do what I say."
Drab was stunned and at the same time frightened by Rivas's statement. He realized then that Rivas had approached him to buy a soda for him only to distract him from the robbery that was occurring, and to keep him busy for a couple of minutes. At first Drab considered faking a heart attack, or just speeding away, but decided against it because of the fact that his son was being held hostage inside. He went into the store at Rivas's urging.
Donald Newbury was still with the four store employees and two customers they had rounded up, bound, and forced into the bathroom earlier. Rivas and Newbury promised that they would not harm the frightened victims as long as they cooperated with them. Rivas and Newbury tied up Drab and forced him into the bathroom with the others. They made them all lie down on the floor. Rivas and Newbury also took Drab's wallet, then proceeded to rob the store of thousands of dollars, walkie-talkies, other electronic equipment, and police scanners. Terrified, the victims did not know whether the robbers would return and shoot them or if they would merely leave. Fortunately, they took the stolen money and equipment and left the store.
"As things started to deteriorate, I started getting scared," Doug Watson, a store employee, later told the police and news media. "I wondered if I was going to get out of the situation. I was lucky enough not to be hurt."
"You'd expect them to be more desperate, mean and cruel," Drab said later, "but you would have them over for a barbecue if you didn't know they were crooks. That's how nice they were."
Nonetheless, Drab and Watson, as well as the others, later identified Rivas and Newbury from photos shown to them by the police, and the Pearland Radio Shack robbery would mark the first confirmed sighting of members of the Texas 7 since their escape from the Connally Unit..
Drab, as well as the cops, didn't know it yet, but Rivas gave Drab's identification from his wallet to Larry Harper, who would begin using it from that day forward.
Following the Radio Shack robbery, the escaped convicts seemingly vanished into thin air. Although the police didn't know it yet, they were heading toward the Dallas-Fort Worth area while many in law enforcement figured that they would be heading south toward Mexico. The beefed-up security along the border between the U.S. and Mexico would, ultimately, be in vain.
Unknown to investigators, the Texas 7 laid low in Farmers Branch, a Dallas-Fort Worth suburb near Irving, Texas. On Tuesday, December 19, four of the fugitives checked into an Econo Lodge and registered under an assumed name. Frugal spenders, they used a coupon for a discount rate upon check-in for their first night's stay, but reserved the room for the coming week. They paid in cash and lied to the desk clerk that only four men would be staying in the room; otherwise they would have been required to rent two rooms. The desk clerk issued them a room on the ground floor next door to the motel's assistant manager. Although she did not take note of each of the guest's driver's licenses or identification cards, she did record the license number of the vehicle they were drivingan older Chevrolet Suburban, and not a Cavalier or Sunbird like the authorities were looking for. Because the motel employee had no idea that she was dealing with the escaped convicts, it would be some time before that information was turned over to the police.
In the meantime the Texas 7 moved about when necessary, hiding in plain sight while plotting their next move.