Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

AMBUSH: THE BRINKS ROBBERY OF 1981

The Investigation

Soon, the F.B.I. and numerous local police agencies were involved in a complex investigation that had national implications. In Rockland County, Detective Jim Stewart and a police investigative task force began the arduous job of sorting through and categorizing the mountain of information that came pouring into the office. The new and startling revelation that diverse radical groups had banded together to commit these violent crimes was something law enforcement had not seen before. "Since the suspects considered themselves prisoners of war, they would not cooperate in any way with the police or the jailers," Det. Stewart said. When it came time for line-ups, they resisted by any means possible. The D.A. had to obtain use of force orders from the courts in order to proceed. "They had to be physically dragged from their cells. We had to bolt benches to the floor and restrain them with strait jackets. Clark was fitted with a neck brace and had to be held down by D.A detectives," he said. The suspects were often described as "urban terrorists" in the press and cops everywhere were deeply worried about the role of the Black Liberation Army.

The B.L.A. was a notorious and violent group of extremists who planned and carried out unprovoked shootings of uniformed police officers. During the 1970s and early 1980s, there were several of these types of killings of which the B.L.A. were suspect. On May 20, 1971, New York City Police Officers Joseph Piagentini and Waverly Jones were shot and killed in an ambush in Harlem. The following year, on January 28, 1972, officers Gregory Foster and Rocco Laurie were murdered outside a restaurant in Manhattan. Another such shooting occurred on the night of April 16, 1981 when uniform cops pulled over a suspicious van in the St. Alban's section of Queens. Without any warning, two men jumped out of the rear of the van with machine guns and opened up on the unsuspecting cops. Both were immediately killed. This cold-blooded killing enraged cops everywhere. A later investigation indicated that an escaped radical, Joannne Chesimard, one of the most sought after individuals in America, may have been in that van. She was serving a life sentence for her role in the murder of a New Jersey State trooper in 1973 when she escaped from custody in 1979. This theory was never proven, but to this day, many of the investigators who worked on that case believed it to be true.

All the "safe houses," which the Brink's suspects visited after the robbery, were carefully analyzed and processed by crime scene technicians. Many fingerprints were lifted and identified, which gave cops additional leads. Several other members of the Weather Underground and the B.L.A. were soon arrested in coordinated raids with local law enforcement. One Cynthia Boston was located and arrested in a ranch house in Gallman, Mississippi in late October. The ranch was owned by another radical organization called the Republic of New Africa. Although she did not actively participate in the crime, Boston was charged with conspiracy in the Brink's robbery and held on $500,000 bail. Two other suspects, Jeffrey Jones and Eleanor Raskin, were arrested in the Bronx when cops went to an apartment to execute a search warrant. Jones and Raskin, former members of the Weather Underground, were charged with unlawful flight to avoid prosecution after cops found bomb-making material in a Hoboken apartment in 1979.

Over the next few months, the F.B.I. continued its relentless search. On January 20, 1982, the F.B.I. located and arrested Donald Weems, AKA Kuwasi Balagoon in the Bronx. Two months later, on March 26, 1982, the Joint Terrorist Task Force arrested Chui Ferguson and Edward Joseph, AKA Jamal Baltimore, in a raid on a Bronx apartment. But the main target, the man that planned and carried out the murderous carnage in Nyack, Jeral Williams, AKA Mutulu Shakur, escaped and later fled the New York area.

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