AMBUSH: THE BRINKS ROBBERY OF 1981
The armored truck's final stop was the Nanuet National Bank on the second level of the mall. The crew was due to pick up almost $1.6 million dollars in cash from the bank. Inside the truck was an additional several hundred dollars in cash from earlier collections. Pete Paige was assigned to guard his partner as he handled the cash. His partner was assigned to enter the bank, retrieve the moneybags with Paige and place them into the back of the armored vehicle.
Also in the same parking lot that afternoon was a red Chevy van that cruised the area while the guards went inside the mall. The rear and side windows had been covered with plastic so no one could see inside. Inside the van was a man named Mutulu Shakur, 31, already a veteran of several armored car and bank robberies committed in the Bronx, Mt. Vernon, NY and Paramus, NJ. Shakur was an adopted name. His real name, or slave name as he described it, was Jeral Wayne Williams. He was a black nationalist who ran a financially corrupt acupuncture clinic in Lincoln Hospital in New York City, the first such clinic in the Bronx. Williams was an articulate and persuasive individual who recruited many disciples to follow him. Under the banner of black self-determination, he convinced his accomplices that it was up to them to seize funds from legitimate sources and "redistribute" the money to various black causes. With each robbery committed, the gang improved on its methods and became more sophisticated. They studied the reaction of guards and the police. They took the time to learn how police handled and investigated such crimes. Then, they made the appropriate adjustments on the next job.
In the back of the red van were Cecilio "Chui" Ferguson, 35, Samuel Brown AKA Solomon Bouines, 41, Samuel Smith AKA Mtayari Sundiata, 37, and Donald Weems AKA Kuwasi Balagoon, 35. There were others present, but it has never been proven who, or how many. All the men in back of the van were members of a group they called "The Family." Most of them had ties to the Black Panthers or the Black Liberation Army, radical political groups that had many violent confrontations with police during the 1970s.
As the red van drove aimlessly through the lot, the men sat quietly in the rear section. They were armed with an assortment of weapons including shotguns, automatic rifles and 9mm handguns. Each had a specific, pre-arranged role in the robbery that was about to happen. The van pulled up behind the armored car while Weems got out and sat on a bench outside the entrance to the mall. He would act as a back up and provide assistance when needed.
About a half-mile from the Nanuet Mall, a medium-size U Haul truck waited in the parking lot of a Korvette's shopping mall on Route 59. A white man named
David J. Gilbert, 37, rented the vehicle that same day in the Bronx. Gilbert was a long time member of the Weather Underground and a fugitive from the state of Colorado where he faced charges of assault and possession of explosives. The passenger in the front seat of the U Haul was Kathy Boudin, on the run from the law since the townhouse explosion in 1970. The couple had dropped off their one-year old child with a babysitter in the morning and was waiting for the return of the red van. There were others also present, but police investigators were never able to prove conclusively who they were. The plan was to make a vehicle switch, dump the bags of money into the truck and have all the black participants in the robbery hide in the back of the vehicles as they made their getaway. They knew that in the confusion following the robbery, the police would be looking for black men in a red van. They would not be too concerned about a U Haul being driven by a white couple. Also parked in the same lot were two other getaway vehicles: a yellow Honda and a white Buick. But it was never determined exactly who was driving these escape cars.
At approximately 3:55 p.m., Paige, a 24-year Brink's veteran and his partner, Joe Trombino, 48, exited the doors to the Mall rolling out the moneybags on a hand truck. They walked over to the Brink's truck and began to load up the bags onto the rear deck. Simultaneously, the red van pulled up and the rear doors swung open. One of the suspects, armed with a shotgun, ran to the front of the truck and immediately fired two blasts directly at the bulletproof windshield. The guard in the front seat ducked just in time and was unhurt.
Another suspect, wearing a ski mask, opened up with his M-16 automatic rifle before his feet even hit the pavement, striking Paige in the neck, arm and chest. He was killed instantly. Joe Trombino fired just one shot before he was hit several times in his upper arm and shoulder. The bullets all but severed his arm off his shoulder. "I've got no arm!" he screamed. But Trombino would survive that day, only to perish years later in another terrorist attack at the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
The robbers grabbed several moneybags and threw them into the rear of the van. Then, they jumped into the van and sped away, narrowly missing several moving cars and pedestrians who were running in terror from the shooting. The entire operation, from start to finish, was over in less than two minutes.