Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

AMBUSH: THE BRINKS ROBBERY OF 1981

Ambush

U-Haul truck
U-Haul truck

The red van fled quickly down Route 59 toward the Korvette's parking lot. In the meantime, inside a house behind the same lot, a young college student was working on a school assignment. She happened to glance out her kitchen window when the red van pulled in. The men, some armed with rifles, jumped out of the van, removed the moneybags and tossed them into the U Haul and the Honda. The student had the presence of mind to call the police.

"It was a little yellow Honda sedan and a U Haul truck," she said over the phone. "They went to the right maybe 304. Toward the Mobil Car Wash. A Honda Accord maybe," she said to the police dispatcher. Within seconds, the information was over the police airwaves.

Police units from all over the county converged on Nanuet and the surrounding communities. Stakeouts were set up on all the escape routes and especially the Tappan Zee Bridge, which crosses the Hudson. On one of these stakeouts, South Nyack/Grandview Police Chief Alan Colsey, 29, who was just promoted to the position of chief, monitored the broadcasts. He heard Sgt. Ed O'Grady report a sighting of a U Haul truck near the thruway.

"U Haul truck going to enter the thruway here. Do you have any description of the subjects?" the radio said.

"No, at this time all we have is a yellow Honda and a U Haul trailer or truck. We'll get it to you as soon as we have it!" the dispatcher reported.

At the intersection of Route 59 and Mountainview Ave., Nyack Police Officers Waverly Brown, Brian Lennon, Sgt. Edward O'Grady, and Detective Artie Keenan pulled over a U Haul truck occupied by a white man and a white woman. P.O. Lennon had his shotgun pointed directly at the van as it came to a halt a few yards before the thruway on ramp. Sgt O'Grady asked both parties to step outside the van. The man, who was never positively identified, and the woman, later identified as Kathy Boudin, exited the front of the U-Haul and stood on the street. When the woman saw guns drawn she immediately protested their innocence while waving her hands in the air.

After she pleaded with the cops to lower their guns, they relented. "Put the shotgun back," said O'Grady, "I don't think it's them." Lennon walked back to his police unit but Detective Keenan, apparently not satisfied, tried to open the rear door of the U-Haul. "I just wanted to know what was in there," he said in a recent interview. "When I tried to pull the door up, it wouldn't move. I think they were holding it from the inside because there was a pull up strap on the back side of the door." Keenan shook the door several times. "I called out to O'Grady who was by the front cab, but before he could answer, before anyone could do anything, the door flew up and out they came!" he said.

Without warning, the rear door to the U Haul instantly slid up with a loud bang. Six men crashed out of the back of the truck, military style, firing automatic weapons at everything that moved. Keenan rolled on the ground behind a pine tree, which probably saved his life, but still managed to return fire. "I was shot in my leg and a bullet grazed my side," he said. Officer Brown was shot repeatedly with an M-16 rifle as he fell to the ground, already fatally wounded. A bullet that entered his shoulder traveled downward piercing several arteries including the aorta. While he lay there in the street, one of the men shot him again with a 9mm handgun. The panic-stricken suspects fired hundreds of rounds in all directions. The bullets slammed into a gas station across Route 59 and dozens of holes were later found in the gas pumps out front.

Terrified pedestrians ran for their lives from the furious gunfire. O'Grady managed to shoot one of the suspects as he himself was struck several times by a rain of bullets. The suspect staggered but he did not fall. He was wearing a bulletproof vest. As O'Grady fumbled to reload his .357 magnum revolver next to a police unit, he was shot several times by a man with an M-16 rifle. The bullets shattered his liver, diaphragm and punctured his kidney. He would die ninety minutes later on the operating table at Nyack Hospital.

Lennon, who was trapped in his car by the heavy gunfire, tried to exit out the front passenger door, but O'Grady's body was wedged up against the door. He watched as the killers jumped back into the U Haul and sped directly towards him. Lennon fired his shotgun several times at the speeding truck as it collided with his police car. The back window, struck by M-16 gunfire, shattered into a thousand pieces.

On the thruway overpass just yards away, Donald Weems, still armed with a 9mm handgun, suddenly realized he had nowhere to go. Two women, Norma Hill and her 81-year-old mother, sat in a white BMW, idling on the overpass watching the incredible gunfight. When Weems realized he had no way out, he ran over to the BMW and pulled Norma out of the car. "Get out of the fucking car!" he screamed. As Norma tried to unbuckle her mother's seatbelt, Weems kicked her in the side and sent her tumbling to the pavement. Then he slammed down on the accelerator and drove off the overpass.

Nyack Police badge
Nyack Police badge

Simultaneously, the yellow Honda pulled in front of the U Haul. Some of the suspects piled into the car and it immediately took off up Mountainview Avenue. Det. Keenan, though wounded himself, crawled over to "Chipper" Brown. "There was no pulse even then," he said recently. The battered truck, pieces of the front fender falling off into the street, its tires and engine smoking and bullet holes in its sides, was abandoned on the ramp. Another passing motorist, Dr. Ronald Dreyer, had his Oldsmobile carjacked at gunpoint by one of the robbers who then raced up the street leaving $759,000 in cash, three shot cops and a river of blood behind.

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