Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

AMBUSH: THE BRINKS ROBBERY OF 1981

Shot Dead in Queens

On October 23, just two days after the killings in Nanuet, plainclothes N.Y.P.D. detectives in Queens were cruising the area of South Ozone Park. Det. Lt. Dan Kelly, 53, spotted a license plate last seen outside the Mt. Vernon address on a red Ford. It was now on a 1978 Chrysler containing two occupants heading towards the Van Wyck Expressway. When cops tried to pull it over, the car took off at high speed. Within minutes, dozens of N.Y.C.P.D. police units joined the frantic chase through the crowded streets of Queens. The car raced down Northern Boulevard where hundreds of frightened pedestrians jumped out of the way. As cops tried to block the streets by pulling police trucks in its path, the Chrysler jumped a concrete barrier and became air borne, crashing back into the street and making a furious, smoking U turn. Minutes later, the fugitives lost control of the car and it spun out of control, smashing front first into a building at 127th and Northern Blvd.

The two suspects jumped from the car and immediately began firing their automatic handguns at the police, who dove for cover. The desperate men ran through residential back yards where terrified homeowners screamed in horror as the gunfight continued. Bullets pierced living room walls and smashed through passing cars. When one of the suspects climbed over a fence and found himself trapped inside a construction yard, he turned and fired on police who were in hot pursuit. They promptly returned fire, striking the shooter in the neck and face. He was killed instantly. Simultaneously, the other suspect, later identified as Nathaniel Burns, 35, AKA Sekou Odinga, hid under the wheel well of a parked truck. When he tried to fire his 9 mm handgun at the approaching police, the mechanism jammed. He was captured after a violent struggle. Cops found another fully loaded 9 mm in his waistband.

William Kunstler
William Kunstler (AP)

The next day when defense attorney William Kunstler was asked why his client wore a vest and was carrying several guns, Kunstler replied: "He is a black living in Brooklyn. Carrying a 9 mm and wearing a bulletproof vest shows careful planning for the possibilities."

The dead man was identified as Samuel Smith, 37, but to his friends he was better known as "Sundiata." At the time of his death, Smith was wearing a protective vest. Cops later discovered that his chest showed signs of blunt trauma, the kind of injury associated with a bullet impact on a vest. Inside his shirt pocket, police also found a flattened .38 caliber slug. Rockland District Attorney Kenneth Gribetz called a press conference to announce what many cops already suspected.

"The bullet found in his pocket, a flattened .38 caliber, was shot from Sgt. Grady's gun!" he told reporters.

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