When I was held up at gunpoint...
By Mike Splane
This happened when I was about 23 years old, working the graveyard shift in a motel. About 3 in the morning a guy came in to rent a room. He filled out the paperwork. I turned my back on him to get a key from the rack. As I turned back around, he's up close against the counter, holding a gun, pointed straight at my chest. His arm and hand were held tight to his body. I briefly considered taking a swipe at the gun, but decided that would probably result in my getting shot.
He started literally jumping up and down, cursing and demanding money. I gave him the small amount of cash in the till. My wallet had three dollars in it. He forced me to lie on the ground and put the gun to the back of my head.
There was an apartment that opened off of the back door of the hotel office. There was a change box containing $150 in a supply closet just inside the door to the apartment. However, the apartment was occupied by the owner and his wife; they were asleep in the bedroom, not more than ten feet away. The gunman several times told me he was going to kill me if I didn't give him more money. I could have gotten the money from the change box. Instead, I kept insisting there was no more money. I knew he might shoot me, but I didn't want to expose the owners to possible loss of life. Maybe it was courage, maybe it was logical. I had a mental picture of the owners waking up and startling the gunman, with fatal results. As long as the action was confined to the office, I had a small measure of control. I felt like I was being a hero, protecting the owners, but didn’t think I’d live to tell anybody.
He was there for quite a long time for a robbery, maybe five minutes. I was certain I was going to be dead soon, if I didn't give him the money, but I kept my composure. Don't get me wrong, I was scared shit-less. I kept thinking, “If he kills me there won’t be any witnesses.” I also remembered the advice I’d heard, to do everything you are told and to not make any sudden moves or do anything to frighten the thief. I hoped that would be enough to save my life.
Eventually the guy turned his back to me and left the office, I was very fortunate to not have had a gun available. I’m sure I would have shot him in the back. Instead, I called the police. Although the police station was just a block away, the cops showed up about fifteen minutes after the guy left. I guess they didn't want to get shot either.
The owners woke up and were there when the cops questioned me. I told the police exactly how much money was taken. It had been a slow night and I knew exactly how much money I had taken in. The owner then disputed my statement, saying they would have to take a count to verify the amount. It wasn’t until days later that I realized he must have been planning to inflate the insurance claim. The owners were more upset afterwards than I was. The next day they installed an alarm system and put bullet proof glass on the counter top.
I was strangely reluctant to tell my friends and family about what happened. My mother found out when she read the newspaper.
The police did everything possible to cloud my memory of what the guy actually looked like. They made me look through three books of mug shots. I must have looked at a thousand faces. Some of them I recognized from high school. Then they tried to get me to do one of those artist’s sketches. I couldn’t even describe a single facial feature by then. I can’t imagine anybody completing an accurate one of those. Based on my experience, if I’m ever on a jury, I would never vote to convict anybody based on eyewitness testimony. About all I could remember was his shirt, a bright yellow, and his hair style, cornrows, a popular haircut then.
The same guy robbed three motels that night. A day or so later they caught him. I was subpoenaed as a witness. I was afraid to testify, he might have friends, he knew where I worked, he might get off, or he might get a short prison term. Eventually I decided it was my duty to go through with it. If he got off, perhaps he would rob again, and perhaps somebody would get killed next time.
Luckily, I was spared the fear and trauma of testifying. At the last minute, I got a phone call from the DA’s office. I was told that I didn't have to testify, the DA and the thief’s attorney had agreed to a plea deal.
The best thing about it was how it changed my attitude on life. I'd just gone through a messy breakup with a girlfriend and was feeling depressed and suicidal. Having a gun at your head is a great stimulus to the will to survive.
Oh yeah, one more thing changed that night. I am now in favor of the death penalty.