Until last week the sandwiches at Nielsen's Delicatessen, a green-fronted, narrow shop underneath the elevated tracks on Fulton Street in Brooklyn, were never especially famous outside the neighborhood. Then on Wednesday morning, about an hour before noon, a Wells Fargo armored truck pulled up at the curb. Barry Kateridge, a 21-year-old guard, went inside to get a roast pork on rye and a paper cup of green pea soup. After he returned to the truck, Jim Kerrigan, 60, who for 39 years has been carrying fortunes in other people's small bills, executed the same round trip for a Braunschweiger and cheese on rye with mayonnaise and a thin slice of Bermuda onion. A few minutes later their other partner, Thomas Raftery, 55, came down the sidewalk. "Open up, here comes Raftery," said Kateridge When Kerrigan opened the door, there stood Raftery with an elbow cocked at his throat and a snub-nosed 38 pistol pointing at each ear.
No doubt the pistols were in the hands of men who do not scorn horseplayers. That is to be hoped, at least, for the two pistoleros and another friend drove the Wells Fargo truck and its three guards, now handcuffed and hooded by money sacks inside their vehicle, two blocks along Fulton, turned right for two blocks down Chestnut, parked under trees that were dropping yellow leaves and in three more minutes cruised off in a stolen beige Chevrolet with $1.3 million in pari-mutuel and gate money from Aqueduct Racetrack. Thus they became, for the present, among the biggest winners in the history of American gambling. Regardless of the distasteful aspects of the event, hardly a rosy heart does not beat lighter at the thought that betting on a long shot can indeed produce riches enough to keep a man in a Swiss castle for all the rest of his days.
What pained was that the robbers, for all their daring, became rattled under the gaze of several Brooklyn housewives and departed in such haste that they left behind 11 canvas bags containing $700,000 in coin and paper. They had chosen to park the truck on a quiet street of two-story brick row houses frequently decorated with American flags. There were kids bouncing rubber balls against the walls, and women were sweeping leaves on the sidewalks. "So the women got nosy about these guys. as women will, God bless them," said Deputy Inspector Thomas J. Gleason, who is in charge of the force of 50 New York City detectives trying to find the three hijackers. Just as the anxious scoff-laws suspected, one of the women phoned the cops. Nevertheless, the hijackers escaped with enough unmarked, undetectable money to rank them second in the holdup hall of fame. In another couple of minutes, if those women had minded their own affairs, the three Fulton Street bandits would have been No. 1 As it is, Brooklyn can boast of the nation's most expensive business lunch.
It may strike some that there is more than a touch of mindlessness in three guards taking off for lunch with $2 million in their truck. But the three are members of Local 820 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and they were following union rules. It is required that drivers stop for lunch within 3½ and 4½ hours after reporting for work. Kerrigan, Kateridge and Raftery had checked in that morning at 7:45. They had motored out to Aqueduct—in Ozone Park, Queens, about a 10-minute drive from Nielsen's Delicatessen—and had loaded their truck with money that bettors had lost at the track on Monday and Tuesday. There was no armored-car run on Tuesday because it was Veterans Day. Then Kerrigan, Kateridge and Raftery (surely there is a song in that) set forth for the Morgan Guaranty Trust Co. on Wall Street.
November 24, 1969
The shortest route to Wall Street is not the one taken by Wells Fargo van No. 564. The truck detoured onto Fulton Street and halted in a crowded block that is usually lined with cars and contains a Chinese restaurant, a pizzeria, a doughnut shop and a printer among its enterprises. However, the truck was not lured there by Nielsen's sandwiches alone. Raftery lives on Crescent Street, around the corner from the delicatessen. He went home for lunch.
"These guards are simple souls, like ourselves," said Inspector Gleason. But they were not so simple that they attempted to challenge those pistols. According to Kateridge, one of the bandits was quite nervous, and his hand was shaking badly. Kerrigan reached for a gun. "For God's sake, put it away," Kateridge told him. "If you want to live to collect your pension, drop it," said one hijacker. Kerrigan dropped it. A Wells Fargo driver makes about $150 per week and has a $10,000 life insurance policy. If he is killed in action, his heirs collect an additional $15,000. That sort of payoff does not excite most guards into spending their lives in a fighting frenzy. The bandits had considerably stronger motivation.
Perhaps the money would have been defended with more spirit had it still belonged to the public. "The bettors had lost it already. It wasn't theirs anymore," pointed out Bob Relay, recording secretary for Teamsters Local 820. Relay was not at all happy about suggestions that it might have been wiser to transport the cash directly to the bank without pausing for lunch, nor did he welcome innuendos that the van's route placed it in a spot where the hijackers, who could have looked up Raftery's address in the Brooklyn phone book, had a rather easy ambush. "We don't want to make any waves," Relay said. "We've got enough trouble in the armored-car industry now. When the time comes proper, the union will have something to say. We could say different from what the company says, but we don't want it known at this time what we got in mind. If everybody knew what we were doing, we'd have an armored-car robbery every two days."
At the mention of Wells Fargo the popular notion is of a stagecoach rocking along a dusty road through a mountain pass with a shotgun guard sitting atop a strongbox that holds the miners' payroll. There was a television show of some seasons past that was called Wells Fargo and starred Dale Robertson as a laconic cowboy superagent who beat everybody to the draw, no matter how many snub-nosed pistols were aimed at his head, and always retrieved the payroll when other Wells Fargo employees were so negligent as to deliver it to outlaws. Sad to say, that idea of Wells Fargo hardly applies today. The company has no cops, laconic or otherwise, of its own, other than what are referred to as "security people," whose function is to inspect the routes to be traveled by armored cars. They presumably include the route that led van No. 564 to Nielsen's Delicatessen. Dale Robertson certainly would have discovered that Thomas Raftery lived around the corner.
"We don't need private cops," said Charles Gribbon, regional vice-president of Wells Fargo. "There are city cops and FBI to do the job for us." One may wonder why the FBI leaps immediately into the service of armored-truck proprietors. It is because in any case involving $5,000 or more the law puts an armored truck under the same guardianship that it puts a bank, although armored trucks are far more difficult to protect. A bank teller very seldom takes the contents of his cash drawer with him when he goes home to lunch, unless he has no intention of returning. Armored-truck crews are supposed to be changed daily, given new assignments and different routes. An employee of Nielsen's Delicatessen did admit, though, that armored-truck crews—not necessarily Kerrigan, Kateridge and Raftery—dine regularly at Nielsen's cold cuts counter. "We got good sandwiches and good prices," the employee said. To the Commercial Union Insurance Company, which was responsible for the Aqueduct shipment, last Wednesday's price may have seemed rather dear.
Wells Fargo is only half as large an outfit as Brinks, which runs armored trucks in more than 100 cities. As the underdog maybe Wells Fargo is not picked on as often by the type of high-minded criminal who has the grand imagination needed for a score in the millions. For whatever reason, neither Inspector Gleason nor Vice-President Gribbon can recall a Wells Fargo truck ever being held up before in New York, where one out of 50 citizens can expect to be burglarized in an ordinary year and one out of 150 surrenders his money at the threat of a knife or gun. That it is really not much harder to steal $1.3 million from an armored truck than it is to take $85 from a liquor store owner who is armed and protecting his own property is a fact that has been astonishingly slow to penetrate the outlaw intellect.
"The bad thing about this Wells Fargo hijacking is that it will excite the cupidity of other stickup artists," Inspector Gleason said. "They've been doing jobs that if they hit it big they'd get $5,000. Now they see how to make a million. That's like showing honey to the bee." Usually a robbery of epic proportions has an insider among its plotters, someone to leave a door unlocked, an alarm unplugged or a confidence unconfidential. Inspector Gleason has put Kerrigan, Kateridge and Raftery through the lie detector routine, and all emerged with their stories verified. "I still can't totally discount the inside possibility, but at this point, to me, the guards just look stupid," said Gleason. "Of course, this job was well planned. The crux of the matter is to get inside the truck without getting shot by the guards. That takes a good deal of nerve."
Despite the testimony about the badly shaking pistol hand, the three bandits displayed admirable grit in marching up to the armored truck on a busy street and climbing right in. That is the sporting way. One of the outlaws even wore a blue baseball cap. Now if they can avoid being betrayed for the $125,000 reward, can resist the lush life for a while and can keep their mouths shut around their girl friends, they will be remembered forever, with a sneaking fondness, as three who beat the races.