It was 10 in the morning when the young man in the leather
jacket sauntered into the nearly empty Bunkhouse bar. The Vegas
barflies didn't notice. They were watching The Price Is Right on
a TV mounted above the open end of the horseshoe-shaped bar. The
blonde bartender, Cindy McLister, approached the clean-cut
stranger, who leaned against the bar looking at some
black-and-white photos of John Wayne and Marilyn Monroe on the
wall. She said, "Hi, how are you doing?" He said, "O.K." She
said, "Can I get you anything?" He said, "Yeah," and raised his
right hand above the bar. It held a black Beretta .40-caliber, a
10-shot semiautomatic handgun. With his left hand the boyish
stranger pulled back the slide and racked a round into the
The sound took McLister's breath away. "It was very effective,"
she told a grand jury in Las Vegas. "It was scary." She went
straight to the cash drawer--"you're told to do that"--and got
the money, hearing the robber warn one of the customers not to
move. When the gunman backed toward the door with the cash,
McLister stood very still. "He pulled that gun back around on me
and just aimed it at me," she said, "and he told me, 'If I get
caught, I'll come back and kill you.'" He then disappeared out
the door toward Fremont Street.
McLister didn't know it, but she was the last audience for a
long and dangerous road show. In a 40-day stretch last fall, a
26-year-old San Diegan named David Casper was, according to
court documents, involved in 22 armed robberies in Southern
California and Nevada, including stickups of a Taco Bell, the
Sands of La Jolla resort, two doughnut shops, two bagel shops, a
cookie shop, a Chevron station, a Blockbuster store, a yogurt
shop, a KFC, two auto-parts stores, a florist, a supermarket and
a woman in a car with three children. In the California
robberies the M.O. was almost always the same. Wearing a black
Calvin Klein jacket, the gunman made it clear that he meant
business by pulling back the slide of his Beretta and letting it
snap back, click-click. That sound--and the no-nonsense look in
the gunman's eyes--invariably made his victims freeze.
"My theory was that if I could put enough fear in them, I
wouldn't have to hurt them," Casper told SI recently, his Calvin
Klein replaced by the prison blues of the Clark County (Nev.)
Detention Center. "There was a lot of eye contact. I could tell
when I had their attention." To illustrate, he put on his
robber's face. His eyes darkened to a laser-like intensity. His
lips formed a tight, unyielding line.
April 16, 2000
Yeah, scary. Even without the gun.
He dropped the look, restoring the boyish, handsome face, and
chuckled. The laughter sounded incongruous in the stark,
four-by-eight room. But David Casper, when he isn't courting
death, can be charming.
A world apart. That's what Augusta National is to Billy Casper,
David's adoptive father. Thirty years ago, a svelte,
brown-haired Billy beat Gene Littler in a Masters playoff.
Almost every year since, Casper has returned to Augusta in April
to play in the pinewood canyons and to renew friendships. This
year, as usual, he rented two houses to put up family members.
The Sunday before tournament week, Billy played a practice round
at Augusta National with his son Bobby, a manufacturer's rep and
the third oldest of his 11 children. The rest of the week Bobby
caddied for his dad, except on Wednesday afternoon, when Bobby's
12-year-old son, Mason, put on a white jumpsuit and carried his
grandpa's clubs in the annual par-3 tournament. Making his way
around the gorgeous little course, Billy drew ovations from the
fans. In addition to that 1970 Masters title, he had won the
1959 and 1966 U.S. Opens, two PGA Tour money titles, five Vardon
Trophies and 51 Tour events--sixth-best on the alltime list. A
smiling Billy raised his cap in acknowledgement. On the final
hole, after he hit his tee shot into the water, the old pro
playfully took a drop and tried to skip one across the pond,
urging the ball on with upward waves of his club. The fans
cheered. At the green Billy's playing partner, Tommy Aaron,
invited little Mason to putt for him, and Billy watched proudly
as his grandson trickled a slippery 25-footer to within inches
of the cup. Spectators shouted their approval from the
Afterward, friends and admirers came up to Billy and hugged him,
whispered in his ear or simply grabbed his hand. "You're a great
champion," said European tour commissioner Ken Schofield,
stopping Casper on the clubhouse terrace, "and a great man."
The well-wishers could only guess what Billy and Shirley, his
wife of 48 years, were feeling. Embarrassment, for a start--it's
no fun reading GOLFER'S SON SENTENCED IN ROBBERIES over your
morning coffee. But more profoundly, the Caspers acknowledged a
relentless, almost unbearable ache for their wayward son. "It
just tears your heart," Billy said. "David's really a good kid.
It's just that he made some bad choices, and now he has to live
with those choices."
To Billy and Shirley, David is still a precious part of their
life's work, a loving human mosaic that started in the '50s with
the births of their first three children, Linda, Billy Jr. and
Bobby. Told by doctors that Shirley could have no more children,
the Caspers--who joined the Mormon Church in 1966--waited seven
years before adopting a little boy, Byron. Encouraged by their
new faith to build a big family, they followed quickly with
adopted twin girls, Jeni and Judi, then Charles, then David
(when he was three days old), and finally, in 1974, Julia. But
the finality was a ruse. In 1975, Shirley, at 40, shocked the
doctors by delivering a baby, Sarah. Nineteen months later, she
gave birth again, to Tommy. To this exuberant, roiling crowd the
Caspers added foster children and loaners. They took in two
children that Linda brought home from school.
"People thought we were gluttons for punishment," Shirley says.
But most thought the Caspers were saints. Billy was called Dad
by Johnny Miller. Former U.S. Amateur champ Mitch Voges turned
to him for practical and spiritual advice. When Golfweek
magazine named Billy father of the year in 1996, the choice was
a no-brainer--the onetime sport of shepherds honoring the
greatest shepherd in the sport.
But there is something that Billy Casper has learned about
children, and it was his mantra last week. "Once they get to a
certain age," he said sadly, "you lose control."
David had some issues. Even before he got the Beretta, he
carried what he called his "issue kit"--a zipper wallet that
looked like an ordinary day planner. David's kit, however, was
full of disorganizing tools: needles, an elastic tube to wrap
around his arm as he shot up, scales to measure methamphetamine
crystals and heroin, blades to cut the crystals, and a tin
container to mix the drugs to make speedballs.
When he got out of Sierra Conservation Center, a prison in
Jamestown, Calif., in December 1998 after having served three
years for burglary, parole violation and an escape, David was
not clean. But he tried to beat his addiction. His parents took
him back to their Chula Vista home. They drove him to his
meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous. They
drove him home. David says he stayed clean for at least a month.
Then he fell into what recovering alcoholics and addicts call a
slip. "At first it was a few drinks, and maybe I'd smoke
something," he says. "But then I was back, deep into my disease,
back with old friends and doing hard drugs." He moved into his
own apartment where, according to David, a friend, 23-year-old
Lisa Llamas, dropped by regularly with crystal meth. David began
showing up stoned at his meetings.
Billy and Shirley, past desperation, pushed their son to enroll
at the Delancey Street Foundation in Los Angeles, a residential
rehab facility where former convicts and drug abusers share
their experiences in an effort to solve their problems. David,
however, was put off by the minimum stay of two years. "My mom
and dad tried to steer me in the right direction," he says.
"They were willing to do whatever it took...but I had just
been in prison for three years, and I didn't want it. It would
have been going right back into confinement."
Last summer David's parole officer made an unannounced visit to
his apartment. She immediately knew something was wrong. There
were people in the back room and unmistakable signs of drug use.
Taking David outside to her car, she patted him down and ordered
him to appear at her office at a given time when, he assumed,
she would arrest him.
David did not keep the appointment. He ditched his apartment and
was on the move. "It was like a snowball," he says. "I was on
the run, doing more and more drugs. There was more and more
guilt, and I was more and more hopeless."
Soon after the parole bust he began breaking into houses and
businesses around San Diego. On Oct. 4 he burglarized the Chula
Vista home of Alexander Turquieh, the brother of a former
girlfriend, stealing a shotgun and the Beretta he would use in
his holdups. (David and a pal sawed down the shotgun, outlaw
fashion.) He also broke into his parents' home and stole credit
cards--he charged $30,000 to their accounts--a
belt-buckle-mounted .22-caliber derringer that Billy won at a
tournament in 1982 and the keys to his sister Sarah's black
Volvo 850. A couple of days after David burglarized his parents'
house, Sarah came home to find her car missing.
Then, according to charges filed in San Diego, the string of
robberies began. Through Llamas, David had met Francisco (Ernie)
Beruman, a 36-year-old Chula Vista tile setter. Beruman had no
police record, and the braces on his teeth gave him an
adolescent look, but he became Casper's driver and lookout.
Beruman usually waited in the car, monitoring police calls on a
scanner and communicating with David by walkie-talkie. David had
a black mask that according to Llamas he planned to use for a
home invasion but didn't wear on robberies. His only disguise
was the Calvin Klein jacket, which covered an elaborate
spider-web tattoo on his left arm. He was invariably high from
shooting up a mixture of heroin and speed less than a half hour
before each heist. Then, says Llamas, he'd get "a rush" from the
At 2:16 a.m. on Nov. 5, the robbers were southbound in Sarah's
Volvo on I-805 in San Diego, Beruman behind the wheel and Llamas
along as a passenger. Two California Highway Patrol officers in
a marked squad car suspected that the Volvo might be the one
involved in a recent string of San Diego robberies. When they
checked the license plate and found that it did not belong to
the Volvo, the officers hit the lights and siren and pulled the
David pulled back the slide on the Beretta as one of the
officers approached the car: click-click. Llamas, according to a
statement she made to the police, started crying and begged him
not to shoot, fearing that she would be killed in the crossfire.
"I never thought I would be around when an arrest [happened],"
she said. "[David] told me they would have to kill him to take
him back to prison. He would shoot the police...but he was
never going back to prison."
Before David could make the most critical choice of his life,
Beruman gunned the Volvo back onto the road. A chase ensued,
with the robbers careening down the freeway and the troopers
following. The CHP pursued at up to 130 mph, radioing other
units for backup, but they were not quick enough. The fugitives
exited I-805, and by the time the CHP made the same turn, the
Volvo had vanished down some dark lane.
"I would counsel with him and counsel with him," Billy said at
the Masters. "I would say, 'Son, what is the most important
thing in your life right now?'" The old champion took a deep
breath, looking up at the spreading branches of the big oak tree
by the Augusta National clubhouse.
"He'd think a minute and say, 'Freedom.'"
On the quiet, sunny, Saturday morning of Nov. 6, Gian Scozzaro
met David. Scozzaro, a 25-year-old English-language instructor,
lives in Pacific Beach, about 15 minutes from the Mexican
border. At about nine, he was in the parking lot outside his
duplex apartment, loading his black '97 Audi A4 sedan for a trip
to Los Angeles. "I was an easy target," Scozzaro says,
remembering how the young man in the T-shirt and "Eddie
Bauer-type" button-down shirt had jumped over the bushes and
come up on him from the street. "He looked like someone you'd
find in a coffee shop--a bit of a derelict but not too out of
the norm for a beach community, not super doped out." But then
the young man pulled a black handgun from the front of his pants
and said, "Give me the f------ keys or I'll kill you."
"I could tell from the look in his eyes he wasn't kidding,"
Scozzaro says. "He looked really vicious. So I told him, 'Calm
down; here are the keys. Take the car.'" As the carjacker
started to drive away, he rolled down the window and looked at
Scozzaro, the vicious look replaced by something more
vulnerable. Curiously emboldened, Scozzaro said, "You made a
mistake. You're not going to get away with this."
"He looked straight at me and seemed to absorb my words,"
Scozzaro says. "Two seconds." Then the carjacker peeled out of
the parking lot and disappeared down the road.
A few days later neighbors told Scozzaro they had seen his car
on the evening news. The robber had been captured in Las Vegas.
"I was really angry about it," says Scozzaro, "but oddly enough
I felt sorry for him. I had the urge to visit him and give him a
book or something." Specifically, Scozzaro wanted to give Casper
From Onions to Pearls, a memoir by a former drug dealer about
his spiritual awakening. Says Scozzaro, "I don't know how to
explain it, but the only thing that brought me peace was feeling
bad for him."
When his car was returned, Scozzaro went through it with the
police. In addition to his own possessions they found burglary
tools, a CD-ROM of children's Bible stories, several artist's
cases filled with brushes, pencils and drawings--"wacky-looking
people, like a body walking through an alley," Scozzaro says.
"Cool stuff but sort of weird." There were also "philosophical
musings, God-searching sort of thoughts" scribbled on pieces of
paper that Scozzaro discovered in his bag.
"He was obviously searching for something," Scozzaro says.
nature or nurture? It's the pertinent question and has been
since Cain slew Abel. David's brother Charlie, 30, is a
supervisor at a youth crisis center in St. George, Utah, a
last-chance kind of place for gang members and drug abusers.
"Some kids, it doesn't matter how many chances you give them,"
Charlie said last week, "and I think David was one of those
cases. We all love him, and we gave him as much as we could. I
don't know why he went astray."
It certainly wasn't because of childhood abuse or neglect. When
David was growing up, the Caspers lived on an idyllic hundred
acres at the edge of a national forest, in Mapleton, Utah. There
were orchards, meadows, trout streams. They raised their own
vegetables, but it wasn't a work farm. The chores were shared
with a housekeeper. Billy, when he wasn't at golf tournaments,
played ball with the kids and took them fishing. Shirley cooked
imaginative meals and ground her own wheat flour, which she
bought in hundred-pound bags. "The delicious smell permeating
the house on baking day," wrote a visitor in the mid-'70s, "is
enough to induce a perfect stranger to consider being put up for
There was certainly no lack of moral instruction. The Caspers
prayed together upon rising in the morning. They prayed at
meals, at regular devotional sessions and at bedtime. The older
children took religion classes every day before school, and they
honored the Sabbath with two-a-days at church. Insular? Perhaps,
but Billy's celebrity and the chances they got to travel made
the kids feel connected to the outside world. "You don't realize
how good moms and dads are until you have children of your own,"
says Bobby. "Mine were great. They provided us with everything
we needed to succeed and be happy."
David fit in. He played, he prayed, he fished, he ran in the
fields. He also fashioned refrigerator art that was a cut above,
a presage of the big, abstract oil and acrylic canvases he would
produce. ("If I had stayed with my parents and focused on my
art," he says from jail, "I would be doing cool things right now
instead of sitting here.")
So when the Caspers try to explain what went wrong, they can
only grasp at "He made bad choices" or "He fell in with the
wrong crowd." Bobby theorizes that the family's high standards
somehow became a burden to David, who found easier acceptance
among high school friends who failed, rebelled or used drugs.
Billy, asked if his son suffers from a genetic mood disorder,
invokes the old-fashioned notion of a split personality.
"David," he says, "is either totally good or totally bad."
Schizophrenia? The Caspers don't know. When David had trouble in
school the experts said he suffered from dyslexia and attention
deficit disorder. When he started medicating himself with the
kinds of palliatives found in school parking lots, the doctors
countered with mood-levelers. "But I don't know if he was very
faithful in taking them," Shirley says. David himself can't
answer the deeper questions, but he doesn't blame his parents.
"I don't want anything you say in the article to make them look
bad," he said in the jailhouse interview. "They did everything
they could do for me and more. I love them, and I want them to
know that I take responsibility for all that has happened." He
summed up: "I know I am a bad boy."
The cell phone was a mistake. It was in the glove box of Gian
Scozzaro's Audi when David drove away that Saturday. The San
Diego police asked the shaken English teacher to keep the
account open; if the carjacker used the phone, the call could be
"I never used that phone," David said later. "I wouldn't use
that phone. It had to be Lisa." Or Ernie. Or Ernie's girlfriend,
Veronica, who was with the fugitives in Las Vegas. They were all
doing speed. David, their charismatic leader, was injecting
Las Vegas was their destination because Llamas wanted to visit
her boyfriend, who was locked up in the Clark County Detention
Center on an immigration violation. But when they reached Vegas
on Saturday night it was too late. They decided to stay until
Wednesday, when visiting hours resumed. Over the next five days
Casper and Llamas moved from hotel to hotel--the Casa Malaga,
the Luxor, Circus Circus, Treasure Island, the Wild Wild
West--always paying in cash and usually registering under the
name Lisa Llamas.
After one night on the Strip, they were broke. David, the
breadwinner, told Lisa that he and Ernie were going out "to make
some money." An hour or so later 19-year-old Vincent Curtis, a
clerk at a Checker Auto Parts store, handed over $300 to a speed
freak waving a black handgun.
A day later someone made several calls from Vegas on Scozzaro's
cell phone. The phone company notified the San Diego police. The
SDP alerted the Metro Las Vegas police, providing descriptions
of the Volvo, the Audi and the principal suspect--an ex-con
named David Casper.
"My back has been giving me trouble," a cheerfully resigned
Billy said last Thursday after shooting an 84 in the first round
of the Masters. A round in the 80s is no big deal to an older
former champ like Casper, who tees off when the grass is still
wet with dew and plays for fun. But Billy's back had him hitting
everything left-left, and he had decided not to play on Friday.
"Anyway, this is what makes this place special," he said, taking
in the tables, the patio umbrellas, the familiar faces. Shirley,
walking with the aid of a cane, said they still planned to stay
through the weekend.
Bobby Casper had turned in his white jumpsuit and was ordering
lunch at a table on the clubhouse balcony. It was jarring, he
said, the way life worked. One week your little brother is
standing in shackles before a Nevada judge. The next week you're
caddying for your dad in a fantasy forest teeming with gentle
"David's my brother, and I love him," Bobby said, "but I don't
like the choices he has made, and I really don't like what he
has done to my mom and dad. He can be so bad, so evil." He shook
his head. "He's a sweetheart when he doesn't have that stuff
going through his blood."
There was no warning. "We were laughing," Llamas told the grand
jury, "and the next thing I know I see Metro policemen running
in from every which way with guns."
It was Nov. 11, two days after the Bunkhouse robbery. The police
had spotted the stolen Audi and Volvo outside the Wild Wild West
Gambling Hall & Hotel. They were waiting when Casper and Llamas
came out of room 755, on the second floor, and walked down the
exterior stairs. "Put your hands up and get down or we're going
to shoot!" a cop shouted as Casper and Llamas neared the
landing. Three officers aimed shotguns at them.
Llamas was stunned. She raised her hands and started to go down.
But Casper looked at her, his face turning red, his right hand
frozen at his hip. "He was getting ready to get his gun," Llamas
testified, "and he looked back at me, and he couldn't say
Casper's version: "I was not interested in hurting the officers.
I was pulling the gun to get away. I looked over at Lisa, and
her eyes were as big as any eyes I have ever seen." The Beretta,
his instrument of escape, was in his pants, and he was prepared
to use it. But he couldn't get past the terrified eyes of his
friend, who might be killed if he opened fire. Still looking at
Lisa, he put his hands up and went down on the pavement.
Four months later Casper stood before Judge Mark Gibbons in a
Clark County District courtroom. "There's a lot I'd like to tell
you," Casper said. "I obviously was not in the right state of
mind when I did those things. I'm apologetic.... I thank God
nobody got hurt." Ten years, said the judge.
In Chula Vista, Billy fought back tears. "I look at what David's
going to miss in life, and it just kills me," he said.
Ten years is mere prologue. David faces 40 felony charges in
California and a maximum of 226 years. The years add up quickly
because of his past difficulties and California's three-strikes
law. "He will never get out of the penitentiary," predicts
Andrea Freshwater, a deputy district attorney in San Diego.
The young man, the artist, told his father repeatedly that
freedom was the most important thing in his life. Now he is left
to ponder what his father told him in response: "Then don't ever
let anyone take your freedom away."
The steel door opens and closes again with a heavy click-click.
Billy's mantra at Augusta was something he has learned about
children: "Once they get to a certain age, you lose control."
"My theory," said David, "was that if I put enough fear in them,
I wouldn't have to hurt them. There was a lot of eye contact."
David fit in. He played, he prayed, he fished, he ran in the
fields. He fashioned refrigerator art that was a cut above.
As Casper tried to drive off with his car, Scozzaro told him,
"You made a mistake. You're not going to get away with this."
"David told me that they would have to kill him to take him back
to prison," said Llamas. "He was never going back."