TROY, MO. • Maybe the bank robber couldn’t see very well through the holes in his mask — the face of Chucky from the “Child’s Play” horror movies — as he walked into Peoples Bank & Trust Tuesday afternoon.
After all, it says right on the door that concealed weapons are allowed in the bank. They’re practically encouraged by the sign: “Management recognizes the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as an unalienable right of all citizens.”
So when the robber walked out of the bank a short time later with a red bank bag full of cash, maybe he shouldn’t have been surprised that bank president David W. Thompson followed him out to the parking lot. Thompson watched the masked robber get in a Ford pickup parked in a handicapped spot up front, then pulled his Colt .380 handgun and pointed it at the man.
“Sir, get out of the truck,” Thompson, 58, recalled demanding. “You’re not going anywhere.”
And when the man put his hand in his jacket pocket, as if he had a weapon, Thompson scolded him again.
“You don’t want to go there,” Thompson said. “This will end badly.”
Fortunately the robber listened. It turned out the man had no weapon of his own. Thompson and another bank official who also carries his own weapon pulled the man from the truck and held him at gunpoint until police arrived.
“I didn’t have time to get scared,” said Thompson, a life member of the National Rifle Association who supports concealed-carry laws. “I was excited. Your adrenaline pumps. He robbed a bank, he menaced my employees, and I don’t allow that.”
‘A GUTSY CALL’
On Wednesday morning, authorities charged Donald Ray Lee, 58, of Lincoln County, with first-degree robbery in the bank heist. He was being held Wednesday in lieu of $50,000 cash-only bail.
Nabbing Lee made Thompson, who was born and reared in Lincoln County, the talk of the town. His office line rang nearly nonstop after news spread Wednesday morning. Co-workers thanked him. A customer who was vacationing in Singapore heard about it on the news and chimed in with congratulations. The local priest stopped by the bank to tell Thompson he did a good job.
At one point, Thompson opened an envelope marked inter-office mail. He laughed when he saw what an employee had put inside as a joke: a .38-caliber bullet and a message that it was a “donation to the cause.” Thompson put it in his drawer with the rest of his ammunition.
As Thompson sat behind his desk at the bank Wednesday and fielded questions from a reporter, one of his longtime friends and customers, Billy D. Phillips, stood in the doorway and struck a pose reminiscent of Dirty Harry. Phillips pointed his finger as if it were a gun and pulled the imaginary trigger. He smiled broadly and said he was proud of Thompson, who has been with the family-operated bank 36 years.
“That’s David,” said Phillips, 76. “I’ve known him his whole life. He’s quite a guy.”
Jerry Sage, executive director of the Kansas City-based Missouri Independent Banking Association, said there was no protocol for bankers regarding using a firearm, as Thompson did on Tuesday. Sage’s group represents more than 200 community banks throughout the state of Missouri, including Thompson’s bank. Thompson is past president of the association.
“We stress in our safety training that safety is the most important thing,” Sage said. “He took it outside the bank so no one was in jeopardy. If he pulls a gun and he has a permit, that would certainly be his call.
And, Sage added: “It was a gutsy call.”
Troy Police Chief Jeff Taylor also commended Thompson.
“He’s a very level-headed man,” the chief added. “It worked out really well.”
But while he doesn’t second-guess Thompson’s actions, Taylor said he generally advises that people don’t take matters into their own hands like that.
“In general, I would suggest they lock that door, get a good description of the robber and call police immediately,” Taylor said.
But that just wasn’t Thompson’s instinct during the robbery.
Lee walked into the bank about 2:40 p.m., according to police, a few minutes before the lobby was to close for the day. There were about 60 employees in the three-story building and a few customers in the bank, Thompson said.
He brushed past two bank employees who told him to take off the Halloween mask, Thompson said. The teller also told him he had to remove the mask, but according to Thompson, Lee said, “No, you gotta give me all your money.”
The tellers then saw the masked man put his hand in his coat pocket, indicating he had a gun.
Thompson credits his tellers for their handling of the situation.
“They did exactly what they were supposed to do,” he said. “They stayed calm and nobody caused a stink.”
Thompson, meanwhile, was in his office talking with a salesman about advertising when his receptionist buzzed him with an emergency. Thompson said he looked out his office door into the bank lobby and saw that his tellers looked fearful. And he saw a man wearing a heavy jacket and a ghoulish Halloween mask calmly walk away from the tellers, carrying one of the bank’s red money bags.
He didn’t hesitate. Thompson followed the man outside, and the bank door was locked behind him to keep his employees safe.
Thompson said he never worried he’d be hurt in a confrontation with the robber. Not only was Thompson armed, but he’s a black belt. The robber “was frail enough and slow-moving enough that I’d already ascertained I could physically handle him,” he said.
After drawing down on the robber and getting backup from the other bank worker, Thompson pulled the man from the truck and waited for police.
Police arrived quickly, forced the man to the ground and pulled the mask off his face, Thompson said. The officers opened the man’s wallet, and Thompson saw a debit card for Peoples Bank.
“That’s when I realized he was one of our customers,” Thompson said.
Thompson didn’t recognize the man, but one of his tellers later said she did. Turns out Lee had opened an account with the bank in April, Thompson said.
He had $4,779 in the bank bag, according to court documents. Lee told police he’d gone to the bank only to trick or treat.
Lee lives in the first block of Ruby Drive, near Cuivre River State Park, with his daughter and grandchildren. A neighbor, Hazel Schone, said Lee came from Oklahoma about a year ago to live with his family.
Schone said she thought that Lee might be suffering from dementia and that his relatives were talking about getting him tested for Alzheimer’s disease.
“He’d be nice one minute and mean the next,” Schone said. “Here lately, he had changed and was being nicer. He’d wave ‘Hi,’ I’d wave ‘Hi.’”
The Chucky Halloween mask, she said, belonged to Lee’s granddaughter, who is about 8 years old. The girl had been to Schone’s house a few days earlier to show off her costume.