TRUE CRIMES: Don't Mess with Texas (Banks)

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Most bank robberies follow a similar pattern: robber enters bank, approaches teller while brandishing a weapon, demands money, and (he hopes) makes his escape. So when a robbery call came in Saturday morning, September 21, 1991, for the Texas Commerce Bank in San Antonio, Texas, law enforcement officials had to double-check the address. It was a motor bank, that is, a bank that provided drive-thru service only by tellers locked inside a small building behind layers of bullet-proof glass. How could such a fortress get robbed?

The Crime

Kelly McGinnis, 21, and Lisa Silvas, 19, were the tellers assigned to work the 9AM-1PM shift that Saturday. The two girls were certainly young to be working alone in a low-security facility (no security guards, no CCTV equipment), but they were outgoing and pretty (both were former cheerleaders) and they were popular with the bank's clientele, so management didn't hesitate to pair them on shifts together. When they arrived for work that day, Kelly unlocked the first of two doors in the building and walked with Lisa down a corridor toward the second door. As she opened that door, a figure in coveralls and a mask topped by a ski cap seemingly appeared from nowhere and, in an obviously disguised voice, ordered her to cut off the alarm. Pointing a pistol at his captives, the robber restrained Kelly with a pair of plastic handcuffs and ordered Lisa to open the vault. He warned her not to trip any silent alarms: "I have a police scanner," he said indicating his pocket, "and if I hear any calls about the bank on the radio, I'll kill both of you." Inside the vault, he waited by Lisa nervously opened both safes and then dumped the money inside a plastic trash bag. He then ordered her to empty the two teller drawers into the bag. He marched both girls back into the vault and told them to stay there. Seconds later, Kelly wanted to hit the alarm, but Lisa wasn't sure the robber had left yet, so she persuaded her to wait a few minutes.

When the police did arrive, they were puzzled. How had the perp known where the vault and teller drawers were located? Why didn't he scout around the rest of the building? Why did he bother to disguise his voice?

The Perpetrators

All the indicators pointed to an inside job, and suspicion then fell on Lisa Silvas (the teller who hadn't been handcuffed) and her husband, Jack Nealy. Nealy had served as a Marine for eight years and was now in his second year working as a San Antonio police officer. At 28, he was almost ten years older than Lisa, but he had been smitten since they first met in September 1990. His adoration of her bordered on obsession: Jack called her several times each day and would drive by the bank to make sure she was at work. He regularly pulled over Lisa's ex-boyfriend for any minor traffic infraction and left him with both a citation and a warning to stay away from Lisa. Lisa loved the attention and bragged to friends how Jack spoiled her. Lisa also loved nice clothes and designer handbags, and Jack was having trouble supporting her shopping habit on a police officer's salary (especially since he was paying alimony to an ex-wife plus child support). Lisa had mentioned the lax security at her bank branch to Jack many times, and eventually the pair hatched the scheme that would net them just under a quarter of a million dollars. Nine days before the robbery, they got married in a quick ceremony at the county courthouse (authorities later surmised that they'd done so to avoid being forced to testify against one another should they get caught).

Stepfather knows Best

Picture 77.pngAll of the FBI's evidence was circumstantial, however, and Lisa and Jack may well have made their planned getaway to Grand Cayman had Jack's stepfather not noticed a patch of freshly disturbed earth on his property. He got a shovel and began digging and found a canvas tote bag filled with money, which he turned over to the FBI. The money included 30 different "bait bills" "“ hundred dollar bills whose serial numbers had been recorded by the bank so they could be traced in the event of a robbery. Even though Jack and Lisa maintained their innocence throughout the subsequent trial, they were found guilty and sentenced to 15 and 12 years in prison respectively.

July 29, 2008 - 6:09am
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