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FLASHBACK: The rest of the story of an Odessa bank heist - Odessa American: Celinda Hawkins

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FLASHBACK: The rest of the story of an Odessa bank heist

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Posted: Sunday, October 13, 2013 6:00 am

The year 2011 marked the 30th anniversary of a crime in Odessa that I will never forget, because, well, I was the victim.

As a reporter, I can say it is strange to be on the other side of crime, so I will share the parts of the story that were never told.

It was 2:30 p.m. in the afternoon of May 13, 1981. I was a teller at the Grandview branch of Odessa Savings & Loan then located in the 2500 block of Grandview.

It was a slow day. That afternoon, my boss, Dean Langston, and I were sitting down to a late lunch and watching the latest news — the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul III at the Vatican.

We were a neighborhood branch and we knew most, if not all, of our customers by name. Most days customers moseyed in, visited a little, did their business and left.

It was already a sweltering day and around 2:30 p.m. a man and a woman walked in, both wearing pink car rags on their faces. He had on a cap and a flannel shirt, which for some reason I thought was odder than the fact that he had covered his face with a car rag. I figured, “Maybe it’s so hot, he needed something to soak up sweat from his face.”

I got up from the table and walked toward the man and said, “May I help you?”

At that moment, he pulled a 12-gauage sawed-off shotgun from under his shirt and yelled:

“Give me all your f-ing money or I’ll blow your f-ing heads off!”

At that point, my boss got up, went to the drawer and began emptying the cash into her oversized purse. I remembered the makeshift mask of the woman falling off her face. And I flashed to the day before, when a rather haggard woman came in to the branch to ask how much we charged to start an account. She was casing the joint for sure.

Meanwhile, I stood in terror with my hands in the air as the guy held the gun on me. One wrong move and we could’ve been blown to smithereens.

After Dean finished dumping all the cash in her bag, the man motioned to the safe with the barrel of the gun, and ordered me to open it. I complied and showed him there was nothing but office supplies inside.

At that point, the duo ran out the front door, jumped into a green Oldsmobile and peeled off. Dean chased them out the door. I said, “No, don’t go,” and fell to the floor.

According to the story in the Odessa American, a guy selling cacti across the street saw the two running to their car and told his partner, “I think I just saw a bank robbery.”

Minutes later, I heard the ding-ding of the drive through. The wife of the vice president, Ernest Briles, was there. “Hi, Celinda, I’d like to make a withdrawal.”

I looked at her and started to cry. “We don’t have any money, we’ve just been robbed.”

The Grandview branch was the oldest branch of the bank and we didn’t have to use the alarm button much. That day, when Dean pushed the button, the police went to another downtown bank by mistake.

By the time police officers busted through the front door, the Bonnie and Clyde duo were long gone. Both Dean and I spent the rest of the afternoon giving statements to police.

That night, OA reporter Robert Halpern called my house to interview me. My dad was a little reluctant, but agreed to let me talk.

The next day investigators from the FBI and Texas Rangers interviewed us. We were asked to go through a daunting pile of mugs to try and identify the robbers. The woman’s photo was fourth from the top and when I saw it, I began hyperventilating. “This is the one,” I told the agent.

Then the FBI agent asked me to go over to the cash drawer and hold up the coin that represented the size of the barrels I was looking down that day. I immediately held up a 50-cent piece.

“I’m sure it looked that big to you, darlin’, but there is no gun that big,” he said grinning thoughtfully.

Police later found their burnt car somewhere in West Odessa. A few months later, the two were arrested in Tennessee after shooting an officer. I ran into the FBI agent who said I’d have to testify.

I was happy when I heard the two accepted a plea deal and opted out of a trial. By the time they were brought to justice on all their crimes, they would be serving a lot of time.

Let’s just hope they are still there – under the jail.

This column originally ran in 2011.

Odessa, TX

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