By Matthew B. Cox
THE BULKY, SQUARE, armored-truck jolted to a stop feet from the Bank of America branch, located in the center of the plaza—Garda’s iconic red and white logo displayed on its side. Within its bowels was $1.5 million in cash.
Fifty yards across the parking lot, behind the dumpsters, a twenty-eight-year-old black male watched from the driver’s seat of a navy blue Chevy Monte Carlo with black rims and black tinted windows. He glanced between the dumpster—the grayish truck was sitting in front of the ATM machine, just where he knew it would be. Cars lined the parking lot. Customers meandered in and out of the strip mall’s shops and big named anchor tenants. Home Depot. Publix Supermarket. No one seemed to have noticed him.
Despite the simmering Florida heat, he sat in the dark coupe and waited. Feds Watching, by 2 Chainz, was blaring out of the speakers. Hjalmar* Nathanial Towns knew all Garda Cash Logistics’ security proceedures. Their policies. Their delivery routes. The ATM reload schedule. Still, he was uneasy. Hjalmar checked his watch and waited. Beebee-sized beads of perspiration formed on his brow. This was nothing like the movies that had inspired him.
*Footnote: Hjalmar is prounounced ja•mar.
The adrenaline infused blood coursing through Hjalmar’s veins caused his hands to tremble as he snapped off the stereo. People were laughing in the distance. He slipped on his gloves, rolled the black ski-mask down his forehead and pulled it taut over his face, revealing a twisted Joker’s grin made up of three-inch tall white letters. Stretching across the mouth of the mask were the words AMERICAN GREED.
Hjalmar grabbed the neck of his AR-15 semi-automatic assault rifle, slid across the front seat and popped open the Monte Carlo’s passenger door. As he emerged from the vehicle, Hjalmar must have looked like the Angel of Death dressed entirely in black; grinning AMERICAN GREED from ear-to-ear, tucked inside a Crooks & Castles’ hoodie with his assault rifle.
He peeked over the dumpsters and saw the guard, wearing a starched blue uniform over his Kevlar-vest. Tucked into his holster was a flat black automatic pistol. The guard leaned out of the rear of the truck holding four cash reload canisters—each containing $50,000. He stepped onto the bumper, dropped to the asphalt and headed toward the ATM.
Hjalmar knew there was a possibility he could be killed, however, Garda policy stated not to engage a suspected robber in public. Not to risk bodily harm. Not to pursue. Hjalmar was nervous, but he liked his odds.
As Hjalmar waited for the guard to return with the canvas bag full of cash—approximately half a million dollars—a woman in a minivan drove by. Some suburbanite, soccer mom do-gooder. She looked the Angel of Death in the eyes and reached for her cellphone. Hjalmar’s level of anxiety spiked. He looked at his watch and noted the time.
Suddenly, he heard the ATM door slam closed. It was time. Hjalmar came around the dumpster and bolted toward the truck. The guard had just opened the rear-door when he spotted the armed figure—a ripple of fear ran through him.
“Drop the bag!” yelled Hjalmar as he closed the distance between he and the guard. “Drop it!”
Panicked, the guard froze for a fraction of a second. Then he jolted awake, released the bag and dove through the partially open door. Somewhere behind him a woman screamed. By the time 911 started receiving calls of the robbery, Hjalmar had sped out of the strip mall’s parking lot with the bag and vanished. As Palm Beach Sheriff’s cruisers and choppers converged on the location it appeared that, once again, Hjalmar had pulled off the perfect heist.
IT’S THE SUMMER OF 2016 and a black drug dealer, nicknamed “Bam,” wants me to meet his “homeboy” sometime after dinner. “He’s got a crazy ass case,” Bam tells me. “You gotta hear it.”
As a con man/true crime writer locked away inside the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in central Florida, I get pitched stories all the time. Mobsters, kidnappers, tax cheats; every inmate thinks they have a story. They all want to be George Jung or Jordan Belford. Some of their stories interest me, but most don’t. However, I like Bam, so I agree to meet with his homeboy at 6:00 p.m. outside our housing unit.
Hjalmar Towns is an unlikely bank robber. In contrast to the, loud, brutish, tattooed Neanderthals we’re surrounded by with their gold-teeth and dreadlocks; Hjalmar is athletic, around five-foot ten-inches tall and soft spoken. He considers himself reserved, however, anti-social is a better description. In an overcrowded prison, bustling with inmates, he has few friends and spends most of his time reading. I have yet to see him without a book in his hand.
Sitting on the concrete benches in front of B-Unit, with the dusk chasing the summer heat away, mosquitoes swarm around us. Almost in a whisper, Hjalmar tells me his story. “I’ve avoided gangs and drugs my whole life,” he says. “I’m not a street guy. I’m not some kind of thug.” Other than the multiple robberies that led him here, Hjalmar tells me, “I’ve never stolen anything.”
THE ABORTION MONEY was lying on his sixteen-year-old mother’s dresser and Hjalmar was tucked inside her womb. Jeneen Towns had been saving for over a month. The procedure was scheduled for 4:00 p.m. Shortly after school.
When Jeneen’s mother saw the cash, she knew what it was for. She wasn’t happy about her daughter’s decision; and the money was just sitting on the dresser.
By the time Jeneen got home from school it was gone and her mother was unpacking the groceries. Frantically, she looked around her room, then she asked her mother, if she’d seen the cash on the dresser. She confessed to spending it on food for the celebratory family barbeque.
“To celebrate what?!”
“You’re having a baby.” Hjalmar was born six months later, in May 1985, at St. Mary’s Hospital, West Palm Beach, Florida.
Over the next few years his mother gave birth to two more boys and two girls. Five children all struggling to grow up in Riviera Beach, a few miles south of Palm Beach, where the ultra rich live. While people like Tiger Woods, Rush Limbaugh and Donald Trump lived in huge multi-million dollar mansions, drove exotic vehicles and owned luxury yachts; Hjalmar and his siblings survived on spoonfuls of thick government peanut butter and mayonnaise sandwiches.
During high school Hjalmar’s younger sister, Ashley—who’d always been a tomboy—began showing an interest in her female classmates. No one in the family was surprised, however, Ashley’s sexual orientation caused problems for her and her brother. Kids would make cruel comments and start rumors. Hjalmar was constantly defending her.
Sometime during Hjalmar’s junior year, Ashley began flirting with a male Haitian student’s girlfriend. The situation escalated into a confrontation. The Haitian and several of his friends jumped Ashley after school one day. They split her lip and blackened both her eyes. She was covered with bruises.
The day after the beating there was an incident between the Haitian and his buddies, and several of Hjalmar’s friends. A confrontation which quickly turned into a brawl.
The principal and the West Palm Beach Police Department forced Hjalmar and Ashley to change schools, before things got out of control. Weeks later, Hjalmar obtained a basketball scholarship at RJ Hendley High School; where he graduated in May 2003, with the second highest GPA in his class.
“GO TALK TO HER,” hissed Mike, Hjalmar’s buddy. Michael Sheffield wasn’t quite five-foot six-inches, however, he was bulldog husky and Chihuahua enthusiastic. The two couldn’t have been more different. Mike was loud and outgoing. A brazen risk taker. While Hjalmar juggled night courses at Palm Beach State College and working fulltime as a forklift operator at a Walgreen’s warehouse, Mike spent most of the time playing pranks on his fellow employees, dodging his supervisor and selling Xanax and Roxies on the side. By November 2007, they were best friends.
The two twenty-somethings were huddled together in the Walgreen’s employee cafeteria, gawking at a curvy, light skinned chick who worked in the packaging department. She had Halle Berry hair and good looks. “Go over there and talk to her.”
Her curious glances had become a stare. Suddenly Hjalmar didn’t have a chance but to introduce himself. Zaire was a twenty-one-year-old single mother. “He wasn’t like the other guys,” Zaire replies—during one of our interviews—when I ask her about her first impression of Hjalmar. “He was quiet, shy, strong, but soft, ya know? He smiled at me and I fell in love. I remember thinking, I’m gonna marry this guy. That’s my man.”
Over the next year, they did the whole dinners and movies thing. They took Zaire’s daughter to Florida theme parks and the beach. Hjalmar liked Zaire, but she wanted more than the occasional date. He wasn’t interested in being a father or any of the drama that came with a serious relationship.
During a semi-break in the relationship Hjalmar hooked up with a caramel-skinned, petite hottie named Nicole; a payroll administrator for a cement company called, CEMEX. It wasn’t serious until Nicole told him she was pregnant. Hjalmar was still trying to wrap his head around the news when—two weeks later—Zaire stopped by his apartment to let him know she’d missed her period. Hjalmar—the guy that didn’t want a relationship—now had two pregnant girlfriends and a whole lot of drama.
Throughout early 2009, Hjalmar juggled OBGYN appointments, sonograms and ultrasounds, while simultaneously working the night shift at Walgreens. His children were born in July and August 2009.
Zaire wasn’t thrilled, however, “I love Hjalmar,” she says, “so I was willing to deal with the situation.”
Nicole, at the time, was furious. Irrational. Determined to make Hjalmar’s life hell. She’d scream at him. Call the police and say Hjalmar had a gun and he was selling drugs out of his apartment.
The police would show up, search his place and find nothing. The officers would ask Hjalmar if he wanted to press charges for the false report. He never did. Eventually, in late 2009, Nicole physically attacked him. Despite Hjalmar refusing to press charges, the officers arrested her for domestic violence. The charge was later dropped.
ASHLEY TOWNS was a troubled soul. She was also, what Hjalmar refers to as, “street.” Criminal-minded. A street savvy hustler.
On December 3, 2009, Ashley sold coke to an undercover officer with the Palm Springs Narcotics Unit. She took off running, but between the helicopter and the K9-Unit’s German Shepherds, she was tracked down and arrested for trafficking in cocaine. Ashley was sentenced to 24 months in the Florida Department of Corrections.
In the midst of the chaos, Hjalmar was studying to be an EMT (Emergency Medical Technician) at Keiser Career College. Between his course load and the mandatory ride alongs with the fire department, he couldn’t continue working at the warehouse. By year-end, he’d aced all his EMT courses, however, in early 2010 Hjalmar ran into a problem with the State of Florida’s EMT exam.
“I failed it,” he told Mike. “This is the third time I’ve failed it!” Hjalmar had graduated Keiser at the top of his class, but the state exam had proven impossible to pass.
“You gonna take it again?”
“I failed it three times!” He exclaimed. At $200 a pop, Hjalmar couldn’t afford to take the exam again.
He could go back to Walgreens, but after five years, Hjalmar knew there was no chance for advancement there.
“What about being an armed security guard?” suggested Mike. “Some of those guys make real money.”
It wasn’t a bad idea. All Hjalmar had to do was acquire his Florida Concealed Weapons permit. Unlike Mike, Hjalmar had no criminal record. He breezed through the six week course at Gator Guns in West Palm Beach—the license arrived in the mail sometime in the summer 2010. Hjalmar went on CareerBuilder.com and applied with Brinks Security, Garda Cash Logistics, Loomis, etc. He accepted a position at G4S, a security company that specialized in providing community security.
Hjalmar worked gate security at San Michele, in Palm Beach Gardens, guarding multi-million dollar mansions. Waving to the wealthy residents as they passed through the gated entrance in their Bentleys and Beemers. It wasn’t a bad gig, but there wasn’t much room for advancement.
Then, in December 2011, he got the call from Garda Cash Logistics’s Human Resources Department. They were the third largest logistics company in the industry; moving billions of dollars every year. The human resources’ woman insisted they were growing and the company was ripe with opportunity for advancement.
During the first few months Hjalmar was trained for a variety of positions: driver, messenger, receiver and jumper—that’s the guard in the back responsible for servicing ATM machines. They trained him how to handle currency and label bags. The residential and commercial routes. How to layout and create the delivery manifests. The whole operation was run out of the Garda Cash Logistics Armored-Truck Depot, located in a fortified-warehouse on Gardner Rd. in Riviera Beach.
In May 2012, something strange happened; a female driver “lost” a bag containing $30,000. The police searched her vehicle and found the cash—she was fired, but never charged. Days later, Hjalmar was working as a receiver, inventorying bags and logging them into Garda’s logistics system, as the trucks arrived. While scanning in one of the messenger’s deposits, a guy named Tool, Hjalmar noticed he was short one bag.
“There’s only fifteen bags,” said Hjalmar. The manifest indicated there should have been sixteen.
Tool shrugged. “Maybe it’s still on the truck,” he replied and walked to the under roof parking garage within the warehouse. A minute later Tool returned without the missing bag. He told Hjalmar he must have “accidentally scanned the same bag twice,” which was possible.
Hjalmar made a note in the system, regarding the missing bag, and moved to the next deposit. The following morning his manager questioned Hjalmar about the missing bag. Apparently there had been a sixteenth bag—containing $40,000—but it was gone.
Hjalmar was sure Tool was going to lose his job, but nothing happened. Instead, a week later, Tool showed up at work riding a new Suzuki GSX motorcycle. He shot Hjalmar a mischievous grin and a wink, and Hjalmar knew he’d taken the money.
HJALMAR EMERGED from the U-Haul truck as Mike stepped out of his vehicle. It was June 2012, Hjalmar and Zaire were moving into an apartment together—trying to make the relationship work. Hjalmar’s sister had recently been released from Florida state prison and money was tight.
“I’ve gotta talk to you,” said Mike. He’d recruited two experienced robbers. Street guys, straight out of the federal prison system. Weeks earlier, Mike had mentioned robbing Garda, but Hjalmar thought he was messing around. Joking like he always did. “One of these guys used to rob banks.”
“I thought this was supposed to be you and me?” The idea of robbing Garda had been a theoretical scenario. Abstract. But it was becoming real serious, real quick. Hjalmar knew it was possible. It was happening all the time, however, he also knew, if he was going to get involved, it wasn’t going to be for thirty or forty grand.
“Trust me,” replied Mike. “These guys are professionals.”
That night, he and Zaire watched the movie Heat, starring Robert De Niro, as Neil McCauley, the leader of a military-style crew who commits heists across L.A. Hjalmar had seen the movie before, but this time he paid extra attention to the armored-truck robbery; how the crew cut off the truck en route; how they knew the police response time.
Hjalmar noticed how Neil, Chris, Cerrito and Waingro moved in with their AR-15 assault rifles. Their use of masks, Kevlar vests and gloves. How they covered the three guards and blew open the rear-doors of the truck using a shape-charge.
Then, Neil checked his watch and growled, “Eighty seconds left. Move it.” They entered the truck, ignored the cash and grabbed the package—containing $1.6 million in negotiable Treasury Certificates. His watch read 38 seconds as they exited the vehicle. “Move out!”
It looked like the perfect score, then, suddenly, the whole thing went sideways; Waingro shot a guard for no apparent reason. It was no longer a simple robbery, it was now a murder, and there was no reason to leave any witnesses. Neil and Cerrito executed the two remaining guards and in a matter of seconds the perfect crime evaporated.
It doesn’t have to go like that, Hjalmar remembers thinking. No one has to get hurt.
The next morning, Hjalmar began paying attention to the security procedures at the depot. The locations of the cameras. The angles. Where the recorders were kept. How many armed employees were located on the trucks or in the warehouse at any given time. Which guards considered themselves Supermen, willing to get into a shootout over Garda’s cash. Ex-cops. Ex-military types.
Within weeks, Mike pulled into Hjalmar’s apartment parking lot in a black 1987 Chevy El Camino. The paint was faded and the dashboard was cracked, still Hjalmar thought it was the coolest thing ever.
“It’s yours,” said Mike. He knew Hjalmar had always wanted an El Camino, but could never afford one.
“This is mine?” he yelped excitedly. “You’re saying this is mine?”
“Yeah, but we gotta do somethin’ real quick.” One of Mike’s guys wanted to meet Hjalmar. There was no plan to go over, Hjalmar was still watching for weaknesses in security. But Mike’s guy wanted to know if he’d go through with the heist.
They met in the rear of a storage facility on Belvedere Road and I-95; wedged between two rows of nearly one hundred units.
Darryl “Duey” Peterkine was sitting in a brand new red Dodge Magnum; and when he got out of the vehicle, he kept going and going. Duey was a foot taller than Hjalmar and nearly a foot and a half taller than Mike. Six-foot nine-inches with golds and a glossy bald head. Everything about him was street. Greasy. Savage. The kind of goon Hjalmar had spent his entire life avoiding.
“How much, we talkin’ ‘bout?” asked Duey. Hjalmar told him the trucks typically contain roughly a million dollars, sometimes more, and Duey flashed a sinister grin.
What Hjalmar didn’t know was the almost incestuous connection between Duey and the numerous members of his inner circle. His crew. His den of thieves was made up of bank robbers, getaway drivers, gunmen, murderers and money launderers; all woven together through a complicated family tree of “blood” and “babies’ mammas.”
There was Duey’s brother, Allan “BOLO*” Asbury, Duey’s wife, Shauntee Hollis and her brother Melvin Hollis, Duey’s girlfriend, Shanika Michelle Wilkins, and Duey’s sister, Shafray Richardson. Here is where it gets complicated, Kelby Parson—a robber with Duey’s crew—“baby’s mama” is Duey’s wife’s sister and Parson’s other baby’s mama is the sister of Sircorey “Joe Rock” Wilder—another robber in Duey’s crew. Still, another robber is Dwayne “We We” Sheppard; Joe Rock and We We were cousins.
*Footnote: “BOLO” is a law enforcement anachronism for: Be On The Lookout.
Don’t bother trying to make sense of the connections, it’s enough to know they were more than a gang, they were family. Everyone was involved in crime. Everyone had a criminal record. Everyone had done time. And everyone else, was fair game.
GARDA CASH LOGISTICS had numerous security procedures and policies for the movement of currency. Procedures and policies that weren’t being followed.
There were always supposed to be three guards on commercial and ATM armored-trucks, however, Hjalmar noted there were never more than two. Also, at any given time, there should’ve been an additional three guards at the depot, but that was seldom the case.
The most glaring gap in Garda’s security occurred on Sunday nights, between midnight and 1:00 a.m. That’s when Garda transported the week’s currency—roughly $20 million in cash—from Miami to the Riviera Beach warehouse. There was supposed to be three guards, an armored-truck and a decoy-vehicle. However, despite company policy, Garda had scaled the transports back to two guards, one armored-truck and no decoy. Hjalmar was one of the two Garda guards.
THEY MET UNDERNEATH the streetlight outside Duey’s place in Monroe Heights. It was after dark and Hjalmar wasn’t happy. Duey had Joe Rock with him—a shorter, more muscular version of Duey—and he’d told him everything. Too many people know about this, thought Hjalmar.
He went over what he felt was a simple plan, over and over again.
“All you’ve gotta do is wait behind the bushes beside the warehouse,” said Hjalmar, for the third time. “After I get outta the truck, I’ll open the outside door, and you run up behind me with the gun. You push me inside the warehouse—the driver won’t be able to see you from where he’s parked, but the cameras can.” Once inside, Hjalmar would de-activate the alarm and open the large garage door for the truck. After the driver pulled into the warehouse, Duey and Joe Rock were to zip-tie him and Hjalmar. “Get the money outta the back of the truck and take off.”
“How come you can’t grab the driver while you’re in the truck?” asked Duey.
“Are you serious? The guy knows me.” Hjalmar explained that if he were willing to expose his involvement, “I wouldn’t need either of you.”
Duey and Joe Rock nodded in unison, like a couple mindless, plastic dashboard bobble-heads.
The following Sunday night, Hjalmar walked out of the warehouse in Miami. He and the driver had loaded two pallets of currency—roughly $18 million wrapped in cellophane—into the rear of the truck. As he locked the back doors, Hjalmar called Duey. “I’m leaving” was all he said before disconnecting.
Two hours later, the truck pulled into the parking lot of the Riviera Beach depot; Hjalmar hopped out, unlocked and opened the heavy steel door. He stalled for a second, anticipating the barrel of Duey’s weapon at his back, but it didn’t come. Hjalmar entered the building, expecting Duey would rush in behind him. He didn’t. Hjalmar disarmed the alarm and opened the garage door, thinking Duey might come in through the open garage door. Nothing.
“We just froze, my nigga. You know what I’m sayin’,” Duey told him later. He tried to blame his trepidation on Mike’s involvement. He wanted to do it with just Joe Rock and his brother, BOLO. Hjalmar reluctantly agreed. “You know how it is. Next time, next time.”
Two weeks later, Duey and Joe Rock crouched in the bushes, again, but at the crucial moment, they froze. Again.
“What the fuck!” barked Hjalmar, when he and Duey met up. They were standing in the industrial area parking lot across from the Riviera Beach Police Department; staring at a dozen cruisers.
He told Hjalmar there were too many cameras. They didn’t feel good about the plan. “We’re thinkin we should grab the driver’s wife or kid the night before and—”
“What’re you talkin’ about? I’m not kidnappin’ anyone,” hissed Hjalmar.
“Look, look, I’ll come up with another plan. We’re not kidnapping anyone.”
The second plan was no more successful. Duey and Joe Rock were to cut off the truck en route, jump out of their vehicle and rob Hjalmar and the second guard as they returned to the warehouse. But they managed to screw that up too. After the fourth, or maybe it was the fifth, failed attempt, Hjalmar came to the conclusion it wasn’t going to work out. These guys weren’t professionals, they were clowns.
SHE WAS A THICK, ghetto-sexy, black girl that had been working at Garda for less than a month. Terri* was tall and curvy. All the guys wanted to “get with her.” Hjalmar was working as a receiver, inventorying several bags from SunTrust Bank when Terri casually slipped up beside him. “I know what you’re plannin’,” she said, slightly above a whisper. “You need to call me.”
*Footnote: Name has been changed.
At the time, Hjalmar had given up on the idea of robbing Garda, but the comment sent a jolt of fear through him. “Go on, Terri,” he grunted and waved her off. “I’m workin’ here.”
He didn’t call her and within a week she stopped showing up for her shifts.
IN THE MIDST of the numerous botched robbery attempts, Hjalmar’s manager, Amanda, asked him to step into her office. Tom, the supervisor was slumped in a guest chair looking at the flat-screen on Amanda’s desk.
Prominently displayed on the screen was a grainy frozen image of Duey and Joe Rock climbing out of a nondescript truck. The image had been captured by one of the parking lot cameras.
Amanda looked at Hjalmar and asked, “Have you noticed anything unusual; anyone following the trucks or loitering around the warehouse?”
“No,” he replied, staring at his co-conspirators.
Tom glanced uneasily at Amanda and sighed, “Well,” he mumbled, “something’s going on.” Hjalmar was certain they suspected he was involved, until Amanda asked if he’d consider taking a position as a supervisor. “It comes with a raise—sixteen dollars an hour, plus overtime.”
Just before Hjalmar left, Tom informed him and Amanda that the security at Garda’s new transfer facility was state-of-the-art. The entire Riviera Beach operation was scheduled to be relocated by the end of September—they’d already moved the forklifts and a lot of the furniture. “Until then,” Tom said, “keep your eyes open.”
Shortly after being made a supervisor, Hjalmar was assigned the warehouse weekend shift. He and a second Garda employee were in charge of assigning routes, receiving and allocating cash to ATM machines. However, within weeks, Amanda was scheduling Hjalmar to work alone at the warehouse. Other employees were scheduled, but they regularly came in late and left early.
On his way back from dropping off $100,000 in currency to a Bank of America branch—another job that Hjalmar never should’ve been assigned to do alone—he pulled into the empty parking lot at the vacant warehouse and Hjalmar had an epiphany. Why not just rob the whole depot. He was alone for hours at a time during the weekends.
Hjalmar met Duey, just after his shift ended. “All you’ve gotta do is grab me outside—you don’t even need a gun, you can use mine—and walk me into the warehouse.” The safes, three of them, approximately six-foot high and five-foot deep, would be unlocked. Hjalmar was very clear about this. “You’re gonna need a truck, like an F150 or a Suburban. It’s a lot of cash—a lot of ones, fives, tens and twenties—and it’s bulky”
“At least eleven million. But they’re moving, if it don’t happen this weekend, it ain’t ever gonna happen.”
ON SEPTEMBER 15, 2012, around 7:00 p.m., Hjalmar stepped into the employee restroom. All but one of the trucks had come in and all of the guards had gone home. The warehouse was empty.
He pulled the Tracfone out of his pants’ pocket and called Duey. “It’s a go,” was all Hjalmar said before the cell went dead. Out of minutes. Hjalmar couldn’t call Duey’s cell using his iPhone, so he called his sister and asked her to call Duey’s cell three way. By the time Hjalmar stepped out of the restroom and back into the view of multiple security cameras, Duey was on his way to the depot.
Hjalmar shuffled around the warehouse for a few minutes, looking bored. Then he began gathering up the garbage and tossing it into the trash bin. He glanced at his watch; the final truck had an ETA of twenty minutes. He opened the garage door to the warehouse and pushed the bin toward the industrial complex’s dumpster, roughly 75 yards away.
Halfway there he noticed a Chevy S10 in his peripheral vision; the smallest production pickup ever manufactured by a U.S. automaker. Not nearly large enough to hold the contents of the safes, but it was too late. The truck pulled up beside him, and Duey exited the Chevy with an AK-47 semi-auto assault rifle at his side. He pushed the barrel into Hjalmar’s back and yanked the 9 mm Rugar out of his holster.
“Let’s do this, bitch,” growled Duey; then he grabbed Hjalmar by the collar, wheeled him around and pushed him toward the depot. Suddenly, there was an aggressiveness to Duey, Hjalmar hadn’t experienced before. His eyes were blood shot with thin veins. He seemed unpredictable. Dangerous. For the first time, Hjalmar wondered if leaving him alive was part of Duey’s plan; his heart began thumping and his brow immediately started to perspire.
Within a minute, Joe Rock had backed the Chevy into the under-roof parking area of the warehouse and Duey had walked Hjalmar into Amanda’s office—prodding him with the AK for the cameras. The plan was to retrieve the VHS cassettes from the recorders, but they were gone. The station was empty, except for some loose cords and screws.
“Where they at?” snapped Duey.
“They must’ve moved all the equipment to the new location.” A quick search revealed a harness of cords in a closet, which Duey severed using a pair of wire cutters, however, they had no idea if the system had been disabled.
Hjalmar checked his watch, the truck and its armed guards would be there in less then fifteen minutes.
Duey pushed Hjalmar into the fenced off area of the warehouse that contained the safes. Joe Rock was standing idle, staring at the three massive black-steel-boxes.
“What’re you doin’,” hissed Hjalmar, “they’re unlocked! The truck’ll be here any minute.”
Joe Rock yanked open the door, revealing shelf after shelf stacked with blocks of vacuum-sealed currency bound for Bank of America, SunTrust, Wachovia and TD Bank. As Duey duct-taped Hjalmar for the cameras, Joe Rock transported the bricks of cash—each containing anywhere between $10,000 and $100,000—to the bed of the Chevy. Duey dug into Hjalmar’s pocket and relieved him of his iPhone and his Tracfone.
As Hjalmar feared, the teeny tiny truck bed filled to capacity before the second safe was empty. It was so full the tarp couldn’t cover the bulk of cash. Duey and Joe Rock had to toss several blocks out—leaving nearly a million dollars lying on the garage’s oily concrete floor, along with Hjalmar.
Just before Duey climbed into the Chevy he slammed the butt of his assault rifle into the back of Hjalmar’s head—which was something they had never discussed—hitting him again and again. Almost knocking Hjalmar unconscious. After the fifth or sixth impact, Hjalmar was certain Duey was going to crush his skull and leave him for dead. Then, as suddenly as the beating began, it stopped.
As Hjalmar was lying on the floor bleeding, surrounded by bricks of currency, the pickup’s tires squealed in front of his face, raced out of the garage and disappeared. Twenty minutes later Garda’s last armored-truck pulled into the parking lot.
By the time Hjalmar stepped out of the ambulance—around 8:00 p.m.—several detectives with the Riviera Beach Police Department and a couple of FBI agents were waiting for him.
DUEY, JOE ROCK and BOLO barged into Sahara Wood’s* house sometime before midnight. Duey had been sleeping with Sahara on and off for years; she was a “home girl” from the streets of Riviera Beach that was “down for whatever.” He considered her place “a safe house.”
*Footnote: Name has been changed due to her status as a confidential informant.
Using a razor-knife, they slashed the cellophane wrapped blocks open and dumped the currency on Sahara’s bed. There was so much cash, part of it spilled onto the floor. One big pile of crisp, clean, greenbacks.
Joe Rock and BOLO sorted the bills into piles of George Washingtons, Benjamin Franklins, Andrew Jacksons, etc.. Duey counted it, stacked the cash into bundles of $50,000 and wrapped them in rubber bands.
Sahara stood in the doorway of her bedroom and watched the bundles grow from $50,000 to $100,000; while listening to Duey brag about the heist. Over the next few hours the take went from half a million, to a million, then to $2 million. As Duey counted out the last million he laughed at the brilliance of the plan. The precision of their execution. Their skill and, unfortunately for Hjalmar, the inside man that put it all together.
Shortly after midnight, Hjalmar was led into and interview room at the Riviera Beach Police Department. It was occupied by two detectives with the Riviera Beach robbery unit and four FBI agents. Hjalmar was asked to describe the ambush outside the warehouse and the events that led up to the robbery.
“Why didn’t you fire on them?” spat one detective.
“With what?” he replied. The robbers had taken Hjalmar’s Rugar. “They had AK’s. Check the cameras. I was unarmed.”
The second detective interjected something about protecting the money and Hjalmar responded, “I ain’t gettin’ shot for sixteen bucks an hour. It’s not my money.”
During the three hour interrogation, while the detectives rapidly fired questions at Hjalmar, the FBI agents never said a word. They took notes and they observed, but they never said a word.
The next morning—after he’d stumbled out of the police station at 4:00 a.m. to find Zaire waiting in the parking lot, after she’d taken him home and given him a bath. He’d laid in bed wondering if the authorities would put it together, after Zaire had left for work—FBI Agents John MacVeigh and Scott Wilson knocked on the door of Hjalmar’s apartment.
Standing in the living room, were two average looking white government agents—average height, average weight, average generic grey suits. MacVeigh and Wilson, explained that they needed to clear up some inconsistencies with Hjalmar’s story. They asked about several calls he’d made while at work—using his personal cell, not the Tracfone. Calls to Zaire. His sister. They asked him to go over the robbery again. Which he did.
Agent MacVeigh was agitated, but clueless as to Hjalmar’s involvement. The more they asked, the more obvious it was that they didn’t have anything on him. He’d pulled off the perfect heist.
SAHARA’S BROTHER stepped into the partitioned-off visitation booth at the West Palm Beach County Detention Center commonly known as “Gun Club.” He smiled at her through the plexiglass. Sitting on the counter was a copy of the Palm Beach Post.
Terrell Wood* had recently pled guilty to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon; subsequently he was enhanced under the career criminal statute. He was months away from being sentenced to a 15 year minimum mandatory. Per federal statute, there is only one way to breach a minimum mandatory…cooperation.
*Footnote: Name has been changed due to status as a confidential informant.
“I gotch’a bro,” said Sahara into the visitation phone’s receiver. “I’m gettin’ you outta here.” Sahara held the Post up to the glass partition. The headline read Garda Depot Robbed. She proceeded to tell her brother that Duey and his co-conspirators had counted out the money at her residence. Sahara knew all the players. The siblings had grown up with them on the streets of Riviera Beach. “They got over three million dollars, all you gotta do is call the feds big bro. That’s all you gotta do.”
Cooperating with law enforcement and “snitching out your homeboys” is dangerous, but so is doing 15 years in a federal penitentiary. According to Hjalmar, Terrell was on the phone with Agent MacVeigh within less than an hour.
Roughly a week later, the morning of September 29, the agents were back. This time they banged on Hjalmar’s door. This time they insisted he accompany them to the Federal Building in downtown West Palm Beach.
When they got to the sixth floor, the FBI’s Field Office, there was a polygraph examiner waiting for him. Agent Wilson told him, “It’ll only take a few minutes. We’re just trying to exclude you from our pool of subjects.”
Hjalmar knew something had changed. “Nah,” he grunted, “I don’t trust it. I don’t wanna take it. I ain’t got nothin’ else to say.”
He hired Frank Prince, a criminal defense attorney. Prince assured Hjalmar the best course of action was to answer the FBI’s questions. To clear everything up.
On October 19, 2012, they met at the FBI’s Field Office. Hjalmar went over the robbery, again, and the agents asked several accusatory questions. Prince didn’t say much in his defense. They showed him a photo of the Chevy S10—the truck Duey had insisted he was going to torch after the robbery—and his heart sank. It was the first concrete piece of evidence Hjalmar had seen.
The agents told him they were closing in on the subjects. They placed a dozen mug shots on the table in front of him and asked if Hjalmar recognized anyone. He didn’t*.
*Footnote: Hjalmar later found out that Joe Rock’s face was among the photos, however, he didn’t recognize him. Michael Sheffield’s mug shot wasn’t among the photos, nor was Duey’s, or anyone else he recognized.
“You know: Dwayne Sheppard or Sircorey Wilder?” asked Agent MacVeigh. Hjalmar shook his head. “What about: Lynsky Montal, Shafray Richardson, Allan Asbury, Angelo Bejiamy, Michael Sheffield?”
Hjalmar only knew Duey, Joe Rock and BOLO by their street names, he didn’t recognize their legal names, however, he did recognize Mike’s name.
“No sir. They don’t sound familiar.”
“They don’t sound familiar?” Agent MacVeigh shot back. “You don’t recognize the name Michael Sheffield? Michael Sheffield.”
“Eventually,” sighed MacVeigh, “we’re gonna get everyone involved.” He stared deep into Hjalmar’s eyes and continued, “Every single one of them.”
That’s when Wilson removed Hjalmar’s iPhone—the phone Duey had assured Hjalmar he’d disposed of—from an evidence bag, and asked, “Does this look familiar?”
HERE’S WHERE IT GETS complicated. Duey’s wife’s sister’s “baby’s daddy,” Kelby Parson, a thirty-three-year-old black male, who was also one of Duey’s crew, was approached by his homeboy, shortly after Duey’s big score. He was angry. Duey had originally agreed to include him in the robbery, but days before, Duey had changed his mind. Now Duey and Joe Rock were sitting on millions in cash. “I had this tracking device,” says Parson during one of our interviews at the Coleman Federal Complex. He’d acquired the GPS tracker at a spy shop in Miami. “I put it on Duey’s vehicle and traced ‘im on my laptop.”
Parson tracked Duey’s movements for two weeks—mostly he stayed in the Riviera Beach area, bouncing from friends and family members’ homes. However, he did go to a trailer park in Port Saint Lucie, but according to Parson it was a dead end.
“That’s how I found Shanika Wilkins’ house—she’s Duey’s side girl.” After watching Wilkins’ movements for a few days, Parson broke into her residence, he searched it, “but I didn’t find nothin’.”
It didn’t really matter about the money, Parson tells me. He and a partner had been watching Garda’s new transfer station in West Palm Beach for months. They knew the armored-trucks’ routines and they’d been waiting for the right moment to hit one. However, knowing that Duey had robbed the Garda Cash Logistics Depot for $3 million
They decided to make their move. “It was only a matter of time before someone else inthe crew smashed the truck,” says Parson, “and my homeboy didn’t wanna lose that money too.”
DESPITE THE FBI’S investigation, Hjalmar was still attending night courses at Strayer University’s West Palm Beach campus. He was sitting in his Intro to Business class, waiting for the instructor to begin the lecture; trying to convince himself the agents didn’t have enough evidence to arrest him, when a fellow student—an off-duty police Officer Hjalmar had never spoken to—turned to face him.
“You know those guys that hit the armored-truck place,” said the officer, “mark my words, the feds are gonna bust ‘em any day now.” He told Hjalmar the robbers would eventually screw-up and the FBI would pounce. “They’ll get ‘em.”
“What’re you tellin’ me this for?” asked Hjalmar, perplexed. They didn’t know one another. They’d never even spoken.
The officer gave Hjalmar a quizzical half shrug. “I thought you worked there?”
“Why would you think that?”
“You usually come in here in your Garda uniform. You work there, right?”
Hjalmar was so shaken by the conversation he left the class. He never went back to his Intro to Business or any of his other classes.
MIKE AND DUEY KNEW not to contact Hjalmar. They’d discussed the possibility that the FBI might watch him for a few months. However, by early November, Hjalmar’s workman’s compensation wasn’t enough to cover his bills.
He called Mike and then his sister, Ashley—using someone else’s cell—and asked them to pickup his third of the $3 million. Duey wanted to meet with Hjalmar personally, but he refused. Hjalmar was certain the FBI was watching him. Every time he turned around he thought he spotted an agent or an unmarked car. Instead, a drop was arranged, where Ashley picked up her brother’s percentage stuffed in a bag.
The second Hjalmar saw the bundles of cash he knew it was short. He counted it twice, $300,000, and called Duey, “Where’s the other seven hundred thousand?”
“You gotta ticket (a million dollars),” he replied.
“Nah, man,” sighed Hjalmar, “I got three hundred thousand.”
“That’s on you, motherfucker,” barked Duey. “I gave your bitch a’ ticket.”
Hjalmar knew Duey was screwing him out of his cut, but there wasn’t much he could do. Duey and his crew were on the FBI’s radar and Hjalmar didn’t want to be around if things went bad. “We straight?”
“Yeah, we’re straight.”
Hjalmar caught up some bills and slipped Mike $50,000.
Shortly after Hjalmar got the cash, Zaire started doubting his story. “Tell me you weren’t involved in the robbery,” she asked one evening. The question came out of nowhere. It was so unexpected, Hjalmar struggled for the appropriate response; in that moment of hesitation, Zaire—the person closest to him—recognized the deception. “No, no, no, what’ve you done?”
“Nothin’ I didn’t do anything. I got robbed, that’s all.”
She threw her hands up to her face and cried, “What’ve you done?! What’ve you done?!”
She didn’t believe his denials. Within days, Hjalmar moved out of their apartment. The decision was based on many factors, but the primary reason was Zaire’s disappointment in him. He couldn’t stand the look of disgust in her eyes. He’d betrayed her. He felt like a stranger in his own home.
STRIPPERS, ALCOHOL and drugs seemed appropriate, given the situation—a Band-Aid for Hjalmar’s broken heart. A prescription for loneliness. He and several guys were partying at Flash Dance, a gentlemens club in West Palm. Hjalmar was drinking Remy Martin and Red Bull, while the boys were throwing cash at the gorgeous exotic dancers on stage. The club was packed with customers and Meek Mill was singing Dreams and Nightmares.
Duchess* was dancing for some customer, but she never took her eyes off Hjalmar. He was sporting a combination of True Religion and AKOO, Polo leather boots and a MK watch. She was a slim caramel skinned Ethiopian with a “bodacious body” according to Hjalmar; five-foot ten-inches with heels and silky black Brazilian hair.
He called her the next day. Less than a week later they met at a hotel.
*Footnote: Name has been changed.
THEY PARKED THEIR STOLEN getaway car in the adjacent Walmart parking lot near Garda’s new transfer station in West Palm Beach. It was 4:00 a.m. Parson used a hacksaw to cut through the steel bars of the fence surrounding the building. This gave them access to the building’s exterior and the parking lot. Dressed in black—ski-masks, gloves and Kevlar-vests—the two men crouched in the shrubs and waited for the truck to arrive—an estimated $5 million in its coffer. They waited, and waited, and waited.
Then, just before 7:00 a.m., as dawn broke, the truck pulled into the parking lot and slowly backed up to the transfer station’s garage. The driver stepped out and, Parson and his partner, rushed out of the bushes with their AK-47 semi-auto assault rifles held high and tight to their shoulders.
Parson yelled, “Don’t move or you’re fuckin’ dead!”
The driver threw his hands up and screamed, “Take whatever you want!”
As Parson’s partner raced around the back of the truck, Parson entered the driver’s side. He didn’t see the second guard sitting in the back of the vehicle, holding his 9 mm semi-auto Glock, until it was too late. There was a loud pop! The round struck him in the mouth, blew a hole through his lower-lip, shattering his front teeth and jaw.
The impact threw Parson out of the open door. He hit the asphalt and blacked out for a second. There was blood everywhere. In the confusion, his partner took off running for their getaway vehicle, leaving Parson on the pavement. Parson struggled to his feet, grabbed his assault rifle and a dozen shards of broken teeth off the ground and followed him.
While Parson was in surgery, having the bullet removed, St. Mary’s Medical Center notified the police. The FBI took a DNA swab and matched it to the blood left at the transfer station. Parson was arrested less than a week later and, within a year, sentenced to 12 years in federal prison. His partner was never apprehended.
Hjalmar heard about the failed robbery on the evening news. He immediately knew the events were connected.
By the end of the year, agents MacVeigh and Wilson had not only linked Hjalmar to Mike via his cellular records, but they’d also discovered the origin of their connection, Walgreens. However, when the agents tried to speak with Mike he refused to admit any knowledge of the Garda heist or Hjalmar.
On December 24, 2012, Mike and Hjalmar met at Hjalmar’s grandmother’s house. They discussed their concerns regarding the FBI’s investigation and Mike raged over Duey shorting Hjalmar on his cut. I’m gonna get that cash bro,” he said, over and over.
Hjalmar told him not to worry about it. Not to do anything stupid. The money was gone. “It’s over.”
“I put the word out,” replied Mike, ignoring Hjalmar. “I gotta couple guys. I’m gonna get the money, bro.” Hjalmar took the statement to mean Mike was going to have Duey’s place burglarized or set him up to be robbed.
Duey had made some mistakes. He’d bragged to his crew about the millions in cash, but he hadn’t “broken them off.” He hadn’t “spread the love.” Instead, Duey and Joe Rock had split the funds. Several members of the crew felt shorted, and now, his homeboys were turning on him. They were looking for the money. Looking to rob him.
However, in Mike’s attempt to retrieve the money he’d failed to take three factors into consideration: one, Mike was the only direct link connecting Hjalmar to Duey; two, he wasn’t family; and three, not unlike Jimmy “The Gent,” in the movie Goodfellas*, it was cheaper to have Mike and Hjalmar killed than to hand them over nearly three quarters of a million dollars.
*Footnote: Jimmy “The Gent” was played by Robert De Niro.
“Be safe, bro,” was the last thing Hjalmar said to his friend before he left.
A little over two weeks later, around 12:40 a.m., January 9, 2013, Mike pulled his silver Dodge Magnum in front of his parents’ house. The neighborhood street lights were on, however, it’s doubtful Mike noticed the man waiting for him. He may have been sitting in a non-descript vehicle at the curb or standing in the adjacent alley. What is known is, as Mike approached the front door, the man fired over a dozen shots into him.
Seconds later, his father opened the front door holding his gun; he found his son’s body lying motionless on the front stoop. Despite not seeing anyone, he fired off several rounds into the air—hoping to frighten off the gunman.
Shortly after the police arrived, according to Parson, Duey drove by the scene with Joe Rock. There were a dozen patrol vehicles scattered around the neighborhood. Crime tape held back the curious as the forensic lab processed the scene. There were lots of blue lights and uniforms.
Duey turned to Joe Rock, “See that,” he said. “That’s my work.”
Hjalmar was lying in bed with Zaire when his lawyer, Prince, called. “Mr Towns, I just got off the phone with the FBI,” he informed Hjalmar. In spite of Hjalmar denying any knowledge of Mike, Agent MacVeigh wanted to inform Hjalmar of his murder. Before the attorney had finished, Hjalmar’s hands were trembling with anxiety over the loss. “They said he was shot fourteen times. It might be unrelated to the robbery, but if you did know him, and it is related, you could be in danger.”
Hjalmar mumbled, “I didn’t know ‘im,” and hung-up the phone. He recalled crying throughout the day and into the night with Zaire beside him. Mike was the only true friend Hjalmar had ever had.
EVERYTHING WAS SPIRALING out of control. Duey and most of his crew had been picked up and questioned by agent MacVeigh and Wilson—they denied knowing anything about the robbery or the murder—and were subsequently released.
Hjalmar wasn’t sure if the multiple unmarked sedans parked on the corner and tailing him in traffic were FBI or Duey’s crew. Or both. Regardless, none of it was supposed to have happened. Mike was supposed to be alive and Hjalmar was supposed to be sitting on a million dollars.
In early March, Hjalmar stumbled into Flash Dance at midnight. He wanted to see Duchess dance to Future and Kelly Rowland’s Neva End, get a drink and pretend everything was okay.
He was in the VIP section staring at the girls on stage while Duchess finished up a lap dance. She made her way through the crowd and sat beside him. Placed her hand in his. She pointed with her chin toward a solitary figure near the stage. “You know that guy?”
He was an average looking street guy, nothing stuck out about him; Hjalmar didn’t recognize him. “Why?”
“He’s been askin’ about you.” The guy didn’t know Hjalmar’s name, but he’d described his car right down to the emerald green metallic flakes; and he’d asked every girl in the club if they knew the owner. He’d been there for several hours, drinking and talking. “He said there’s a hundred thousand on your head, and he gonna cash that check.”
Hjalmar didn’t know if he was the same guy that had killed Mike, however, he knew he was in danger.
Duchess asked, “You gonna do somethin’ to ‘im?”
“I’m not hurtin’ no body,” he grunted. “I’m not the guy you think I am.”
Hjalmar slipped out of the club unnoticed.
The next morning Hjalmar found a sticky-note on the driver’s side windshield of his car that read ‘Dead or alive.’ They knew where he lived. He thought about selling the vehicle, but he was afraid Duey’s crew would mistakenly kill the new owner. So he called ABC Auto and arranged to have the car crushed.
Within days, he moved Zaire and the kids into a different apartment.
Admittedly, after sitting only feet from his would-be killer, Hjalmar went a little crazy. He bought an AR-15 semi-auto assault rifle, a Smith & Wesson 9 mm semi-auto, .45 revolver and enough ammunition to hold off the Florida National Guard. He purchased—at a dealership Duchess said was known for being cash friendly—a brand new BMW 750LI straight off the assembly line. A German engineered ultimate driving machine that purred like a kitten with a kick ass sound system and a hand stitched black leather interior.
AGENTS MACVEIGH and Wilson received several tips from confidential informants stating Mike’s murder was connected to the Garda heist and Duey. But hearsay isn’t evidence. They couldn’t get an indictment based on rumors, still, they wanted him off the streets.
The only tangible evidence was the cash; Duey was spending money with no substantial source of income. In addition, both his wife, Shauntee Hollis, and his girlfriend, Shanika Wilkins, were driving luxury vehicles and sporting pricey jewelry: in particular, Duey and Shauntee were living in the projects, in an apartment stocked with expensive furniture and electronics—none of which she’d disclosed to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
As a result of the discrepancy, in April, the FBI raided Duey and Shauntee’s apartment and had them both arrested for public housing fraud. During the agents’ search for assets, they seized all the furniture and electronics. They checked vents and knocked holes in the drywall.
“That’s our stuff,” snapped Shauntee, as several agents toted off half a dozen flat screen televisions.
When MacVeigh pulled the jewelry off her fingers and neck, he informed Shauntee they’d return everything the moment she and her husband provided proof of their income.
At the FBI’s Office they leaned on Shauntee hard. The agents told her she was facing a stiff federal prison sentence on the fraud charges, however, “we can make it all go away,” they said, “if you cooperate against your husband.”
“I ain’t snitchin’ out my man!” she snapped.
Ultimately, she got probation. Duey wasn’t so lucky, due to his federal supervision, he was subject to a violation of supervised release and remanded to Jesup Federal Correctional Institution in Georgia—precisely what agents MacVeigh and Wilson wanted. However, like his wife, Duey wasn’t talking.
HJALMAR SHOWED UP at Flavor’s, a hole-in-the-wall strip club in Miami, with a gorgeous six-foot five-inch twenty-one-year-old exotic dancer named “Legs.” He’d picked her up at another club earlier that week. Legs worked at multiple clubs. All the girls knew her. She was hard to forget.
That’s how Hjalmar met Brittany “Mulan” Tarpley. She was dancing on stage in her G-string and pasties—a voluptuous five-foot five-inch Bahamian beauty with bronze skin and straight hair. A couple tattoos. She looked so good, Hjalmar gave the DJ five hundred bucks to keep her on stage for three more songs.
At the end of the night, while Legs was distracted—talking to one of the other dancers—Mulan slipped her number into Hjalmar’s shirt pocket.
The number led to dozens of texts, which turned into several phone calls that sparked multiple rendezvous at hotels and night clubs throughout Miami and West Palm Beach. A month into the relationship, Hjalmar, Mulan, and her best friend Crystal—also a dancer—were celebrating Crystal’s birthday at the Miami strip club, The Office.
The trio was drinking Grey Goose and Remy Martin cut with Red Bull. Hjalmar had over ten grand in small bills and the girls were shoving fives and tens into the exotic dancers’ garters. Throwing money at their brethren and having a blast. That was the problem. The money. Within an hour every street-thug, wanna-be-gangster in the place was watching.
Sometime after 2:00 a.m., one of the bouncers approached Hjalmar and yelled over the music, “You need to get outta here.” There were a dozen grim faced men staring at him from the bar. Hjalmar was extremely drunk and not quite understanding the severity of the situation. He was feeling bulletproof.
The bouncer looked at Mulan and said, “Your man don’t go now, he’s gonna get touched (robbed).”
Mulan and Crystal practically had to drag Hjalmar out of the club with the thugs slowly meandering behind.
Once they were outside, not wanting the girls to think he was intimidated, Hjalmar slowly walked across the parking lot. Halfway to the Beemer the grimfaced thugs rushed out of the club and jumped him. Hjalmar took several punches to the head. He swung back, but ended up on the pavement.
That’s when Mulan reached into her purse* grabbed a 9 mm Lady Smith & Wesson and screamed, “Back off! Or I’ll kill every last one of you motherfuckers!**”
The goons immediately scattered—including the two bouncers who were trying to break up the fight. Three of the thugs piled into a black Buick Regal.
*Footnote: The following events have been slightly altered.
**Footnote: Paraphrasing Honey Bunny from Pulp Fiction (1994), Quentin
Tarantino’s ultra-violent ‘70s pop culture film.
Hjalmar found his way behind the wheel of his BMW and they squealed down the street. When Hjalmar reached the I-95 on-ramp, Crystal noticed the black Buick from the club behind them.
Hjalmar snaked through traffic, but the gap between the vehicles was closing. When the Regal reached the BMW the driver swerved at the sedan. Crystal screamed. Suddenly, Mulan rolled down the passenger side window and pulled the 9 mm out of her purse. She leaned out of the window, aimed at the Buick and fired off six rounds. The driver hit the brakes and yanked the wheel to the right, in an attempt to make the turn for the off-ramp, but it was too late. The vehicle slammed headfirst into the yellow water absorption tanks. Hjalmar caught a split second of the Buick’s hood crumpling and the explosion of water.
Mulan dropped back into the passenger seat and slipped the smoldering weapon into her purse.
Hjalmar thought, This chick’s as gangster as they come.
WITH SWAT TEAM LIKE precision they swarmed out of the van and surrounded the armored-truck. Doug MacRay—played by Ben Affleck in The Town—directed his gang of Charlestown bank robbers with the professional grace of a conductor, using nothing more than hand gestures and clipped commands. In less then a minute, the guards gave up the cash and the crew was gone.
Hjalmar recalled watching the movie in early July, while lying in bed at his apartment. Zaire was blowing up his cell. Nicole needed some money and Mulan wanted him to drop by the club. But the only person he wanted to see was Mike. He would’ve known what to do. He’d have made Hjalmar laugh. Hjalmar took a swig of cognac and his depression deepened. He still couldn’t believe Mike was dead.
An hour later, he woke to the movie, Takers. Ever-cool Gordon Cozier as Elba, and his gang were in the middle of a double-cross. Over the next 30 minutes Hjalmar watched as nearly the entire crew was gunned down by a rival gang and the LAPD.
Why didn’t I see this coming? Thought Hjalmar. It was inevitable. Depression was sinking in and he was feeling suicidal again.
The next morning, Hjalmar pulled into a parking space in the Publix plaza near Roebuck Rd. just as a Garda armored-truck stopped at the ATM. It idled outside the grocery store’s entrance and Hjalmar watched. The guard stepped out of the rear of the truck holding four cash reload canisters. He recognized the jumper, Omar Pienada, he’d worked for Garda for years. Hjalmar knew him well, but he didn’t notice Hjalmar sitting in his vehicle, 30 yards away. Omar was holding $200,000 in cash.
Hjalmar’s co-conspirators were dying and getting arrested. There was a price on his head. The money was dwindling. Zaire was furious with him—he was bouncing between multiple women—and the baby needed milk. Hjalmar wondered if Omar would recognize him with a mask.
The tap on Hjalmar’s window startled him. There were two older women standing outside the driver’s window; wearing long drab dresses, holding bibles and religious pamphlets. A couple Jehovah Witnesses spreading the word. The senior of the two women tapped again and Hjalmar lowered his window.
She leaned down, eye-to-eye with him. The Florida heat struck Hjalmar in the face at the same moment the woman said, “Whatever you’re planning, don’t do it.” Hjalmar nodded and the two witnesses walked away. At the time, he didn’t think much of it.
A CAR HORN SOUNDED in the parking lot. Hjalmar wondered if his killer had finally found him. Not that he cared at this point. He glanced at his AR-15 semi-auto assault rifle leaning against the nightstand. It was 6:00 a.m., July 23, 2013, and he’d been awake for hours listening to the whirling of the ceiling fan.
His daughter’s birthday was days away and he was running low on cash. He hadn’t been arrested like the others, but Hjalmar knew he was in danger. On numerous occasions he’d driven by guys from the neighborhood, and they’d made the sign of a gun—their pointer and middle finger extended with their thumb cocked. They’d mock fire at him as he drove by. Bang! Bang! You’re dead.
He thought about his family’s safety. He thought about how to keep them safe. He thought about how to defend them. But Hjalmar wasn’t a killer. Maybe I should just pack up everyone and move, he thought. Get outta Florida.
Regardless of what he decided, Hjalmar needed money. He knew the Garda routes. He knew the security procedures—or lack thereof—and he knew the truck to hit; it contained between a million to $1.5 million at any given time. This time there’d be no problems. No mistakes. No double-crosses.
By 7:20 a.m. Hjalmar was sitting behind the wheel of his navy blue, 2003 Chevy Monte Carlo with black rims and black tinted windows. The vehicle was registered in Hjalmar’s name, but he’d partially obscured the tag. He’d purchased the Monte Carlo years prior, when he was broke. He was parked behind the dumpster at the Home Depot plaza on Okeechobee Rd. in West Palm Beach—5-yards away from a Bank of America branch. Feds Watching, by 2 Chainz, was blaring out of the speakers.
At 7:30 a.m. Hjalmar heard the armored-truck’s air brakes hiss to a stop. He glanced between the dumpsters—the truck was sitting in front of the ATM machine, just where he knew it would be. The adrenaline infused blood coursing through his veins caused Hjalmar’s hands to tremble as he turned off the stereo. People were laughing in the distance. He slipped on his gloves and rolled the black ski-mask down his forehead. He pulled it taut over his face, revealing a twisted joker’s grin made up of three-inch tall white letters. Stretched across the mouth of the mask were the words AMERICAN GREED.
Hjalmar grabbed the neck of the AR-15 assault rifle, slid across the front seat and popped open the Monte Carlo’s passenger door. As he emerged from the vehicle a bicyclist passed. Hjalmar must have looked like the Angel of Death, dressed entirely in black; grinning AMERICAN GREED from ear-to-ear, tucked inside a hoodie with his assault rifle.
The cyclist was so shocked he toppled over and slammed down on the asphalt a short distance from the Chevy. He scrambled to his feet, jumped on his bike and raced off—never taking his eyes off the masked figure.
Hjalmar ignored the racket, peeked over the dumpster and saw the guard, the jumper, exit the rear of the truck holding four cash reload canisters—each containing $50,000. He stepped onto the bumper, dropped to the asphalt and headed toward the ATM. Hjalmar dropped behind the dumpster. He didn’t recognize the guard.
As Hjalmar waited for him to return with the canvas bag full of cash—containing approximately half a million dollars—a woman in a minivan drove by. Some suburbanite, soccer mom do-gooder. She looked him in the eye and reached for her cell. His level of anxiety spiked. Hjalmar looked at his watch and noted the time. It was now or never.
Suddenly, he heard the ATM’s door smack closed. It was time. Hjalmar came around the dumpster and bolted toward the armored-truck. The guard had just opened the rear-door when he spotted the armed figure—a ripple of fear ran through him.
“Drop the bag!” yelled Hjalmar as he closed the distance between he and the guard. “Drop it!”
Panicked, the guard froze for a fraction of a second. Then he jolted awake, released the bag and dove through the partially open door.
Hjalmar reached the rear of the truck and grabbed the door handle—knowing there was at least a million dollars in the rear of the truck. He tried to pull the door open as the guard tried to pull the door closed. The handle yanked away from Hjalmar and he simultaneously squeezed the door handle and the grip of the AR-15, accidently firing the weapon twice. The pop! pop! scared the hell out of Hjalmar and the guard. Somewhere behind him a woman screamed. He forgot all about the cash in the truck, grabbed the bag and took off running.
By the time 911 started receiving calls of the robbery, Hjalmar had sped out of the strip mall’s parking lot with half a million dollars in cash. He looked at his watch, the robbery had taken less than two minutes. As West Palm Beach Sheriff’s cruisers and choppers converged on the location it appeared that, once again, he’d pulled off the perfect heist.
Two sheriff’s cruisers whipped by the Monte Carlo—on their way to Bank of America—as Hjalmar drove down Belvedere Rd. Then he saw three motorcycle patrol deputies, several vehicles behind him, however, they didn’t seem to be following him.
Hjalmar turned into a residential neighborhood near his uncle’s house—he needed to get as far away from the vehicle as possible, as soon as possible. He made a quick left, a couple rights and weaved between several blocks. Hjalmar didn’t see anyone tailing him, so he pulled up to his uncle’s house. That’s when he noticed sheriff’s cruisers pulling up to each end of the street, creating a perimeter. Seconds later, he saw multiple deputies jumping the neighbors’ fences and he heard the helicopter. It was over.
HJALMAR RECALLED sitting in the back of a Palm Beach Sheriff’s patrol vehicle with his wrists cuffed behind his back. Sweat rolling down his face. His mother was standing behind another sheriff’s cruiser with Zaire, Nicole and his siblings. Agent MacVeigh opened the door, squatted down and said, “Fourteen years, Mr. Towns; you’re looking at fourteen years, or you start talking to us…”
Over a month later, after Hjalmar had been processed by the deputies and locked up in Gun Club. After his mother and sister had shown up at the jail and cried and cried. After Mulan had written him a letter stating she’d missed her cycle. After Zaire had come to the jail and yelled at him for, once again, getting some “heifer” pregnant. After he’d been indicted by the government for the failed armored-truck robbery, but not the 2012 Garda Cash Logistics Depot heist. Hjalmar was transferred to the Federal Building in downtown Miami, where Assistant U.S. Attorney Aurora Fagan, FBI Agents MacVeigh and Wilson, and Hjalmar’s federal defense attorney, Andrew Strecker, were waiting for him.
They wanted him to give up Duey and Joe Rock for the Cash Logistics heist—which he could have cared less about—and his sister, for calling Duey the night of the robbery and picking up the $300,000. But Hjalmar wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t give up his sister.
On his way to the holding area, MacVeigh told Hjalmar he was the agent in charge of Duey’s 1998 bank robbery case. He’d been sentenced to 30 years, however, Duey had cooperated; received a Rule-35 sentence reduction and served less than ten years. “I’m the agent that let him out,” admitted MacVeigh. He let the statement hang in the silence, both of them knowing Duey was responsible for Mike’s death. “It was a mistake, but (Duey) Peterkine knows how the game is played—the guy’s a piece of shit—and when we catch him, he’s gonna rat you out.”
Despite the evidence, to this day, Michael Sheffield’s murder has never been solved.
On January 9, 2014, Hjalmar was sentenced in federal court, where his family told the federal judge he’d been salutatorian of his graduating class. He was attending Strayer University. He loved his children. The robbery of the armored-truck was completely out of character for him—no one but Zaire and Ashley had ever suspected he’d been involved in the original Garda Cash Logistics Depot robbery—but none of that mattered. Hjalmar Towns was sentenced to 14 years—exactly what Agent MacVeigh had predicted—for the attempted robbery*.
Weeks later, he was flown to the Oakdale Federal Correctional Facility in Louisiana.
*Footnote: Hjalmar’s sentence was calculated based on the $1.5 million contained within the armored-truck, not the half a million in the canvas bag, and for discharging his weapon, despite it being an accident.
HJALMAR HADN’T BEEN in Oakdale a year, before he, Darryl “Duey” Peterkine and Sircorey “Joe Rock” Wilder were indicted for the 2012 Cash Logistics heist**. Both Duey and Joe Rock—hardened career “street goons” that prided themselves on being “stand up guys”—cooperated immediately. They implicated Hjalmar as the inside man that put the entire score together—just like MacVeigh said. However, Duey refused to divulge the name of the man he’d hired to kill Michael Sheffield, and neither Duey or Joe Rock would hand over the remaining $2 million in unrecovered cash.
**Footnote: The break for agents MacVeigh and Wilson came when Dwayne “We We” Sheppard—the member of Duey’s crew that had given him the truck which was used in the robbery—was arrested on an unrelated charge and he agreed to cooperate regarding the 2012 robbery.
Hjalmar was flown back to Florida and housed at Gun Club. He had no idea why he was there until he saw Joe Rock and Duey.
On November 20, 2015, Hjalmar received an additional six and a half years on top of his current 14 year sentence. In early 2016, Duey received 15 and a half years and Joe Rock was given nine years.
THE SEATS IN COLEMAN’S visitation room are, cold, hard plastic. Non-flexible and uncomfortable. Hjalmar’s family visits him often. His mother, grandmother, Nicole, Brittany, Zaire, and his children. They spend hours driving up to the federal prison, North of Orlando, and another hour or two waiting to see him. They sit on the chairs, surrounded by dozens of other inmates. Murderers. Gang members. Pedophiles. They eat out of the vending machines and tell Hjalmar about their lives. “Mostly,” Hjalmar tells me during our final interview in October 2016, “Zaire and I talk about how we’re gonna get through all this time.”
Zaire’s not happy that Nicole and Brittany visit Hjalmar, but she tolerates it—there are children involved. Despite the other women, she still wants to marry him. “I don’t blame them [Nicole and Brittany] for loving him,” she says, “I love him. He’s a good man. He just messed up.”
During a recent visit Zaire told Hjalmar she’d seen Mike’s father driving the El Camino around Riviera Beach. She wanted to stop him and tell him she’d known his son. She wanted to tell him Mike had always made her laugh. She missed him. “But I couldn’t bring myself to do it,” she said. “He looked so sad.”