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Franklin Delano Morris spent a lifetime working without a net, but he always managed to land on his feet -- that is, until six months ago.
The 43-year-old Morris moved to St. Louis more than twenty years ago, escaping a broken home in Hollygrove, Arkansas. He got his first job as a salesman at Famous-Barr and spent most of his time hanging out in Kinloch, a municipality near Lambert International Airport. At one time, the man served on the town's reserve police force.
Throughout the 1980s and '90s, Morris was almost always in trouble. He served time for drug-dealing and was arrested on numerous occasions for other offenses. His marriage fell apart. But Morris persevered, starting up his own security company, Murphy Higher Quality Security, in 1995. He soon scored honest work guarding several branches of the St. Louis Community Credit Union.
Five years later, Morris lived near Spanish Lake in north county with his second wife and young son -- a much happier arrangement than his first stab at matrimony.
He'd been sober for eight years and regularly attended church.
But with things going poorly at his security business, Morris decided to pay a visit to an employee of his, Charles McAllister, and asked to arrange a meeting with Charles' hot-headed brother, Otis.
The thirteenth of fourteen children, 41-year-old Otis McAllister was well-known around Kinloch for his rebellious streak and often bragged that he was the "nigger that others don't want to mess with." Morris thought McAllister would be just the kind of badass needed to help him with a little side action.
At the time, Otis McAllister lived with his fiancée of six years, their son and infant daughter, along with two children from a previous marriage. With a penchant for expensive clothes and fancy cars, McAllister hustled hard to make some decent "scrilla," his slang term for money.
Never a nine-to-fiver, McAllister was more comfortable "ripping and running and back-and-forth and gangster living," recalls Rhonda Woods, one of the four women who fathered his six children. A salvage firm, car washes and nightclubs were among the enterprises McAllister launched and folded over the years.
Plain and simple, McAllister wanted serious money -- and to get it he was willing to shoot the moon. When he met up with Morris, the two men, police say, concocted plans for what came to be their most successful career to date: robbing banks.
On June 12, 2000, Franklin Morris, Otis McAllister and the cohorts they'd enlisted decided to make their first foray into bank robbery as easy and painless as possible, according to FBI reports.
Why not, Morris reasoned, hold up one of the credit unions guarded by his own security firm? After all, Morris was on a first-name basis with the tellers at the Jennings branch of the St. Louis Community Credit Union; he was even dating one of them. Even better, Morris knew that employees rarely double-locked the back door. Not wanting to be part of the holdup, Morris familiarized McAllister with the bank's layout and gave him a key to the building.
Police believe that McAllister, along with two other unknown accomplices, accosted a female teller at gunpoint, forcing her to open the vault. Afterward Morris appeared at the Silver Lining Lounge, McAllister's now-defunct Kinloch bar, and the duo divvied up the spoils -- a tidy $266,293.14.
On December 8 of that same year, Charlotte Peek arrived shortly after 6 a.m. at the SLCCU on Gravois Road -- another bank under contract with Morris' security firm. For several minutes the veteran bank employee sat in her car with the engine running, waiting for the security guard to show. Two black men appeared and pointed guns in her face, court papers say.
Peek thought about peeling away, but it was too late. The man on the car's passenger side said, "Don't do it." His partner, huddled next to the driver's-side window, coaxed her out of the car and helped her on wobbling legs to the door of the credit union. The man wore glasses, a stocking cap and a black cape. He barked at her to hurry.
It took Peek several tries to crack the security code, but soon she and the caped man were inside opening the vault. The man then led Peek to the hallway and told her to turn around.
As the caped assailant let his cohort inside the credit union, Peek suddenly smelled sulfur. She whipped around to see red ink seeping through the robbers' bag of money and smoke pouring from it.
"There was a dye pack in there!" the caped man yelled. "Tie her up!"
The men left Peek face down on the hallway floor and fled with $211,590. McAllister had struck again, according to FBI statements.
With Morris as the brains of the operation and McAllister as the muscle, the loosely organized gang relieved banks of $1.4 million during the next five years, according to police reports and court documents.
Authorities still have no idea where or how the stolen loot was spent.
"We never did know anything about trips they may have taken or anything like that," says John Newsham, a St. Louis County Police Department detective. "It's a lot [of money] to be gone, and believe me, we checked.