The Gang That Couldn't Dress Straight

Meet the cross-dressing bank robbers who confounded cops for years

"Well, shit, it's good as gold," McAllister said. "Sometimes motherfucker I went at it, shit, eight or nine times before it was good."

"For real?" Merkson asked.

"Hell, yeah, because there's always something comin' up," McAllister replied. "You know what I'm saying. When I got there, bam! Motherfucker wants some scrilla that morning. Then another motherfucker over here cutting grass. Bam! Motherfucker sitting over here looking stupid. Shit like that. Just keep at them. Then one time you're going to go. Damn! Shit! It's a green light. Gotta be ready to move when it's time. Beauty of it is, it's not a dope-fiend move. You know what I'm saying?"

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Otis McAllister, top, allegedly organized the bank-heist gang, while Franklin Morris, second from bottom, told the FBI he provided insider know-how. David Greenwade and his girlfriend Ida Merkson allegedly spent only a few months on the team.
Otis McAllister, top, allegedly organized the bank-heist gang, while Franklin Morris, second from bottom, told the FBI he provided insider know-how. David Greenwade and his girlfriend Ida Merkson allegedly spent only a few months on the team.

McAllister again boasted that his racket was foolproof, "not something a motherfucker just hopped up and said they were going to do and just ran up and did it. It's a real plan. That is the beauty of it all."

McAllister, meanwhile, was taking a break from his criminal endeavors and looking for other money-making schemes. Police heard him talk about attending a stock-market class with lawyers and doctors "that will teach you strategy to become a millionaire." They also listened to him muse about selling cars through a nonprofit.

Police even heard McAllister discuss what they believed was a $2 million check-writing scam that Merkson was helping him with. The project fell through in mid-January, though, and Merkson tried to convince McAllister to resume holding up banks.

"It's tight as booty here..... I'm back 'bout to drown," Merkson complained to him on January 11. "Your ass just need to come out of retirement."

McAllister was torn. The towing job stressed him out, what with calls coming in at all hours and the truck in constant need of repairs. Still, he feared "them goddamn people."

"Them people ain't studdin' your ass," Merkson goaded him.

Authorities believe the couple meant law enforcement.

Just five days later, on January 16, McAllister called Franklin Morris and announced, "Yeah, I was just hollerin' at you man, you dig, I was thinkin' about Monday, get up, going and checkin' out that property, man."

Then McAllister promptly called Merkson. "I'm outta retirement, baby."

Merkson laughed. "Where we going to work?"

"I just called my boy, I told him we're gonna check some things out Monday. Ya dig? But you're in."

To police, it appeared McAllister's bank holiday had ended.

"I'm tired of this shit," he told Merkson. "I ain't feeling to be keeping no goddamn getting up every motherfuckin' day, having to get up and do this, that and the other, even though I'm makin' it happen. I'm not ready to keep on bustin' my motherfucking ass. Shit, nigger needs a day to kick back and do that when he feels like it."

On February 3, Otis McAllister called his fiancée with news that Franklin Morris' son was sick in Ohio and needed a ride. McAllister promised her he would leave for Columbus that night and return the following day.

A flurry of calls between Morris, McAllister and Ida Merkson and their roundabout talk of "everything being ready" led police to conclude that McAllister was planning to hold up a Columbus bank and return home flush with scrilla.

Determined to stamp out the gang once and for all, the FBI lined up an extensive surveillance convoy.

Just before 6 p.m., FBI agents watched Merkson pick up McAllister in an SUV at a Kinloch junk yard. An hour later, another team of agents saw McAllister inspect the SUV's underside for a tracking device planted on it.

A third pair of agents noticed one of the alleged robbers walk straight toward a surveillance van parked outside a gas station. One agent feigned sleep while his partner hid in the back of the van, watching the man peek directly inside it. "It is believed that the individual observed lighted electronic devices operating in the vehicle," says an FBI affidavit.

Police proceeded to lose the SUV momentarily, and at the same time, the car's tracking device malfunctioned.

Not long afterward, an antenna-laden surveillance truck staged in Illinois watched the SUV pull into the same parking lot. The arrival turned out to be rotten luck for authorities. They saw McAllister and Morris jump out of the SUV and lay eyes on the truck's intricate mass of antennas.

McAllister, Morris and Merkson hurried back to St. Louis, and police resigned themselves to defeat, putting a halt to that night's stakeout.

"We tried time and time again, and we were so close to catching them in the act," remembers Detective Newsham.

So resolved were they, though, that McAllister, Merkson and Morris, investigators believe, stole away that same night and tried to fleece a Columbus credit union the following morning. The heist failed and the threesome returned to St. Louis once again.

Merkson and Morris got behind the wheel of the car and headed for Columbus one more time fewer than 24 hours later. Morris roped in David Greenwade, who brought along his pal Barry Ball and another friend, Jeffrey Moore.

The next morning, the crew thought they noticed police everywhere in the vicinity of their target, the Kemba Financial Credit Union, according to what Morris later told the FBI. Scared, the alleged robbers threw their handgun on top of an adjacent building and split.

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