"School's starting tomorrow," she sighs one afternoon last month, looking across the kitchen table at her twelve-year-old son, JerQon. "A lot of kids have their mom and their dad on the first day. Mike was always there with them on their first day of school."

In the room that just weeks earlier swarmed with federal agents, JerQon tries to articulate how his father's absence is affecting him.

"He said that I'm the man of the house and keep up with the kids," he says. "Help 'em out and make sure they don't get on momma's nerves."

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Illustration by Kelly Brother
View a larger version of this week's cover.

Although he says he's handling his new responsibilities all right, JerQon also says he is angry.

"At the people who locked him up," he says, almost inaudibly, a Cardinals cap pulled low over his eyes. "Because they waited so long to get him."

LaQonna and Cornealious met after their eldest children, both from previous relationships, started playing together. JerQon is LaQonna's oldest son, and Cornealious has a ten-year-old daughter by his first wife. He married LaQonna at a courthouse in 2007, and they held a formal church ceremony a year later.

It wasn't until the family's first meeting with attorneys after Anderson's arrest that LaQonna found out the whole story. Still, if she's angry at being kept in the dark, it's not apparent.

"The past was the past," she says firmly. "We were moving on to the future."

And that future was promising according to the friends, former clients and family who eagerly vouch for Anderson.

"I talk to him almost every day; that's why it kind of threw me for a loop when I found out," says Stewart King, Anderson's long-time best friend. "I always went to Mike for questions on my marriage. Over the last six, seven, even eight years, he's been a real church guy."

His business partner and friend Brian Mayer says Anderson was working 70 to 80 hours a week on the company he founded, Anderson Construction and Investment.

"He doesn't cuss. He doesn't drink. He's a family man," says Mayer. "The only thing he does is go fishing now and then. I hate that this is going on."

In the weeks leading up to the arrest, the family had blithely gone about their usual routine. Anderson tinkered with the Monte Carlo SS he keeps in the garage (license plate LM-4EVA — "LaQonna and Mike Forever") and took the kids to the park down the street on their bikes. The family celebrated the Fourth of July in matching red, white and blue outfits underneath the Arch.

Anderson's mother, Hazel McKinney, says her son told her the marshals had the house under surveillance for several days prior. (The local office of the U.S. Marshals would not comment on any aspect of the investigation.)

"They were just amazed at the type of family he had," she says.

Anderson's father, Cornealious Michael II, says that while his son may have had some problems in the past, the last thirteen years have proven that he does not deserve to be in prison.

"If the point of incarceration is rehabilitation, the job's already done."

On August 15, 1999, a manager at a Burger King in St. Charles placed the day's cash — in total a little over $2,000 in bills and coins — in two bank bags and made the short drive to the Mercantile Bank on West Clay Street. As he put his keys into the night-deposit box, he heard footsteps coming up fast behind him.

"Two black males came running up to my car with hand guns [sic] pointing them at me," the victim wrote in his statement to the police. "Told me to drop the bags or they were going to blow my fucken [sic] head off."

The manager dropped the money and put up his hands, and the men, their faces concealed, grabbed the cash and ran. After waiting a beat, the manager chased after them behind the bank and watched as they disappeared into a cluster of low-slung apartment buildings across the street. The victim ran out to busy West Clay Street, hoping to flag down a passing police car, but instead he watched a small blue vehicle race out from inside the apartment village. As it passed, he caught the license-plate number.

When St. Charles police arrived, a second witness confirmed the story: Two black males with masks confronted the night manager, then peeled out in a "light blue, 2 door Mitsubishi or Hyundai," according to the witness' statement. The police ran the numbers the victim scribbled down on the back of an envelope. The plate came back as that of a 1993 blue Plymouth two-door. The registered owner was 22-year-old Cornealious Michael Anderson III.

The day after the robbery, St. Charles police discovered Anderson's Plymouth in the parking lot of an apartment complex less than a mile away from the bank. Fingerprints left on the passenger-side door matched those of Anderson's friend Laron "Jay" Harris, whom police pulled over that same day after he cruised past the Plymouth in his own car.

Harris told the police he'd never been to St. Charles before and didn't know anyone named Cornealious Anderson. He declined to go with the police to headquarters for questioning. St. Charles police later discovered Harris was on probation for felony vehicle theft in San Diego.

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