Hidden: On the trail of a bank robber
BRIDGEPORT, W.Va. - When Kathy Plummer saw the grainy surveillance footage, the life she knew suddenly collapsed.
The bank robber on the local news was Roy Plummer, the ex-husband she was still living with in Bridgeport.
She recognized him by the jacket he was wearing. It was a Christmas present - from her.
Now Roy's many disappearances made sense. He wasn't cheating on her. He was robbing banks.
Later that day - Jan. 21 - she confronted him with the video of the robbery in South Strabane, Pa. After that, she called police.
They tracked Roy down at Prickett's Fort in Marion County. It was a deadly endgame to an incredible string of bank robberies reaching from coast to coast. Along with his crimes, the 49-year-old Plummer left behind the remnants of a marriage and a life full of lies.
In the coming months, Kathy learned that her ex-husband robbed at least three banks while with her. FBI agents are still going over old case files, looking for other robberies he might have committed.
She also learned she wasn't the first person to be oblivious to his compulsion for robbery.
When he admitted to robbing 14 banks in the 1980s, his first wife, Karen Emery, and his friend John Kruk - a Major League Baseball player from West Virginia - were among those caught in the deception.
Kathy and Roy had severe marital problems, but Kathy didn't understand how the man who sang her Irving Berlin songs could be the same man who robbed banks with a gun in his hand and a car idling outside.
And where was the money? The Plummers didn't live extravagantly. The more she learned, the more Kathy believed her husband buried it in parks and wilderness areas all over West Virginia.
Those left behind may never know. Roy shot himself in the head on an abandoned train trestle over the Monongahela River and died later that day.
To understand how Roy Plummer's life came to an end Jan. 21, you first have to understand how he came to marry Kathy Plummer and the lies he brought into that marriage.
'A crime I didn't commit'
The first time Kathy saw her future husband, she was at a craft fair in Clarksburg. It was October 1999, and the recent divorcee was raising her 8- and 5-year-old sons by herself.
Roy "Brud" Plummer was selling his homemade furniture at the craft fair.
The two talked for a while and Kathy asked him out. They met at her house a few days later.
"I opened the door and there stood the most beautiful man I'd ever seen," she recalled.
Roy was tall and muscular, with a shaved head and black goatee.
They opened a bottle of wine and talked for hours in Kathy's living room. Roy said he had a storefront in Weston, but lived in Glenville on his sister's farm. He charmed Kathy with his singing, crooning Irving Berlin's "Cheek to Cheek" like Fred Astaire.
After the wine, Roy said he needed to tell Kathy something.
"I want to be real upfront and honest with you. I was just recently released from a halfway house in St. Albans," Roy said.
Kathy was very scared. There was a convicted felon in her house, and he was sitting between her and the door.
"The bad-boy image was real cute to begin with, but I'm not in a place where I need any trouble," Kathy said. "So, please go. I had a wonderful time. You're gorgeous, a great singer, but you've got to go."
Roy implored her to "sit back down and let me explain. You owe me that. This is funny. You'll get a good laugh out of it. I spent eight years, 11 months in federal prison for a crime I didn't commit."
Roy said he took the rap for a string of bank robberies for a friend.
Kathy was skeptical of the story, but let Roy sleep on the couch since he had been drinking. In the morning, he made breakfast before she woke up.
He won her over that morning, and she found she believed he really was wrongfully imprisoned.
They married in October 2000 at a small church in Preston County - on Friday the 13th.
A 9 mm and a mask
Roy Plummer entered into his marriage to Kathy predicated on a lie.
In 1988, he told the FBI he robbed 14 banks in California, Texas, Maryland and Pennsylvania.
For some of the robberies Plummer had an accomplice, Jay Hafer, who drove the getaway car. Plummer gave him a cut of the money, though nowhere close to half, according to a federal affidavit.
Ten days before his 1988 arrest, Plummer robbed a bank in Moon Township, Pa., with a 9 mm handgun and a Ronald Reagan mask.
Plummer told FBI agents he was just looking for something to cover his face, according to FBI agent Patrick McGlennon, who worked on the most recent Plummer robberies.
Just when Plummer began robbing banks isn't clear.
The FBI believes he robbed a supermarket in his hometown of Keyser in 1986, McGlennon said.
At the time, Plummer was married to Karen Emery. According to an affidavit, Emery said the two separated in March 1986 because he was using cocaine and wasn't working, but still had plenty of money.
In November 1985, Emery found a large amount of cash hidden in bank wrappers in Plummer's desk. At first he said it was from a racetrack, but later told her he robbed a bank, according to the affidavit.
Emery and Plummer first met as children at church. Plummer was a fun guy and well liked in Keyser, Emery said recently.
Plummer came from a close-knit family, Emery said. His mom, Marylou, who still lives in Keyser, raised all four of her children by herself after their father died. Roy was the youngest. All four of the children graduated from college.
The couple married in 1980.
Plummer taught Sunday school to teenagers at their church, Emery said.
"He gave them things to think about. He related the Bible to you," she said.
Plummer was a bodybuilder and got some of the Sunday school kids into lifting weights. When he found out one of the boys in the group was using drugs, he kicked him out.
"He said, 'Not in my group.' He was squeaky clean; do it right," Emery said.
Plummer sold insurance while married to Emery. He eventually started his own company and got an office in Keyser.
Emery said they never had an argument. But during the last three or four months of the marriage, Emery said she began to notice a change in Plummer.
Emery said she found out he was cheating on her when she found a note from a woman on his car.
"It was one of the girls he was seeing. I only ever found one. Others told me more," Emery said. "When I confronted him, he dropped his head."
Throughout the marriage and during the last year in particular, Plummer had bouts of depression.
"It was like he was a different person," Emery said. "He would be laughing, sitting on the couch and then slip into it quickly."
The divorce was final by the end of 1986.
In September 1988, FBI agents showed her a photograph of Plummer robbing a bank.
"They laid the picture in front of me and I got very upset. I didn't believe it," she said. "But I knew who it was when I saw the picture."
Kruk: 'I was scared'
After Plummer and Emery split, he moved to California and met up with an old friend: three-time Major League Baseball All-Star and Keyser native John Kruk.
Plummer committed the first of four San Diego-area robberies just before moving into Kruk's home, according to a Sporting News story on their association dated Feb. 6, 1989.
Plummer robbed the Home Federal Savings and Loan Association in San Diego on Oct. 6, 1987. A few days later, Kruk left to play winter ball in Mexico after finishing the season with the San Diego Padres and Plummer moved into his house, according to the Sporting News article.
Plummer moved out about the time Kruk returned from the off-season, according to the article.
During baseball spring training in 1988, Kruk began to get phone calls from friends and family in Keyser about Plummer.
"They all said the FBI was rooting around, asking questions about this guy," Kruk told The Sporting News. "They told me I'd better be careful, that something was happening."
In May 1988, two FBI agents questioned Kruk while he took batting practice. Agents said at the time that Kruk was never suspected of being involved in the robberies.
Still, Kruk told The Sporting News the circumstances shook him up and affected his play, contributing to his batting average plummeting 72 points that year.
"I was scared. This guy was my friend, but if he did some of the things they said he did, you never knew what he might do to me," Kruk told The Sporting News.
'He was president of the Jaycees'
On May 2, 1988, Plummer committed at least his 11th bank robbery. He approached tellers at another Home Federal Savings and Loan Association location in San Diego with a Smith & Wesson .38 Special in his hand.
With a bag full of money, Plummer ran through the parking lot to a getaway car where Hafer sat waiting. A dye pack, used by banks to make stolen money easily detectable, exploded in the bag and Plummer dropped his gun. Rather than risk capture, he left it behind.
Police recovered the gun and traced it to Greyson's Sporting Goods store in Keyser, McGlennon said.
"It goes to the original buyer, a secondary, a third buyer," McGlennon said. "It goes to a fourth buyer who commits suicide. The daughter of the suicide victim comes into possession of the gun. She trades it to a guy who installs carpeting in her home. That guy sells the gun to Bruckey."
John Bruckey and Roy Plummer were old camping buddies and had known each other for years.
"We played ball together. He was a senior and I was a sophomore," said Bruckey, who still lives in Keyser. "I managed a sporting goods store and he would come in ... He was a very private person. He never opened up to anyone about anything."
In an affidavit, Bruckey told investigators Plummer specifically requested that he be sold any unregistered or untraceable guns Bruckey came across. Bruckey thought the Smith & Wesson was untraceable, according to the affidavit.
"I told them they had the wrong guy. When I knew Roy, he was president of the Jaycees. He was even a Sunday school teacher," Bruckey said recently. "In my mind, there [was] no way that man would rob a bank."
Although Plummer had moved to California, he still made regular trips back to Keyser.
The two went camping in December 1987, Bruckey told the FBI. He watched Plummer purchase camping equipment worth hundreds of dollars and then burn it at the end of a camping trip.
Bruckey said he never sold another gun after finding out what Plummer did with his.
"My dad wanted to sell a gun one time and I wouldn't let him," Bruckey said. "I told him, 'look at all the pain the one I sold caused.' My dad said he wasn't going to sell it to a bank robber and I said, 'Hey, would you have thought Roy Plummer was a bank robber.'"
'OK, OK, you've got me'
As the FBI closed in, Plummer continued to rob banks, two in southern California and then the Moon Township, Pa., robbery in the Ronald Reagan mask.
Exactly how many banks the two men robbed will probably never be known.
Hafer told Kathy Plummer he lost track of the robberies after 50. Hafer, now a supervisor for Nielsen Media Research, declined to be interviewed for this story.
The FBI's McGlennon admits it's possible there are many more robberies Plummer committed that haven't been identified. The statute of limitations to prosecute bank robberies is 10 years.
By September 1988, Plummer knew the FBI was on his trail. He called Bruckey on Sept. 3, 1988, according to the affidavit, and asked if he had talked to anyone about some bank robbery photos or the Smith & Wesson. Plummer also asked Bruckey not to tell anyone about the gun. Plummer said he was staying away from Keyser and that, "The gears inside of me are going crazy."
On Sept. 19, 1988, FBI agents tracked Plummer to the Hotel 7/11 in San Diego.
"They had a description of his vehicle and his license plate number, and they were canvassing local hotels," McGlennon said.
FBI agents arrested him in the parking lot in a red Isuzu pickup truck owned by his girlfriend, Regina Patch.
"OK, OK, you've got me," Plummer said, according to an FBI communication now part of the South Strabane, Pa., robbery police report. "She doesn't know anything about the robberies."
He consented to a hotel room search.
"Since you're going to find out anyway, some of the bank money is in the black bag in the room, and my bike - you know, that I used to escape on - is in the truck," Plummer told FBI agents.
In the 14 robberies from the 1980s, Plummer probably stole about $100,000, McGlennon said.
In February 1989, Plummer pleaded guilty to seven counts of armed robbery in a plea deal in San Diego. All of the cases from different judicial districts were rolled to southern California, McGlennon said.
Plummer was ordered to pay restitution while in jail.
"I found a recent statement from 2007 from the Clerk of Courts in San Diego. That current statement has a balance of $94,000 to be paid," McGlennon said.
He was sentenced to 25 years in prison and five years probation on July 31, 1989, McGlennon said.
Hafer, too, was arrested. He pleaded to two counts of bank robbery on June 15, 1989, and was sentenced to 10 years in jail, McGlennon said.
Plummer admitted to the FBI that he used cocaine frequently. When they searched his truck, they found four guns, including an Uzi, McGlennon said.
"If I had had a gun when you all came up to arrest me, I would have shot myself," Plummer told the FBI.
"Although, I might have taken a shot at some of you."
Reach Gary Harki at firstname.lastname@example.org or 348-5163.