Hidden: On the trail of a bank robber
Fairmont, W.Va. - "Start with drive to trailhead and how you arrived at this decision.
"The decision to make a trek is not made, it is given. I guess that does not make it a decision because you have no choice. It is an order that you just have to execute. Execution is a proper term to use for the trek for it seems they invariably end in death. Death of a body or a 'soul' or both. My end has yet to be determined."
- Letter written by Roy Plummer and found by Kathy Plummer after his suicide
On Jan. 16, 2008, six days before Roy Plummer died, he and Kathy Plummer got into a huge argument because he didn't show up when he was supposed to. Roy left the house and moved into a motel in Clarksburg.
At 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 18, Kathy called Roy and asked if he was coming home.
Roy said he wasn't.
"Guys, I know that I told you before that I would never abandon you again," Roy said over a speakerphone to Kathy's two children. "It's not your mom's fault. I lied to her so many times, I can't remember."
Two hours later Roy Plummer robbed his last bank.
'Ladies, give me all your money'
Plummer walked into the Dollar Bank on Oak Springs Road in South Strabane, Pa., at about 7 p.m. He approached teller Theresa Killinger with a scarf covering the bottom half of his face, according to the police report. He held a gun in his hand.
"Ladies, give me all your money. Hurry up, give me all your money," he said, according to the police report. "Don't give me your bait. Don't pull it. Turn around if you are not going to help."
Plummer turned to another teller and said, "I don't want your change, and lay down."
He left the store with about $7,000. A bank employee ran to lock the front door and caught a last glimpse of Plummer next to his silver Nissan Altima.
When South Strabane police arrived, they called the force's only full-time detective, John Bruner.
The bank tellers told Bruner the robber had "Mountaineer" written on his tan hat, "Quest" stitched on his jacket, and that there was a dent in the front right fender of his car.
Generally when South Strabane police do media releases, they send the information out to just the Pittsburgh and Washington County, Pa., area, Bruner said.
"I spoke with the FBI, and they thought this gentleman was well-versed in robbing banks, that he might have some experience with this," Bruner said. "It was based on his demeanor during the robbery and his ability to rob multiple tellers. ... This one had a different flavor to it."
Bruner decided to send images of the robbery to television stations in Wheeling, Morgantown and Bridgeport, W.Va.
'I just figured it out'
At WBOY-TV in Clarksburg, Sarah Kapis, a native of Washington County, took an interest in the bank robbery story. She decided to run the story on Monday, Bruner said.
When Kathy Plummer turned on her television at noon on Monday, Jan. 21, the footage had been playing all weekend.
"They showed a picture of [Roy] wearing a jacket I gave him for Christmas. It was a hiking jacket. And I noticed the hat he was wearing," Kathy said.
She hit record on her DVR. "I kept watching it over and over, putting it on pause," she said. "I called him and said, 'Roy you need to come home. There has been a family emergency.'"
When Roy got there, Kathy confronted him.
"You know you lied to me so many times before. But I just figured it out," she said to him. "Where were you Friday at 7?"
Unable to lie his way out, he looked like a deer caught in headlights, Kathy said. He started to reach into his coat for a gun but didn't pull it out.
"I didn't see him as a friend or lover anymore," she said. "I saw him as a criminal."
They went into the house. Roy methodically closed the door and locked it, then asked where the boys were.
Kathy said they were asleep.
"Are there FBI agents?" he asked.
"Nope, just me, you, the boys and the dogs," she said.
Kathy showed him the robbery video from the DVR.
"Is this you?" she asked.
Roy dropped to his knees and crawled to Kathy's chair.
"That's me, Kathy Lee," Roy said, clutching her legs.
"Were there more?" she asked.
"A lot more, a lot more," he said.
Both of them started to cry.
'I'm going to be
the one to call'
Roy left the house and apparently drove straight to his Morgantown therapist.
One of Kathy's sons came downstairs and saw the frozen image of Roy robbing a bank on the television. Kathy said he quickly realized who it was and picked up the phone to call police.
She grabbed the phone away from him.
"I'm going to be the one to call, not you," she said.
The reality of what had just transpired began to sink in.
"It was like being at the beach and being hit by a wave," she said.
Kathy dialed the number on the news report and spoke to Detective Bruner, telling him she knew the robber, providing details about the car and Roy's clothing that police left out of the information released to media.
Bruner told her to gather her children and get in the car and drive.
Kathy told police Roy went to see his therapist in Morgantown. Police and FBI scrambled to find him there, but missed him by minutes, Bruner said. By this time, the FBI had run a background check on Roy and knew he had robbed 14 banks in the 1980s.
Roy called Kathy about 3:10 p.m. and asked if she called the police.
"I lied and said, 'No, I didn't call,'" Kathy said.
"Where are you and the boys?"
"We're taking a drive."
"You guys wouldn't take a drive today. It's a holiday. What's going on?" Roy asked. "I'm feeling paranoid. There's sirens, there's lights."
"I said, 'Yes Roy. I turned you in,'" she said.
"I'm going to Pricketts Fort in Marion County," he said. "I need to take a hike. It's long overdue."
Roy told her he planned to die at Pricketts Fort by forcing police to kill him.
Kathy called Bruner and told him Roy's plan. Bruner relayed the new information to police and FBI agents in West Virginia.
Kathy called Roy again, begging him not to end his life.
"You can't do this to your mom," she said.
He asked her to be put on speakerphone so he could speak to her children.
"Your mom is going to need you in the next couple months," Roy said. "Everything you read about me or hear about me will be true. But never doubt I loved you and that I loved your mom as much as I could have."
Then he talked to Kathy.
"Kathy Lee, I'm sorry for the lies, and I'm sorry for the hell I put you through," he said. "And you were right, I'm a piece of shit. I'm sorry for the pain and agony, but I enjoyed the ride."
West Virginia State Police Sgt. G.L. Menendez of the Fairmont detachment got the call that a bank robbery suspect may be at Pricketts Fort and headed straight to the park. He pulled into a small parking lot across from the historic wooden fort and near a hillside church. A damaged silver Altima was parked there, Plummer's car.
Menendez was about to search the area when he caught a glimpse of something out of the corner of his eye. It came from the direction of an abandoned train trestle. He and another officer started walking on the trail toward a man about 50 yards away.
The man walked, then ran away from the two policemen. He went around a barrier fence and onto the wooden beams of the trestle, leading out to the middle of the Monongahela River.
Menendez carefully followed him onto the trestle. Some beams were missing and others were rotted through.
Roy Plummer wheeled around and pulled a pistol out of his belt.
"I don't want any trouble," he said, waving the gun, not pointing it directly at Menendez. "You don't understand. This is just going too far."
Menendez drew his gun, ready to shoot if he had to.
"Buddy, nothing is worth this," the officer said. "There's always another alternative besides hurting yourself."
Trooper E.M. Boyle and several other police officers watched Plummer from beyond the edge of the trestle. Boyle was prone, with his rifle trained on the man. There was no cover for police. The trees were bare. Menendez was exposed as he stood on the rotting wooden beams. Other police had arrived on the other side of the river.
Plummer wasn't threatening police directly. If he had leveled the gun at an officer, they would have been forced to shoot him. He kept bringing the gun slowly into the air, and then lowering it.
Plummer also looked like he was talking on a cell phone, Boyle said.
For over an hour, Plummer raised and lowered the gun, then raised and lowered the cell phone.
Then he sat down on the edge of the trestle, his knees close to his chest.
"Buddy, I appreciate all your efforts," Plummer said to Menendez. "But it's gone too far."
He raised the gun to his temple and pulled the trigger.
Roy Plummer loved to walk through the woods, and by all accounts he did so at every opportunity.
He once told Mike Davis that he would live in Dolly Sods if he could, with the eagles.
Davis is convinced Kathy didn't know about Roy's bank robberies. He believes Roy convinced her he was having an affair even though he wasn't.
"The fact of what he was doing, think if he was a loner? They would be suspicious because of his past. But him coming back and settling as a family man draws all the suspicion off him," Davis said.
Big Bear Lake in Preston County, Dolly Sods Wilderness, Blackwater Falls, the rail trail from Fairmont to Morgantown - all might have money buried near them, Davis said.
Dolly Sods is the only place Roy ever mentioned by name, Davis said.
"Everybody has another side to them," Roy once told Davis. "Even you have another side, you just don't know it."
Davis said he doesn't know what Roy meant by that.
"Other than, if you got desperate, then the other side comes out," Davis said. "Maybe that was him saying, 'What would make you put a gun to your head and pull the trigger?' You would have to have another side to you, wouldn't you?"
Reach Gary Harki at firstname.lastname@example.org or 348-5163.