Bank Robbery Suspect

During my senior year of high school, I worked at the Mueller Brass Company in the school’s co-op business program. Every morning I punched a time clock before 7 a.m. and punched out at 12 noon; Saturdays too. From the moment I punched the clock, I had 30 minutes to get in my car, drive to the high school, eat a 50¢ hot lunch in the cafeteria (or at McDonald’s across the street) and be on my stool in Mr. Belt’s architecture class. Everyday was a race to make it to my class on time.

My instructor treated his class like it was a business. We were to be in our seats and working on our drawings when the bell rang. Not only that, he locked the door as the bell was ringing. Tardy students were given chores at the end of the day. You say you ride the bus? Didn’t matter. Not his problem. Call home. Call a friend. Call a cab. Walk. I was late once…and only once.

The point I’m making is that I drove fast—very fast—to arrive on time. I’m surprised I didn’t get any speeding tickets that year. In addition, I had tested different routes and used the one that avoided the (always red) traffic light at the intersection of 20th Street and Lapeer Road. I worked in the engineering building and its parking lot emptied onto 17th Street. There, I hanged a right and drove to the stop sign at Lapeer Avenue. 17th Street doesn’t line up with the 17th Street on the other side of Lapeer Road—it has something to do with the curvature of the earth, but I digress—so I had to jog a little as I crossed it. The fastest route was to make that jog and continue down 17th Street until it ended at Howard Street  where I turned right and drove for two blocks to 20th Street. (I know the numbers don’t add up, but that’s how they built and numbered the streets.) Next, I turned left on 20th Street for two blocks and pulled into the city pool parking lot.

My car was a five-year old 1969 Chrysler 300 that I shared with my mother, but it had guts—a 440 V8—with plenty of pick up and go. Punch it from a stand still and it momentarily paused as the four-barrel carburetor opened up and then it left rubber on the road. And being a typical teenager, I squealed my tires at every opportunity on the way to school including starts, stops and turns. There is a credit union—hell, it was my credit union—on 17th Street near Howard Street and one day it was being robbed at noon. It really was. And here I come—as if on cue—with squealing tires and a wide-open Holley four barrel. I flew past the credit union and squealed around the corner onto Howard. I had no idea what was going on inside the credit union, but someone did. An accurate description of me, my car and my license plate was given to the police.

30 minutes later, while I was sitting in Mr. Belt’s class, the Port Huron Police were sitting in my living room with my mother. According to the police report, they stated, and I quote, that they “had reason to believe I was involved in a bank robbery.” Their meeting with my mother was over very quickly because the actual bank robbers were captured almost immediately. I was never charged or questioned. In fact, I didn’t even know about the credit union robbery until my mother told me about the visitors that had knocked on her door that afternoon. I’m not sure she was convinced I wasn’t involved at the time. It was an amusing story, but I assured her it was nothing more than a coincidence.

End of story…or so I thought.

One year later, I was a student at the local community college and I had landed a job in the City of Port Huron’s Planning Department. My boss, Ray Stratton, allowed me to work around my college schedule before flex time was even invented. (He was a pretty cool guy.) In return, I tried to give him more than was expected. This job was a sweet deal and I didn’t want to lose it for any reason.

Governor Milliken was coming to our small town and we were pulling out all the stops. He was scheduled to speak at the McMorran Auditorium and our planning department had prepared many charts and maps for his presentation. On the day of the governor’s arrival, Ray Stratton was asked to run a routine check of police reports on the people in his department.

Remember that credit union?

The whole department was lined up: Jerry, Ray, Bill, Jim, Kathy, Izzy and myself. We needed the “backstage” passes so we could enter the McMorran Auditorium to set up the presentation materials. We were waiting for Ray Stratton…and he was late. He walked into our office, head down, reading a piece of paper. He was obviously distracted. We watched him and then we looked at each other with mild curiosity. He continued reading the paper silently. He looked up and seemed to be caught off guard by our presence. He composed himself.

“Renaker, you can’t go. You’ve got a police file,” he said.

Everyone stared at me like I was a terrorist.

I was too stunned to reply. How in the hell could I have a police file, I wondered. I didn’t even have a speeding ticket at the time. I looked at my coworkers for support, but there was none. I felt like a leper. Ray Stratton handed out the security clearance letters to everyone but me. He glanced at the report one last time.

“Did you rob a bank?” he asked.

I swore under my breath. (Pretty sure it was the “F” word.)

Kathy heard me and gasped audibly. The others looked at me with wide eyes. I dropped my head in disgust, but everyone else mistook my body language as an admission of guilt. My reply didn’t help much either.

“I can explain that,” I said.

I never got the chance. Everyone in the City Planning Department left immediately for the governor’s presentation. After that, they just looked at me a little differently.

Ray Stratton left the report on his desk and I read it while they were gone. I discovered how much faith my mother had in me during my senior year of high school.

“Doesn’t surprise me at all, he’s crazy,” she had told the police one year ago.

Now she said that she had told me the whole story, but I’m quite certain she never told me that part. I know I would have definitely remembered the “he’s crazy” part of the story.

As far as I know, I still have a police report file. My wife tells me I should have that record destroyed, but for some reason, I kind of like it.

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