Brush With Infamy
Have you ever done stupid, sneaky things with sketchy people? No? Lucky you. Stay classy.
In early 1971 I was working in a movie theater in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., when, one afternoon during a matinee, a customer struck up a conversation with me in the lobby. He was a very tall fellow, around my own age or so, with long hair and a beard. He wore glasses, was nicely dressed, despite his hippie-ish apprearance. He was quite friendly, articulate and obviously intelligent. He introduced himself simply as "Dan". I don't recall the details of our conversation, beyond general pleasantries and questions about the movie, the theater, and if I enjoyed my work.
The movie he had seen was some sci-fi thriller, and he dropped a veiled reference or two about what a drag reality could be, and what enjoyment there was in escaping it now and again-- in various ways. We spoke a little warily, in oblique "code" in this fashion for a bit, kind of feeling each other out. He eventually gave me to understand that he might be able and willing to assist me, occasionally, in temporarily altering my own reality-- for a nominal fee. Some earnest negotiations were made. I spoke to a couple of my co-workers, who were also... er... not big reality fans, and we discussed options amongst ourselves and arranged to meet him again in a couple of days. (This theater is long since gone, and all those employees scattered far and wide.)
Dan arrived that weekend, between shows as scheduled, and we repaired to a back room in the theater where we stored our ticket stock, cleaning supplies, and candy for the concession stand. He had brought a metal briefcase of the sort photographers use to carry cameras and lenses and so on. He opened it to reveal a smorgasbord of illicit delights, arranged in orderly rows of small jars, held in place with elastic, bandolier-style webbing. His stock was varied and quite amazing, and we felt like kids in a psychedelic candy store.
We spent a lot of the evening, off and on, in that little storeroom. I'll draw the curtain of charity and privacy here, and just say that everyone was well pleased with his visit and we hastily arranged for more of them. He dropped by now and then, affording us ample opportunities to keep reality at bay quite effectively. We spoke fondly amongst ourselves about our new pal "Doctor Dan", and eagerly anticipated his next arrival. I truly enjoyed seeing him, not merely because of the quality of his wares, but because he was bright, fun to talk to, and had a fine sense of humor.
One afternoon I arrived at work and my friend the theater manager asked me hesitantly, "Did you... uh... see the (Washington) Post today, man?"
"No", I replied. "I slept late and ran to get here on time. What's up?"
"I don't think Dan's gonna be coming around for a while", he said, handing me the newspaper.
I saw photos of our new pal, "Doctor" Dan, some other fellow, a young woman, and a uniformed cop.
The accompanying story detailed a bank robbery on MacArthur Boulevard, in Northwest Washington, and a bloody shootout with police in which a D.C. policeman had been killed.
25 year old Lawrence Daniel Caldwell (Dan), a classically trained musician, was a participant in this botched robbery. His partner, Eros Timm, 22, actually shot the police officer and was, himself, wounded during the gun battle. Their getaway driver was Timm's girlfriend, 20 year old Heidi Ann Fletcher-- who happened to be the daughter of D.C.'s Deputy Mayor.
Officer William Sigmon was one of two policemen who happened to be staking out the bank that day, and gave chase. He was killed on a stairway behind the bank leading to a parking lot, when Eros Timm crept up and shot him in the back. All three of the escaping robbers were arrested in their van on Connecticut Avenue, a short time after they fled the scene.
L to R: Lawrence Daniel Caldwell, Eros Timm, Heidi Ann Fletcher, Officer William Sigmon.
We were dumbstruck. Absolutely speechless. All I could do was stare numbly at the photos and the ghastly story of the crime. I could not wrap my mind around the reality of this guy I knew as an affable, erudite, wryly amusing purveyor of recreational diversion from my workaday reality being a violent felon.
I simply couldn't make the connection between the friendly guy I'd come to know and... a bank-robbing cop killer. It turns out that Dan and Eros had pulled other robberies-- far less eventful and violent ones-- and were apparently targeting banks to raise funds to buy a farm in rural Virginia.
It was a sensational and lurid trial. Dan was made out to be the Svengali-like ringleader, mastermind and corruptor of the other two He and Eros
wound up being sentenced to life in prison. Dan spent years behind bars, doing time in various places-- including the former supermax Marion Penitentary in Illinois, and at our local Virginia prison, Lorton Reformatory. He actually escaped and remained at large for 14 months while being held at a small jail pending a court appearance. He was recaptured, and eventually became something of a celebrated jailhouse lawyer, assisting other inmates with legal representation and helping them file appeals and so on. He was eventually released after serving about 33 years.
Heidi Ann Fletcher, defended by the legendary Edward Bennett Williams, was given an indeterminate sentence under the Youth Corrections Act. She served 53 months in a California institution near her wealthy parents.
Eros Timm, the trigger man, had been, for a time, a motorcycle mechanic at a local Cycles, Inc. shop here in Virginia. An old friend of mine worked there with him and still has Timm's tool box with his name tag on it. Eleven years or so into his sentence, Timm was beaten to death by a fellow inmate at Lewisburg Correctional Center in Pennsylvania in 1983.
I briefly considered visiting Dan when he was serving time here in Lorton-- but realized I had absolutely no idea what the hell to say to him. I never saw the guy again. Such a sad and awful turn of events. It took me many years to finally abandon my own, illicit escapes from reality, but I managed to wean myself away. These days, I rely pretty heavily on a steady diet of Facebook and Netflix, though. It's pretty dull, but fairly safe.
Drop me a note with any questions,
comments, criticism, cogent thoughts,
cease-and-desist orders, etc., etc...