Robbery and Shootout at the Holiday Inn

A bizarre robbery occurred at the Holiday Inn, which was located at 2900 Jackson Avenue, on October 24, 1966. A lone man, later identified as Richard Hill, entered the bar of the Holiday Inn and ordered a drink. He took a sip of the drink and told the bartender he would be back and walked out to the lobby. While there he pulled out a pistol and began waving it in the air. He yelled to the clerk that it was a “stick-up” and ordered her to give him all the money that was in the cash register.

Once this was done, Hill ran to the restaurant and went from table to table, stealing wallets and purses from the stunned patrons. When Hill reached the table of David Gunning, he still had the gun in his hand. Mr. Gunning would later tell police that he thought Hill was actually part of a prank and not a robbery. Gunning smiled at Hill as he approached his table and Hill reacted by taking the pistol and smashing it across Gunning's forehead, leaving him bloodied.

Hill then went to a table containing a family with small children. He reached into his pocket and took $40 that he had just stolen from a man sitting nearby and gave it to the mother of the children stating, “Take this and buy the kids some diapers.”

He continued to move from table to table stating, “I'm a professional thief. I might be shot before I leave here.”

As he approached the cash register in the restaurant, one of the hotel employees took the money out of it so Hill could not steal it. When he approached the register and ordered her to give him the money inside, she simply told him “there's nothing in there.” He ordered her three times to open the register and she told him to “open it yourself.” He left the register area, then resumed going from table to table robbing people.

As he did the employee at the register, Mary Branham, ran out of the restaurant and phoned the police. Officer Charlie Fleming was the first officer on the scene and as he drove up, a very nervous witness described the suspect to him.

Officer Fleming went to the rear of the hotel and entered it through the kitchen door, while other officers entered through the main entrance. Hill observed the officers coming through the front door and crouched down, aiming the pistol at them.

Officer Fleming observed this and believed Hill was about to ambush the officers. Fleming ran toward Hill, who was intently watching the officers coming in the front door.

Officer Fleming would later say that he did not want to shoot Hill, as the restaurant was crowded and he feared that one of the patrons could be injured. Instead he decided to knock Hill's pistol out of his hand and did so as he slammed the butt of his gun into Hill's arm. Hill had never seen Officer Fleming approach him and dropped the gun due to the impact.

Other officers ran to assist and placed Hill into custody. All of the money stolen was recovered and Officer Fleming was cited for his bravery. Chief Krasny stated, “This was a situation in which someone could easily have been killed from gun play. Officer Fleming displayed remarkably good judgement under extreme pressure. He did a most commendable job.”

Hotel employees barely recovered from this robbery when a dramatic shootout occurred at the Holiday Inn on December 21, 1966. Holiday Inn employees observed three men in a suspicious vehicle cruising around the parking lot and phoned the police department. Detective Sgt. Cal Hicks was dispatched to the hotel and saw the car parked on an entrance ramp to I–94. He observed two individuals, later identified as John Etherton and Roger Gorte, exit the vehicle armed with a rifle and a shotgun. Etherton was carrying a .20 gauge shotgun and Gorte had a .22 rifle. The two began walking toward the Holiday Inn while Etherton's brother, Glen, waited in the car. Sgt. Hicks called for more help and 11 city police cars responded, carrying 22 officers.

Etherton and Gorte walked towards the hotel carrying the weapons, while wearing ski masks. While they did so, police communications called the hotel and told the employees to hide. Not all of the employees got the word however and as the suspects entered the hotel, they found one employee cleaning the floor. One of the suspects walked up to the employee and struck him in the head with the butt of the rifle, causing the employee to fall to the floor.

The suspects looked for other employees but all had hidden, due to the call from police communications. Since they could not find anyone to rob and possibly thinking something was wrong, the suspects left the building.

As they stepped outside, they were immediately confronted by Lt. Marv Dann, Sgt. Hicks and Officers Johnson and Bunten. The suspects were told to drop their weapons, but Etherton spun around toward the officers. Sgt. Hicks and the two officers immediately opened fire striking Etherton, who was struck in the chest and fell to the ground, dropping the shotgun.

On the ground he attempted to retrieve the shotgun, but was pounced on by the officers. He was eventually transported to St. Joseph's Hospital in “grave condition.” Gorte had dashed back into the Holiday Inn when the shooting started. Gorte was fired upon by the officers as he was running. He was not struck and continued running through the hotel. He fled out the rear of the hotel, where he initially eluded capture, but was arrested a hour later after a massive search. Officer Robert Lee observed him walking near Maple Road and placed him under arrest.

Officers Rady and Trombley approached the suspect's vehicle, to arrest Etherton's brother, Glen. He observed the officers and attempted to run from them yelling, “You'll have to shoot me to keep me.” Luckily for him the officers did not shoot him but chased him down and placed him under arrest.

Two other bizarre shootings occurred a few months later. On March 25, 1967, a robbery suspect, James Connors, was shot with his own gun by Ann Arbor Police Sergeant Robert Conn. The incident started in Jackson, where Connor and two other suspects allegedly broke into a medical center, where they overpowered the night watchman and stole 8500 capsules of controlled narcotics. The watchman was tied up, but was able to free himself and give the Jackson Police a description on the suspects and their vehicle. A blockade was set up and Officer Lloyd Stearns observed the suspect's vehicle on I–94. Officer Stearns notified communications that he had the vehicle and that he was eastbound on I–94. The suspect's vehicle exited onto Jackson Avenue and Officer Stearns chased the vehicle for two miles before forcing it off the road. He approached the vehicle while one of the suspects had a 9 millimeter handgun hidden under his coat, pointing it at Officer Stearns. As Officer Stearns was speaking with the suspects, Sgt. Conn, Officers Tinsey and Racine arrived.

The three suspects were ordered to exit the vehicle and a search of Connors revealed a loaded .38 caliber revolver. Officer Racine handed Connors weapon to Sgt. Conn and was in the process of handcuffing him, when he whirled around and began running.

Officer Tinsey and Racine ordered him to stop and withdrew their service revolvers and began firing at him. None of their shots hit Connors and Sgt. Conn, who was holding Connors weapon, began firing it at Connors. Connors was hit with one of these rounds in the back, between the shoulder blades. The other two suspects offered no resistance and were arrested without incident. All of the narcotics were recovered and Connors eventually recovered from his wounds.

Chief Krasny commended the officers stating their work was “alert, determined police work, a real credit to the officers involved.” Even City Administrator Larcom was impressed, calling the arrests “excellent police work. Law enforcement is a difficult field and in this incident the officers acquitted themselves quite well.”

In what the Ann Arbor News described as one of the most “action packed dramas ever involving local police,” four armed men were arrested after a daring robbery.

The incident began as Mr. and Mrs. Donald Clowe were leaving the Waterfall Supper Club at 2161 W. Stadium, of which Clowe was the manager. As they were leaving the Club, four suspects were waiting near-by in a vehicle. The suspects knew that Clowe was the manager and thought he would be making a money drop from the days receipts. The suspects did not know that another of the Club's employee's was responsible for that nights money drop.

Two of the armed suspects approached the Clowes and robbed Mrs. Clowe of her purse and Mr. Clowe of his wallet. The suspects realized their mistake about the Club's money and fled back into the waiting vehicle. Mr. and Mrs. Clowe ran back into the Club and phoned the department with the description of the suspects and vehicle.

As the dispatcher was still taking the call from the Clowes, a radio transmission from Officer Fojtik came over the air. Officer Fojtik radioed dispatch, “Car 66, in pursuit of a 1966 Chevrolet, east on W. Liberty. Request assistance.” As it turned out, the suspects left the parking lot at the Club without headlights and Officer Fojtik was attempting to stop them for this infraction.

Officer Tinsey responded to Miller and Chapin as the suspect vehicle turned north on Seventh and east on Miller. Officer Tinsey parked his patrol car across Miller, in an attempt to force the suspects to stop. The suspect vehicle drove around the patrol car and one of the suspects reached out the window and began firing at Officer Tinsey. One of the slugs lodged into the right rear door of the scout car and fortunately, Officer Tinsey was not hit.

The chase continued on and eventually the suspects entered northbound U.S.-23. Both Officers Fojtik and Tinsey continued in the pursuit as the suspects reached out of their windows and fired at the officers. The suspect vehicle then drove across the median and drove north in the south bound lanes of traffic at over 100 m.p.h.

Officer Tinsey followed this vehicle the wrong way down the highway, while Officer Fojtik continued on in the northbound lanes. The suspects and Officer Tinsey had several near misses as southbound traffic attempted to avoid the two vehicles. One of the southbound drivers, Donald Warner, swerved to avoid the suspects vehicle, but drove head on into Officer Tinsey's patrol car. Luck was with Officer Tinsey, Warner and his passenger, who all escaped the head on wreck with minor injuries. Officer Tinsey was now out of the chase however.

Officer Fojtik continued on directly across from the suspect vehicle that continued the wrong way up the highway. Officer Fojtik fired at the suspect's vehicle, striking it once but not disabling it.

The suspects' vehicle finally went out of control, two miles north of Officer Tinsey's accident. Officer Fojtik crossed the expressway and approached the suspect vehicle, but all four of the occupants had fled on foot.

Sheriff's Deputy Joseph Catalana was responding to assist and pulled up to Officer Tinsey's crash scene to help. He was backing his cruiser up, toward Tinsey's, when his vehicle was struck by a southbound car. Catalana and the driver were uninjured, but now two patrol cars were inoperable.

Officer Lloyd Stearns was also in the southbound lane going north, heading towards Tinsey's accident scene. The patrol car was driven through oil, spilled during Officer Tinsey's crash and Officer Stearns lost control of the patrol car. The patrol car slammed into the median divider, rendering Officer Stearns' patrol car inoperable. Officer Stearns was not hurt, but now three patrol cars were inoperable.

Back at the suspects' vehicle, Captain Murray ordered all Ann Arbor Officers to this area. He also requested neighboring departments to respond to assist and over 30 officers from a half a dozen agencies arrived, with three search dogs and access to one airplane. A local service station operator, John Schneider, offered his airplane for use and Lt.'s Dann and Hawkins acted as observers, looking for the suspects on foot, while Schneider piloted it. The chase had started at 2:00 a.m. and it was now daybreak.

The search continued and Officer Ronald Lee finally observed two of the suspects on Whitmore Lake Road and placed them under arrest. The other two suspects were not apprehended and the search was called off.

Another wild shootout occurred on March 2, 1967, when officers attempted to stop a stolen vehicle.

Officer Stearns was on patrol when he observed a vehicle he knew to be stolen cruising around the University Hospital. Officer Stearns radioed for backup and Officers Jan Sumola and Robert Lee responded. They attempted to stop the stolen vehicle, but the driver would not pull over and the chase ensued.

The suspect forced numerous vehicles off the road during the chase and pedestrians ran from the streets as the suspect drove through the busy hospital area at high speeds at 1:30 p.m. The officers finally boxed the stolen vehicle in and the driver attempted to escape, smashing into Officer Stearns patrol vehicle. The impact threw Officer Stearns out of his vehicle and onto the pavement, where he suffered minor injuries.

The suspect then ran from his vehicle up a slope, near the hospital. All three officers drew their weapons and ordered the suspect to stop. As he continued running, the officers began firing warning shots, but the suspect kept fleeing.

Officers Lee and Stearns then fired at the fleeing suspect striking him twice. One bullet struck his left leg and the other lodged in his shoulder. Officers charged up the hill, placing the suspect under arrest, reading him his rights as he lay wounded. The suspect spent two weeks in the hospital recovering from his bullet wounds. The officers involved were praised by Chief Krasny who stated, “The reaction by these officers in pursuit of a fleeing felon was admirable. They performed well and did an excellent job in his capture.”