A bank robber who took two hostages while trying to make a getaway was fatally shot yesterday and a policeman and three civilians were wounded in a fusillade of bullets on a busy street near Gramercy Park.
The shootout capped a wild chase of several blocks through heavy traffic in which two pedestrians were run down and half a dozen automobiles including a police car and a taxi cab were wrecked.
Both hostages were held briefly as a shield and were released unharmed.
A man in his mid-twenties, who later died on the operating table at Bellevue Hospital, ordered tellers at the Union Federal Savings bank at 23rd and Third to fill a black bag with money. With $2500 in hand and his .38 the gunman jumped into a cab which got stuck in traffic. The gunman then jumped into another taxi heading in the opposite direction. Heading south on Lex they were “confronted by the steel fencing of Gramercy Park.” They turned onto East 21st. A police car making the same turn rammed into the back of a gray Ford Pinto. A block further on, the cab rammed into a heavy truck. The gunman ran for it but found himself in a blind alley. He came back out and grabbed another hostage yelling “Get away, get away or I will blow his head off,” said a witness. “There were cops all around and they were yelling, “Drop the gun or we’re going to waste you. Drop the gun! Drop the gun!” The hostage said the gunman fired 4 or 5 shots at police. “He would fire one shot at police then he would put the gun to my head, then he would fire another shot at police. In other words it was an alternating action.” At least twice while the gunman pressed himself and the hostage aainst the stone doorway, the police fired at him, according to the witness. “We thought he would be shot,” said the hostage’s wife. “I didn’t think he would be shot by the gunman. I thought he would be shot by police. There were lots of them.”
A policeman who had worked his way around in an effort to flank the gunman was spotted and shot in the leg. With that the gunman made a break for it and more than 30 shots were fired. The police said seven or eight of them hit the bank robber. The police said he had a record of five arrests and served time in California. “When the guy fell,” the witness said of the mortally wounded suspect, “the cops jumped on hime with their knees and feet. They just stomped him. He was screaming in agony. I saw them running and leaping on him.”
Excerpt from Joseph Treaster Oct 27, 1977 New York Times