Apartment 301

stories culled from a life on the fringes

Damon E Walters

Damon E Walters
Minneapolis, Minnesota,
November 08
Born in Anacostia, Washington DC. AKA Daniel E Walsh, changed for all the standard reasons.


AUGUST 9, 2012 9:29AM

Robbed at Gunpoint

Rate: 22 Flag

Hard to understand
What a hell of a man
This cat of the slum
Had a mind, wasn't dumb
But a weakness was shown
'Cause his hustle was wrong
His mind was his own
But the man lived alone

Curtis Mayfield, Superfly

 In early 2003, a 20-year-old store convenience store clerk named Eric Pearson* was gunned down during a particularly senseless robbery.


I clerked, managed and supervised in the convenience store industry for over twenty years. Early on in my career I was robbed at gunpoint. Shortly after that incident I met a character that, rather suspiciously, seemed to know a lot about my robbery. He offered counsel to me in his way and gave me some insight into the mindset of those who commit cheap robberies. His name was Donald.


Donald was a regular at the store. He befriended me shortly after the night I was robbed. He knew a lot about the robbery because, as he put it, he had heard talk around the low income high-rise where he lived.


He knew some guys that knew some things, he said in his whispery voice. The guys told him that a “Larry” had pulled my caper. They told him what Larry had said. He said it was like “taking candy from a baby”.


Donald had a way of just appearing at the front counter. I wouldn’t notice him pulling up in his car or walking into the store. He would just sort of materialize there. He was a short light-skinned freckled man in his early thirties. He walked with a decided limp, caused by a birth defect or injury that left one leg shorter than the other. He favored surplus military clothes and wore an olive drab jungle hat; something like you’d see guys in ‘Nam wearing.


He spoke to me in hushed conspiratorial tones about my robbery and some others that the guys talked about. He talked MOs and strategy. He dissected technique. He was a student of the game. He seemed to like the drama of it all.


I thought he was enamored of these types of cops and robbers scenarios because he envied the players in the game because his own deformity did not allow him to participate. He sure knew the turf. He was like the Mel Kiper of convenience store robberies in the Twin Cities of the early 80s.


I was glad to have the company. I was a little skittish about working in the neighborhood; especially after being robbed. I worked the overnight shift - alone, of course. The store was a grubby converted gas station that was very busy because of its location. The owners and managers of the store were an equally grubby bunch who didn’t concern themselves with security for the saps like me who worked for them.


I was new in town and had no idea that I had taken a job in a highly dangerous area. I moved here from Washington, DC. In DC bad neighborhoods were easily identifiable by the decrepit and crowded conditions. In Minneapolis the bad neighborhoods have wide tree-lined streets, large park lands, lakes and houses in quiet leafy yards. There are, of course, the aforementioned low income high-rises and impoverished sections; these places just look a little nicer here.






In fact, the clerk job was the second of two jobs that I was working. That was why I was so tired when the robber popped into the store. It was about 4:00 am. He casually walked to the back of the store and got a soda from the cooler. He was not wearing a mask or hood.


He put the soda on the counter and I, thinking he was some guy on his way to work, drowsily rang the sale. “Give me the money,” he said tersely. Those were the words I feared and hearing them I snapped awake. A 38 caliber pistol was now on the counter next to the soda. Shocked I complied.


Next the words that stopped time for me. Words I just knew I would hear if I were ever robbed - “Turn around and walk slowly to the back”.


Donald later told me this was part of Larry’s technique. Making them walk to the back gave him enough time to make it to the getaway car before the police could be called. Maybe I had seen too many movies in which the clerk got plugged because he had seen the bad guy’s face, but I was petrified and could barely coax my body into that dreadful pirouette.


My back tightened and I shook in anticipation of the bullet that I thought would soon crash through me. I trudged to the back as directed. I was convinced that it had all come to end in a dirty gas station. Thankfully Larry had a quick escape in mind and didn’t add murder to his rap sheet. This type of thinking seems to elude today’s low-grade brand of desperadoes who’ll shoot you for being too slow or for no reason at all.


I can imagine Donald commenting on the style of the primal morons that shot Eric Pearson the other night. He’d probably think that they blew a sweet and easy thing. I can almost hear that quiet smoky voice. He could sure make things sound so dramatic.


Despite my suspicions I liked that little guy. Perhaps in the world that Donald knew, I with my naiveté and ignorance was the one with the deformity and he took pity on me.


He made me smarter. I got to the point where I could spot his car pulling into the lot and he couldn’t just pop up in front of the counter like he did when I first met him. I worked in convenience store for the next two decades in various capacities. I stayed alert and observant. Donald taught me well. I was never robbed again.


The last time I heard about Donald was when his car was pictured on the front page of the newspaper a couple of months after my incident. His car was on its side at the end of a dirty alley near the miserable high-rise where he lived. This was the aftermath of a fiery crash and shoot-out with the police at the end of a dramatic high-speed chase. This was just the kind of drama that Donald loved. Police had interrupted a robbery in progress at a convenience store in St. Paul and chased them into Minneapolis. 


I didn’t know if Larry was in the car or not nor did I care. Donald was pronounced dead at the scene in his car. He went out in a twisted blaze of glory. He was in that group that he had told me about. He was a robber after all. He was the getaway driver.


I was chagrinned and saddened at the same time. If ever there was a crime that does not pay it is robbing a convenience store; believe me the people who run those places are not going to put any of their real money in jeopardy.


What pathetic motivation caused Donald to put himself in such a position? Could it really just have been the thrill of the chase; playing cops and robbers? I wonder if that same type of thinking prompted the unnecessary murder of Eric Pearson.


Maybe it would help end these pathetic incidents if the potential players could hear from someone from inside the game. Someone who knows the score. Someone who could let them know the pointlessness. Give them a few tips. Someone like the quirky guy in the odd hat who helped me.





 Startribune article from 2003:


*Published: February 14, 2003
Edition: METRO
Section: NEWS
Page#: 1A

Clerk's killing in store robbery stuns Minneapolis neighborhood

By David Chanen

Staff Writer   

$249 for a life.

That's how much two men grabbed from the register of a Stop 'N Go Wednesday night in northeast Minneapolis after a fatal bullet was fired into the abdomen of clerk Eric A. Pearson.

The convenience store's new surveillance system appeared to show that the college student was killed because he didn't give the robbers the money fast enough, said his father, Mark Pearson. A female clerk standing next to Eric Pearson wasn't hurt. (I dare not put up the rest of the article. I had to PAY to find it!)


photo: DEW


repost from Open Salon under the title Thanks, Donald: A Robber's Tale 



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The archives only go back to 1986 so I could not obtain the article with the fiery car crash pic.
I was robbed on the night shift at a summer job at an ice plant growing up. The robbers took a watermelon. Also robbed at knife point in Boston. Was taking the cash out of my wallet when the guy grabbed the wallet from me and started to run. I chased him until he threw down the wallet. Probably not the smartest thing I've ever done.
Wow. A snapshot of what's real. That's rare. Thank you.
Fascinating. Viscerally real. Disturbing. We don't need no steenkin crash pic. We're there. Little Donald Superfly.
Excellent storytelling and what a twist at the end! Damn shame. And for $249.
Very nicely told. It sure takes all the innocence out of playing cops and robbers.
hurts when time stops like that
guess that's why they invented the slow jam ~
Professional stick-up men/women avoid shooting someone unless absolutely necessary. Amateurs, gangbangers, and junkies are much more likely to pull the trigger. Donald was a pro, but what happened to him was an occupational hazard.
For some unexplainable reason this post has been NOMINATED for an OS Readers' Pick award. It needs to be seconded. Special recognition will be granted to whomever does the deed before Jacob Sugarman discovers this post and stamps an EP upon it.

Click on the here here (both of them, if you like) to reach the RP site where you can beat Sugarman to the punch. Hurry!!
I didn't realize this until I read the Strib piece, but the store where Eric Pearson was shot is one block over from my house. I can see it from my writin' lair.
CC - a seedy crime
CG - Chi looks tougher than Minneapolis
MP - cat of the slum/thanks for your support
EK - $249 was probably out of policy
JL - for reals
c22 - now, now time has slowed in other venues
LW - the good ones hit the banks

Thank you for the comments
Yikes! This made me flashback on the times I have had guns drawn on me which are experiences that never totally leave. Compelling read here, Damon.
Wow. I finally exhaled. Yes, yes, yes visceral, riveting, chilling writing.
Big R
Is this an open call on American Exceptionalism? Shop-worn existentialism--the repetitious use of 'convenience store' and 'gun'?

1) the night will be taken back
2) entirely too much standing in retail
3) did the crowd error when they chanted for Barabbas?
4) was the perpetrator's nose running?
5) have you forgiven the would-be assassin?
6) violence begets violence
7) psychotics read what they want
8) Fox News loyalists should watch Rachel Maddow
9) Man's inhumanity to man
10) Similar thing happened to good buddy
10a) Good buddy was selling ham and rolls on Sunday
11) My Godmother was mugged later that year on the same corner
waiting for a bus to Old St. Mary's Parish across the street from MSOE
11a) Her arm was broken and eyes blackened with a broken nose
12) Perpetrator was a neo-nazi
13) Perpetrator was a mfingcs sob & illiterate
14) I am so very sorry
Chuck Norris: Secret Progressive?
Well told sad, and real tale of the hard life of most folks. I remember be put up against a wall by a junkie when i worked in the pharmacy in my 20's , I threw the prescription back at him and he grabbed it and ran.. but he snuck up on me in the back and it was unnerving for years.
My brother worked convenience store clerking in the 80's in a dicey neighborhood and expressed being frightened for his life every night.
I always enjoy your insightful writing, you bring your characters to life and places that they inhabit, spaces more I guess. Nice work Damon.
I've been on the wrong side of the barrell too. Was glad to get out alive after a scuffle.
Scary stuff.
Great post. I loved the writing, the story, and your particularly powerful descriptive skill.
Doc - guns are exclamation points
ASH - I still clutch thinking about that walk to the back
JPH - terror brings out the existentialist
RS - the low spark of high heels
alsok - no fun
MWG - my sister lived in NY (Yorkville) in the 70s and was robbed a couple of times, pays to be careful (mugged they called it)

Thank you for the comments
Great piece on a topic that doesn’t get much mention, along with the character study of Donald. I worked retail for nine years many years ago and luckily I was never directly robbed, although there was an armed robbery with gunfire at the lotto both right outside the record store in the mall on a packed December night, with the gunshots going off just feet away from where I stood (something I’ve written about on OS). Meanwhile, my spouse had a gas station job in his teens and one night someone came after him with a shattered bottle — he took off as fast as he could, outrunning the guy and then and wisely quitting the next day. Retail can be dangerous in that sense, with convenience store clerks are particularly, unfairly vulnerable, a point you’ve communicated well here.
Yeah. It's amazing what some people will do for a couple cee notes. Btw, that song takes me way back. I'm digging the scene with a gangsta lean.
This post has won a Readers' Picks Award.
Skillful first person writing about an occupational hazard and then some. The story of your own robbery, coupled with the (real life) character Donald is well told. The overnight shift takes bravery, Damon. In a convenience store, especially at night, I sense the danger.

Glad I got to this, if somewhat late. Thanks for the inside track on this real life drama and addendum on the recent robbery. Great story-telling; sad story.
Why Miss Scarlett, awful nice of you to come here after your trip to Nova Scotia. Speaking of things Scottish: http://oe1.orf.at/programm/310753

Thank you
~I'm no preacher's son~
when all is said and Dunn,
if prayer (silent or loud)
Lord, that there be one weekend
this one please, our first, no more hunger
and thirst, no gun used in malice
no death by auto, drowning, blade, plane,
shrapnel, land mind, whatever that
acronym is for 'cell phones' buried,
along the road, that there be no more
disappeared airliner, nor humble folk, no sappers blown
in half to high heaven at those peaceful 'simply
hungry kids', ME market places, no more persecution, no more
wings torn from butterflies, no sadness, yeah,
sure, the very word CROSS/HAIR, as one as bombsniffingdogs
Lord, thanks for keeping my glass half-full, allowing me time,
love is near
to work right
right here

And don't please Ol' Lord,
not to get me started on dirigibles,
that's not how the story goes
And thank you again, for the
Holy Man, with those children
of the Philippines, allowing our
practice of prayer