A month of terror with Nashville's most brazen stick-up crew. 

Pam Carpenter just wanted to take a nap. It was the day after Thanksgiving, a day most of America spent comfortably at home. But she was stuck in front of a computer screen looking at tax returns. So when lunch time came, Carpenter decided to get a little shut-eye.

The phone was shut off at her rural home in Ashland City, so she went next door to her brother's apartment—above the garage behind her parents' home—intending to make a few calls after resting. Her eyes were closed but for a minute when she heard his voice:

"Wake up, bitch."

Carpenter opened her eyes to the metallic glint of a pistol resting against her temple. Standing next to the bed was a man with unkempt braids and a teardrop birthmark. Behind him, Carpenter saw four others in jeans and hoodies turning the apartment over, ripping out drawers and pacing anxiously from room to room.

The man flipped her on her stomach.

"Where's his money?" he asked, speaking as if he knew her brother Ken. "Where's his gun?"

"He doesn't live here anymore," she said into a pillow.

"You're a liar," the robber fired back.

Except she wasn't. Ken had long ago moved to Lebanon. All he'd left behind was some underwear. But that led the man to believe he was still around.

"His drawers is still here," the robber said, holding up a pair of Ken's boxers like a prosecutor.

Carpenter stuck to her story, but her answers didn't satisfy the man. They especially pissed off the group's youngest-looking member, a babyface who lifted Carpenter up by her hair. Where was the safe?

Carpenter claimed ignorance.

"You're a fucking liar," said Babyface.

He opened Carpenter's mouth. Into it went the cylinder of a silencer, pressing her tonsils until she gagged. Carpenter refused to offer details. Her reward was a pistol-whip to the back of the head.

Carpenter was pulled up by the hair and forced downstairs, a gun pushed hard against the nape of her neck. The robbers were frustrated. All they'd found was some jewelry. Now they wanted to loot her parents' place.

Just then Carpenter's brother Dwayne pulled into the drive. As he was driving over for lunch with his bed-bound parents, Ken had called to say that a neighbor had warned him of a suspicious car in the driveway.

Dwayne leaped from his car in a sprint. The robbers shoved Pam down the stairs face first and scurried back up into the apartment.

By the time Dwayne found his father's .22, the robbers had jumped 12 feet from the apartment's back porch, running toward their silver Chevy Impala. By the time they drove away, neighbor Jimmy Lewis was in pursuit.

Lewis had been watching from afar as the men in the Impala seemed to case the house. He'd called Ken, who'd relayed the message to Dwayne, and then the cops. After a neighbor told him the men had taken off, the 64-year-old hopped into a truck.

Lewis trailed the Impala from Old Hickory Boulevard to Briley Parkway. With one hand on the wheel and the other on the phone, he struggled to relay the runaway car's temporary tags to police. The chase ended when someone in the Impala opened fire. Lewis had to back off, knowing he couldn't risk the life of his 14-year-old grandson sitting shotgun, and the robbers got away.

After Carpenter gave her account to police, she called her brother Ken. Her message was simple and understated, but he understood immediately: Antonio was back.

According to Ken Johnson, almost every pilot needs a second job. "The only ones that make enough money are the seasoned airline pilots," he says. "Every one I know has something to do on the side just to get by."

As a pilot for a jet charter, Ken's something was bar games. Jukeboxes. Pool tables. Those photo hunt numbers that sit on the bar.

Ken had dozens of games around town, paying bar owners a cut for letting him operate in their clubs. Each dollar pushed Ken closer to retirement. But it also brought him unwanted attention.

On the night of Aug. 5, 2004, Ken was making his rounds in the bars of South Nashville. At Mirage, a now defunct strip club on Eighth Avenue, Tiffany Perrin watched Ken pull wads of cash out of a bar-top touch screen. The dancer was hanging with friends when Ken walked out with a bank deposit bag filled with money.

Perrin tailed him back to his Ashland City home with two friends. Around midnight, she called her boyfriend. They met at a church just down the road.

Perrin was to drive the getaway car, court documents would later assert. Her boyfriend, Travis Rucker, would do the robbery.

Earlier in the night, Rucker had been hanging out in the John Henry Hale Homes just south of Fisk University. When Perrin called, Rucker swapped some weed to a neighbor in exchange for a van. Then he called two friends, telling them he wanted to take a ride. One was 17-year-old Antonio Harris.

When Ken got home to his apartment over the garage that night, he didn't go to sleep. As a pilot, his shift ran 24 hours a day. His next flight required a pre-dawn alarm. Why risk oversleeping?

Around 6 a.m., after Ken left for the airport, neighbor Steve Turner saw something curious on the way to work as a Davidson County juvenile officer. He was used to being the only black man living on the country road, so he was surprised to find a black teenager behind the wheel of a van in Ken's driveway. Parked in front of it was a four-wheeler.

Turner ran the plates and found the van was stolen. When he took the young driver into custody, he noticed a 12-gauge shotgun lying in the grass. Then he heard someone running into the woods, though the boy insisted he was alone.

Backup and a K-9 unit arrived. That's when Turner noticed the black Infiniti creeping by on the road.

Behind the wheel was Perrin. In the backseat was a teenager. They claimed they were lost; Turner watched as another officer gave them directions.

But minutes later the Infiniti returned, this time without the backseat passenger. Turner pulled over Perrin for not wearing a seatbelt. She denied having been on the road before. Turner suspected she was helping whoever was hiding in the woods. But without any proof he was forced to let her go with a citation.

A half-hour later, Turner noticed the Infiniti again, this time coming out of a nearby driveway with two black males in the backseat. He watched as another officer again pulled over Perrin.

In the backseat were Rucker and Harris. At their feet was a small mountain of cash, strapped together in thousand-dollar stacks. Perrin told the cop that she and Rucker were newlyweds looking for their first home. It wasn't the most believable story: Shopping for homes with stacks of cash at 6 a.m.? And it became more suspicious when Ken's father Bill identified Rucker as the man he'd seen running into the woods.

With two outstanding warrants, Rucker was taken into custody. But police surprisingly allowed him to give Perrin the $7,000 he had in his pockets before he was handcuffed.

She'd already driven away by the time Bill noticed that Ken's apartment door had been kicked in. His "somethin' on the side" savings were gone.

With Rucker and the van driver in custody, it didn't take long for police to find out Harris was the third man. He and the others had waited until Ken left, then spent hours turning the apartment inside out.

Police tracked Harris down at his father's house in Bordeaux. The following spring, both he, Rucker and Perrin were convicted of aggravated robbery.

Nearly three years to the date of his conviction, Harris was released from prison last spring. Thanks to good behavior, he'd served only half of a seven-year sentence.

Harris spent his first six months of freedom on work release, drying off cars and vacuuming interiors at the Murfreesboro Road Regal Auto Wash. He left the job in September, only to come back a month later looking for an application.

The day after Harris returned, assistant manager Kevin Boyd noticed that $260 was missing. Boyd knew he'd put the money away so he checked security tapes. Harris could be seen crawling on the ground to reach the floor-mounted safe. Boyd called the cops and waited for an arrest.

But two weeks later, on the night of Nov. 11, Boyd and another employee were leaving for the night when two men popped out of the bushes. Both hid their faces with train-robber bandanas and knit beanies.

Boyd was hit in the head with a pistol butt. The week's deposit was taken from his pocket. The robbers dragged him inside by his sweatshirt, pulling so tight the hoodie became a choke collar.

After opening the safe at gunpoint, Boyd was forced to the bathroom floor. The masked men cocked their weapons as if to shoot, then abruptly left.

A few days later, Boyd woke from a nightmare. That's when he realized the bandana and beanie meant to conceal the thieves' identities had failed. He recalled the thin braids hanging down the back of one robber's neck.

Boyd called detectives. He could now offer a positive I.D.

But before a lineup was put together, Metro PD picked up Harris on Nov. 15, charging him with petty theft for the missing $260. He posted bond and was back on the street the next day.

Despite Boyd's certainty, Harris was not charged for the second robbery. "No jury in the world would convict a man based on his hair," he says. "But I know it was him. I know it was Antonio."

Ann Jones and her husband Ron were halfway up their driveway when they got jumped. It was an hour past sunset, two Sundays after Kevin Boyd was robbed.

Ron had picked up Ann from the Campus for Human Development on Eighth Avenue South. She'd volunteered at the homeless shelter near Edgehill for 20 years.

As they approached their home near Paragon Mills Park, four men—again in bandanas and beanies—rushed them from behind.

Ron was pistol-whipped and the couple were forced to the floor inside the house. The robbers asked if anyone else was coming home. Ron said yes; their son would return from work soon.

"If he comes through that door he's dead," one of the masked men said.

For the next hour, Ann's internal dialogue repeated the same line over and over: Please, God, don't let Matthew come home.

The robbers found Ron's Civil War-era gun but wanted more. When Ron refused to say where he kept his weapons, he got a boot to the face.

One of the robbers flipped over the Barcalounger in the den and found a pistol. They began flipping out shells, wondering aloud how to let the hammer down.

Ron was alarmed. These guys didn't even know how to handle their own guns—the same ones pressed to the back of his wife's head.

"He told me later that if they had just touched the trigger we would have been gone," says Ann.

Half the gang left to withdraw $600 from their bank cards at ATMs. "There'll be Christmas this year," said one after finding Matthew's Nintendo.

When they'd taken everything they could carry, the robbers filed out. One remained behind. He lifted Ann's left hand off the ground, admiring her wedding ring.

"I'm not gonna take this," he said, "because I'm married and I know what it means to you."

Then he told the couple to count to 30 before they got up.

"Don't call the cops," the robber said as he walked out the door. "'Cause we know where you live. And we will come back."

Later that same night, James Stadler, his teenage daughter and her boyfriend were across town, winding down after cheering on the Titans at LP Field. They were eating ice cream and watching football in their home three blocks from Belle Meade Country Club when the men came in.

At first Stadler thought it was a joke. Five masked men in the living room with guns drawn seemed absurd. So one fired a round into Stadler's sofa, proof they weren't kidding.

The robbers forced Stadler to open his safes, looking for guns and cash.

The three captives were driven to Green Hills ATMs in the family's SUV. Stadler's daughter was forced to the floor of the cramped backseat. She tugged on her dad's pant leg. Stadler ignored her, lest the kidnappers think they were plotting escape.

The robbers then drove their captives to a deserted road behind Hillsboro High School. The SUV came to a stop.

"This is not good," thought Stadler.

The robbers turned to him in the backseat. Then they delivered the order: Get out of the car.

Stadler and his daughter got out on opposite sides. He rushed around to find her boyfriend lying on top of her, acting as a human shield. But the robbers drove off.

It wasn't until a squad car chauffeured them home that Stadler asked why his daughter so insistently tugged at his leg. She'd wanted to say "I love you" one last time.

The next day Antonio Harris paid cash for a used car. It was a silver Impala, the same color and model seen speeding away from Pam Carpenter's home five days later—the same car Carpenter's brother saw leaving a pawn shop on Charlotte Avenue the day after that.

When officers arrived, they found that a man matching Harris' description had tried to pawn some jewelry, but left unsatisfied with the offer. A security tape provided no help; store owners were unaware that the machine broke a week before.

On Dec. 10, West precinct cops were called to a double shooting at the Ace Drive Inn Market off of Eighth Avenue. Fifty-three-year-old handyman Lindbergh Thompson was taking out the trash when he was caught in the crossfire of a drive-by.

Regulars at Ace say that Antoinette Bell, a 33-year-old shot once in the side, was the intended target. "Bird," as Thompson was known around the market, took two bullets to the chest. Witnesses described seeing a silver Impala drive away after they heard gunshots.

Lieutenant Matt Pylkas got a call after the shooting. "An old sergeant told me many years ago never to go to the scene of a shooting," he says. "Go to a major intersection five minutes away and the bad guy will be there."

By the time Pylkas reached the Edgehill Homes housing project, Thompson had been pronounced dead. The lieutenant found an Impala with damage to the front bumper and temporary tags in the back window. He put his hand to the hood. The engine was still warm.

Cops traced the Impala to Harris. It was already a vehicle of interest in the Ashland City home invasion. And because that robbery was similar to the one in Belle Meade, Harris was now a suspect in multiple cases.

Harris managed to elude police for nearly a month. Then, on Dec. 30, they paid a visit to his sister's Edgehill apartment. The trip was routine; just a rote search for evidence. But in the bedroom cops found a surprise. Harris, their primary suspect, was sleeping in bed.

Police noticed a "J" tattoo similar to the one seen on a man in surveillance tape following the Belle Meade robbery. Harris had added more ink work around the original, as if he intended to cover it.

Harris' attorney, Dumaka Shabazz, says it's too early to talk about details of the case. But he's positive the tattoo, like the charges, are the result of a misunderstanding.

"Antonio made those changes to his tattoo in early November," says Shabazz, who advised his client not to speak to the Scene. "He just happens to have similar attributes to the suspect."

Three weeks after Harris' arrest, Metro PD locked up 20-year-old Demorian Bays. Pam Carpenter identified him as the babyface who forced a gun down her throat. But he's only charged with two counts of aggravated robbery and two counts of especially aggravated kidnapping in connection with the Paragon Mills' home invasion.

No arrests have been made in the Lindbergh Thompson murder. Because the case remains open, detectives won't talk details.

Meanwhile, Pam Carpenter waits for closure. North precinct Detective Russell Thompson is confident that day will come.

"We're pretty sure all the cases are related," he says. "There's a similar M.O. and a similar vehicle used."

But thus far, no other arrests have been made. At large are three of the men who terrorized Carpenter's family. But neither Harris nor Bays is cooperating. And cops are struggling to put together enough evidence to take down their accomplices.

"We know who else was involved," says West precinct Sgt. Freddie Stromat. "But when they're wearing ski masks, it's hard to develop the evidence to prove it."

That doesn't comfort Carpenter.

For weeks after the robbery, she and her daughter crashed on her parents' couch. She couldn't stand to be outside after dark, let alone by herself. She needed to be closer to them anyway. The day after she was robbed, her father was rushed to the hospital. He had a heart attack.

One night, while staying with her parents, Carpenter awoke to find a strange car idling in a neighbor's driveway. On her deserted stretch of road, no one drives past by accident, let alone parks with their lights on. Carpenter called the cops. By the time they arrived, the car was gone.

She can't be sure who it was. Maybe it was just a coincidence. But the fact that her family has been targeted twice makes her paranoia justified. It's changed the way she looks at the place she once called her happy home.

"I've always felt safe out here. It's like a little piece of heaven. Country, but still close to Nashville. Now that sense of security is gone. I want to move so bad I can't stand it."

Email channan@nashvillescene.com, or call 615-844-9410.

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