The Big Score

A roving band of young men took to the streets of Montrose, committing more than 20 armed robberies in one week, police say. One guy was shot. No one was killed. A lot of people were terrified. Most times, the robbers' "loot" was a couple of bucks.

Clinton says the robbers' modus operandi was to drive up behind a walker and ask for directions, and when the person turned around to tell them where to go, the robbers flashed the gun and demanded the person's wallet. The problem is that most people who are walking to work or to the bus stop usually don't have loads of money. And even if they do, people don't carry their life savings when they're out for an evening stroll. "The main reason there were so many robberies was because they didn't get hardly anything," Clinton says. "There was no money in it."

Especially since everyone didn't happily hand over their wallets. On Thursday afternoon, Mariano Gonzalez, a superintendent for a building company, was standing by his truck making some phone calls. The Pontiac pulled up, and the passenger demanded his wallet three times. Each time, Mariano said no. Eventually the robber gave up, said, "Just kidding" and drove off.

The next afternoon the robbers met another man who wouldn't relinquish his money. Lloyd Thomas, a 49-year-old waiter, was walking down Jack Street toward the bus stop. The Pontiac pulled over, and its occupants asked for directions to Montrose Boulevard. "Any idiot in this area knows where Montrose is," Lloyd says. "The red flag went up. I don't mean to give robbery lessons 101, but ask for a side street." He said to take any street to the left and they'd hit Montrose. The car drove off but then circled back. A guy in the backseat asked Lloyd if they were headed the right way.

Yeah, Lloyd said, and kept walking.

Give me your wallet, the guy said.

To hell with you, Lloyd said. I'm not giving you a damn thing. "I was in one of my moods," Lloyd says. He spotted the gun in the guy's hand and started running. He took the Texas-shaped diamond-studded ring (the last gift his mother gave him before she died) off his left ring finger and slipped it in his pocket. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the gunman was on the sidewalk chasing him. "I kicked on the afterburners," he says. "All I could think was "Get in traffic.' I'd rather get hit by a car on Richmond than shot on a side street. At least somebody is going to stop."

He made his way across Richmond, ran to the Mobil station and called 911. Lloyd spent the next several days acting like Paul Revere, warning people he met at the bus stop, Paks or Lobos that some "bad hombres" were roving the streets.

Chasing after people and not getting much money (if any) was tiring. So the boys took Saturday off. "They rested," Clinton says. He believes they spent all the money they had stolen partying that night at JU Hall, a hip-hop club on South Main Street. They were back at work by noon Sunday.

The Pontiac stopped beside 67-year-old Detlef Haubald, who was walking home from the mailbox without his wallet. Another car drove by, and the Pontiac drove off. The same thing happened a couple of hours later when Brian Erwin was walking home from a Halloween party. Still wearing his bright yellow polyester pants and purple silk disco shirt, the 27-year-old was trying to figure out if it was a real gun being pointed at him when another car came by and spooked the gunman. "He looked at me and smiled at me with his big gold teeth and said, "Just kidding' and put the gun away and was off."

Not a very productive afternoon.

About two miles after Westheimer turns into Elgin, the neighborhood shifts. On the other side of downtown the streets are full of people. But these people shop thrift stores because they have to, not because they think it's fun. They don't buy hand-dipped Haitian candles and offer guests glasses of herbal, spiced apple tea. At 1 p.m. on a Wednesday men sit in folding chairs drinking gold cans of Olde English.

Here in the Third Ward, pregnant dogs run on the road, and overturned shopping carts and rusted trucks litter yards guarded by broken fences. The battered houses are mashed up against each other; the one with new red trim looks out of place, and there are bars on its windows.

A blue HPD patrol car with "Gang Task Force" lettered on the windshield cruises the street. Houses sink and lean to the left; front steps crumble and fall before they reach the porch. "Beware of the Mean Dog" signs are tacked to old trees.

Billie Marie Jordan climbs her front steps with the help of her cane. Her arthritic hands and ankles burn from cleaning River Oaks houses. A box of Epsom salts waits on the kitchen table.

Her house is dark and hot; the fake red roses look wilted. The bulb in the one lamp is burned out, so the only light comes from the TV that is always on. "We go to bed with TV and wake up with TV," she says. Exhausted, she sinks into a chair; she works all day without taking a lunch break or a rest. She's tired. She doesn't even know the name of the pit bull in the backyard.

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