As a federal prosecutor in Mississippi for over thirty years, John Hailman worked with federal agents, lawyers, judges, and criminals of every stripe. In From Midnight to Guntown, he recounts amazing trials and bad guy antics from the darkly humorous to the needlessly tragic.
In addition to bank robbers–generally the dumbest criminals–Hailman describes scam artists, hit men, protected witnesses, colorful informants, corrupt officials, bad guys with funny nicknames, over-the-top investigators, and those defendants who had a certain roguish charm. Several of his defendants and victims have since had whole books written about them: Dickie Scruggs, Emmett Till, Chicago gang leader Jeff Fort, and Paddy Mitchell, leader of the most successful bank robbery gang of the twentieth century. But Hailman delivers the inside story no one else can. He also recounts his scary experiences after 9/11 when he prosecuted terrorism cases.
John Hailman was a federal prosecutor at the U.S. Attorney’s office in Oxford for thirty-three years, was an inaugural Overby Fellow in journalism, and is an adjunct professor of law at the University of Mississippi. He is the author of the critically acclaimed Thomas Jefferson on Wine from University Press of Mississippi.
Here is the fourteenth installment of Midnight to Guntown by John Hailman: You Busy This Weekend?
A most unusual bank robber I prosecuted was a homesick young German named Kai Reinhold. His mother had married an American named Webb and moved with him to West Point, home of famed bluesman Howlin’ Wolf. Lonely and friendless, the teenage Reinhold tried to find some bluesmen, but ended up with a bad crowd of crack heads instead. One of them, who held court in the backroom of a local pool hall, was so professional at cooking crack that he was nicknamed “the chef.”
One day Kai (pronounced like “sky”) was especially despondent and appeared suicidal to the sympathetic crack heads. All he wanted was to return to his homeland. “Ain’t no problem,” said a new associate, who seemed to know the legal system quite well. “Just get yourself arrested for some federal beef and they’ll ship you home. Don’t rob no liquor store or nothin’ or the state will slap you down on Parchman Farm.” Persuaded, Reinhold decided to rob a bank, figuring if he got away with it, he would buy a one-way plane ticket to Germany. If he got caught, the government would deport him there for free. It seemed a foolproof plan.
Reinhold asked his associates for the loan of a gun, believing from American movies that you needed one to rob a bank properly. “Oh no,” they said. “A gun is a ten-year rap ‘stacked’ on the robbery. The feds don’t like those guns. They’ll send you off to the pen.” Trusting his new friends, Reinhold accepted the loan of an old rusty butcher knife to use as his weapon. The next day Reinhold calmly walked into a bank in West Point and approached teller. “I want $2,000,” he said. “Do you have an account with us?” she inquired politely. “No, this is a robbery. I need the money to fly to Germany.” Smiling, the teller said she could not help him unless he had some collateral. He pulled the butcher knife from his sleeve and said, “I’m serious. I won’t hurt you, but I’m desperate.” The teller realized he was not joking, and thought he might be crazy. Still, he looked so young and harmless, handsome even.
Reinhold began to notice the teller more closely. She was young, blonde, and quite attractive. As she handed him a stack of bills, which enclosed an exploding dye pack, she activated a silent alarm which rang at the police department. Smiling, he looked at her more closely. “You look really good. Would you go out with me this weekend?” The teller was not scared but puzzled and said calmly, “I don’t think that would be a good idea under the circumstances.” He continued his wooing. Finally, as Reinhold reluctantly left the bank, local police caught him with both the loot and the knife. My friend, Assistant U.S. Attorney Vernon Miles had the case, but was transferring from our Oxford office to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Puerto Rico to “chase women” as he explained it, so Vernon willed the case to me, knowing my love of quirky bank robberies.
After an appropriate but unsuccessful mental exam, which resulted in a finding that Reinhold was merely foolish rather than crazy, he pled guilty to unarmed bank robbery. His entire take was $556.77, not enough for a ticket to Germany, not even right after the 9/11 plane bombings. An amused Judge Michael P. Mills gave Reinhold the sentence required by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines of 41 months, much of which he had already served in custody between November 2001 when he was caught and August 2003 when his mental exams were over and he was finally sentenced. According to the Court’s docket, he never paid his lawyers. I still wonder what happened to him.