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 sixteenth installment of Midnight to Guntown by John Hailman: The Honey Bun Bandit
In September 2003 Kevis “K-Money” Wilson organized a group to rob Caesar’s Grand Casino at Tunica. K-money first approached Jason Godown, whom he picked up hitchhiking. Godown was living with K-Money in nearby Walls looking for either work or “a good score.” K-Money told Godown he had someone inside the Grand Casino who would help them with a robbery. His insider, a cashier, was African American like K-Money, who told Godown he figured the robber needed to be white, reasoning people would be less suspicious of an inside job if a white person robbed an African-American cashier. K-Money probably thought too much. Amateur sociology is not helpful to real robbers.
Godown approached his fiancé Linda Stevenson about the robbery. Stevenson was an attractive twenty-three year old blonde stripper who had performed at various establishments across the country, including Platinum Plus, a notorious “gentlemen’s” club in Memphis. Stevenson agreed to participate. Godown and K-Money traveled to the Grand to case the area where the insider, Nataisha, worked at the “transaction point,” where patrons cashed in their winnings. K-Money made plans for Linda to meet Nataisha so they would recognize one another during the robbery.
Godown, Stevenson and K-Money met at Nataisha’s apartment and discussed what should be said during the robbery. Nataisha agreed to call to signal she had a “full bank” for Stevenson to rob. Casino procedure required cashiers to comply with all demands of a robber. Stevenson was told to say “This is a bomb; don’t make any sudden moves; give me all your big bills and give me 10 minutes to get out. If you don’t, there’s a man over there that will detonate the bomb.”
On the day of the robbery Godown, Stevenson and K-Money’s girlfriend met at K-Money’s apartment. When Nataisha called signaling it was time to rob the casino, they started to leave, but K-Money asked that everyone go inside, where K-Money had them kneel. Stevenson later testified she feared something sexual was about to happen, but no. Instead K-Money led the group in a prayer for the success of the robbery, sort of reminiscent of some people’s belief that God cares who wins football games.
No Stevenson entered the casino and approached Nataisha’s cage wearing a big wig and long coat. She pulled out a gift-wrapped box and placed it on the counter. In their haste, the only box the robbers found in K-Money’s kitchen to use as a fake bomb was an old box of Honey Buns. Later, when a bomb squad opened it and found the box, reporters matched the box with the blonde Stevenson and began calling her the “Honey Bun Bandit.”
As planned, Nataisha handed Stevenson all the money in the drawer, over $65,000.00 and Stevenson fled. Nataisha began shaking and acting as if she were having a seizure. Another cashier alerted the shift manager. Another teller heard casino guests hollering “She got robbed; she got robbed.” A casino medical employee responded to the cage. A check of Nataisha’s bank revealed there was no money in it. Since the alleged bomb was still on the countertop, casino security took the threat seriously, saying “It would have been unwise to assume it was a hoax.” Casino patrons near the cage were evacuated and all casino restaurants were shut down. The Memphis Bomb Squad arrived and ordered a full evacuation: “Every human being in the place has to be removed.” The casino security chief said such evacuations are extremely rare because casinos operate twenty four hours a day, seven days a week, and evacuations are very costly for the casino. The robbery had occurred at approximately 10:00 p.m. and the casino was closed until approximately 5:30 a.m. the following morning.
After robbing the casino, Stevenson fled with Godown north on Highway 61 to a Hampton Inn in Memphis where they had rented a room. K-Money divided the stolen money: Nataisha got $11,000, Godown and Stevenson approximately $27,000. The rest of the money went to K-Money.
Due to several slip-ups, the robbers were all quickly caught. Stevenson pled guilty and agreed to testify in return for a reduced sentence. Due to her good looks and the nature of her fake “bomb,” the press was all over her case as the “Honey Bun Bandit.” At trial, a defense attorney confronted a nervous Stevenson about her “sweet deal.” She replied, “It’s not sweet to me, I’m going to the pen.” The defense attorney tried again: “You don’t like being seen in a jail uniform, that orange jumpsuit, do you?” The question seemed to settle her nervousness a little: “Actually, I always thought I looked pretty good in orange.” No further questions.