Bad Guys, Legal Guns
There are plenty of people in Colorado who, it is now clear, should not ever have had guns. It's hard to argue that the world would not have been better off if Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and Matthaeus Jaehnig and many, many others had not been able to get their hands on firearms.
Todd Von Bender, Dave Anver and Thomas Muldoon are not on that list. Indeed, as long as guns are legal, there is hardly a group of people better suited to possessing them.
Von Bender's interest in firearms began through his father. "My dad was interested in older custom guns, and we used to attend gun shows together starting when I was about fifteen years old," he recalls. "He appreciated the craftsmanship, the quality woodworking, the wood-to-metal fit, the history of the guns. Guns became a vehicle whereby I could have a relationship with him."
After wandering around the country for a few years -- including eight in the Army, two of those as a drill instructor -- Von Bender eventually landed in Denver and started his own home-renovation company. Once settled in, he rekindled his interest in firearms. Yet, like his father, he didn't merely acquire them randomly. Each gun was special; each had to be a collectible.
On a recent day, Von Bender proudly shows off several of his favorite pieces. Listening to him go through the firearms is like listening to a stamp collector explain why a particular first day of issue matters. "This," he says hefting a blond-stocked rifle, "is a 1929 8mm Mauser. Made in Czechoslovakia for Iran -- see, the writing on the sights is in Sanskrit. It's a beechwood stock, because the manufacturer uses indigenous wood. Usually I can tell at a distance where a gun is from just by looking at the wood."
Or this: "A model 54 Winchester, .22 Hornet," he explains. "Made in 1932, its first year of production. It's a real nice gun. But you got to wonder: It was made in the middle of the Depression, and it's a plinking gun -- it's not going to put food on the table. Who would buy it?"
After getting all the pieces cleaned and tagged, Von Bender began taking his collection around to gun shows. Soon, he gave it a name. The entire Greater Museum of Military and Period Antiques fits on two tables. The exhibit, which also includes old books and photographs, even has a sign that says, "Please Ask to Handle." Viewers are encouraged to heft the pieces, stare down their sights and examine the craftsmanship. Von Bender charges no admission to handle the guns; none of the pieces in the museum is for sale.
Unlike Von Bender, Dave Anver came to guns despite his father. A good Chicago Democrat, the old man opposed guns for all the right political reasons. But he had personal reasons, too. In the late 1940s, his father -- Dave's grandfather -- was walking home from a party with his wife when he was confronted by a man wielding a pistol. The thug demanded money; the elder Anver handed it over. But when the thief went for his wife's wedding ring, he decided to fight. He was pistol-whipped for his chivalry; days later, he died of his injuries.
A city boy, Anver gave no thought to guns growing up. By 1982, he had moved to Denver and was working as an auto mechanic. "Every payday, a lot of the guys I worked with went to this bar on Evans and started drinking," he recalls. "By the end of the evening, whatever money they'd gone in with was now gone, so I would make loans to a lot of them. They would give me stuff for collateral -- guns, knives, tools -- which I ended up keeping. Eventually, I ended up with a strange conglomeration of stuff.
"One day a friend of mine said, 'There's this big gun show down at the Merchandise Mart where you can sell that stuff.' So I went down to the Tanner Gun Show and set up a table with this strange collection of guns -- a Winchester lever action, a Remington shotgun, a Smith & Wesson handgun and a bunch of others. I got there Saturday morning, and by noon the next day I had sold everything. I said to myself, 'This is unbelievably easy.'"
After a few years, Anver applied for a federal license to deal firearms. At first he sold them out of his house and at gun shows. In 1992, business was so good that he opened his first store, on Parker Road. Three years after that, he moved a few miles up the road to his current location, where business has continued to boom. Last year, Dave's Guns was the busiest single federally licensed gun store in the state. The store sold about 8,500 handguns, rifles, shotguns and collectibles.
Although Anver himself shoots targets occasionally and personally owns several weapons, he's hardly an enthusiast. He'd rather spend time practicing judo, which he does at least once, sometimes twice, every day. "I never have gone hunting, although I have nothing against it, and I'm all for eating the critters my friends shoot," he adds. "I guess I could be selling stereos or women's lingerie."
One reason for Anver's success is niche marketing. He has made a particular effort to court local law-enforcement officers looking to buy guns for their jobs. Today Dave's Guns sells more firearms to more cops than any other local shop.
One of those cops is Thomas Muldoon. While Von Bender knows and loves gun history and arcania, and Anver sells more legal weapons than anyone else, Thomas Muldoon is simply one of the most thoroughly trained users of firearms in the area. A sixteen-year veteran of the Aurora Police Department, for the past four years he has been a member of the APD's Special Weapons and Tactics unit -- the SWAT team.
Apart from their genuine love for and responsible and respectful handling of guns, up until last summer there was little linking Todd Von Bender, Dave Anver and Thomas Muldoon. But during a three-month period beginning late last May and ending in mid-August, they were joined together by a random though common occurrence: Each had his guns stolen from him.
In all, 62 guns that had been legally purchased, meticulously cared for and cautiously stored under lock and key by knowledgeable and conscientious owners were now on the street and in play.
Every year, legislators propose new gun laws in an attempt to draw a tighter line around those who would own weapons, particularly handguns. Most recently, Colorado lawmakers have argued about who may or may not carry a concealed weapon and how guns kept inside a house must be stored. On March 31, a brand-new law designed to close the so-called gun show loophole will be added to Colorado's books.
Their title or specific description notwithstanding, however, gun laws are designed to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn't have them, and keep track of the weapons. The weak link in all of those laws, of course, is that each applies only to those people who buy their firearms legally. "Most of it is just feel-good legislation," says one cop.
There is plenty of opportunity for mischief along the route a gun takes from manufacturer to owner. Buyers who prefer to avoid a background check can acquire a gun "off the books" from an unscrupulous licensed dealer, or from a seller who simply skips the federal license altogether. Such guns are known as WOP-pers: guns "without papers."
Of course, the easiest way to acquire a weapon outside the view of the law is simply to steal one from its owner or buy it from someone who has already done so. Depending on where a gun is stolen, different law-enforcement agencies handle the investigation and recovery efforts. Thefts from a federally licensed firearms dealer, such as Dave's Guns, are investigated by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Other missing-gun cases are handed off to local jurisdictions.
All stolen guns, however, are reported to the federal National Crime Information Center, or NCIC, a sort of national multiple listing of missing property. Most of the items -- stereos, bicycles, computers and so on -- stay on the NCIC list for a year or so, after which they are purged. But missing guns remain on the computer forever, or until they are found, returned or destroyed. Law-enforcement officers, especially, know that a stolen gun is a special case.
Guns that have been separated from their registered owners represent a small percentage of privately owned firearms in this country. But among the best-armed citizenry in the world, that doesn't mean it is a small number. As of the end of 2000, about 2.4 million guns were listed as missing nationwide -- a few of them lost, but the vast majority stolen. Last year alone, 203,097 guns were reported stolen.
Colorado's numbers, too, are far from inconsequential. As of Valentine's Day this year, there were 38,980 guns that had been taken from their legal owners and were still missing. In the city of Denver -- not including any of the surrounding counties that make up the metropolitan area -- 2,431 guns currently reside in some place other than with their registered owners.
And most cops who track down missing weapons agree that those figures may only represent a fraction the real number of stolen weapons. Some burglary victims are reluctant to report a theft because they ride near the edge of the law themselves, even if their gun ownership is legitimate. Others don't record their weapons' serial numbers, and so never bother to report them missing.
"Just through this single office, we get four to six burglaries a week with guns taken," says Mike Greer, a burglary detective in Denver's District 3. "We recover dozens of guns weekly. We're talking hundreds and hundreds of weapons."
He continues: "Every time we drain a lake around here it's amazing how many firearms there are at the bottom. I remember a few years ago, a guy was snagging carp in City Park. He's tugging and tugging like it's a snag, and he pulls out a Magnum that was reported stolen in a burglary."
"There's only one thing better than cash on the street, and that's guns."
The thing that separates stolen guns from stolen televisions, of course, is the potential for additional mayhem. At the least, firearms embolden their new owners. At worst, illegal guns sooner or later are discharged. Stolen guns are fertilizers, seeds from which more offenses grow.
Charles Taylor literally first appeared on Denver police radar just over a year ago. On February 12, 2000, Taylor's image was captured by a police radar van as he sped along at 80 miles per hour on I-70 near I-225. The picture was sent to the car owner's house in Greenwood Village so that she could pay the speeding fine. The owner recognized her red Jeep Cherokee -- it had disappeared from its parking spot on East 18th Street a week earlier -- but not the driver. She called the police.
Three days later, Jean Hale left her apartment in east Denver as she did every weekday morning to warm up her car. She started the engine, relocked the year-old Chevy and went back inside. But when she stepped back out several minutes later to go to work, she saw a young man trying to open the driver's side door. Another waited in an idling red Jeep Cherokee. Though obviously trying to steal her car, they seemed unusually cordial.
Hale: "You all ought to be ashamed of yourselves. What do you think you're doing? I think you owe me an apology."
Both men: "I apologize."
Hale: "What are your names?"
One man: "Devon."
He and Hale shook hands. Then the two men got back into the red Jeep, backed out of the driveway and pulled away. Hale got into her car and drove off until she spotted a police car, so she pulled over and reported the attempted burglary. Within minutes, Charles Devon Taylor, then eighteen, and an accomplice were arrested for car theft.
Taylor's incarceration didn't last long. "He lied and told us he was a juvenile, and so we couldn't hold him," recalls Denver Police Department detective Darrel Hudley. "There were several goofups there shouldn't have been. I found out later who he was and that he was an adult. By then it was too late."
Though it had only recently been captured on film, Taylor's face was already a familiar one to many Denver police. "It turns out he had been arrested lots of times," sighs Hudley. "He had an extensive record as far as police contacts." That record included a February 1999 arrest for burglary; he was a suspect in several others. But thanks to his tender age and a proficiency for changing his name at the right time, Taylor had avoided spending any significant length of time in police custody.
"The more they get away with, the more they begin to think of themselves," adds Hudley. "And the braver they get."
Indeed, as the spring of 2000 progressed, Taylor's crimes seemed to escalate in both their rate and their seriousness. Guns appeared to play a role.
On March 8, police say, Charles Taylor and two friends broke into a fireman's house in northeast Denver through the basement window. The three teenagers found valuable items ready for resale on the street -- a notebook computer and a color printer. But they hit the jackpot in the gun cabinet, making off with four shotguns, two high-power rifles, a .357 Magnum handgun, and 1,200 rounds of ammunition.
At one in the afternoon of May 18, Taylor and three friends, now packing guns, stopped at a house on South Oakland Street in Aurora. They were driving a stolen gold-colored 1997 Honda. One of the young men hopped out and knocked on the door. When no one answered, three of the men walked around to the back of the house, shattered a patio door and walked in.
Soon the owner, a woman, turned in to the driveway and pulled into the garage. As she walked through the door of her house, she was met by the three young men. Two of them pointed handguns at her. She was led inside and forced to lie facedown on a couch. Her legs were bound with white athletic tape. Her head was covered with a blanket. Before the room went dark, she noticed that all of the phone lines had been cut.
As she lay in the dark, the woman heard the house being ransacked; she could make out the sound of power tools cutting into her husband's gun cabinet. At one point, one of the men came down the stairs, walked over to the couch and pointed a gun at her head. "Where's the money, bitch?" he demanded. Following their 45-minute instrusion, the three men left and took twenty more guns with them.
Taylor and his friends became even bolder. On May 30, 2000, they staked out the Aurora residence of Officer Thomas Muldoon. At first police thought it was a random hit: Who would break into a house known to be owned and inhabited by a SWAT officer?
Amazingly, one member of the gang admitted that they had specifically targeted Muldoon's house. The teenagers had noticed a police car parked in front and concluded that there must be guns inside.
There were. While the young men found and ignored a box containing jewelry, they were less discriminating when they discovered a gun safe in a bedroom closet. Although it was bolted to the floor and locked, they were able to shear off the lock. Inside they found three handguns, a shotgun, a knife and plenty of ammunition. Muldoon also reported a police radio and bulletproof vest as missing.
But all of that was just warmup for Taylor's biggest move. Just after midnight on June 1, he and two teenage friends aimed a stolen Chevrolet Suburban at a back door of Dave's Guns and gunned the accelerator. After several collisions, the door frame and part of the wall gave way. The three ran inside and swept an entire counter of guns into a bag. In all, Anver discovered 38 guns gone.
All but one of the firearms were handguns. The solitary rifle was a .50-caliber, the largest and most powerful mass-manufactured gun available. It has an effective range of approximately a mile; its bullets are so large they can be used to stop a vehicle.
"I was driving down 17th Avenue with my wife and my baby," remembers Isaac Points. "The baby was getting fussy, so my wife had taken her out of her car seat to hold her. I remember I was crossing Monaco, but when I got to Oneida, I see all these cars backed up in front of me, so I slowed down."
For reasons that are still a mystery to him, Points abruptly pulled off the road and into a driveway. Suddenly, a gold Honda flew by where his car had been a moment earlier. It slammed into several cars, popped into the air and landed on the lawn next to Points.
Points could see that the car, which was full of teenagers, was totaled. "I'm thinking, 'They're either hurt or someone is dead,'" he recalls. "Hell, I'm thinking, 'These kids are dead: I got to administer some medical attention.'"
But as he approached the car, two boys and a girl jump out. "And they start running," he says. "And I suddenly go into this rage. I mean, you almost hit my car and hit four other cars, and now you're running away? I don't think so..."
The 43-year-old Points's track and field days were behind him. Fortunately, the kids stopped at a corner to catch their breath, and he gained on them. One was carrying a large sports bag, so Points focused on him, figuring he'd be easier to run down. But as he turned down an alley to follow him, the kid disappeared. The bag was still lying on the lawn.
"I thought it was just some book bag the kid used for school," Points recalls. "I figure I'll grab it, go back to the car and get the registration, and then show up at the kid's house and tell his parents what he'd done. I mean, I'm in parent mode."
But when Points stood up to hoist the bag, the weight of it pulled him back down. "It's like I was expecting balsa wood but instead found mahogany," he says. "And that's when I start wondering, 'Is this guy strapped?'"
At that moment, Charles Taylor poked his head out from behind a shed. He was polite, almost shy. "Please, sir, could I have my bag back?" Points remembers him asking. Points, however, had worked as a process server for nearly three decades. He knew bullshit when he heard it.
"No, you little fucker," he replied as he grabbed Taylor by the collar. "I'm twice your age and got a hundred fuckin' pounds on you. You sure you want to fuck with me?"
"No sir, no sir," Taylor said. "But I just gotta get my mom's ring out of my bag." He reached into the zippered opening. When his hand came back, it was holding not a ring, but a Glock .45 handgun. The price tag was still dangling from it. He aimed it at Points's head.
"Nooowww, fuckin' faggot..." Taylor said to Points.
"I noticed that he didn't say 'sir' this time," Points says. "So I raise my hands and turn my back. I'm an optimist, so I'm thinking that maybe he won't shoot me in the face or head, and maybe now I'll just get shot in the shoulder. And then I'm thinking, 'I could drive myself to Denver General, because they got a good trauma unit...'"
Instead, Taylor took off again. As Points shuffled back to his car, he glanced inside the crashed Honda. There was a Smith & Wesson 9mm semi-automatic handgun on the seat. Checking the serial numbers, cops determined it was Muldoon's.
It was also matched to a shell found in a house on East 26th Street, in which a man and his son returned home during a burglary several days earlier and were shot at by a group of young intruders. The sports bag was found under a porch on Pontiac Street. It had eighteen guns in it from Dave's.
The next week was a hyper-productive blur for Taylor and his friends. On June 5, a woman on East Baltic Place called police to report a burglary at her house. A key to her husband's Lexus and a silver .45-caliber Heckler & Koch semi-automatic handgun were missing.
Just after noon the next day, a sixty-year-old woman returned to her house in unincorporated Arapahoe County. When she heard footsteps upstairs, she called out, and a voice responded, "It's me." Immediately, Charles Taylor came down the stairs. He was wearing a white handkerchief over his face and carrying a silver gun in his right hand.
Taylor ordered the woman to lie on the floor. He told her he had come for the money her husband "Chris" owed him. After the women told him she had $15 in her purse, Taylor left. (Police determined that Taylor did not know the woman's husband, who is not named Chris.)
That same evening, police were tipped off that Taylor and a friend were staying at a Motel 6 on East Iliff Avenue. The cops watched the two teenagers get out of another stolen Suburban and enter the motel. (Taylor has confided that he prefers Chevrolet products because they are simple to steal.) The police found the two in a room on the third floor, and a scuffle ensued.
Taylor bolted down the steps and hopped an eight-foot fence into a Hugh M. Woods parking lot and disappeared, his shirt ripped to reveal the bright-blue bulletproof vest taken from Muldoon's house. On his hip was a chrome semi-automatic pistol.
His friend, eighteen-year-old Jason Stribling, was captured. He was also carrying a loaded .22 handgun, which was traced to Dave's Guns. That night, Stribling, who admitted to being a member of the Bloods gang, told police he'd bought the gun and five boxes of ammunition from Taylor's cousin for $50.
The following day, June 7, Aurora police responded to a rash of robberies. Within the space of several hours, four houses were broken into. Dozens of items -- electronics, watches, jewelry, cash and guns -- were reported missing.
That same day, a friend of Taylor's paged him for a ride. When Taylor showed up in a white Chrysler, the teen guessed that Taylor was moving because the car was so full of property. "No," Taylor replied. "Just doing my business." At one point, Aurora police officers pulled the car over, but Taylor escaped.
At 7 p.m. that evening, police tracked him down again, in a Denny's Restaurant parking lot on East 6th Avenue. Taylor was driving yet another vehicle, a blue Dodge Caravan stolen two and a half hours earlier. He tried to run again; this time, he was brought down by a police dog, which locked its jaws onto Taylor's leg.
Taylor was carrying a number of items at the time of his arrest. He had a half-dozen key rings with keys for several makes of cars, a canister of mace, a screwdriver, a condom, three Visa cards and a little over $1,000 in cash. He also had a loaded and cocked H&K USP .45 handgun with a rubber grip and two full clips.
Even after Taylor had finally been taken into custody, the stolen guns still had a life of their own. Late on the night of June 8, a sixteen-year-old boy and his girlfriend left Denver and headed for Fort Lewis, Washington, where the girl's father had once been stationed. They had enough money between them for a single tank of gas. They figured they could steal the rest.
The following morning, Karen Bowen was working at the R&K convenience store in Salina City, Utah, when a small blue car with a temporary registration sticker in the window pulled in and filled up with gas. But instead of coming inside the store to pay, she recalled, the driver, a young black man, jumped back into the car and drove off.
Bowen quickly called police chief William Pierce, who radioed a newly hired officer named Spencer Snow. Snow was just returning from dropping off a prisoner in the neighboring town of Richfield. He and a Utah state trooper spotted the car at the same time and pulled it over. "You work for hours and hours on an investigation, and nothing ever comes of it," the chief notes. "And then something like this just falls in your lap."
Inside the car sat Charles Taylor's young cousin and a girlfriend. They denied having any firearms on them and gave the cops permission to search the car. Under the front seat, Pierce found a .45 Model 30 Glock handgun. Four rounds were in the magazine. The gun was traced back to Dave's Guns, which the young man admitted to breaking into.
On Friday night, June 16, Denver's 715 Club was hopping with Juneteenth business. Two woman began arguing, and the argument soon turned to blows. The club's manager stepped between them to break up the fight. One of the women, nineteen-year-old Daiyalana Davis, walked away. But only for a moment. Turning around, she opened her coat, pulled out a .22 semi-automatic handgun and pointed it at the manager. He managed to wrestle it away from her. Later, police determined that it, too, came from Dave's Guns.
During the past seven months, Anver says, he has heard that several of his weapons have trickled out into the street and into the hands of some Hispanic gang members, although police can't confirm that. The number of guns officially recovered from his store stands at 21. Seventeen are still missing.
At first the young man arrested in Utah told police that the giant .50-caliber rifle taken from Dave's had been tossed into a river soon after the burglary. Eventually, he changed his story and claimed that he'd never seen it.
A few of the weapons in Todd Von Bender's museum are true collector's items -- still in their original display cases, virtually untouched, much less used to discharge a round. But it is a measure of his commitment to sharing his passion that every few months he invites a handful of people to a local gun club to try out many of the other old guns. They shoot authentic period bullets that he loads by hand.
"How would you like to try shooting a gun that the Germans used against us?" he asks by way of explanation. "We still like to see the Model T driving down the road, right? We think, 'There's a part of history.' Well, guns are, too. There's so much recent modern history -- from Harper's Ferry up to today -- that ties into firearms. Why wouldn't you want to know about it?"
This past August 18, Von Bender was hosting yet another group of history/gun buffs eager to actually discharge a genuine period piece. The featured gun was a rifle from World War I. The shoot was held at the Aurora Gun Club. Everyone had fun. Once Von Bender arrived back at his east Denver office, he discovered he had been burglarized.
As he performed a quick inventory, it became apparent that the thieves had been selective. "No computers had been touched. I had a number of fairly valuable autographed sports memorabilia on the walls that was still there," he recalls. But Von Bender's locked gun cabinet had been pried open. Splintered wood lay on the floor. Nineteen guns were gone -- every one an antique or a collector's item, but guns just the same.
Mike Greer, the Denver detective, was assigned to the case of Von Bender's missing weapons. "I'm guessing that once the bad guys found the gun cabinet, they figured that was sufficient to get out of Dodge with," he says.
As was the case with the break-in at Dave's Guns two months earlier, it didn't take long for Von Bender's collectibles to begin showing up on the street. Just before 10 p.m. on the night of August 23, five days after the museum's collection had been reduced, Aurora police attempted to stop a 1998 Ford Explorer at Colfax Avenue and Potomac Street that matched the description of one that had been stolen earlier. Instead of pulling over, however, the sixteen-year-old driver took off. During the subsequent chase, one of the police officers saw the suspect, who was eventually apprehended, throw something out of the window.
Although he didn't stop at the time, the officer returned to see if he could find the tossed item. He couldn't, and so a canine team was called in. The dog led his handler to an object lying in the weeds.
"A .22 Colt Diamondback," Von Bender explains. "It's got a six-inch barrel, so it's extremely rare. It was in its original styrofoam box -- never been fired." The boy was charged as a juvenile in possession of a stolen weapon; Arapahoe County prosecutors say they don't know the disposition of the case, although the boy is unlikely to serve any jail time. "We get thousands of these things," says John Jordan, an assistant district attorney.
Prosecutors say the law allows sentences from five days to two years. The most common length of detention is 45 days.
The next recovery took even less time. The following morning, searching for a wanted criminal, the Aurora police gang unit burst into a house on Fourth Way. While going through the house, the cops found piles of computer equipment. By matching the machines to serial numbers, they were able to trace the equipment back to a theft that had occurred three weeks earlier.
The cops also spotted two handguns lying on a countertop. "An 1847 black powder Walker .44 in its original walnut presentation case," Von Bender says. "Never fired. It's an exact replica I got directly from Colt. And a Smith & Wesson four-screw Model 29 with a six-and-a-half-inch barrel. Made around 1950, pre-N frame, unfired, stored in its original cardboard box with the cloth interior. I got it from the owner of the Firing Line. I had looked at it for five years in his display case: 'Not for sale.' Then suddenly one day he had it up for sale. It was just lucky timing on my part."
Aurora police have had far less luck identifying a suspect. "You know how it goes," says Sergeant Kevin Kenney, who supervises crimes against people for the Aurora Police Department. "One guy says, 'Well, he brought them in, but he got it from this other guy.' Then one guy says, 'They're his,' and someone else says, 'No, his...' And we're left to sort through the gray cotton."
Although the police filed charges against the suspected house, the Adams County District Attorney's Office eventually declined to take the case to a judge and jury. "There wasn't enough probable cause to charge anyone with burglary or accepting stolen property," Kenney says. "With some of these things, no matter how hard you try, you'll never get the case."
Still, eighteen of Von Bender's guns remained on the street, so cops felt lucky that at least no one had gotten hurt in connection with them. That wouldn't happen for another two months.
On the evening of October 17, on his 35th birthday, Derek Green pulled into the automatic teller window of the Wells Fargo Bank on South Havana Street. He placed $80 in a deposit envelope. As he was preparing to slip the money into the machine, however, he heard a voice that made him stop: "Give me all your money, nigger, before I shoot your ass." Green also noticed that the man was pointing a large handgun at his head.
Just then, a driver behind the two men began honking his horn. When his assailant, nineteen-year-old Bryant Wynn, turned to see what the commotion was, Green pushed the gun aside and jammed his foot onto the accelerator. Wynn turned and ran.
A police officer alerted by a woman who'd witnessed the attempted robbery pulled up in his patrol car. Green stayed put as he watched the officer chase the man with the gun along the south side of the bank. Seconds later he heard a single shot.
Von Bender was watching the television news that night when he saw a report about a prospective robber who'd just been shot by an Aurora policeman. (One of the on-scene officers was a SWAT member named Muldoon.) The television cameraman had laid his camera on the street to get a low-level view of the gun on the pavement. Von Bender leaned forward to get a better look.
The next morning, a Denver detective called him and asked him to confirm the serial number of a stolen handgun. "A .44 Magnum Ruger Blackhawk Flat Top, circa 1950," Von Bender says.
Unlike the case of the stolen guns from Dave Anver's store, the burglary of the nineteen guns from the Greater Museum of Military and Period Antiques has remained mostly open. Of the four weapons recovered, two were returned to Von Bender as if they had never been taken -- no charges filed, no one held accountable.
One case will result in a minor charge against a teenager who may or may not know he has done anything wrong. A fourth caused a man to get shot. Fifteen weapons remain on the street.
Von Bender has tried to conduct his own investigation. Following news reports of Wynn's shooting, he tracked the young man to his hospital bed, where he conducted a citizen's interrogation. Wynn was remarkably cooperative. He said he'd purchased the gun on the street for $300 cash. Von Bender also sued Wynn in small claims court for damage done to his collector's item, the Ruger Blackhawk. Recently, he was awarded $5,000 in damages, although the likelihood of any actual reimbursement is slim. Wynn is scheduled for a pretrial hearing on March 21.
The police, of course, are none too thrilled with the case, either. "We look and we say, 'Well, we recovered three or four,'" says Kenney, the APD sergeant. "But we'd sure like to say we recovered all of them. Who knows how the others will be used?"
Late last year, Isaac Points testified in a hearing against Charles Taylor (who pleaded guilty three weeks ago to federal weapons charges and faces up to ten years in prison). That night, two young men showed up at his house and began pounding on the door. Points was not at home.
"Who is it?" his wife asked through the locked door.
"Is Robert Isaac Points here?" the men yelled, using his full name.
"You have the wrong house," the woman told them. "I'm calling the police."
One of the men put his face up close to the door. "Fuck you," he said. They returned again in a few hours.
The next day, Points called the office of the local U.S. Attorney, Tom Strickland. "I've been a good Joe," he told the lawyer who called back. "But my wife and baby are hanging out there."
A few days later, Points left for business in the mountains. He was accompanied on the trip by several ATF agents. He says the Justice Department paid for his wife and baby to fly to her parents' home on the East Coast, in a form of witness protection.
Soon after, Points made a difficult personal decision and drove out to Dave's Guns. "When I was eighteen years old, I had a weapons charge against me that was deferred," he says, "and when I got out of it, I made a deal with the Supreme Being that I'd have nothing to do with guns ever again. But now I figured I had to break my promise because I had to protect myself."
Points introduced himself to Anver and explained the common thread that connected them. The two men chatted for a while. But when it came time for Points to choose a weapon, he discovered he couldn't buy one. His thirty-year-old weapons charge was still on his record. The law would not allow him to possess a gun.
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