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AUGUST 03 - AUGUST 11, 2015

Gunfight, Bank Robbery, Kidnapping, What’s Next? - Part 2

By J. Gary DiLaura

August 03, 2015

A Beaufort SC Sheriff responded to a burglary in progress call and radioed in a license plate and a call for back-up. When he exited his car a gun fight raged as Forest Ward Phillips, a known violent felon began shooting at the Sheriff as he fled from the burglary. The Sheriff went down mortally wounded. Officers responding rendered aid as others gave chase, shooting back and forth with Phillips, who crashed in front of a Military installation where an unsuspecting Deputy was directing traffic. Alerted by the sirens the deputy stopped traffic and ended up in a gun fight with Phillips and without a radio, he had no idea why Phillips was being chased. In those days portable radios were not readily available. Phillips opened fire on the deputy and car jacked the car he hit which was occupied by an older couple, forcing them over. The deputy emptied 6 shots at the car, took one round himself and hit the windshield 5 times. I know because I processed the car in Charleston after it was recovered the next day for latent fingerprints. The only injury to anyone in the car was a flesh wound to the husband’s scalp. How Phillips evaded capture is still a mystery.

We responded to the call for help during the chase, joined dozens of lawmen and searched roads, motels, and then several houses, as leads developed. As I learned from this experience, in multi-agency searches, someone has to “take the lead role”! No-one did and it got dangerous! We jointly raided one place after another and I saw one officer after another point heavy weapons at each other!

Finally, the search tailed off and groups went home to get some sleep. At 2 or 3 am I got a call from Sr that the car was found on the edge of the swamp and “we” had to go in after him so wear “your sneakers and jeans”. I had NO intention of going into the SC  swamp, with no equipment, at 3am, especially since I already  had more than one close call with both rattle snake and moccasins on the edge of the swamps AND two copperheads under my car, at my apartment! The swamp at night is certain death! So I wore my suit and tie!

When I arrived at the rally point, Dennis and I had suits and the other 6 agents had sneakers and jeans, Dennis and I had not talked. When Sr asked where my sneakers and jeans were I told him I wasn’t going into any swamp at 3am, and asked him if he was going to lead the team in. He said NO, as he would help organize from the road! That started a “mutiny”, as all of the other Agents said they weren’t going in either. Then a couple officers said that “’ol blue didn’t hit nothin’ on the edge but went toward the road”. They believed Phillips was picked up on the road and no one argued!

Phillips made good his escape and was arrested months later by FBI Cinn, Ohio after a chase and shootout.

Now Sr believed in his little mind that I orchestrated the mutiny, which I didn’t but really didn’t care.

Maybe one week later there was a bank robbery in Myrtle Beach, about 2-3 hours north. Sr rallied the troops to a gas station. He gave everyone the description, car license number and the name of the subject. The subject was identified right away as a prison trustee, from Charleston. He used a shotgun and got away with $10 or $15,000.

Sr gave out assignments to everyone, except… me and Denny. Denny was pissed, but not me because I knew Sr couldn’t find his own ass with his own two hands. When Denny said something, Sr walked back to us and said that we were the ones who didn’t like “sneakers and jeans” and walked away.

 I told my partner that if he checked his watch he’d see that this guy hasn’t had time to get to Charleston yet and to grab the map because we’re going to catch him on the road!

After looking at the map it was obvious which way the bad guy would go and we hopped into the car and headed north, opposite from Sr and the troops. In no time at all, we spotted the car! It was parked, with two occupants, no driver and in front of a deli. He stopped for lunch!

Denny called for help and we took up an “eye” on the car. Sr came up on the radio telling us to NOT arrest the subject before he (Sr) got there (for real!). Just then the SAC came up on the radio from Headquarters, told Sr to keep quiet, and asked us what we planned on doing.

Denny handed me the radio and I said we were going to take him after he enters the car and talk him out. We don’t want a chase. He responded “10-4, everyone else stay off the air”.

In a little while, the subject came out of the deli and opened the car door, I punched it, and blocked his front. Denny covered him from the inside of the car as the troops arrived from behind. I exited and moved to cover, when the subject refused to exit, myself and another Agent “pulled” the subject out while the others covered. We recovered the shotgun, all the money and the bad guy. Both occupants were “hitch-hikers” with no clue. No one got hurt! I didn’t see Sr but was told he was on the radio with the boss!

Catching a bank robber, especially an armed one, hours after the robbery, is a BIG deal! Most FBI Agents and police officers NEVER have that opportunity. This was the first of MANY in my career including catching them in the act, after surveillance, as well as testifying as a WITNESS to the robbery!  Sr shook his head in disbelief and wonderment and walked away!

 Just before I was transferred to my second office, I had standby with a great Agent named Ray, an experienced, hard worker. We always had two Agents on standby. Ray called me about 10pmand said to get to the RA quick, I knew this was serious as Ray didn’t mess around. Upon arriving Ray filled me in on the kidnapping of a 5 year old black girl by the name of Tondalaya Jones from NYC. On the way to our first lead he explained that it was a major case in NY and they believed she was taken south, as there were several leads in SC and Georgia. We were looking for someone who may know a Charleston doctor. Somehow the New York Office (NYO) felt the child was sold and the doctor may know something. As we started covering leads we identified someone we felt could be the doctor, who went to NY to “adopt” a little girl.

We went to the house around 2am and a woman answered the door. We both felt right away she was lying to us, about everything. After talking to her a while we told her we were going to search the house. With that I started looking and she said, “Look in the bedroom to the left”. I moved quickly to the room and turned the light on. There was a little girl in bed, I told her I was a law man and I asked for her name. She said “Tondalaya”! I almost fell over! You don’t just make up that name. I said, “Do you want to go to your mommy?’ And with that she wrapped her arms around my neck, tight, and said, “Yes”.

The couple had some nonsense papers regarding adoption so since we knew they wouldn’t be hard to find, we left them there, had the woman dress the little girl and got out of there, with the little girl.  Ray called Headquarters and the SAC called NYO. Then our phone jumped off the hook with national, NY and local reporters looking for the story. When Sr showed up he started explaining how he recovered Ms. Jones, to the news media.

 Later that day, Sr flew her back to NY. His photo, with Tondalaya, was on the front page of the NY News, Post and Times.

I felt I had a very rewarding first year and soon, got my transfer orders making both me and, I’m sure, Sr happy!







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