FBI: Suspect in fatal bank heist may have had help


EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (AP) — A man accused of fatally stabbing two Illinois bank workers and critically wounding a third during a botched robbery may have had some help, according to newly unsealed court documents.

The FBI alleges in a search warrant application that the survivor reported hearing the suspect, James Watts, talking to someone and getting responses on a two-way radio during the bungled May 15 holdup in Cairo, in far southern Illinois. Such a radio was later found in Watts' alleged getaway vehicle, and a radio charger was found at the house of a man who investigators believe exchanged text messages with Watts and a woman.

"Other individuals may have been involved in the attempted bank robbery and remain at large," FBI special agents wrote in several of the search warrants, which were ordered unsealed by a federal judge in East St. Louis.

Watts, 30, has pleaded not guilty to charges of attempted armed bank robbery resulting in death and one count of being a felon in possession of a firearm. He could face the death penalty if convicted.

Authorities allege that Watts, armed with a gun and wearing a hooded sweatshirt, confronted three female employees as they emerged from the First National Bank branch after closing. Watts had been released from prison two weeks earlier.

The suspect forced the women back inside, but because the bank was closed, he was unable to get any money from the holdup, FBI Special Agent Christopher Trifiletti wrote in a separate search-warrant application. He ultimately herded the women into an employee lounge and "deeply" cut each woman's throat. One woman was stabbed more than 50 times, Trifiletti wrote.

Killed were 52-year-olds Anita Grace, of Olive Branch, Illinois, and Nita Jo Smith, of Wickliffe, Kentucky. A 23-year-old woman survived.

After a standoff that lead to his arrest hours later, Trifiletti wrote, Watts "asked law enforcement officers, 'Are they dead?' In an effort to calm him down, agents falsely told him that the employees were not dead. Watts responded, 'Yes they are. I made sure of it.'"

The FBI alleges that Watts, accompanied by a woman, was seen purchasing a two-way radio from a store about 30 miles from Cairo in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, just hours before the killings.

The woman was later questioned by investigators, confirmed the radio purchase and allowed authorities to review text exchanges on her phone between her, Watts and another man about the location of a firearm and ammunition, the FBI said. Investigators later seized from that second man's house the charger for the two-way radio set, the FBI wrote.

The FBI and federal prosecutors won't publicly discuss the prospect of accomplices of Watts, citing the ongoing investigation.

View article comments Leave a comment

More from