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'Snook' Hooks the Ringleader

Crime: As FBI closes in, 'Love Connection' bank robbers eye each other with suspicion.

July 01, 2001|HELEN O'NEILL | ASSOCIATED PRESS

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — "Snook," the bank robber had said. "A very elusive fish."

FBI agent Ralph Perrigo had first heard the strange-sounding word years earlier when he was hauling a fugitive back from Oklahoma on a child custody case. The case was routine, but not the prisoner. Slick-talking, with a distinct New Hampshire accent and a mouth that didn't stop, the con man had baffled the agent with his talk about snook. Perrigo, an outdoorsman himself, had never heard of the tough-to-catch, subtropical fish.

It had to be the same guy.

All he had to do was prove it.

At first the other agents were incredulous. Perrigo wanted to base a major investigation on a coincidence and a hunch! The old guy has been out of the field too long, they thought. It can happen to the best of them, losing touch after a few years in Washington.

But the more Perrigo talked, the more they listened. And the more information Perrigo dug up, the more they became convinced that he was on the right track.

Doug Daigle. A no-good drifter who had never held a job in his life. Bounced from crime to crime, girlfriend to girlfriend, state to state. Suspected of a similar bank job in Alabama a couple of years ago but hadn't been convicted. Wound up in Tennessee with a wife and baby and house and fishpond.

"We ended up with this theory that he was finally trying to buy himself a real life--a wife, a home, a family," said agent Todd Sandstedt. "And the only way he knew how was robbing banks."

"He was smart, but he had a fatal flaw," added agent Phil Krumm. "He couldn't keep his mouth shut."

So every time Daigle robbed a bank he left a trail of words: New Hampshire (where he grew up), Florida (where his mother lived and where he bolted when things got too hot), Las Vegas (where he blew much of his money on gambling).

And snook, always snook.

By now the FBI had more than words. Daigle had become more brazen.

The bank manager at the SunTrust Bank in Chattanooga raised puppies at her home. In the spring of 1996, Daigle knocked on the door pretending he wanted to buy one. She saw his face.

Later, after a night of terror in which hooded men threatened to sexually assault her and blow up her husband, she was able to pick Daigle's photograph out of a police suspect book.

Agents began digging into Daigle's finances, his background, his phone records.

"We had a sackful of circumstantial evidence," Phil Krumm said. "But we needed more for a warrant."

So Perrigo and Krumm decided to pay Daigle a visit. One hot August afternoon, eight months after the Chattanooga robbery, they drove across the Tennessee River and out to the dusty, poorer southern edge of town. There they pulled down a narrow dirt road and stopped outside a double-wide with an ornamental fishpond in front.

Daigle was nervous. Two agents were right there in his living room, peppering him with questions about his whereabouts the day after the Chattanooga robbery.

He had been spotted at a drug dealer's house in Chattanooga, they told him. They could help cut him a deal if he cooperated.

Was it drugs they were after? Or the bank jobs?

Daigle wasn't sure how much they knew, but he understood the game. The agents would work him over a little, shake him out for information. And he would work them. He needed to know what information they had, whether any of his accomplices had been talking: John "Shot" Crisp, Carlton "Tooter" Smith, Alfred Nichols? He was furious at all of them for blowing their money on cars and Harley-Davidsons, drawing attention to themselves by paying in cash.

And Ted Roberts: Who had Ted been talking to?

The agents kept grilling him about Roberts: "Where's Ted? We'd like to talk to Ted."

Back and forth, back and forth. After 45 minutes, Perrigo steered the conversation to something solid, something that would reassure them they were digging in the right place.

"Nice pond you got here," Perrigo bantered. "Got any fish in there?"

Just ducks, Daigle said, grinning. Ducks named Ralph and Phil.

The agents--Ralph and Phil--laughed.

You like to fish? Perrigo pressed.

"Just snook, Mr. Perrigo," Daigle said, eyes lighting up. "A very elusive fish."

The agents exchanged a silent smile.

A few months later, Daigle was on the run and Perrigo and Krumm were right behind.

The IRS had subpoenaed his financial records and was building a case against him--a man with no job and plenty of cash. The FBI was leaning on his wife, Capri, and her mother, Dena Farmer.

They were moving in on Crisp, Smith and Roberts too, cornering them in parking lots and in their homes. No one was talking much, but everyone was getting rattled, wondering who would be the first to squeal.

They all thought it would be Roberts.

After pocketing $140,000 for the Knoxville job and $25,000 for Chattanooga, Roberts was talking about getting out of the bank business. He was going back to smaller crimes--the kind that didn't carry a life sentence.

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