A bank manager who was forced to rob her own branch 20+ years ago after kidnappers strapped dynamite on her, her roommate, and her daughter is now speaking out.
The horrific incident began on Nov. 21st, 2000, when three masked gunmen broke down Michelle Renee’s front door in San Diego County, threw all three to the ground, and then bound them up with duct tape, according to CBS News.
The gunmen proceeded to claim they knew everything about Renee and then demanded that she rob the very bank where she was employed.
“You’re gonna rob the bank for us, or you will die. Your daughter will go first,” she recalled them saying.
FYI, her daughter, Breea, was seven years old at the time.
“Are you gonna kill my mommy? Are you gonna kill me?” her daughter asked the kidnappers at one point that evening.
The robbery happened the next morning.
“The following morning, Renee, her roommate and Breea were strapped with dynamite. Renee said they told her they could detonate within a 10-mile radius if she made one false move,” according to CBS News.
“Breea would be placed in a closet while Renee drove to the bank —with the ringleader crouched in the back of her car. By the time the bank opened at 9 a.m., Renee walked out with a duffel bag filled with $360,000.”
The kidnappers then “took off with the cash,” after which Renee rushed home not knowing what to expect.
“I don’t know if Breea’s gonna be there. I don’t know if she’s gonna be alive when I get there,” she recalled.
Thankfully, Breea was still in the closet when she arrived.
A bomb squad that showed up at their home soon after determined that the dynamite wasn’t even real.
“Tom Manning, a prosecutor in the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, [said] that it was just two broomstick handles that had been cut up, painted and taped together to look like dynamite,” according to CBS News.
But it gets better.
“During the 14-hour hostage situation, Renee had recognized the ringleader’s eyes because he had posed as a customer at the bank earlier that day, and he had left behind a business card before a female companion had whisked him away,” CBS noted.
“My brain was going, ‘Oh my gosh, don’t let him know that you know,'” Renee recalled.
This lead reportedly helped investigators crack the case, as the business card contained the ringleader’s real name, Christopher Butler.
“The FBI soon discovered Butler was a convicted felon with a history of robbing banks. Through surveillance, they found Butler living in a house with his fiancée Lisa Ramirez, the same woman who had come with him to the bank,” CBS News reported.
“When Butler and Ramirez were arrested 10 days later at a traffic stop, investigators found physical evidence tying them to the crime, including a BB gun that matched one of the guns Renee had described, the ski masks with cutout eye holes, Renee’s credit cards, and the money straps from the bank,” according to CBS News.
But it gets even better.
When investigators searched Butler’s house, they found “all the ingredients to make the fake bomb,” Tom Manning, a prosecutor in the San Diego County District Attorney’s Office, said.
This included “cut-up pieces of a broom handle that had been painted, and cans of red spray paint, including one with Ramirez’s fingerprint on it.”
“It was crazy. I’ve never seen that much physical evidence left at a crime scene,” Manning remarked.
Case closed, right? Not exactly.
When being interrogated by the police, Ramirez confessed to the crime but claimed that Renee had been in on the robbery the whole time.
Unfortunately, Manning and others had to initially assume that maybe she was telling the truth.
“We walked out of that thinking, ‘OK, Lisa’s the mastermind behind all of this. And, is it possible Michelle’s involved?'” Manning recalled.
However, upon interviewing Renee, he became convinced that she had nothing to do with it.
“The first time I interviewed her, she had Breea with her. And…I saw that bond and relationship. And when she left, I went, ‘she’s not involved in this,'” he said.
Plus, the other suspects, Christopher Huggins and Robert Ortiz, had reportedly already confessed to everything without implicating Renee.
Two years later, Butler and Ramirez finally went to trial together.
“There was so much evidence, there was no way I thought that this trial was gonna be anything but… a slam dunk,” Renee recalled.
The DA’s office was equally confident about the case. But then something unexpected happened.
“But to everyone’s surprise … since Ramirez’s statements also implicated her co-defendant Butler, the judge ruled the entire interview [her confession tape] inadmissible,” according to CBS News.
“Without Ramirez’ statement, the case against her relied heavily on Renee’s testimony. In court, the defense would attack her credibility, and even suggest she was complicit in the bank robbery,” CBS reported.
“I was treated like I was the criminal,” Renee said.
Ramirez’s attorney told CBS News that his strategy was to “beat the hell out of the victim and point out all the inconsistencies the victim is saying.”
Sadly, the strategy ultimately worked. While Butler was convicted by a jury, Ramirez was not.
“Ramirez would walk away a free woman. The jury found her not guilty on all counts,” according to CBS News.
“Mind boggling,” Renee said of the verdict.
*Editor’s Note: Article was altered to reflect Nov. 21, 2000, as correct date of incident.
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