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Bloomington housemates subdue rampaging felon

This news story was published on January 10, 2012.
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Joy Powell, Star Tribune, Minneapolis –

Two young couples were watching TV Saturday afternoon at the Bloomington house they share when they heard a dog bark, and then a woman scream.

Suddenly, a desperate-looking stranger burst into their house.

The man, later identified by police as a suspected bank robber and fugitive on a crack binge, bounded up the stairs into their living room. Brandishing a screwdriver and claiming he had a gun, he ordered them onto the living room floor.

“Everything happened so fast,” one of the victims said later.

Then the intruder demanded a car. For 15 long minutes, the victims tried to appease him.

“He wanted to leave with the car, but he decided he needed to take a hostage with him in the vehicle to drive him, so I ended up going with him downstairs and into the garage,” said one of young men.

Believing he should not put himself in that situation, the young man stalled.

In the upstairs living room, the three others were calling police.

When the stranger turned for a moment in the garage, the young man saw his opportunity.

“I just tackled him down the staircase, back into the basement,” he said.

They struggled for a couple of minutes before the victim’s housemate could grab an iron from the laundry room and clobber the stranger, who briefly lost consciousness.

They pinned him face down, with the man who was nearly taken hostage sitting on his back. The housemate ran outside and directed the police downstairs, where they found the victim, his face covered in blood, atop the intruder.

The two men, saying that they feared for the safety of their girlfriends and themselves, asked that their identities not be published. But they stepped outside on Sunday afternoon to tell their story as Bloomington police Sgt. Jeff Giles stopped by to see how they were doing.

“You guys did a good job together, and protected those gals, and got the guy taken care of,” he told them.

‘Some cunning and tactics’

The victims’ ordeal unfolded in the 8200 block of Johnson Circle, a quiet neighborhood that William Roy St. John, a 44-year-old career criminal from South Dakota, apparently chose at random as police cruisers swept the area searching for him, Bloomington police said.

As federal marshals, agents and police closed in on St. John, who had been released from federal prison just weeks before, he allegedly carjacked a Cadillac and broke into three Bloomington homes near France Avenue S. He terrorized a dozen people before he was caught.

Bloomington Police Cmdr. Mark Stehlik said the two housemates acted heroically and, Giles added, “There’s nothing better they could have done.”

“They played this guy along, and they used some cunning and tactics, and they overwhelmed him, and fought him tooth and nail,” Giles said. “They believed he was armed and that their lives were at risk. They maybe made the difference between serious injuries for them and the girlfriend and fiancée who live there with them.”

St. John, who remained jailed Sunday night in Bloomington, is a suspect in bank robberies committed in Fargo, Bloomington and Arden Hills since New Year’s Eve, and had been the subject of an intensive search, including a stakeout Friday night at a Roseville motel.

St. John, a South Dakota native, has felony convictions for theft and robbery and was released from a federal prison in December in Missouri after serving a five-year term. When he was in his 20s, court records show, he was convicted of property crimes in Minneapolis, where he then lived.

Saturday’s rampage began at 3:17 p.m. when a caller reported a carjacking in progress at Lucky 13’s on American Boulevard, south of Interstate 494.

The owner of the car, a white Cadillac, and others struggled with the carjacker, but let him go after he claimed he had a gun.

About 10 minutes later, a woman who lives in the 8200 block of Abbott Avenue S. reported that a man had invaded her home, stolen her keys and cash, and taken off in a white Cadillac.

Five minutes after that, a man believed to be armed with a knife and claiming to have a gun confronted a woman in her garage in the 8200 block of Johnson Avenue. She ran, with the stranger chasing her. Others inside her home called police.

As police were on their way to that call, they received the call from Johnson Circle.

‘We did the best we could’

On Sunday, the two young couples were still badly shaken, saying they had never been so terrified. They expressed vast relief that St. John is off the streets.

The man almost taken hostage had a black eye and stitches across his forehead.

“We did the best we could, and I think everybody made good decisions,” he said.

Said Giles: “Clearly, the guy knew he was being tracked down for these robberies. He knew that investigative units of several agencies were after him, including our own, and he knew the noose wastightening.

“He was desperate to get away, and was doing anything he could,” Giles said. “He’s caused a lot of havoc in people’s lives, but fortunately, he didn’t cause any serious injuries, and he’s sitting in jail.”

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