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‘Caveman’ With Toy Gun Arrested In Robberies

March 25, 1988

OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) _ A shy ″caveman″ with a toy gun and a man who allegedly drove him to stickups and ordered him to hide in the cave are suspected of at least 16 robberies, police said Friday.

Joseph E. Steffani, 24, of Oakland, was lured from his cave by undercover officers who promised him cigarettes and a hot meal, then arrested him, said Sgt. Robert Chenault.

″He looked like Grizzly Adams without the long beard,″ said Chenault. ″He wore an old ragged jacket, dirty pants and sneakers and he smelled pretty bad.″

Kenneth Hawtin, 37, of El Cerrito, who Steffani claims took him to the robberies and told him to stay in the cave, also was arrested for the robberies that netted a total of about $1,500 since March 7, Chenault said.

″Hawtin would drive Steffani to the places they would rob, convenience stores, florist shops, ice cream parlors and liquor stores, easy places to hit,″ Chenault said. ″Steffani would walk in, throw a bag on the counter, say ‘This is a stickup,’ show the gun in his belt and tell them to fill the bag.″

No one was hurt in any of the holdups.

″We didn’t believe it at first when we heard a caveman was pulling these robberies,″ Chenault said. ″But it turned out to be true.″

In an apparent suicide attempt, Hawtin stuck a key into an electrical outlet in a police interview room Thursday after admitting his involvement in the robberies, Chenault said. He was knocked unconscious and was hospitalized overnight for observation.

Steffani and Hawtin also were being treated for heroin and cocaine addiction, Chenault said. Steffani told police he’s been addicted to the tranquilizer Valium since he was 14 and was afraid to be around people without the drug.

Hawtin and Steffani split the money from the robberies, Chenault said, and apparently used it to buy drugs.

Police said Hawtin befriended Steffani last Christmas and lived with him in El Cerrito until last week, when he took Steffani to the cave above the tiny town of Canyon.

Only a few friends knew of Steffani’s hiding place, said Sgt. Dan Mercado. They and Hawtin would drive to the area with food and supplies and honk their horns.

Steffani would come out of his hiding place, see who it was and either ″get the things or run back into the bushes and hide,″ Mercado said.

Mercado said police were tipped off by an informant. Undercover officers went to arrest Steffani late Wednesday night and honked their horn. At first, Mercado said, all the officers could see was ″eyes in the bushes.″

Steffani eventually gave up without a struggle. Hawtin was arrested the next day, and a plastic replica handgun allegedly used in the robberies was found in his car, Chenault said.

Update hourly