Four Deaths Still Hurt, Say Geronimo Townsfolk
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ It has been more than a year, but townspeople in the close-knit southwestern Oklahoma farming hamlet of Geronimo are still mourning the innocence washed away in the blood of four people shot to death in the robbery of the town’s only bank.
Four of their neighbors, or kin, were killed in the holdup of the First Bank of Chattanooga’s Geronimo branch. Three others were injured.
While few Geronimo residents are willing to talk about the events of that awful day, Dec. 14, 1984, or its aftermath, it remains a topic of conversation for outsiders. And the more the curious ask, the less townspeople want to say.
″People around here would just like to forget about it all,″ says Town Marshal Tommy Dale. ″But you interviewers keep bringing it up. And each time you do, it hurts a little bit more and stirs them all up again.″
″I’m not saying that people are going to forget it,″ Dale says. ″But they just want to put it all behind them.″
The marshal says the events of the past year - the funerals, a community memorial service and the trial and conviction of two men in the case - ″has really made this town super-tight. Everybody has really pulled together.″
At first, little appears changed in Geronimo. The bank - two large trailers made permanent with a foundation - sits across the street from the town hall and a grocery store. Next door is the Blue Jay Inn.
Closer inspection reveals subtle differences.
Security cameras have been installed in the bank. And there is a wariness among the citizens, many of them retired military personnel from nearby Fort Sill who moved to the community to escape the world and its accompanying problems, only to have it stalk them there.
″People around here are a lot more cautious,″ Dale says. ″It will never again be like it once was.″
Herded into the bank’s backroom and shot were three female employees - Kay Bruno, the manager; Joyce Mullinex and Jeri Bowles. A customer, Eddie Zeller, was shot to death, and three other customers were wounded: Ruben and Bellen Robles and Marilyn Roach.
The Robles moved to Texas after the trial ended. Kirk Mullenix moved to Cache, where he is a high school basketball coach and, observers say, ″all discussion of the robbery is strictly taboo.″ Bruno’s husband remains manager of a discount store in Lawton. Relatives of the other victims and survivors remain in the Geronimo area.
All are reluctant to discuss the case.
At least two lawsuits were filed against the Chattanooga bank, alleging lax security. The bank’s president, J.S. Humble, denied the charges.
Dale says he sees many of the victim’s families daily. They never discuss events of the past year, and he does not bring it up.
″But it’s just something you can tell,″ he says. ″I can’t really put a finger on it. But the only thing that will truly heal it is time.″
Marilyn Roach is Steve Mallow’s sister. And Jeri Bowles was engaged to Mallow’s brother-in-law.
″It hurt when they were killed, but now that I’ve had more time to think about it, it seems like I hurt even more now,″ Mallow says.
Mallow still walks across the street into the bank every day carrying receipts from the grocery store. ″I’d say 90 percent of the people went back″ to the bank, he says. ″People worked hard to get a bank in this town, and we always knew it would be good for the community.″
Robert Grady Johnson and Jay Wesley Neill were convicted in the case and sentenced to death. Their cases are being appealed.