ROUNTREE, 92 "You want to know why I rob banks?" asked the oldest known bank robber in America in an interview last year with the Associated Press.
"It's fun. I feel good. Awful good."
While some geriatrics spend the twilight of their lives fishing or golfing, sitting on the beach with a romance paperback or showing everyone who doesn't care photos of their grandkids, J.L. Hunter "Red" Rountree went on a crime spree. He died in prison last month, though his death was only reported last week.
Born and raised in his family's farmstead near Brownsville, TX, in what was the Golden Age of American bank-robbery, Rountree walked the straight-and-narrow life of an ordinary citizen until his 80s. Indeed, he was once a well-to-do businessman. According to a relative, Rountree made a fortune when he founded the Houston-based Rountree Machinery Co., which manufactured industrial tubing.
But then came the two things that every man should avoid: a younger woman and a bank loan. As business went south, Rountree's payments on his refinancing loan were harder and harder to meet. A year after his first wife died, Rountree, at the age of 76, married a 31-year-old woman and then spent almost half a million dollars putting her through a drug rehabilitation program (the sum he spent on Viagra was never reported).
The bank didn't care about substance-abuse problems; it just wanted its money. At this point, Rountree decided he didn't like banks very much.
In 1998, at the age of 86, the short, scrawny redhead held up a South Trust Bank in Biloxi, MS. A year later he knocked over a Nations Bank in Pensacola, FL. This time he wasn't that lucky; he was apprehended and sentenced, leniently, to three years in a state prison. In 2002 he was released on probation.
Last year, Rountree pulled his last job. The 91-year-old robbed a First American Bank in Abilene, TX, in total daylight and walked out with an undisclosed sum.
In the same interview with the AP, Rountree recounted how he walked slowly over to a teller and handed over an envelope stating his intent. According to Rountree, the teller responded with a surprised, "Are you kidding?"
He wasn't, and Rountree got his money. But he was soon apprehended, tried and given more than 12 years in prison. A death sentence.
He died at the Springfield, MO-based U.S. Medical Center for Federal Prisoners, two months short of his 93rd birthday.