A man on trial for bank robbery wrestled a gun from a federal marshal Monday and fatally shot two guards in a courthouse garage before killing himself, authorities said.
It was the latest in what has become a series of courthouse attacks nationwide.
The prisoner was Jeffrey E. Erickson, 34, a former police trainee and onetime expert Marine marksman who had been dubbed the “bearded bandit” because he allegedly wore a fake beard while committing a string of eight bank robberies. He had just finished the sixth day of his trial on bank robbery charges and the wounding of a police officer in a shootout. Erickson’s wife, an alleged accomplice, had been killed in that shootout.
Monday’s shooting occurred shortly before 5:30 p.m. in an underground garage of the Dirksen Federal Building as Erickson was about to be transported to the Metropolitan Correction Center. While in the federal building’s basement garage with other prisoners, Erickson somehow freed himself of his handcuffs and wrestled the service revolver away from a deputy U.S. marshal, FBI special agent Ross Rice said. Erickson then shot another deputy marshal and started to flee.
As Erickson ran, a building security guard chased him and shot him in the back, federal agents said at a late evening news conference.
Erickson shot and killed the guard, raced halfway up a ramp, then stopped and shot himself in the chin, Chicago chief of detectives John Stibich said.
Harry Belluomini, 58, and Roy Frakes, 30, both of Chicago, were dead on arrival at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, spokeswoman Shirley Jackson said. Frakes was the deputy marshal and Belluomini was the guard.
The judge in the trial, U.S. District Judge James Alesia, said he had just driven out of the garage when he heard the shots. By the time he parked and returned to the scene, Erickson was dead. Alesia declined further comment.
An hour after the shootings, Erickson’s body remained on the ramp as a large throng of downtown office workers crowded against the police ribbon.
Terry Green said he was going home from work and was half a block away from the federal building when he heard the shots.
“It sounded like eight or nine shots,” he said. “It sounded like firecrackers. It was about 5:15 or so and people were just going home from work. It’s just lucky no pedestrians were shot.”
Erickson, a former police officer trainee in suburban Hoffman Estates, was on trial for robbing eight banks, most in the suburbs, of more than $180,000. He also faced state charges in the wounding of a suburban Palatine police officer who tried to stop him for a traffic violation in November, 1991. He was arrested Dec. 16, 1991, in Schaumburg while he and his wife, Jill, were preparing to rob another bank, prosecutors said. His wife fatally shot herself that day while trapped in a van after a 10-mile chase.
In addition to the beard, prosecutors said, Erickson donned layered clothing to disguise his weight, wore gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints and carried a police scanner.
There have been several serious courthouse shootings around the country in recent months. Among them, according to the Associated Press, were these incidents:
* July 1: Lawyer George Lott shot two lawyers to death and wounded two judges and a prosecutor at the Tarrant County Courthouse in Ft. Worth, Tex. Lott later turned himself in at a TV station, saying he was angry over a divorce case and a child-molesting charge his former wife brought against him.
* May 5: District Judge Lawrence Jahnke was shot and seriously wounded by Rueben Larson during a hearing on failure to pay child support in Grand Forks, N.D.
* May 5: Kenneth Baumruk shot and killed his estranged wife, Mary Louise Baumruk, and wounded their attorneys while waiting for divorce hearing in Clayton, Mo.
* May 4: Carolyn Francis Logan shot and wounded her brother-in-law at the Colbert County Courthouse in Alabama.
* March 9: Shirley Lowery was stabbed and killed by Benjamin Franklin in the Milwaukee County Courthouse in Milwaukee, where she had gone to seek a restraining order against him.
* Jan. 7: Abdulla H. Awkal killed his estranged wife and brother-in-law in the Family Conciliation Services office of Cuyahoga County Courthouse in Cleveland.