When he was awaiting sentencing for bank robberies in 1989, the man known to FBI agents as the Clark Kent Bandit sent the judge in the case an apology and a promise.
"I would just like to say how sorry I am. . . ," Roger Hoan Brady, now 28, wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Manuel L. Real. "My days of crime are over."
But if what authorities in Los Angeles County and Oregon allege is true, Brady's words proved to be a terrible lie.
Brady, a child of two cultures, the son of a respected but troubled Vietnamese and American family who friends say squandered three years of college in an addiction to crack cocaine, is suspected of murdering two people.
One was 29-year-old Manhattan Beach Police Officer Martin Ganz, a popular, about-to-be-married cop shot down in December during a routine traffic stop while his 13-year-old nephew looked on. The other was Catalina Correa, a 55-year-old Portland, Ore., registered nurse who was slain Aug. 3 in what Oregon police believe was a coldblooded "witness elimination" killing.
Brady has not been charged with Ganz's murder; he is being held without bail in Oregon in the Correa case. He has not entered a plea and his attorney declined to comment on either case.
People who knew Brady now wonder if there was any way he might have wound up differently. Other people wonder why Brady was walking the streets after serving less than three years in prison for bank robbery.
"If he (Brady) had gotten the sentence he should have gotten the first time, Martin and that poor lady would be alive today," said Pamela Ham, 29, Ganz's fiancee. "This shouldn't have happened."
Brady was born in 1965 in Hong Kong, friends say, but until age 5 he lived in Vietnam with his parents. His father is Philip O. Brady, 55, a former NBC television correspondent there. His mother, Diep N. Brady, 52, comes from a wealthy Vietnamese family.
In the mid-1970s the Bradys and their two children, Roger and older sister Linda, moved into a house on Observation Drive in the Fernwood section of Topanga Canyon, now a kind of millionaires-and-bohemians neighborhood featuring winding roads, spectacular views and hillside homes ranging from lavish to rustic. Phil Brady worked for a variety of TV news organizations, including NBC, CNN and KTTV Channel 11. Phil and Diep Brady declined to be interviewed for this article.
Family friends describe Roger Brady as a bright but extremely quiet, reclusive child who never made serious trouble--his worst childhood offense was shooting at birds with a pellet gun.
"That child was always a loner," said Fernwood neighbor Marguerite Cook. "The only people he seemed to feel at home with were his Vietnamese relatives. He was of mixed race, and I think it must have been a problem for him."
Roger Brady also became a young man with a drug problem.
"For a good measure of his life, (Roger) has been quite unhappy and dissatisfied with himself," Phil Brady wrote of his son in a 1989 letter to Judge Real.
"He is Amerasian and . . . from his earliest years in Vietnam onward, he was subject to a good deal of racial discrimination. . . . He has always been inhibited from making friends. . . . He sought to combat the deep personal pain he felt . . . first by sniffing glue, later smoking marijuana and finally ingesting cocaine."
In the same letter, Phil Brady described himself as an "overbearing," frequently absent father who himself "had bouts with alcohol and drugs."
According to college records, Roger Brady attended Santa Monica College and Loyola-Marymount University for a total of three years. He also worked at a variety of sales jobs.
But family friends say Brady fell in with a bad crowd and started smoking crack cocaine--a strongly addictive drug that one drug-counseling expert says "makes you hostile, aggressive and feel no fear."
One afternoon in October, 1989, neighbors saw Brady speeding up the street in his yellow Volkswagen, with cops in a patrol car and a helicopter hot on his tail.
According to court documents, the bank robberies had started in August, when a young Asian man wearing horn-rimmed glasses as a disguise walked into American Savings in Santa Monica, pointed a handgun at a teller and robbed him of $680. Because of the glasses, FBI agents who viewed surveillance photographs dubbed him the Clark Kent Bandit after Superman's alter ego, the bespectacled newspaperman Clark Kent.
Five more bank robberies followed, a week or two apart, in Los Angeles, Calabasas, Woodland Hills, Tarzana and Agoura Hills: The total take was about $8,600. But at the Home Federal Savings in Agoura Hills the robbed teller got a description of the getaway car; a sheriff's deputy spotted it on the Ventura Freeway and chased Brady to his home, where he was arrested with the bank's $2,053 in his pocket. An unloaded pellet pistol was found in his car.
Brady faced up to 25 years in prison for each of the six bank robberies. In a plea bargain, he pleaded guilty to two of the robberies and was sentenced by Judge Real to 41 months in federal prison, with no restitution ordered. He also was given five years of post-release supervision, including drug treatment and testing. It was a light--but not unprecedented--sentence for a bank robber, experts say. Although the pre-sentence report in the case is under seal, Brady's lack of a prior criminal record probably was the major factor in the short sentence.
Brady spent time in several federal prisons, and with "good time" credits was released from Lompoc federal prison on Oct. 1, 1992.
In a post-release letter to Judge Real, Brady wrote, "During my incarceration, my drug problem gradually abated. I do not want to revert back to the use of controlled substances because I fear it will destroy my life."
Brady returned to his parents' home. Neighbor Cook said he talked about going back to college and for a while worked as a car salesman. In October, 1993, the Bradys sold their Topanga house for $315,000 and moved to the Malibu area.
Brady, as part of his sentence, was required to undergo drug counseling and testing after his release. Authorities would not say whether Brady had reverted to drug use. But police believe that on the night of Dec. 27, 1993, he was violating his parole terms in at least one regard that could have sent him back to prison: They say he was driving his father's gray 1988 Daihatsu Charade through Manhattan Beach with a .380-caliber semiautomatic pistol in his possession when he was pulled over by Martin Ganz.
Ganz had lived a far different life than the man who allegedly killed him, friends say. Born in a Garden Grove family of one son and seven daughters, he was active in police Explorers and later became a military policeman in the Marine Reserve. He joined the Manhattan Beach police in 1989. An energetic, ambitious young man, he loved being a cop, friends say. He also hated drugs, serving as the D.A.R.E. anti-drug instructor at several local elementary schools.
As Ganz approached the car, the man inside started shooting. Ganz retreated behind his patrol car; the man chased him, still shooting. Ganz was killed by a gunshot wound to the head. The man then pointed the gun at Ganz's young nephew, who was on a "ride along" with his uncle. But the man didn't fire. He drove away.
It was the first-ever murder of a cop in Manhattan Beach; the community was outraged. A 60-detective multi-agency task force started checking thousands of leads, armed with a description of the car and a widely distributed police composite sketch of the killer from the nephew and another, unidentified witness. One of the earliest leads, police now say, was an anonymous tip about Roger Brady.
Detectives interviewed Brady at his Malibu home in January, but had nothing to link him to the crime. They did not connect Brady to the Daihatsu involved in the Ganz case. A few months later, Brady moved with Phil and Diep Brady to Vancouver, Wash., just across the border from Portland.
On Aug. 3, Oregon police say, a ski-masked robber held up a Safeway store in suburban Portland, one of a series of store holdups Brady is suspected of. As he left the store, police say, the robber shot and killed Catalina Correa because she apparently had seen his getaway car--a 1988 Daihatsu Charade.
Another witness, however, chased the getaway car and was shot at three times, but got the license number. Police traced it to the Bradys' Vancouver apartment. A SWAT team surrounded the apartment, and Phil and Diep Brady came out; Roger Brady surrendered shortly thereafter. A .380-caliber handgun and a rifle were found in the apartment.
Brady was charged with capital murder in the Portland slaying. Los Angeles sheriff's investigators say ballistics tests show the .380 pistol is the same gun that killed Ganz. The adult witness in the Ganz case picked Brady out of a lineup, police say. Murder charges against Brady in the Ganz case probably will be filed later this month, police say.