Numbly, Trish Farry waited by the phone, drained of everything, including hope. She had done everything the gunmen had demanded. Still, they had betrayed her.
Standing there in her mismatched jacket and dress, her hair unwashed, no makeup on her face, she realized how desperate she must look.
She hadn't been able to save John.
Through the restaurant window, Trish spotted a familiar face--the director of a local day-care center. She waved frantically.
My bank has been robbed, Trish gasped when he came rushing outside. They tied my husband to a bomb. Please help me.
But when he called 911, the operator insisted that because no robbery had been reported, she couldn't help. And calls to the First National Bank went unanswered.
The day-care director drove Trish to the bank, where they found police and FBI agents already talking to workers, getting statements from Farry's boss. Terrified that they might put John in further danger, employees had waited until just a few minutes earlier to call for help.
"I'm OK, I'm OK," Trish said as everyone rushed toward her. "But John . . . the bomb . . ."
Gently, investigators led her into a back room. They handed her tissues, a soda and two Tylenol. Then an FBI agent pulled up a chair.
Back at the house, John lay in silence, chains cutting into his ankles and neck, duct tape wound so tight around his chest he could barely breathe, pillowcase wrapped around his head.
The gunman had laughed as he played his deadly game, spinning the cylinder of his revolver beside John's head, clicking the trigger. Spin. Click. Spin. Click.
John had no doubt that his life was over.
After holding John in his own backyard for four hours, the gunmen had moved him back inside and chained him to the bed in the master bedroom.
The bomb, he told John, was ticking at his feet.
If I can just stay calm, John thought, maybe there's a chance to survive.
But he couldn't help agonizing over Trish. Had she made it to the bank safely? Had she emptied the vault and delivered the money? Would she make it back on time to dismantle the bomb?
Even in the early morning, when he heard the gunman leave, John didn't dare move. Even an hour later, when agents surrounded his house, shouting, "FBI. Is anyone there?" he didn't dare cry out. He was afraid that just the slightest noise or movement might get him blown to pieces.
"Be careful," John whispered as an agent pulled the pillowcase from his head. "There's a bomb."
"No, Mr. Farry," the agent said crisply. "There is no bomb."
Before the agents untied John, they took photographs--of the chains, the bed, the look of terror on John's face.
But terror wasn't the only emotion he was feeling.
He also felt humiliated, his dignity assaulted all over again by the very men who had rescued him. It was almost worse than the gunman's taunting, this cool detachment of investigators as they swarmed through his home, turning it upside-down, blackening everything with fingerprint dust, bombarding him with questions, endless questions.
They were interrogating John as if he were a suspect himself.
And then it dawned on him: He was.
That was why they were so brusque with their questions, so sparing with their sympathy. That was why no one seemed to understand--or care--when he broke into a sweat, gasped for air and wondered if he was having a heart attack.
John remembered the gunman's voice the night before as he hurled an apple core into the yard, jeering that the FBI could search for "bite prints."
"They will be all over here tomorrow," the gunman had predicted. "And you will be the first suspect."
John could hardly believe what was happening. Sick with anger and disgust, he shook off their questions. He shook off their stares. On the patio, alone, John curled up with his thoughts.
His wife hadn't been raped or killed. His daughter was safe. All that mattered was getting back to normal.
But could things ever be normal? Would his home ever be the same? Would the most familiar place on earth ever feel so familiar again?
Six months later the FBI was still stumped. The case was growing cold. Agents didn't have a clue who had stolen $330,000 from First National. They figured it was probably an out-of-town gang who had long since taken off for another state.
The Farrys had been ruled out as suspects after passing lie detector tests, an experience that made John Farry despise investigators even more. The couple couldn't identify their captors. They had been masked most of the time, and so had their intruders.
"At first we thought the robbers were two brothers from New Jersey," said agent Phil Krumm. "But they checked out, and we had nothing."
And then, on March, 14, 1996, the SunTrust Bank in Chattanooga was robbed.
Hostages. A fake bomb. Terror.
This time the take was $345,350.
Now bank officials across Tennessee were jittery, demanding more security, wondering why the robbers hadn't been caught.
In his cramped office in the downtown federal building, Ralph Perrigo, a 38-year veteran of the bureau, thumbed through his notes. Perrigo had worked bank robberies and other serious crimes for decades, cracked major cases in Washington, Milwaukee and Detroit.
Now the 54-year-old white-haired agent was winding down a stellar career, looking forward to retirement: a little fishing, a little golf, maybe some private-detective work.
At his request, Perrigo had been transferred from Washington to Knoxville a year earlier. He figured he'd spend his last few years in his home state, passing on what he knew to some of the younger agents, guys like Todd Sandstedt, fresh out of agents' school, thrilled to be teamed with such a pro.
And now, right here in Knoxville, in the smallest office he'd ever worked in, he was puzzling over one of the most perplexing cases of his career.
Perrigo knew bank robbers. Most were dumb. They shoved a note in front of a teller, demanded money, got caught on videotape, didn't plan a good escape.
Not this gang. They were slick, no doubt about it. And local. The two extortions had taken place within 110 miles of each other. What was the connection? Who was the mastermind?
Slowly it began to dawn on him.
Perrigo ripped through his files. He reread the interviews. That word, that weird-sounding word, the one witnesses had mentioned again and again in interviews. It was jumping out of the pages. It was spinning around in his head.
"I've got it!" Perrigo slammed his fist on the desk and yelled at his startled partners. "I know who pulled off the bank jobs."
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
The Story So Far
When a gang of bank robbers burst into Trish Farry's home one night, she remained calm and did exactly what they told her to do. She paid close attention as they showed her how to disarm the bomb they attached to her husband. She went to work as directed the next morning and stole $350,000 from her own bank. She left the money in a parked car, as she was instructed. Then she walked to a phone booth to await the promised call that would tell her where to find her husband so she could disarm the bomb. They had warned her it would detonate at 9 a.m. The deadline passed; the call never came.
To be continued next Sunday.
This story is based on interviews with John and Trish Farry and agents in the FBI's Knoxville Field Office, as well as a review of police reports and trial transcripts.