The Surprising Case of One Houston Robber

J. Patric Schneider/Houston Chronicle via AP

Someone wise whose name now escapes me said we can never truly know anyone, and by “truly” they meant “fully.” For Texas Monthly, Skip Hollandsworth tracks the case of one of the boldest, most elusive teams of armored car robbers the FBI has ever tracked. This Houston, Texas, crew wasn’t simply stealing cash from armored cars. They were murdering the cars’ employees, and their system was so effective their hits left few clues for the FBI. When the FBI seemed to crack the case, the ring leader’s criminal life surprised everyone, his girlfriend especially. “He wanted to build his life the right way, have a family,” she said, “and that’s what we were doing. We were building our family and making sure our kids were okay.” But people are complicated, and authorities are still speculating about their culprit’s motives.

Yet even then, no one considered him to be particularly dangerous. Vivian King, a Houston attorney who represented Batiste on some of his cases (she’s now a senior prosecutor in the Harris County district attorney’s office), told me that Batiste was “one of the most well-mannered clients I ever had, perfectly polite, always saying ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘no ma’am’ to me whenever we talked.” And curiously enough, after his 2009 conviction, he seemed to abandon his criminal impulses altogether. He went to work for his neighbor Tommie Albert, who ran a roofing, fencing, landscaping, and container delivery business. “What struck me about Red was that he was interested in so many subjects,” Albert told me. “He would sit at the computer for hour after hour, just doing general research. He’d read about everyone from Muhammad Ali to Dick Gregory. I once told him I had an uncle who was one of the first black pilots in Birmingham, Alabama, and he researched that.”

Albert, whose own son had been shot to death nearly twenty years earlier, hoped that Batiste would someday take over his business. But Batiste said he aspired to get into real estate. Besides renovating homes, he wanted to purchase empty lots on which he planned to open storefront businesses, everything from a beauty salon to a day care center to a snow cone stand. “He even had this idea of buying large shipping containers and converting them into small homes that he would put on his empty lots,” Albert said.

In 2013, on Valentine’s weekend, Batiste met Buchi Okoh at a party. A former college volleyball player, she was in her late twenties, and she too was determined to do something with her life: she had earned her real estate license before becoming a salesperson at Stewart Cadillac, in Midtown. Okoh told me she immediately liked Batiste because he wasn’t a “sweet talker.” He was “straightforward and to the point.”

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