At 7:30 a.m., Sgt. Brent Nagel and Sgt. John Henderscheid were sitting in the sergeants' office of the West St. Paul (Minn.) Police Department when they heard a call dispatched to patrol units: an ambush alarm at the Retail Employees Credit Union at 1685 South Robert Street.
The sergeants looked at one another. Both were all too familiar with the usual alarm aggravations associated with the job—robbery alarms, burglary alarms, panic alarms, and the all-too-often common denominator, false alarms.
But neither had ever heard the term "ambush alarm" before. This unfamiliar call, coupled with the hour of the morning, led the sergeants to roll together to the location just one block away from the police station.
As the sergeants pulled into the rear lot of the credit union, they noticed a dark gray Pontiac G6 4-door backed into a parking space with the driver's window down.
Nagel walked to the rear of the bank as Henderscheid went to investigate the parked car, finding the Pontiac's front and rear license plates had been covered up by paper.
A radio transmission went out over the police frequency: Three officers were entering the bank via the bank's front door.
With many West St. Paul officers routinely hired to work overtime at the credit union, the location was hardly unfamiliar territory for local cops. Still, why the officers were entering the bank was beyond Nagel. Had they made contact with someone inside?
The sergeant didn't know. All he knew was that alarm protocol had been broken, and hopefully for a good reason. For instead of locking down and securing the location and making a call inside to have someone step out, officers had now insinuated themselves inside the bank. Nagel could only hope that the officers knew what they were doing.
From Bad to Worse
Nagels's hopes were dashed. Inside the credit union, things were going from bad to worse. Having entered the bank, the senior officer proceeded deeper into its interior, leading the way as a female trainee and her plain clothes training officer brought up the rear.
Inside, Wilfred James Hines waited.
A career criminal, the 46-year-old Hines had spent a vast majority of the previous 30 years in some manner of custodial confinement.
It was perhaps predictable that upon his most recent release Hines had gone back to doing what he knew best, hitting several banks and getting away with more than $100,000 within a few short months.
Hines' M.O. was to get the drop on bank employees as they opened up for the day and this day had been no different. Hines hid behind a dumpster before sneaking up behind the arriving bank manager and sticking a gun to his head. Forcing the manager to unlock the door and turn off the alarm, Hines must have thought everything was going according to game plan. Except this time the bank manager had surreptitiously triggered an ambush alarm before deactivating the system.
Once inside, Hines forced the bank manager to open the bank vault, then relieved the man of his cell phone before locking him in a separate room.
Hines was in the process of leisurely loading up an athletic bag with money when a trio of officers entered the front door of the bank.
Hearing their voices, Hines retreated into the bank vault and left the door open. As the lead officer neared the vault, his gun still holstered, Hines jumped out and stuck a 9mm pistol to the officer's head. The officer's peers elected to back off.