Wasted Efforts

If Mike and Patrick Poland had put as much effort into working as they did into preparing to commit the perfect robbery, they wouldn’t have had to resort to crime to survive.
 
Instead, they figured it was simpler to take the easy way out and as a result a couple of security guards ended up dead and the Polands ended up on Death Row.
 
Mike had a run of bad luck that extended back as far as he could remember. He had never been much of a worker and had little history of continuous employment. In the summer of 1976, however, he had hopes. He was expecting to win a personal injury lawsuit that would have taken his family back from the brink of bankruptcy and then things were going to change. Unfortunately, he lost the case and as a result he and his family had to give up their property in Oregon and head back to Arizona where his family lived.
 
He was borrowing money from everyone just to keep his head above water. Mike Poland and his family lived first with his brother Pat, then with his father, George, and finally ended up in their own apartment. They were maxing out his father’s credit cards to buy gas and clothes and were dodging calls from collectors who were trying get them to pay past due medical and dental bills.
 
For his part, things weren’t going much better for Pat. He was borrowing money from his father, his younger brother and a friend.
 
Together, the brothers had run up a $15,000 debt to their father alone. Something had to change.
 
The Poland brothers put together a plan to bring in some tax free income by posing as Arizona Highway Patrol Troopers and robbing drug dealers. They also apparently supplemented their income by selling raw turquoise to jewelers.
 
Around Christmas, they bought a pair of Chevy Malibu sedans, one silver and one white — the vehicles and color schemes used by the Arizona Highway Patrol. Each of the cars was equipped with a siren activated by a toggle switch on the dashboard. Pat ordered a radio scanner, which allowed them to listen in on police frequencies.
 
In February 1977, a man using the name “Mark Harris” ordered a Taser from a Tucson gunshop. “Harris” came in and made a deposit for the Taser. A few days later the Taser arrived from the manufacturer and “Harris” picked it up in the company of another man. The sales clerk identified the two men, “Harris” and his accomplice, as Pat and Mike Poland.
 
While continuing to hold up drug dealers and make ends meet by selling turquoise, the brothers made preparations for their big score.
 
Someone named Mark Harris ordered three distinctive canvas bags from a Phoenix manufacturer, placing a special order for bags made to his specifications. At the same time, “Harris” ordered 100 feet of green and white cord known as “Rover Rope.” At that time, the company which sold Harris the rope was the exclusive dealer for Rover Rope in Arizona.
 
Although the deal was conducted in cash and no one at the company could identify Pat as “Harris,” several appeals courts later on ruled that “from the evidence, the jury could find that Pat Poland, using an alias “Mark Harris,” was this purchaser.”
 
The evidence shows that a month later, in May 1977, the brothers took further steps in preparation for their crimes.
 
Mike and Pat purchased a light bar similar to the ones that police cars and public safety vehicles use. The brothers told the vendor that they were planning to start a towing company. The invoice for the light bar was made out to “Harper’s Towing,” but the salesman and a company receptionist, who met the brothers on several occasions, swore that the Poland brothers were the purchasers of the light bar.
 
Also in May, Mike contacted a buddy who had once been a cop and asked if he still had a Sam Browne belt — equipment used by police to hold handcuffs and other gadgets. Although the friend no longer had his belt, he referred Mike to a couple of law enforcement supply stores where anyone could get such a belt. The friend reported that his conversation with Mike happened “no later than the weekend beginning Friday, May 20.”
 
Several weeks earlier, on Tuesday, May 10, 1977, a person identifying himself as Mike Poland made a collect call from a pay phone on State Highway 17 near Black Canyon, an area north of Phoenix but before the Bumble Bee turnoff. The call was placed to Mike’s residence.
 
Bumblebee is a still-inhabited stagecoach stop/wannabe ghost town that is not really interested in the tourist trade according to reports.
 
That location was significant because the payphones in that area at the time provided a clear view of the northbound lanes of Highway 17. The time is equally important, because the call was placed at an hour when a Purolator armored van filled with cash passed through Black Canyon on its regular Tuesday run.
 
Two weeks later, around 9 a.m. on May 24, a husband and wife were headed north from Phoenix on Highway 17. As they approached the Bumble Bee turnoff, they spotted a white car stopped just before turnoff. One man was inside the car behind the wheel, while another, in a tan uniform, was outside with one foot on the rear bumper.
 
These witnesses testified that the lookout appeared “nervous.” The wife was able to identify this man as Mike Poland.
 
There was more than enough reason for Mike to be nervous that morning. The Purolator van — driven by Russell Dempsey and Cecil Newkirk — filled with cash destined for several banks in Northern Arizona was more than an hour behind schedule because of mechanical trouble experienced before leaving the Purolator facility. Eventually the truck did leave, headed for its first delivery at a bank in Prescott.
 
A second couple following the same route between 9:30 and 10 a.m. recalled seeing a Purolator van stopped by the side of the road ten yards or so from the highway.
 
A man who appeared to be wearing the uniform of the Arizona Highway Patrol — tan pants and shirt and a patch on the arm — was standing near the door of the van on the driver’s side. The witnesses reported that the passenger’s door was open as well. They both identified the man they thought was a trooper as Pat Poland.
 
As further evidence that the stop was not an official one, Arizona Highway Patrol reported that it had no troopers in the vicinity of the Bumble Bee turnoff at that time.
 
The armored car never made it to Prescott. Police would find it a day later, abandoned and empty, with the two driver-guards missing.
 
While the police were processing the van on the morning of May 25, the Poland brothers were 300 miles away at Lake Mead, the body of water created by Hoover Dam, an easy car-ride south of Las Vegas.
 
The brothers got to Lake Mead by borrowing their father’s pickup truck, taking a tarp he always kept with the truck. This time, however, they had to hunt around his property for the tarp, because he was using it to cover some sacks of cement.
 
The brothers arrived at Temple Bar, at the time one of the few developed areas on the Arizona shore of the lake, in the early morning hours of May 25. Pat dropped Mike off at Temple Bar and continued on to an even more remote area called Bonelli Landing.
 
At Temple Bar, Mike rented a boat, telling the owner he was planning to meet someone at Bonelli Landing, a 16-mile trip by boat. The Temple Bar landing manager was able to recall the specific conversation because he thought it was strange that Mike had no fishing gear, although Mike said nothing about fishing.
 
Around 2 p.m. on the 25th, Mike returned with a companion. The manager could not identify the companion as Pat, but it seems likely that it was him. Mike reported that their pickup truck was stuck at Bonelli Landing and that they needed a tow.
 
Eventually, a tow truck was found, and the two brothers and the driver headed out to Bonelli. There, they found the truck backed about 10 feet into the water. The tailgate was down and the water was approaching the gate.The brothers blamed drunken foolishness for getting the truck stuck.
 
The tow truck driver would later testify that it appeared that something had been dragged out of the bed of the truck into the water. Mike paid for the $93.60 tow with a new $100 bill and told the driver to keep the change.
 
On Thursday, May 26, the brothers returned the truck to their father, complete with a new tarp. The old tarp, they explained, had been ruined when they tried to get the truck unstuck from some sand.
 
Decomposing bodies float unless proper steps are taken to allow the gasses that build up inside the corpse to escape (Drowning victims do sink temporarily because water in the lungs weighs down the body until decomposition begins). Criminals almost always underestimate the amount of buoyancy a dead body has or the amount of effort and weight needed to keep a corpse under water once it starts to decay. Such was the case with the Poland brothers and their murder victims.
 
On June 16, 1977 a boater found the body of one of the Purolator guards floating near Bonelli Landing. The upper part of the body was encased in a canvas bag, which pinned the guard’s arms to his sides.
 
Police divers found two pieces of wood tied together with green-and-white cord subsequently identified as Rover Rope. The rope was tracked to the sole distributor in Phoenix and from there the cord led authorties to the Poland brothers.
 
A week later the second guard’s body was discovered in the same part of Lake Mead. The next day, June 24, 1977, divers found more of the canvas bags and Rover Rope.
 
On July 27, 1977, FBI agents executed search warrants of Mike’s house in Prescott, Arizona. They found $13,000 in currency, including $1,000 in $100 bills, several rolls of coins and a radio scanner set to police frequencies. At Pat’s house, searchers found $15,225 in cash hidden in a hair dryer bag. Authorities also found several handguns, rifles and shotguns, handcuffs and a blackjack.
 
Back at Lake Mead, the divers also found the tarp, a fake Arizona Highway Patrol License Plate and two handguns in a canvas bag weighted with rocks.
 
Forensic accountants looking into the spending habits of Pat and Mike found that soon after the robbery they paid off several debts and were generally living large.
From May 24, 1977 to July 27, 1977, the brothers spent around $83,000, authorities found.
 
When they were questioned about where the money came from, the brothers admitted that they were robbing drug dealers, but denied having anything to do with the Purolator robbery.
 
After a five-week trial with 153 witnesses, the brothers were convicted of the crimes of robbery and murder and sentenced to death.
 
In 1999, Michael Poland was executed by lethal injection. His attorneys presented evidence that he was incompetent at the time of his death. The stress of being on death row had taken its toll, psychiatrists said.
 
When asked if he had any final words, Mike replied that he was hungry.
 
“I’d like to know if you’re going to bring me lunch afterward,” he said. “I’m really hungry. I can’t think of anything else.”
 
Patrick Poland was executed in 2000.