This is one of those stories that I might usually say can only happen in a small town. But that's not exactly true. Desperation is a universal thing.
On Wednesday, my dad came upon the most excitement in Janesville since the Hay Daze parade in June. Sirens everywhere. Cops all around. TV crews on hand. It turned out to be the end of a bank robbery in nearby Elysian. The perps supposedly robbed the bank in Elysian and made the short drive to Janesville, where authorities quickly apprehended them. What made it strange initially was the pairing: an "older woman" and a young guy. What was their relationship? Harold and Maude? Grandma and grandson? Who was the leader, who was the lackey?
KEYC offered video but not many explanations. An expert in news ethics might take issue with Channel 12's initial report: A bank might have been robbed, though no one's really saying, two people were arrested shortly after, though who knows if they're suspects in the bank robbery. Something happened. That we do know.
Well, it turned out the young guy was innocent, an unwitting, befuddled pawn in an elderly woman's desperate attempt to pay her rent. The woman, 70-year-old Sandra Bathke, is a tenant in the building owned by the young man's mom. Bathke told the man, Luke Weimert, that she could get the money for her late rent - she had received an eviction notice - if he could just drive her to the bank. Who passes up a chance to be nice to an elderly person in the middle of a brutal winter? So Weimert drove her to the Elysian bank in a Jaguar and waited in the car. Bathke allegedly went inside, told a teller she had a gun - she didn't, but did have a hammer, authorities said - walked back to the car and rode off with Weimert. They made small talk on the drive. The ice- and snow-filled roads are bad outside of Janesville so they took it slow, perhaps the first evidence that Weimert didn't know what he'd been dragged into. A getaway driver usually possesses a heavier foot.
When they arrived back in Janesville, authorities swarmed the car, much to Weimert's shock. Bathke's comment when the police appeared?
Such a grandmotherly thing to say. Police determined that the 26-year-old Weimert didn't know anything about the robbery. He was just doing a good deed, it being the holiday season and all. Bathke will face charges. Weimert's mom says she wishes she could sell the building. Bad tenants who make too much noise or don't pay the rent on time are one thing. Tenants who snare your son in a felony that catches the attention of the FBI are another.
It's a pretty sad tale. Bathke didn't have any previous bank robberies on her resume. She was a woman with no money, and, she apparently thought, nothing to lose. It wasn't a well-thought out plan. No weapon, no disguise. The thought probably came to her in an instant. All she needed was a driver. Who hasn't thought at some point, huh, I wonder if I could rob a bank, like the guys in Heat? Bathke followed through. Picture your grandma in dire financial straits. You'd want to help in some way, whether giving her the money or taking her to the bank where she can retrieve some cash. Maybe you'll get some homemade chocolate-chip cookies and hot cocoa as a reward. That's all poor Weimert did, yet he still ended up in handcuffs on TV. It didn't end well for anyone, though Weimert will have plenty of stories to tell his own grandkids someday.
Only in Janesville. Or any other place where a desperate person performs a desperate act.