Inez Paesch was weaving her way around the tables at Kenwood Hall, handing out $1 bingo cards as the women of Hamilton and Overlea settled in for another Saturday evening of gaming and good company. Suddenly, the gentle murmur of the hall was broken by the shouts of two armed, masked invaders: "Everyone freeze, this is a robbery."
"Well, it was a madhouse after that," Paesch recalls of the robbers, who carried a shotgun and an assault rifle. "The ladies just jumped up, started screaming and running toward the front door. Some hid under the tables."
Within minutes, the robbers had claimed their cash prize -- $3,000 -- and escaped after firing shots in the hall's parking lot.
The February robbery was a brazen crime -- and one that recently yielded a potential break in the stalled probe into a double slaying at Loch Raven Reservoir.
Police say a trail of clues leads to two brothers from Northeast Baltimore as suspects in the June 15 slayings. To assemble the evidence, investigators followed a trail from the bingo hall through two Baltimore County banks, to a country club cocktail lounge and, finally, to the reservoir cove.
Along the way, detectives and FBI agents pieced together small clues, including a videotape recording from bank security cameras and the license plate numbers in getaway cars. They also exploited lucky turns: a chance conversation overheard by a police lieutenant, and a rookie officer's acquaintance with one of the suspects.
In the end, the evidence may be enough to overcome any missteps during the investigation. It was, at least, enough to build a case for last weekend's raid at the Hamilton-area home of Michael W. Zenone, 27, and Anthony John Zenone, 30.
They are charged with the bingo hall robbery and two county bank robberies, and are suspects in the slayings of Vincent B. Young and Vernon A. Smith at the reservoir -- though no charges have been filed in that case.
Police also are investigating whether the Zenones were involved in crimes in Anne Arundel County, such as 1993 holdups in which the robbers wore masks with the faces of former presidents.
At the Feb. 24 bingo hall holdup, the robbers wore ski masks, camouflage clothing and bulletproof vests. One carried a body shield.
As they grabbed for the money, many of the players upended tables -- and one another -- while scrambling for the door. Don Longway, a shuttle bus driver who was in the hall basement, ran upstairs to see what was happening, but one of the robbers yelled, "Get back, get back."
Retreating to the basement, Longway ran out another door just in time to see the gunmen get into their car.
He ducked behind a van, hoping to record the getaway car's license plate number. One of the robbers fired the assault rifle, and the two men drove away.
But a passing driver saw the Maryland tag as the gunmen's car darted onto Kenwood Road: CHC 467, he told police.
And back at the bingo hall, police found a significant piece of hardware. In the parking lot was a 7.62 mm cartridge casing, the kind used in an AK-47 assault rifle.
Mercantile bank holdup
William Stang knew it would not be a routine morning at the bank when the manager's eyes suddenly widened. The manager looked past Stang toward the lobby, and said, "Oh, my God."
Stang, a longtime customer at the Mercantile Safe Deposit and Trust Co.'s branch near White Marsh Mall, turned to see a man clad in a ski mask, dark clothes and dark gloves. He was waving a shotgun.
"Don't look," shouted the robber. Stang averted his eyes and raised his hands above his head.
For a tense five minutes on the morning of April 12, the masked man took charge of the bank branch. Peppering his commands with profanity, he ordered bank employees and customers against a wall. When one teller stumbled across the spruce green carpet, a second masked gunman shouted from the vestibule, "Lady, get up or I'll blow your - - - - - head off."
Fleeing with more than $8,000, the robbers left a smoke bomb, hopped into a blue four-door car, probably an Oldsmobile Cutlass, and drove off.
The license tag: CHC 475.
Two weeks later, on April 26, a blue Olds pulled into another bank, First Virginia on Joppa Road near Towson. A masked man backed the car into the parking space, as if preparing for a getaway.
By then, a second masked man had emerged from the car and headed toward the bank. What unfolded was almost a rerun of the Mercantile robbery: profane threats, waving shotguns, a smoke bomb and, in the end, a shoulder bag full of cash.
For Special Agent John W. Barry of the FBI, the similarities were too many to overlook.
Checking the tapes
In late April, Barry sat down in a small room at the FBI's Woodlawn office. He has been chasing bank robbers for 25 years, and had been investigating the Mercantile and First Virginia robberies for weeks. He knew what he was looking for.