They paid him $70,000 a year as director of dining services at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. He dwelt in a brick rancher with a back yard that stretched down to a lake outside Salisbury. He had registered to vote, and those who knew him liked him. Everyone called him Derrick Anderson.
And no one at work or on his street has seen him since Oct. 4, the day he went out the back door of his office in a three-piece suit as police hovered at the front, pursuing a tip that Anderson might be Derrick Stevens, the last and most elusive fugitive from a legendary Los Angeles bank robbery 16 years ago.
"He is still at large," FBI spokesman Laura Bosley said Friday.
The flight and allegations of a criminal past left associates incredulous, not only at the 3,000-student campus in the small Somerset County town of Princess Anne but at Atlanta-based Gourmet Services, for which Anderson worked before being hired by the university in 1994.
The school, in a written statement, said Anderson came with "strong letters of recommendation," and spokeswoman Deirdra G. Johnson added that Anderson's food service employees "were really devastated by this."
Gourmet Services President Brenda Branch--who said Anderson had worked for the company in Georgia, Virginia and Maryland--said he "handled our money" and "we never had any discrepancies."
She added: "I know the FBI would never believe it, but I cannot even conceive this young man being involved in something like this. . . . We're all in a state of shock. We truly are. He was a family man. He appeared to be an honorable man. Let me put it this way: He was an honorable man."
Mary Hogan, the FBI agent in Los Angeles handling the case, said the agency's lab has not finished its comparison of photographs to determine whether Anderson is Stevens. If the lab concludes that he is, the tale will evoke several others of recent vintage in which fugitives in high-profile crimes have managed to recast themselves and lead ostensibly normal lives.
Earlier this year, Kathleen Ann Soliah, an alleged associate of the Symbionese Liberation Army, wanted for conspiracy to blow up two police cars 24 years ago, was found in St. Paul, Minn., where she had become Sara Jane Olson. Two years ago, Ira Einhorn, the Philadelphia activist who fled 16 years ago on the eve of his trial in the killing of his girlfriend, was arrested in France while living as "Mr. Mallon."
The FBI says Stevens was one of five men involved in the armed robbery of Family Savings and Loan in Los Angeles on Oct. 28, 1983. It was a crime notable not only for the amount of money taken--$228,000, then the most in city history--but because one bandit wore a Richard M. Nixon mask. That reportedly helped inspire scenes in the movie "Point Break," the Los Angeles Times said recently.
Aided by a dye pack in the pilfered money that exploded in the getaway van, authorities were able to capture and prosecute four of the men involved, Bosley said. One of the four also was convicted of killing in the commission of a bank robbery, she added, because the van belonged to a young vegetable seller who was shot and killed shortly before the robbery.
Only Stevens, now 47, eluded capture for any length of time. The hunt came to be led by the FBI's domestic terrorism unit, Hogan said, because the agency concluded that the robbery was committed "on behalf of the Nation of Islam. . . . They wanted to support the group locally." And while the terrorism unit pursued leads over the years, "we did not have any sightings of him," Bosley said.
It was a recent wanted poster the FBI circulated nationwide that led to events at the 700-acre campus. Lt. Scott Keller, of the Princess Anne Police Department, said a student saw the poster, with a nearly 20-year-old photograph of Stevens, and told police it might be someone employed at a campus cafeteria, Derrick Anderson.
After contacting campus security officials and the FBI, Keller said, he and Chief Russell Pecoraro drove to the university and entered a cafeteria kitchen, clutching the poster. They assumed that Anderson, if he was in hiding, would be a cook or dishwasher, not the formally dressed man they bumped into who identified himself as the dining services director, Keller said.
It was not immediately apparent that the director was the man on the poster, Keller said. The three went into Anderson's office adjacent to the kitchen, and the chief explained why the officers had come. They showed Anderson the poster.
"He picked it up," Keller said. "He goes, 'Why would anyone think that was me?' He was completely calm. . . . I'll tell you, the guy was good. He was really good." He even showed the officers his Maryland driver's license to prove his identity.
Keller said he and the chief, suspicious but not certain, left the office to wait in the kitchen for campus security officers. They thought Anderson could leave his office only by one door, the one that led to the kitchen, where they stood. They were wrong. When the officers arrived and entered Anderson's office, he was gone.
"We actually feel really badly," Keller said.
Anderson used a girlfriend's van parked on campus to flee, Keller said. The van was found at Philadelphia International Airport.