As far as Ralph Michael Bellamy is concerned this is a love story. His 16-year-old girlfriend sees it that way also.
Police in Maryland and Florida see it only as a simple crime story, and consider Bellamy and the girl as prime suspects in two stolen auto cases and a half-dozen Bonnie and Clyde-style holdups of stores in the Florida Keys.
This story began last summer when Bellamy first met the effervescent schoolgirl at a suburban Washington toy store, where the girl worked as a cashier.
The 24-year-old man had lived a quiet life in and around Washington for three years after escaping from the Patuxent Institution, a Maryland prison. He waited tables in local restaurants and then became a carpenter before joining a management training program at the toy store in Silver Hill.
There he fell deeply in love with the schoolgirl and hoped to marry her, but the girl's father forbade it.
That refusal prompted the couple to elope Oct. 4, and that elopement marked the beginning of a month-long Maryland-to-Miami odyssey in which the couple tried unsuccessfully to get married. During that journey, police allege, they committed eight armed robberies.
The odyssey ended Nov. 3 when the lovers were trapped by Miami detectives in a MacDonald's parking lot and forced to lie on the ground at the point of a shotgun. If convicted of the armed robbery charges against them, the couple could be sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Bellamy has pleaded innocent by reason of insanity. The girl's lawyer is attempting to have her tried in juvenile court.
"I just love him too much," the girl said recently. "I knew he'd escaped from prison, but it was our little secret. We wanted to be together. We only wanted to be married."
The girl's father views the bizarre episode differently. "Bellamy," he said, "has ruined her life. She was never in any kind of trouble before she met him. He's a sneaky no-good punk."
The girl, a redhead with hazel eyes, was an outgoing student at Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro on summer vacation between her sophomore and junior years when she began work at the toy store.
Bellamy, at the time, was enjoying "the happiest years of my life" following his escape.
"I had a whole new circle of friends," he said. "I joined the Jaycees and went bowling on Thursday nights. I worked as a carpenter then got into the toy store program and met [her]."
The girl said it was love at first sight. "He's just so sweet. He had the cutest smile I'd ever seen."
"He looks like a little kid. He had this hang-dog, mama's-boy look that young girls just love," said her father contemptuously. "Both of them were walking around with stars in their eyes."
The girl's father felt Bellamy was using his daughter and ordered her to avoid him. So when Bellamy called her at home Oct. 4 and asked her to run away with him she readily agreed. Bellamy arrived at her home that afternoon in a taxi and "I got right in with him with nothing but the clothes on my back."
Bellamy told cab driver George Sibley to take them to St. Charles City, Md. According to court documents the cab was southbound on Maryland Rte. 5 when Bellamy ordered Sibley to turn off on an isolated road in Bryantown, Md.
"I kept asking Mike 'where are we going?' but he just said 'Settle down,'" his girlfriend recalled. "On the way we got to talking with the driver and he liked us so much he asked us to call him George.
"Well," she said, "when we got to the road Mike all of a sudden pulls out a gun and tells George he's going to rob him. That's when I got scared."
According to court documents Bellamy stole $20 from Sibley and tied him to a tree while the girl held the gun on the driver. The girl said the couple then drove away in the taxi, and abandoned it outside a private school in Waldorf.
For two days the couple lived in woods bordering Rte. 301 until they were driven out by cold and hunger, the girl recalled. "We decided to hitchhike to Florida because we figured it'd be warm down there."
Eighteen year-old Toni Adriani was driving northbound on the highway heading to his Camp Springs home after attending a hunt club meeting in St. Charles City when he noticed the two hitchhikers on the side of the road.
"I didn't expect any trouble," Adriani remembered. "I usually pick up hitchhikers. They both looked a little dirty but they were clean-cut."
Shortly after Bellamy and the girl got into the car, Bellamy pulled the gun out and told Adriani to turn the car around, the girl said.
"We were just talking. They asked me my name and told me theirs and said something about Florida," Adriani said. "Then this little guy gets that gun out.I told him I'd like to break his neck. He said 'that's why I got the gun.'"
The car entered an isolated road behind the Waldorf Shopping Center, where Bellamy tied Adriani to a tree, the girl said.
Then they were off, heading south on Interstate 95 in Adriani's black Monte Carlo. In Selma, N.C., Bellamy said, he found a justice of the peace and asked him to marry them.
"He wouldn't do it," Bellamy recalled. "He said she was underage and needed her parent's permission."
They arrived in Florida penniless three days later, after sleeping three nights in the car, the girl said. "It was so good. The sun was so warm and there was all that water. I had to get a bathing suit."
For the next three weeks the couple survived on whatever they could steal, she said. In different resort towns in the Florida Keys, she said they robbed six grocery stores and specialty shops and made off with more than $175.
"If that was what it took for us to be together, I guess I had to do it." she said. "It was similar to Bonnie and Clyde."
Shortly after his return to Patuxent last month Bellamy said that he and the girl were not charged with any crimes in Florida. Later, he said, "I misled you. I did become involved with some things down there."
She said they would wait outside a store until it was empty of customers, and then Bellamy would enter with his gun under his shirt.
She would wait with the car motor running. "We never got rich or anything like that. We just needed money to eat and sleep." They stayed in various motels in the Keys until the last week of October, when Bellamy decided to go to Miami to find a friend who knew a local minister.
"We were really determined to get married. That's the only reason we did all the things we did," the girl said.
In Miami, it all ended. Miami robbery detective Michael Matthews was eating a snack in his precinct office when a robbery-in-progress call came over the police radio.
"We'd gone to this 7-Eleven type store to get some money," the girl recalled. "But Mike came out real quick and said the clerk had put all the money in a drop safe. When he came out these two guys were looking at us suspiciously."
When Matthews and another detective arrived at the store the couple's car was described by several bystanders. "I was driving and Mike was saying, "We've had it, we've had it, baby, we're caught.' I was shaking. Then I see in the mirror a car behind us ordering us to the side of the road."
The couple turned into a MacDonald's parking lot and Matthews ordered them out of the car. "They seemed pretty cool about the whole thing." Matthews said. "They both looked real young. We confiscated a .38-caliber revolver and some food items in the car."
The girl's father, meanwhile, was distraught. He hadn't heard from his daughter in three weeks and filed a missing person report with Prince George's County police. Then he got a call from Matthews in Miami at 2 a.m. telling him of his daughter's arrest.
"I cried," the father recalled. "I just knew something like that would happen. That dirty punk."
Bellamy and the girl were extradicted back to Maryland early last month and indicted on nine counts of armed robbery, kidnapping and handgun violations. If convicted they could receive 40 years in prison.
The girl, whose attorney is attempting to have her tried in juvenile court, currently is attending classes at a Prince George's County high school pending her trial.
"I still love him." she said.
The girl's father maintains that the elopment never would have happened if the state prison system wasn't "so lenient" toward convicted criminals. "He was free for three years and ruined my girl's whole life," he said. "She now needs psychiatric care. I hope he stays in prison forever."
Bellamy is back at Patuxent, where he originally was sentenced to 12 years for armed robbery in 1972.
He wears a gold wedding band on his ring finger and insists he married the schoolgirl in Fort Lauderdale during "our honeymoon."
Broward County, Fla., licensing officials, however, could find no marriage certificate in their files bearing Bellamy's name or the girl's.