Geneva, our publisher, asked me the other week if I knew whatever happened with the suspects in the Fayetteville China Cafe armed robbery gone bad from a couple of years ago.
I vaguely remembered the story, but I wasn’t covering the crime beat back then, nor was I back yet to full-time status here, so I didn’t know as much about the case as she did.
That’s the story you may remember where a delivery driver fatally shot one of the armed robbery suspects. But probably, like Geneva, you haven’t heard much else from the case up to now.
Two-thirds of the trio linked to that Oct. 11, 2013 armed robbery never had their day in court. While one young man will be in prison for as many as 13 more years from now, his two so-called friends are dead. The case never went to trial because the lone surviving suspect, Alvin “Chipmunk” Scott, then 27, took a plea deal.
As it turns out, the China Cafe armed robbery wasn’t the trio’s first rodeo, though it was their last.
Chipmunk and his friends Alonzo “Zo” Starks and Leandro “Dro” Johnson, both 26 at the time, were also responsible for the armed robbery at Golden Chopstix in Fayetteville a week earlier. All three men were residents of northeastern Clayton County.
Thursday night, Oct. 3, 2013
Golden Chopstix, Fayetteville
According to Fayetteville Police Lieutenant Mike Whitlow, who worked the cases along with Detective Chris Stevers, Chipmunk drove Dro and Zo to the parking lot behind Dairy Queen in Fayetteville on the night of Oct. 3, 2013. He stayed in the car while Dro and Zo, both armed with handguns, walked to the back of the now-demolished building at Hudson Plaza where Golden Chopstix was located.
The restaurant had not long before closed for the day.
Lt. Whitlow says Dro and Zo entered the rear door of Golden Chopstix, and then one of the Halloween-masked gunmen ordered everyone in the kitchen to the floor while the other went into the dining room and forced employees back to the kitchen. The idea was to for one of the gunmen to rob the cash register while the other robbed the employees.
Dro and Zo completed the armed robbery, fled through the rear restaurant door, and returned to Dro’s car driven by Chipmunk.
These young men apparently believed they were on to something, and they set out to repeat the crime eight days later.
Friday night, Oct. 11, 2013
China Cafe, Fayetteville
According to Lt. Whitlow, Chipmunk drove Dro and Zo to the alleyway behind China Cafe in Fayetteville sometime Friday night, Oct. 11, 2013. After the restaurant closed, Dro and Zo, again sporting Halloween masks, stormed through the back door into the kitchen, where they ordered the staff onto the floor. Zo had a gun in one hand while he straddled the chef, and his other hand was searching his victim for an iPhone, which he took. Dro passed through into the dining area at the front of the restaurant.
Out front, Dro found more employees and ordered them back into the kitchen, but before he followed them, he headed to the cash register in order to empty it.
Seconds later, multiple gunshots rang from the kitchen, and Dro fled the building through the front door, running in the direction of the parking lot where Tractor Supply Company is now located.
Back in the kitchen, Zo, who was in the act of robbing the chef at gunpoint, has been shot multiple times in the upper body by none other than one of the employees Dro had herded into the kitchen. Turns out some delivery drivers carry guns, and this one in particular was a regular at a local gun range.
Startled and bleeding profusely, Zo fires his gun and hits the unarmed manager of the restaurant, who had just been standing in the kitchen. The driver, who had emptied his clip into Zo’s upper body, was now running out the back door toward his vehicle to reload his .40-caliber Sig Sauer semi-automatic handgun.
When the driver was interviewed by Detective Stevers, he said he was in the alleyway when he saw Zo exit through the back doorway, turn left and head toward the getaway car. Zo, mortally wounded, managed to walk at least 50 yards to the getaway car. He would shortly die in the back seat from his wounds.
Chipmunk confessed that he drove that getway car behind the building with Zo in the backseat, and he picked up Dro in the parking lot on the other side of the shopping center. They then headed back to Clayton County.
The delivery driver dashed back into the kitchen, slipping on cooking oil and Zo’s blood as he checked on his coworkers.
The first 48 hours
Crime investigators say the first 48 hours after a crime is committed are the most critical part of an investigation because clues are fresher, witnesses and suspects are generally closer to hand, and for other reasons. So when Detective Stevers and Lt. Whitlow got the call that Friday night at 11 p.m., they didn’t think twice about rushing to the crime scene to begin their investigation. It would be early Sunday morning before they put their heads down to sleep for a few hours before returning to the chase.
After the chef’s mobile phone service provider was contacted, the stolen iPhone was tracked to a specific location in the Battle Creek Road, Jonesboro area.
“Capt. [Jeff] Harris and I traveled to the area described and met with Clayton County PD officers,” Stevers wrote in his incident report. “The area was searched repeatedly with no findings into the daylight hours.”
Stevers reported that a second search took place later that morning into the early afternoon, but still they couldn’t find the phone.
Sunday evening, Oct. 13, 2013
The first big break
It may surprise some readers to know that police often call the media when news breaks. It’s not necessarily so the police agency can gain publicity. It’s often so police can get the information out to a lot of people quickly in hopes of having readers, listeners, and viewers call in with helpful tips and clues.
And that’s what happened less than 48 hours after the botched China Cafe armed robbery went down.
“At approximately [7 p.m.], I received a call from Fayette County Dispatch that a female had called and advised that her nephew had been missing since Friday night and felt there may be a connection to our incident in Fayetteville,” Stevers wrote in his incident report. The woman was later identified as Zo’s aunt. She had been trying to reach him by phone, obviously not realizing he had been shot and killed.
“[The woman] stated that she had seen the news reports and had questioned the two individuals that Alonzo was with on Friday, Alvin Scott (AKA ‘Chipmunk’) and Leandro Johnson (AKA ‘Dro’),” Stevers wrote. He noted that Zo’s aunt didn’t believe either of the conflicting explanations given by Dro and Chipmunk concerning Zo’s whereabouts.
“[The woman] was able to provide addresses and dates of birth for Scott and Johnson.”
Stevers says he and Harris drove up to Zo’s mother’s home in Morrow to meet with her and with Zo’s aunt, the woman who had called the police about Zo’s disappearance.
“[Zo’s aunt] stated that they always had bad feelings about Leandro Johnson,” Stevers wrote. He also noted that Zo’s aunt was able to describe Dro’s vehicle and give the location of Zo’s girlfriend’s home in Morrow. As they ended the meeting and left the house, Zo’s brother approached Stevers and said he knew his brother, Chipmunk, and Dro were carrying out armed robberies.
Next, Stevers, Harris, and another colleague met with Zo’s girlfriend to find out what she knew.
It was in the very early hours of Monday morning that Stevers and Whitlow were ready to pounce on Chipmunk and Dro with simultaneous, no-knock warrants there in Clayton County. The only problem was that the judge that they needed to authorize the warrants didn’t want to get out of bed. They would have to wait a few hours.
“Stevers and I went back and took a nap at the office,” Whitlow remembers.
Monday morning, Oct. 14, 2013
The takedown, part one
From Stevers’ report: “At [6 a.m.] Capt. Harris, Lt. Whitlow, and I met with Clayton County Police who organized their SWAT team to execute the arrest warrants and search warrants for both subjects and the residences.
“Clayton County Police along with investigators from Fayetteville and Morrow executed the warrants at Scott’s and Johnson’s homes simultaneously. Scott was found at his residence, Johnson was not.”
After a period of tag-team questioning by police, Chipmunk finally admitted that he and Dro had disposed of Zo’s body in the yard of a vacated home in the Lake City area. He took police to the location, and that’s where police found Zo: buried under a large mound of decorative pine bark.
Now they needed to find Dro and his car.
It could have been worse
After locating Zo’s body, police took Chipmunk back to the Fayetteville Police Department where questioning continued. During that time, Chipmunk told Stevers that Dro had tried to convince him to go along with a plan to blame Zo’s death on Zo’s girlfriend.
“[Chipmunk] stated that Johnson proposed the idea to take [Zo’s] body to [Zo’s] apartment… kill [Zo’s] girlfriend and leave both bodies in the apartment. [Chipmunk] stated that he refused to go through with that plan.”
Chupmunk and Dro instead went with Plan B: the pine bark pile.
Through a string of leads, Stevers was able to discover that Dro’s vehicle, which actually belonged to his brother, had been abandoned near Athens.
Oct. 22, 2013
The takedown, part two
From Stevers’ report: “On October 22, 2013, I was notified by Agent Mauney, U.S. Marshal, that they were enroute to the Wellington Apartments in Covington Ga. Mauney stated that it appeared [Dro] was at the location. Capt. Harris and I responded. As we were en route, Mauney contacted me by cell phone and advised that while attempting to apprehend [Dro], [Dro] had died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.”
Dro had reportedly been hiding in a bedroom closet.
Apr. 4, 2014
If the three suspects had all survived, they would have collectively faced 21 felony charges related to the China Cafe and Golden Chopstix armed robberies. Even though Chipmunk only drove the car, because he was clearly an accomplice to all of what went down on Oct. 3 and 11 of 2013, he alone was indicted on all 21 charges.
Had he gone to trial and been found guilty, Chipmunk would likely have faced life in prison.
Sept. 2, 2014
The Verdict & Sentencing
Chipmunk took a plea deal instead.
On Sept. 2, 2014, he pled guilty to to counts of Armed Robbery and one count of Aggravated Assault. Chipmunk was sentenced to serve 15 years in prison followed by 15 years on probation.
The China Cafe manager shot by Zo spent weeks in the hospital but survived.
Whitlow and Stevers say this case was one of the most intense in their career. They also say it was amazing how one clue led to the next and to the next.
“When things are rolling, you don’t want to quit,” Whitlow says. “You want to keep rolling with it.”
I wonder how many Chipmunks are out there, probably afraid to say “no” to so-called friends who will use them and get them into tremendous amounts of trouble in the process. And sure, he’s a “bad guy” for taking part, but I have some respect for Chipmunk for not going along with killing Zo’s girlfriend in an effort to cover their own tracks, not that it would have necessarily worked in the first place.
I also wonder how many more times these incidents will happen before would-be criminals learn that Fayette County isn’t a safe place to commit armed anythings anymore. For one, you’re more likely to get killed now more than ever at the rate that even women (or especially women) are applying for concealed weapon permits.
And secondly, technology has advanced enough these days to where it is becoming easier and easier to track people down by phones, by GPS-equipped vehicles, and simply by law enforcement agencies being able to more quickly compare notes and work together to solve crimes.
As well, and this can’t be over-stated, we’ve still got some amazing law enforcement officers all over Fayette County. They work tirelessly, not for fame or fortune, but out of duty and out of a desire to maintain law, order, and justice in the community.
We’ve got great prosecutors here, who, again, put in long hours crossing Ts and dotting Is to make sure cases are made solidly and that victims are served to the best of their ability.
As it is an election year, I won’t comment on the judges, but I believe in general Fayette County is blessed.
Unfortunately, would-be criminals probably don’t read newspapers very often, but I sure do wish they would read this story. But perhaps it will be enough if parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, and friends of at-risk youth will pay attention and speak into the lives of these precious young people before they make these kinds of life-ruining decisions.
And that brings me back to what I keep reading over and over again in Ephesians 4:28, which says, “Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.”
Imagine if Chipmunk, Dro, and Zo, instead of collaborating on clever armed robery scemes, had come together to start a lawn care business or some other worthwhile enterprise. They had family who cared about them. Surely they could have found customers and other supporters.
Instead, two of Chipmunk’s life-long friends are dead, and he will be behind bars well beyond another decade.
My final thought comes from Proverbs 13:20, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.”