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Between bank robberies: nightmares and 30 motels

By LEANORA MINAI, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 12, 2003

photo
[Times photo: Cherie Diez]
"I don't have to hurt anyone," said Steve Aitken, talking to a room full of reporters at Pinellas County Jail about a string of seven bank robberies.
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LARGO - Choking back tears at times, Steven Aitken said Thursday that he robbed seven banks and even saw himself on America's Most Wanted.

Aitken, who was on the run for nine months, said in an interview at the Pinellas County Jail that he had nightmares and considered turning himself in while living at 30 motels in Central Florida.

"There would be days that would go by, and I wouldn't talk to anyone," said Aitken, 36. "Go to McDonald's or Burger King and eat. Come back to my hotel room and drink. Maybe go out and sit by the beach. The whole while worrying that when this money runs out, "What am I going to do?"'

While Aitken said, "I don't have the heart to hurt anyone," police on Thursday were searching the Makai Beach Lodge, an oceanfront Ormond Beach motel where he recently stayed.

"They're going to find a sawed off shotgun," Aitken said. "They're going to find a full belt of ammunition that was never used. They're going to find a bulletproof vest. They're going to find money. They're going to find generic cola in the fridge from Publix. They're going to find a crockpot for $9 from Kmart with chicken and dumplings in it with carrots, mushrooms."

Aitken, who wore shiny handcuffs, flip-flops and blue jail scrubs, licked tears off his lips and raised his voice at times as he told a room of reporters that a grudge against the criminal justice system fueled his crime wave.

"This is my home," he said. "I was born here, and they took that from me."

Aitken said he never fondled himself in front of an 8-year-old St. Petersburg boy in 1990, a charge that sent him to prison for 10 years. And he said he was framed and wasn't responsible for the cocaine in his urine last November, a finding that would have sent him back to prison.

Instead, he quit his handyman job, he said, and started stealing. He apologized Thursday to the people he endangered.

The following are excerpts from Thursday's interview:

Do you have animosity?

If I had built up animosity, I would have visited people on their front door step and gunned them down and got back in my car and left. It wasn't about that.

What has life been like over the past nine months?

I would run out of money almost completely - on one occasion to 20 damn dollars before I found the gumption to go into another bank. I was in a Publix, and I was armed, and there's an armored pick-up happening, and the bag is right there. He's not even touching it. He's not even looking at me. A man thinner than me, not up for the challenge. I could have taken him, his life and the money and anyone that stopped me.

How much money did you get from the banks?

I don't know. I never kept track of which bank. I never kept track of how much money I took. I was only glad that no one ever caused any resistance, and that's why I targeted banks. I never hit anything else because it was my concern that someone might do something to interfere with my goal to gain money.

Why didn't you demand money with a note instead of a gun?

Come on now. I'm not a professional bank robber, but that doesn't work. If I'm going to go through the trouble of stealing a car from a car lot and rob a bank, I'm not going to go out with just a thousand dollars, and that's all these people are getting.

How would you psych yourself up for the robberies?

It's an indescribable thing. I walk through this jail and all these people get excited like a cage of monkeys, and I've got a basket full of bananas. "Oh, there's the America's Most Wanted guy." Anybody can jump over a counter with a weapon and demand money, and if the people behind the counter have their eyes open, they're going to do what they're told.

Did you get a thrill from robbing banks?

No. I saw my expression on America's Most Wanted, and I think you can look at my distress in the line waiting to rob the bank and that was from the get-go. From the very beginning, there was never a thrill. I had a $9 watch on my arm. I have never lived it up.

How long could you keep going?

I could have easily stayed out there. I had many weapons. I had a bigger grudge than there are people in this room. It would have been easy. I could have killed. I could have robbed one armor car and just shot the man just as sure as I'm talking to you and taken that money and probably have lived for over a year and not have to do these petty robberies.

What is proper punishment?

I don't know. It's too late to really have a normal life. I've been in prison for 10 years. I'm not looking forward to going to prison, but I'm happy that no one was hurt, and I guess I'm happy that I didn't get hurt.


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