Would-Be Robber Goes Down In Flames

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A member was arrested minutes after attempting to rob First Community Credit Union during which he threatened to start a fire with gasoline if his demands weren't meant.

John Chappel, 48, of Ferguson, entered the branch office just after 9 a.m. on Monday, Dec. 19, and walked directly into the office of a member services representative, said Denise LaHay, vice president of marketing at FCCU.

He then demanded that she get a teller to fill his bag with money. She called in the head teller.

"She knew him by name," LaHay said. "He was a member."

LaHay said the suspect showed the employee a "squirt bottle that Dawn dish soap would come in" that he said contained gasoline. He proved it by squirting some of the flammable and strong-smelling liquid onto the floor.

"But, no one ever saw a match or a lighter," LaHay said.

When the head teller went back to a cash drawer to get cash, she notified other employees of the robbery in progress, LaHay said. They were able to call police.

"Because this was not happening at a teller line, (the teller) had a chance to tell people to get in the back and call 911," LaHay said. "Police came and covered both the front and back doors."

When the head teller returned to the office where the suspect was waiting and handed him the bag that contained "bait money," he said there wasn't enough and sent her back for more. She complied.

The would-be robber then attempted to leave out a back door, but spotted a police car and headed for the front doors instead, LaHay said.

"When he saw the police in the front as well, he fairly calmly walked out," LaHay said.

"He was apprehended, no member money was lost and there was no harm to the facility or the staff," LaHay related, noting that the credit union's staff has been well-trained for such incidents and has been on higher alert due to the holiday season.

The First Community Credit Union branch closed for several hours to clean up the gas spill and get rid of the smell.

Florissant Police Chief William Karabas said the suspect left a rental car in the parking lot with keys in the ignition, but was nabbed before he could get to it.

Chappel was charged with first-degree robbery and armed criminal action, Karabas said, adding that the suspect has several prior convictions, including robbery.

The community-based First Community Credit Union has more than $1 billion in assets, 12 branches and several satellite offices.

LaHay said it had been several years since the last robbery at any of its branches.

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