$2 Million Take

Hunt on for armored guard in killing, heist

Share with others:

Print Email Read Later

An armed security guard made cold and calculating plans to kill his partner, ditch the body in the back of their armored truck and vanish with more than $2 million in cash, authorities said Wednesday.

Pittsburgh police asked law enforcement agencies nationwide to be on the lookout for Kenneth John Konias Jr., 22, of Dravosburg, who may be armed with three semi-automatic pistols, including his partner's Glock 9 mm service weapon. Garda Cash Logistics, the armored transport company that employed both men, offered a $100,000 reward for information leading to Mr. Konias' capture.

"We're trying to stress how dangerous this individual is," Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said. "We want everybody looking for him."

Police planned to charge Mr. Konias with homicide, robbery and theft in the slaying of Michael Haines, 31, of East McKeesport, whose body was discovered by fellow employees about 3:45 p.m. Tuesday inside the cargo area of the truck, which had stopped near a railroad crossing below the 31st Street Bridge in the Strip District. Police believe the vehicle had been idling under the bridge, which is just two blocks from the Garda offices on 33rd Street, for at least two hours before Mr. Haines' body was found.

Mr. Haines, who had only been on the job a few months, had been shot once at close range in the back of the head during a day that included collection stops at at least four locations. Detectives used video surveillance to craft a "minute-by-minute recreation of the crime," Mr. Zappala said, offering new glimpses into what he described as a premeditated murder and robbery plot.

The footage, he said, shows the truck leaving the Garda office just before 8 a.m., making stops at places including the Rivers Casino on the North Side, a Home Depot off of McKnight Road in Ross and Sargent Electric Company in the Strip District. Police believe Mr. Konias parked the armored car under the bridge about 1:30 p.m. and ran to the Garda company parking lot, where he got into his tan Ford Explorer and sped off.

It's unclear when Mr. Haines was killed, but witnesses outside the Home Depot told police they heard a gunshot coming from the armored car just before 1 p.m.

"He planned to rob the company, and if he had to kill the guard, he planned to do that," Mr. Zappala said. "That's pretty cold-blooded."

Mr. Konias likely took the $2 million, in undisclosed bill denominations, while making the rounds, stashed it somewhere and returned to retrieve it, Mr. Zappala said. Police do not believe the money contained tracking devices that would help them locate it. An unknown amount of cash remained inside the armored truck, and FBI agents were still auditing the exact amount of money that was taken.

Later Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Konias returned to the Dravosburg home he shared with his parents and discarded his blood-spattered uniform jacket, which police collected when they searched the home Tuesday night.

Mr. Konias made several calls from his cell phone as he fled, including to his mother and several friends, who, in turn, called homicide detectives. He said, "My life is over," to one friend, who asked, "What, did you kill someone?" Mr. Konias paused and replied, "Yes," and then told his friend he had enough money that they would never have to work again, detectives wrote in a criminal complaint. Mr. Konias asked whether his friend knew anything about the extradition laws of Canada or Mexico before the person hung up, the complaint says.

Mr. Konias then tossed the phone on Route 51, where it was snatched up by a passerby as police were calling it.

Detectives were examining it and other evidence in hopes of pinpointing Mr. Konias' whereabouts. U.S. border authorities, airports, bus depots and train stations were alerted to watch for him, police Cmdr. Thomas Stangrecki said. Police believe Mr. Konias masterminded the heist alone, without his partner's knowledge.

Mr. Konias' parents have declined to comment, as did neighbors who said they barely knew the young man, whose criminal past includes only a smattering of traffic and motor vehicle offenses. Authorities said he had worked at Garda for about a year.

Joe Gavaghan, a spokesman for the company, based in Boca Raton, Fla., declined to comment, citing the "active investigation."

Mr. Haines, who earned a communications degree from Robert Morris University, had struggled to find steady work recently and was pleased when Garda offered him a job, those close to him said. The work, which required him get his firearms license and undergo extensive training, was an unexpected but natural fit.

"One day he is selling Verizon cell phones, and the next day he is coming home with a handgun and a Garda badge and saying he's responsible for millions of dollars," said Joe Krsul, his roommate of seven years. Yet Mr. Haines liked the rigors and the mental stimulation.

"It suited his personality, in a way," said his mother, Ann Haines, who had discussed with her son the dangers of the job. She never imagined they would be realized by a person working right alongside him.

"He epitomized what was good," Ms. Haines said. "It's just a tremendous loss."

Mr. Haines, whose on-the-job partners often changed, hardly spoke of Mr. Konias.

"He never said there was any arguments or anything was fishy," Mr. Krsul said. "Knowing Mike, if anyone were to steal a dollar off that truck, he would have done his best to defend it."

James McGuffey, an armored car expert with 26 years in the industry, described the work as "one of the most dangerous jobs out there. The wages and benefits are in no way commensurate to their responsibilities."

Employees at such companies nationwide make, on average, about $10 to $13 per hour and often work long shifts and extra hours, he said.

Despite the obvious dangers, authorities said the deadly heist was the first of its kind in recent memory. But it was reminiscent of another famous local case involving millions. On March 17, 1982 -- St. Patrick's Day -- two men slipped under the automatic garage door at the old Purolator Armored Inc. terminal in Brentwood, subdued the lone guard and made off with 30 bags loaded with $2.5 million in cash. They hauled the bags out on steel carts to their getaway car.

In Tuesday's slaying, Cmdr. Stangrecki urged anyone with information on Mr. Konias' whereabouts to call homicide detectives at 412-323-7161, 911 or a local police agency immediately.

Sadie Gurman: sgurman@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1878. First Published March 1, 2012 5:00 AM


Create a free PG account.
Already have an account?