The Story of the Handsome Guy Bandit Was Made for Hollywood*
Steven Ray Milam in jail in Dallas.
The blood was starting to pool on the floor, forming interesting little patterns. To Steven Ray Milam, lying between his bunk and his locker, they looked like mesas, rising from the concrete as the blood began to clot.
I'm still alive, Milam realized, opening his eyes and watching his cell swim hazily into focus. I need to get those razors off the sink.
He thought slashing the veins in his neck and arm would've done the job. Blood had shot three feet into the air when he sliced them near the crook of his elbow, spraying the wall. He'd even pumped his arm, trying to make the blood drain more quickly. But he was still here.
Steven Ray Milam
Email the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There was little else in the cell — just the bunk, the toilet, the sink, his locker and a table bolted to the wall. He'd set a note on the table earlier that day, with instructions that it be forwarded to a U.S. Attorney, an FBI agent, his lawyer and his wife.
"In the event of my death, please contact my wife Jamie," the note began. "Please instruct her that my wishes are that she cremate my body and equally divide my ashes between her and my son, my two favorite people in this world. ... Please forward remaining commissary funds and property to my wife to help defer the cost of cremation."
Always mindful of prison rules, he added a P.S.: "Please take any costs for copying or mailing said copies from my commissary account."
He also added instructions for his lawyer: "Upon my death, please have all warrants, complaints, indictments, proceedings, etc., both federal and state lodged against me to be vacated. Furthermore, since I have not been convicted of any crimes, have all property currently seized by the FBI both directly and indirectly be released to the custody of my wife, Jamie Milam. Review what happened in the Kenneth Lay Enron trial. ... Please have Jamie and Brendon Milam auction off the mask and split the proceedings. Furthermore, help them secure a book or movie deal ..."
Now, the razors. He had to get to them, to finish what he'd started. He remembers lifting his head from the pillow he'd laid on the floor, trying to stand. But the blood was sticking him down, forming a seal as it hardened. He finally broke free and staggered to his feet, only to immediately crash down again.
He hit the toilet, breaking the porcelain, and rolled toward the door of his cell. Milam realized suddenly that he could no longer see. An inmate doing laps in the hallway peered in through the tiny window to the cell. Then he screamed.
A jail counselor came running. He threw open the door and waded into the blood, not pausing to put on gloves. He knelt beside Milam.
"Do you want to live?" he asked.
Milam found, to his surprise, that he did.
"Yes," he managed to say, before the blackness rolled in again.
The Handsome Bandit's origin story, at least as Milam recalls it, has the precise look of a big-budget action movie. It was the winter of 2005, he says, and three or four guys were shooting the shit one night at the bar of Shuck N Jive, a Cajun joint in North Dallas where Milam's then-girlfriend, Alli, was a manager. The news came on. Something about a bank robbery.
"I've always wanted to do that," one guy said. Agreement all around. A few hours later, there they were, robbing a bank.
No drugs were involved in this abrupt decision, Milam says, and there was no pressing financial need. They robbed "a few" banks, he says — how many he can't quite recall — with no particular system and no special plans for the money. They used it, he says, mainly for stays at the Four Seasons and shopping trips to impress women.
"He's embellishing," Alli counters. "I think there was only one person who had a clue what he was doing. It was not a group. I'm positive of that."
Milam and Alli were in the midst of a whirlwind romance. He'd been hanging around the restaurant for weeks, angling for a date. Eventually she relented. A few weeks later a friend of Milam's told her, "Boy, you really aced it."
She had no idea what he meant.
"Steve's a millionaire," the friend explained. Milam had recently sold his pool-cleaning chemical company for something like $37 million.
Alli didn't much care about money, but Milam could be lavish with it. For her birthday he rented a limo for a night on the town. And after just two months of dating, he took her to see a huge diamond. He said he was buying it as an "investment," but as they stood there with the jeweler, he suddenly blurted out, "Actually, this is going to be for you."
Milam didn't buy the diamond that day. A few weeks later, though, he took her to Austin to stay at the Four Seasons for another birthday celebration. They rented the Governor's Suite, which can cost up to $2,400 a night, and he arranged for a trail of flowers leading to a birthday cake. That night, he got down on one knee.
"I don't have the ring yet, but you saw the diamond," he told her. "I put $10,000 down. As soon as I've got it, I want you to marry me."
Talk to me once you actually have the ring, she told him, taking his extravagance with a massive grain of salt. Still, she says, "I felt like Cinderella."
But when they were checking out the next day, Milam's wallet suddenly went missing. "Do you mind paying for the hotel room and I'll get you back?" he asked her. She later found the wallet shoved in a back-seat pocket in her car.
A few weeks later Milam was back at the Shuck N Jive, hanging out with their mutual friend, Josh Poteate. As Poteate later testified, Milam said he wanted to take a ride. The two drove to a nearby Compass Bank, parked but didn't get out. Then Milam suggested that they switch seats and directed Poteate to drive to a nearby Wells Fargo. Apparently satisfied with what he saw, Milam hopped out of the car and disappeared into the bank.
Teller Amy McDaniels was working that day. She watched Milam enter with a phone to his ear, wearing a Nike jacket, a Nike cap and dark sunglasses. He approached her station and handed her a bag. Inside she found a note: Remain calm. This is a robbery. Put all the money in the bag.
McDaniels slipped $2,753 into the bag and handed it back. Milam grabbed the note, wadded it up, put it in his jacket pocket and walked calmly out of the bank. He never said a word.
By then, Milam and Poteate had been gone from Shuck N Jive for so long that Alli was getting worried. She phoned Milam; he answered, sounding winded, like he was running. "No big deal," he assured her. "I'll explain later." He had something important to tell her, he said.
They stopped at a 7-Eleven so Milam could grab a soda, then returned to the Shuck N Jive. Milam lingered outside; when he came in, he was wearing a different shirt and no baseball cap. Poteate overheard Milam say he'd just "knocked over" a bank.
At Wells Fargo, a police officer working the case thought the teller's story sounded familiar. He drove on a hunch to a parking lot on Rosemeade Parkway. It was there, he remembered, that he'd hunted down the tracking device from a similar robbery a few weeks before. In the parking lot he noticed a 2003 Lincoln Navigator with Illinois plates, just like the car witnesses from that first robbery described. It was parked outside the Shuck N Jive.
The officer peered into the SUV's window and spotted a black Nike jacket and baseball cap lying next to a yellow legal pad. He approached a valet, who told the officer that two guys had pulled up in the Navigator not long before. One was the manager's boyfriend, the valet said, and led the cops inside.
Alli looked out the window and saw a slew of cop cars in the parking lot. She had "this sinking feeling," she says, and knew Milam was involved. She walked onto the floor of the restaurant to find him being cuffed.
"What's going on?"
"He's a possible suspect in a bank robbery," an officer told her.
"He's a millionaire," she said. "Why would he need to rob banks?"
An FBI agent showed her a surveillance photo of Milam in a bank, and she finally understood that Milam wasn't a millionaire playboy after all. "My whole world came crashing in," she says.
Milam and Poteate were taken to Denton County Jail. Poteate quickly asked to speak with a lawyer. When Poteate disappeared from jail the next day, Milam says, he knew that he'd been sold out. (No one else was charged in the robberies.)
"Poor Josh," Alli says. "He just had no idea what was going on."
Her relationship with Milam pretty much ended that day, Alli says. But he sent hundreds of letters from jail. At first he proclaimed his innocence. But once he was convicted — on two charges of taking money from a bank "by force, violence or intimidation" — his story changed.
"I did it because I needed to pay you back," he told her.
Milam was sentenced to 24 months, which he served at the federal prison in El Reno, Oklahoma. In his letters he told Alli to have the contents of a storage unit he owned sent to her, so she could sell them off and recoup some the money she'd spent on the hotel room. In the unit, she found a washer and dryer, some flat-screen TVs, a road bike and several pictures of Milam's ex-wife April, whom Milam had divorced just before meeting Alli. Alli had been totally unaware of her existence.
Alli also learned that the story about the pool-cleaning business was true. Sort of. He had sold it for a tidy profit, which he and April burned through living on the road, spending large and staying in lavish hotels, often in the Governor's Suite.
The "Handsome Guy" is an astonishingly high-quality silicone mask made by SPFX Masks, a California company that does a lot of work for Hollywood. It goes for $810 without any enhancements (like a mustache or a neck tattoo), and it looks eerily like a real face. Handsome Guy is white and bald, with a light dusting of stubble and a few tiny freckles. Two years ago, a video of the mask went viral, garnering over a million pageviews on YouTube. The guy wearing the mask wasn't even doing anything, just poking at the mask, pulling the lower lip down, getting right next to the camera so you can see the pores and tiny creases in the skin.
Conrad Zdzierak was one of the first bank robbers to make use of an SPFX mask. He got away with $10,000 wearing "The Player," a mask that made him look so convincingly like a black man that a mother turned her son into the cops, sure she'd recognized him from news reports. A young Chinese dissident escaped to Canada by boarding a plane wearing "The Geezer." There are fake arms, too. They're made of latex and run about $650 a pair, and they come in handy if you don't want to leave behind fingerprints or gun residue.
Milam started collecting the masks sometime after he finished his stint in El Reno. By early 2011, he says, he had masks of every ethnicity and age group. His teenage son thought it was just a quirky hobby: surfing eBay and Craigslist for masks, joining mask-enthusiast forums online. Sometimes, Milam says, he would drive as far as Georgia to pick up a mask, wearing another mask when he made the purchase. He was careful never to contact the companies directly, never to leave a paper trail.
Milam had kept busy in prison: teaching GED classes to fellow prisoners, running and, most of all, dreaming up new ways to make money. He kept thinking about baby boomers, specifically the 79 million of them set to expire sometime soon. Death looked like a recession-proof industry.
When his sentence was up in 2008, he asked to be released in Tyler, Texas. He didn't want to go back to Dallas, he says, to hang around the same people he'd gotten in trouble with before. Facing three years probation, he went first to a halfway house, followed by a period on a leased ranch before moving into a trendy loft. He also started Memorial Monuments, a one-stop shop for caskets, urns, monuments, flowers, even pet coffins. Business was brisk; in 2009, an East Texas TV station featured Milam in a red and navy striped polo shirt talking happily about all the ways grieving customers can save a little scratch.
Milam's parole officer even let him step foot inside a bank again, where he opened a new account and fell in love. Jamie Usry was a 28-year-old teller, 14 years his junior, with long blonde hair and big brown eyes. She'd been married before and had a young son. A smitten Milam kept inventing excuses to come into the bank to talk to her, even opening a line of credit he didn't need. Finally he managed to ask her out.
"He told me he was in state jail for check fraud (that wasn't his fault, of course) and prison for stealing money through the computer," Usry says in an email. "He explained it to me as he was hacking into people's accounts."
They were married within the year. They bought a house in a nice part of Tyler, a roomy place with hardwood floors and a pool. Usry's son lived with them, and after a while Milam's own teenage son moved from his mom's place in Arizona. The boy's grades were slipping, Milam says, and Mom thought he'd do better under Milam's supervision.
By then Usry's job at Austin Bank was long gone. They fired her as soon as they found out about her boyfriend's previous occupation as a bank robber, Milam says. She soon found another teller job, at Bank of Tyler.
Milam hawked caskets and exercised fanatically, getting his whole family addicted to running. But family and exercise and cremated pets couldn't scratch his every itch. A week after his probation ended, the Handsome Guy Bandit made his debut.
On April 19, 2011, he robbed a BBVA Compass Bank in North Dallas. Two weeks later, a Bank of America in Irving. There were two more in May, a Wells Fargo in Dallas and a First National Bank in Plano. There was one a month in June, July and August, scattered across Plano, Richardson and the tiny hamlet of Hedwig Village, down in Harris County.
In July, the Richardson Police Department issued a crime bulletin, detailing a heist at First Community Bank. "This is believed to be the sixth bank robbery committed by the same suspect," the bulletin read. But what really captured the public's attention were the surveillance photos, of the Handsome Guy standing in front of several different bank counters, the light bouncing off his bald, rubbery dome.
The Handsome Guy's expressionless face was soon a fixture on the nightly news, especially once he started brandishing a semi-automatic pistol, a step up from the simple "note jobs" he'd once pulled. The stations endlessly replayed security footage of the robber standing at bank windows, wearing a gray suit jacket, a crisp white-collared shirt and a pair of black sunglasses.
As the reward money climbed and the media buzz got noisier, Milam learned a few things. No matter what he told the tellers, they'd always throw something extra in the bag with the money: GPS trackers, dye packs, "bait money" with sequential serial numbers. The bait money he'd spend on his trips out of town, wearing those fake arms to leave no fingerprints. When dye packs stained his haul, he soaked the cash in a cake pan filled with alcohol.
By November, 10 banks had been robbed, eight of them in the Dallas area and two near Houston. For every one he robbed, Milam says, he scouted and rejected at least 20, usually due to an excess of cameras, either in the bank or on the streets nearby.
Investigators quickly concluded that the crimes were linked. "He was pretty unique because of the disguise," says FBI agent John Wetherington, who leads the team that investigates North Texas bank robberies. Witnesses told them the mask was eerie but realistic. One thought Milam was ill, a cancer patient maybe. "It caused people to stop," Wetherington says. "The mask moved and functioned, but it didn't look quite human."
Still, it did its job.
"Initially, we didn't know whether it was a white male, a black male or a Hispanic male" under the disguise, he says. "But Milam slipped up and let part of his face be seen."
It was one of several ways Milam grew careless or over-confident. "He was getting cocky," Wetherington says. During one robbery, he even asked the teller to pass along a message.
"I know you know who I am," he told her. "Tell the FBI I said 'Hi.'"
Last New Year's Eve, Milam and his wife woke up at their new house in Richardson. They'd just bought the four-bedroom spread to go with the one in Tyler. It was Milam's project: He was determined not to bring a thing from the Tyler house, he says, purchasing all new appliances and furniture.
Jamie's birthday was coming up, and Milam's son, Brendon, was out of town, visiting his mom in Arizona. The couple had big plans: a steakhouse dinner, a night at the Mansion on Turtle Creek, a shopping spree at NorthPark Center. But Milam had been planning to hit a BBVA bank for a while and he wanted to get it off his to-do list. He couldn't decide whether to postpone it till after the holiday.
He switched on the DVD player and checked the disk inside. It was the bank heist movie The Town. He fast-forwarded to a chase scene, he says, watching for the moment when the gang shoots at the car behind them, trying to disable it. With that, he says, he decided to just get the robbery over with. Around 9 a.m., he had a few beers and told Jamie he was heading to the gym.
He drove to a strip mall near the bank and parked his car in an underground garage. He listened to his usual pre-robbery hype-up music, hard-rock stuff by Chevelle and Drowning Pool. He always ended with a DP song called "Bodies," which starts in a whisper and escalates to a scream: "Nothing wrong with me/something's got to give/let the bodies hit the floor." He cut the engine and pulled on his mask.
The weight of the latex made him feel like he was in a diving bell. The outside world felt far away, while his own breathing became loud, hot, distorted. It always made him think fleetingly of Darth Vader as he walked toward the bank doors, stomach churning. But something always shifted when he put his hand on the bank's door handle. Suddenly, everything was fine. It was business.
He breathed deep and pulled.
Jacob Gomez and his wife had walked into the bank not long before, after some dithering over whether to use the drive-thru. They turned to see a man in a mask.
"This is a robbery!" he shouted. He was waving a gun.
"Get on the floor!" Milam instructed them, according to the account Gomez gave to a TV reporter. "This is not a joke! I'm not playing around!"
Milam soon ordered everyone off the floor and herded them into the bank's main vault. Customers kept pouring in; they were ushered into the vault, too. On the way in, an employee managed to discreetly hit the panic button.
Inside the vault, Milam forced everyone onto their knees and ordered the manager to start filling a plastic bag with cash. He told the manager not to put dye packs or GPS trackers in with the money.
"I know about those," Milam said, according to Gomez. "If you do it, I'll kill you. I'll kill you and your whole family. I'll go to your house and kill you. I'll kill someone right now." He pointed the gun at the employees and customers huddled in the vault.
Gomez held his wife's hand.
"It's going to be OK," he told her. "He wants the bank's money. It's going to be all right."
Milam ordered the tellers back to their windows to empty the drawers. No dye packs or I kill you, he told them. Then he put everyone in the bathroom and told them to count to 500. He warned them not to contact police; he'd be listening on a scanner, he said. Then he left. He'd been there for a total of nine minutes.
As Milam walked back to his car, he saw lights flashing out of the corner of his eye. It was Bill Minnix, a uniformed officer in a Richardson police car. Minnix raced up a nearby hill, then swung back around toward Milam.
Milam says he fired "a warning shot" and crouched behind a nearby wall. He listened as the officer revved his engine and raced back downhill toward him. When the vehicle sounded close, he claims, he walked right out in front of it. The men were no more than a few feet apart.
"He knows that if I had wanted to hurt him at that moment, I could have," Milam says. "I chose not to hurt him." (Minnix didn't respond to interview requests; Richardson police spokesman Kevin Perlich is skeptical of Milam's account: "I don't know if I'd give much credibility to someone in that regard. That's something that's only in his mind.")
Minnix threw the car in reverse, Milam says, so much so that the car was smoking and bouncing as it rocketed backwards. He could see the officer leaning at an extreme angle as he drove, arched over so his head was near the passenger's seat. He fired toward the radiator of the car; three bullets hit the windshield and the driver's side door. Milam bolted.
Milam says he ran behind the strip mall and through an industrial park, then hurtled toward a concrete wall separating it from a residential area. Still holding the money and the gun, he clambered over the wall and ran into a field, where he stripped off his outer layers of clothing. He hastily hid the gun, the money and his car keys underneath some leaves, then started to run back through the neighborhood. He slowed to a casual, steady jogging pace, to match the running gear he was now wearing. People rushed outside to see where the sound of gunfire had come from.
"Did you hear that?" a guy in his yard called to Milam.
"I heard it," he replied, and kept jogging.
Milam says he ran nearly four miles, all the way back to the new Richardson house. The police lost track of him. But court records show that they quickly discovered his jacket, pants, handgun, two plastic bags filled with $30,210 and "a full-face latex" mask behind a house on Spring Tree Circle, about 500 feet from where they'd seen him last. They also found the keys to a silver 2009 Volkswagen Jetta, which they discovered in a parking lot near the bank. When they ran the registration, Milam's name came back, along with his address in Richardson. Officers went straight there.
Milam knew the police weren't far behind. He pounded on the front door and Jamie opened it, shocked to see her husband back and on foot.
"We're gonna go to Austin," he told her. "And we're gonna take Brendon's car."
"It's a change of plans. A surprise."
They drove to a hotel in the Cedar Park area, where he told Jamie to pay cash and not to show the clerk her I.D. (Milam maintains that Jamie had no inkling of the robberies until after his arrest, and the FBI agrees.)
The next morning, he says, he crept down to the lobby and checked the news online. His face was everywhere. He went back upstairs and told Jamie to call her family to come get her. She was still sobbing in the hotel room when he left.
He pointed Brendon's car toward Florida. He drove for days, he says, his cell phone off and the battery out so he couldn't be traced. He says without elaboration that he "had something to take care of in Florida." After that he planned to flee to Belize.
But at the last minute he decided instead to head back west, to Arizona, for what he thought might be the last chance in a while to see his son. On the interstate in rural Jackson County, Mississippi, a cop's lights started flashing behind him. The officer had watched Milam follow someone too close on the highway. Running the car's plates triggered an immediate hit: attempted capital murder of a police officer.
Milam says the cop pulled him over in a rest area, where he stopped obediently. Then he started to think about his son. He sat stock-still for a moment, then edged the car forward, even as the cop climbed out of his vehicle and started toward him. (The feds' version of events makes no mention of Milam's dramatic timing.) Finally, Milam decided he at least had to talk to the boy. He sped onto the highway. The cop and his sirens followed.
Ignoring the noise, Milam put the battery in his phone and dialed. There was no answer. He left a message, which he doesn't remember but says must have been "pretty intense." Brendon called back, sounding confused.
"You're about to find out a bunch of stuff about your father that you never knew," Milam told him. "I'm sorry I failed you."
His son asked about the sirens in the background.
"To be honest with you, buddy, I got about 40 cop cars driving behind me on the highway," Milam replied, glancing in the rearview mirror. He stayed on the phone with Brendon for a while. Footage from a police dash cam shows him repeatedly swerving around the spike strips in the road. (That footage eventually made its way onto World's Wildest Police Videos).
Then, out of nowhere, a black car pulled up beside Milam, a .40-caliber pistol protruding from the window. It was Jackson County Sheriff Mike Byrd, who'd grown impatient with the chase and decided to end it before someone got hurt.
"Son, I may have to let you go," Milam told Brendon. He heard a shot, then watched his own back right tire fly off. The car skidded to a halt, and the cops surrounded him, turning him sideways and dragging him from the car.
Milam was placed in the back of a squad car, where he promptly vomited. He says he'd taken a handful of Tylenol PM pills back at the rest stop, hoping they'd knock him out so he could sleep through a night in custody. The cops say they watched him consume "a large amount of pills" as they approached the car to pull him out. A photo of Milam being cuffed shows him glaring at the camera, a white trail of liquid dripping down the front of his blue sweater.
"Sir, I got a warrant out," he told an officer, according to the dash-cam footage.
"For what?" the officer asked.
"I'm the Handsome Guy Bandit from Dallas. Robbed 11 banks."
"You're wanted for bank robbery?"
"Call the FBI in Dallas," Milam said. "They'll know who I am. They're the ones looking for me."
Then he passed out.
He awoke in the ICU at a hospital in Pascagoula, Mississippi, where he'd been taken to have his stomach pumped. He spent the night handcuffed to a bed before being taken to Jackson County's jail the next day. Local video footage shows him shuffling down the hall in a hospital gown and a pair of green scrub pants, his arms and legs shackled, dozens of cameras clicking in the background as police pat him down
"I didn't want to be in their custody," Milam says. "Just, whoof, you should've seen that place. It looked like a dungeon. It was just absolute filth. I've never seen anything like it." Being an attempted cop-murderer didn't buy him much sympathy, either. "They wouldn't give me toilet paper, toothbrush, food, nothing."
Finally, the cell door opened and a guy flashed his FBI badge. Milam had never been so happy to see the feds.
It's November 2012, a warm, brilliant morning, and Milam is sitting at a cold metal table in the visitation room at the Federal Correctional Institution in Seagoville, some 20 minutes southeast of Dallas. The first thing out of his mouth is an apology, for being late to the interview. Some of the Scarecrow Bandits, an infamous gang of "takeover"-style bank-robbers, were out in the yard, he says.
"We can't be around each other," he says. "So they have to move them first before they can move me."
Milam is a little under six feet tall, with a cleft chin, gray eyes and short, graying brown hair. When he points out something in the sheaf of notes he's brought with him, a tattoo of Jamie's name is visible on his ring finger. He'll need to get it covered up soon; their divorce was finalized in August, and his new fiancée doesn't like it much. When he tilts his neck and shows the crooks of his arms, jagged white scars reveal themselves faintly.
Milam tells his story amiably, as though it happened a long time ago or to someone else entirely. But he tears up when he looks at his suicide note — somehow, he's gotten hold of a photocopy. He starts to explain why he did it.
"Here's one of her letters," he says, pulling something from the stack. Jamie had filed for divorce quickly after his arrest. In the letter, she tells him that numerous things were taken from the house by police. A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office says nothing was seized from the house except for Milam's mask and gun. Other items were temporarily collected as evidence by the Richardson police, including cell phones, credit cards, cash and a pair of black-rimmed glasses.
"They haven't told me anything and damn sure haven't given anything back," she writes. "I'm not allowed to sell anything from anywhere. ... As far as my job, they ended up firing me."
She ends the letter with a simple line: "I still love you with all my heart, always and forever."
"You can just tell she was hopeless," Milam says, looking down. "When I went through this, it killed me. Just killed me."
After reading it, Milam says, he remembered the Ken Lay case. The disgraced Enron executive was awaiting sentencing when he died while vacationing in Colorado; the official cause was a heart attack, but conspiracy theories have swirled. The judge was forced to vacate the charges and return the seized property to Lay's family.
Standing in his cell, looking in the mirror, Milam decided that he'd lived a pretty good life. I got myself into this, he thought. I'll get my family out of it.
By the time the counselor rushed into the cell to save him, he'd lost about four and a half pints of blood and turned a sickly grayish color, Milam says. Outside, the guards and EMTs argued over whether to shackle him.
"He's not going anywhere," Milam heard one of the EMTs say. "He's almost dead."
They shackled him anyway, and the ambulance sped toward Parkland Hospital. As they hit a bump in the road, Milam's entire body went ice cold. He felt like he'd been stuck with "a humongous shot of morphine," he says. "I had a numbing sensation from the outer extremities in." He suddenly felt very calm, and knew he was about to die. "I was at peace. I wasn't scared. I was ready."
Milam lost his hearing, then felt his bladder and bowels release and his lungs constrict. "All of a sudden I was in this black solitude. No movement, no air, no nothing." Suddenly, he wasn't so ready anymore. "It was horrible."
Milam awoke a day or so later to find himself staring at two feet. "I've seen plenty of dead people in my life," he says. "I've helped casket a couple hundred bodies. And that color, that chalky death color, my feet were that color."
My gosh, he thought. I died after all.
Citing privacy laws, jail staff won't discuss Milam's suicide attempt or confirm the details as he remembers them. But an order by the federal judge who heard Milam's case calls the attempt "calculated and serious," designed to get his property returned to his family.
Still, the judge found Milam competent to stand trial. He pled guilty, and at the end of October, in a courtroom in downtown Dallas, the judge sentenced him to 35 years. (He still faces state charges for attempted capital murder and was recently transported to Dallas County Jail to be arraigned.)
"My life was comprised of so many faces and masks, I had to win an Oscar every day I arose," he told the judge at his sentencing, appearing to tear up as he read from a piece of paper. "I prayed for the day when I would be discovered and captured, so I could stop the convoluted web of lies my life had become."
Perhaps even more lies than anyone knows. Milam implies that his mask-collecting "hobby" — the one that had him driving as far as Georgia to pick up new acquisitions — may have been part of a string of other robberies.
"I can't give you a number, but I can tell you what's in the federal report: I had several masks," Milam says. "That's what my wife told them. Several. They only found two masks. And those two were the next two masks to be used." Handsome Guy was up to 11, he says, and probably had about two more left "before he was retired."
Hypothetically, he says, 15 robberies per mask would be the limit. Different masks might also work better in different places. "You look at the different areas of the United States. Would the Handsome Guy in a suit fit in in Memphis, a rough part? You would also have to change other things, your whole M.O., the time of day, what kind of bank you're robbing."
The FBI is unmoved by his hinting. If they had any concrete evidence that there were any more, agent Wetherington says, they'd be investigating.
"He's really into himself," Wetherington says dryly. After Milam was arrested, Wetherington was sure to remind him of his taunt to a bank teller, to "tell the FBI I said 'Hi.'"
"I got your message," Wetherington told him.
Milam has again stayed busy in prison, mainly by working out and writing emails on Corrlinks, the Bureau of Prison's in-house email system. A few months after his wife filed for divorce, he got back in touch with his childhood sweetheart, Annie. She was his neighbor in Oklahoma, where he was raised. His family moved to Richardson when he was about 16, but Annie never forgot him.
"I've always been in love with him," Annie says. "I thought of him on my wedding day. I'm going to marry him, and I don't care what anyone else thinks. ... He's one of the kindest, sweetest men you'll ever meet. So whatever drove him over the edge to do what he did, it must have been severe. So that's really all I have to say, is that he's very kind and I love him with all my heart. And I'll be waiting when he gets out."
They plan to marry once he settles into his new home, after his next trial. In the meantime, Milam's biggest concern is providing for his son. Before he agreed to be interviewed, he insisted that his federal prisoner number (12089-078) be made available, in case Hollywood comes calling. But even without a book or movie deal, Milam seems confident he'll be able to provide for his family. Along with being lucky, he's also been proactive, he says.
"If there was money from a string of robberies, what would I do, if I had access to money like that?" he asks. "Well, I'm a casket salesman. And I believe in gold and commodities. They never go backwards over time. They'll probably be worth a lot more in 30 years."
"I don't know," he adds, before gathering his notes and saying goodbye. "I probably would put the gold in sealed containers inside of a casket, then fill it full of wax. And I'd probably stick that casket somewhere where nobody will ever find it. That's probably what I would do, if that were the case."
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Observer's biggest stories.