ST. LOUIS (KMOV.com) -- He robbed groups of people at gunpoint, targeting the city's most popular entertainment districts. Tonight, 30 criminal charges -- and counting -- against a man who's no stranger to the law.
Last Thursday night four people were walking along Lacelde Avenue in the Central West End when police say Thurlester Johnson held them up at gunpoint. Police found his car, learned his name, and got their first major break in a huge case they say spans the city, county and into Illinois. The count right now -- and growing -- 21 victims of armed robbery.
Thurlester Johnson's newest court file is growing as large as his last.
"We actually had so many counts and charges against this guy that it was impossible to issue them all in one day," St. Louis Circuit Attorney Jennifer Joyce said.
In his latest crime spree, police say he first robbed four senior citizens leaving a bingo game, even ripping a gold chain right off of one woman's neck. It happened August 10 outside Grand Masonic Hall on Olive Street in the Central West End. Police say Johnson fired his gun at the victims, but one victim, who has a CCW permit, fired back. No one was hurt.
Nearly two weeks later, police say Johnson pointed a gun at seven women leaving the Cardinals game and demanded their purses.
"He was very controlling and threatening during the robberies," St. Louis Metropolitan Police Det. Sgt. Paul Piatchek said.
He's had practice. Try 61 criminal convictions! Twenty-four of those are for armed robberies, plus Johnson had a weapon in prison and assaulted a fellow inmate. He's not exactly your model citizen, yet Missouri Probation and Parole let him out of prison 13 years early.
"I can't explain to you how it happened," Joyce said. "It was a decision made by the parole board. I have no idea what they were thinking. I don't understand it."
Missouri laws have changed since Johnson was first locked up. Joyce says if he's convicted of any of these latest crimes, Johnson will have to serve at least 85 percent of his sentence. But she will ask for life, thanks in part to brave victims who've come forward.
"I'm very grateful to them because we can't do it without their help," Joyce said.
Or police. Detectives searched Johnson's house in North St. Louis County, found his gun and several of the purses they say he stole.
"It's going to be big by the end of the case," Sgt. Piatchek said. "We're reaching out -- there's other detectives in other parts of the city and in other jurisdictions that we're talking to to see if he's responsible for some other crimes."
More charges are coming down against Johnson first thing Friday morning, including a case where he allegedly robbed then shot at six people walking on Euclid in the Central West End.
Johnson's accomplice is still on the streets tonight. Victims describe him as a light-skinned Hispanic man, medium height and weight with his hair pulled back. Police tell me he’s their main suspect in two armed robberies that downtown in August. Both cases had multiple victims.
Anyone with information on either Johnson or his accomplice should immediately call police.