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Sept. 12, 2021

My Getaway Car Was A Lawnmower - Billie "Aggie"


We heard a little bit about Billie Aggie in episode 1. Today we will be discussing two more of Billie's heists, and how he found himself voted out of Walpole State Prison.

Thank you for listening!

All the best,

Lara & Nina

Transcript

Lara:

 

Welcome back everyone! Thanks for listening. Nina and I are hopefully over our stage fright since episode one. Last week when we left you, Jack Kelley was sent to prison for 3 to 5 years for possession of stolen property and Billie Aggie was out on his own. We’ll be focusing on the first half of Billie’s criminal career. But unlike Jack we will be covering some of Billie’s prison adventures too. 



Nina:

 

The prison version of Survivor!



Lara:

 

Really, you can’t make this shit up! And this is only part one of Billie’s story. So Nina, tell us a little bit about Billie.



Nina:

 

Like Jack, Billie was born in Watertown. His full name was George William Agisotelis. There’s conflicting information about his birth date and his last name. I can’t tell you how many different spellings I came across, but according to his MCI Walpole records he was born on January 31, 1921.



Lara:

 

Yeah, there happened to be another man by the same name in Watertown. I came across a story about how one of Billie’s brothers saved a boy from drowning in 1934 or 36. Billie had some minor scrapes with the law in his younger days. He got married in 1942 and enlisted in the Army shortly afterwards.



Nina:

 

Not only did he enlist! He served as an aircraft gunner in a B-17 heavy bomber unit and flew 26 missions in the European theater! He was awarded 2 Distinguished Flying Crosses, and his unit was awarded 2 Presidential Unit Citations. In 1944 he was discharged on an 80% disability due to combat fatigue.



Lara:

 

Billie was a war hero for sure. I did find a newspaper clipping of one of the citations. So he returns to Watertown when he gets out of the service. The story goes that he was driving a taxi and needed a better car, so he magically shows up one day at Jack’s car lot. Eventually they become partners in the used car business. Now, how Billie and Jack transition from their day jobs to bank robbers isn’t really clear.



Nina:

 

As I mentioned in the last episode, I think that Jack was pulling heists long before 1949. The Copley Square job was definitely not his first rodeo. And more than likely he was partnering with Ben Tilley. But Tilley was an unreliable partner. He’d been in and out of prison for years. And he’d been profiled in the news because of his relationship with Raymond Patriarca. When Tilley got picked up once again by the police in October 1946 for a jewelry robbery gone wrong down in Arkansas, Jack probably started looking for a new partner.



Lara:

 

Billie was a perfect candidate both because he was a local guy, and his military training obviously was a benefit both for his courage and his knowledge of weapons. That had to be appealing to Jack. An added bonus in regards to Billie’s military training was that he couldn’t have been trigger happy to serve in the capacity that he did. This was a big issue for Jack. In the roughly two decades that Jack had been pulling off armed robberies, no one was ever shot. And I believe only once were weapons discharged. That was in a much later robbery during a high speed pursuit. We’ll be covering that incident in the latter half of this season. 



Nina:

 

That’s why I keep saying, no bullets, no time. If you never fire your gun, there’s no evidence for the cops to prove that you were involved in the heist. And you don’t have to serve any time.



Lara:

 

Exactly! Did you find any heists between 1947 and 1949 that fit their MO?

 

Nina:

 

In October 1947, the newswire reported on a $20,000 payroll heist from a locked armored truck. The heist took place while the two guards were delivering the payroll to the Thompson Wire Works in Mattapan. The thieves unlocked the truck, took the loot, relocked the truck, and disappeared.



Lara:

 

That’s reminiscent of the Brookline armored truck heist.



Nina:

 

Yes. The guards were gone from 11:15 to 11:45 am. When they came back and opened the back of the truck, they discovered three boxes of payroll envelopes missing. The boxes were meant to be delivered later on their route.



Lara: 

 

Payroll robberies were a favorite of Jack’s. He will continue taking down payrolls until the end of his career. But was Billie doing scores on his own either before teaming up with Jack or after?



Nina:

 

It seems like it. Just days after the Great Brinks Robbery of 1950, the Union Club was held up. It was the same MO as the Copley Square job less than a year before. The thieves waited until just after the payroll had been delivered on a Friday morning. Once the Brinks truck had left, they entered through a side door, and went directly to the accounting offices where the payroll was being sorted. 

They took the cash but left behind the loose change. They also ignored the $53 in the bookkeeper’s hand.

The men were clearly very familiar with the layout of the building, and had no trouble navigating it and then escaping.



Lara:

 

The Union Club is still there you know. Do you know why it’s called the Union Club?



Nina:

 

Nope, I have no clue.



Lara:

 

The club was formed during the Civil War by the supporters of the Union, hence the name Union Club. It’s been in the same location since 1863. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Cabot Lodge and even Calvin Coolidge were members.



Nina:

 

I had no idea, and I bet Billie didn’t either! Ok, back to the robbery. The cops picked up a former employee of the club a few days later trying to get on a bus bound for New York. 



Lara:

Did they ever say who the former employee was?



Nina:

Yes, Emil St. Pierre. He was 42 years old. It turned out that he hadn’t even bothered to cover his face, so someone from the club recognized him. In his recital of the events leading up to the robbery, the suspect stated that he had met a man named “Billy” in a penny arcade. According to him, the holdup was his idea, but “Billy” had agreed to join in. They took a streetcar to the club. It turned out that the gun was fake, so the cops had to drop the charges of armed robbery. “Billy” was armed with a lead pipe, “just in case”. 



Lara:

 

Wait! Hold on! You’re telling me they robbed the place with a toy gun and a lead pipe!



Nina:

 

You heard me right! So the payroll was in two bags. The suspect took the larger of the two, containing $1200. “Billy” took the smaller one with just $700. They were supposed to meet up later to split the loot in half, but “Billy” never showed up.

“Billy” was described as five feet, eight inches, weighing about 148 pounds, and with a dark complexion. 

 

Lara:

 

Well the description certainly fits Billie to a T, and let’s face facts he was a bit of a desperado at times. He probably had a gambling debt that he needed to pay off. Jack was always admonishing guys in his crew for gambling, so he probably decided to hide it from him. 



Nina:

 

I agree there was no way he would tell Jack that he was going to rob the Union Club with a guy he picked up in the penny arcade and a lead pipe in his hand. And once again Billie slips through the cops’ hands.



Lara:

 

If you didn’t tune in last week, and you want to know what Billy was up to prior to the next robbery then listen into “Let’s go to the track”. Ok. Now for the real madness! On May 11th, 1956 Billie and three other men robbed the Wollaston branch of the Granite Trust Company. But things don’t go quite as planned.



Nina:

 

No, they certainly don’t! Billie decided that he had the perfect alibi: his mother’s funeral! He borrowed his brother’s car, picked up his accomplices and headed to Quincy.

Lara, do you have any idea who the other men were?



Lara:

 

From the descriptions and the locations of the men that the police interviewed, I’d say one was Sonny Diaferio and the other Tommy Richards. Both of them were part of Jack’s crew for many years. Initially it was believed that there were four men, but later they said it was only 3, including Billy. I also suspect that Jack may have had his eye on the Granite Trust before he went to prison. Nina, tell us what happened next.



Nina:

 

At 9:20 AM Billie and his 2 accomplices sped away from the bank after robbing it of $4600. They were driving a green Buick which they abandoned one and a half miles from the bank on the corner of Safford and West Squantum St. The cops were in pursuit. This is where the trouble really started. The other 2 men jumped into another car, but Billie took off on foot through the fairway of the Wollaston Golf Club.



Lara:

 

At this point the police had cordoned off the area in a 10 square mile radius. Hundreds of police, Coast Guard helicopters, minesweepers and even an amphibian plane were all hunting down Billie. So what does Billie do? He commandeers a lawnmower from the greenskeeper at the golf course. Yes you heard that right! A lawnmower was his getaway car! The greenskeeper tried to stop Billie, but Billie told him someone had gotten hurt and he wanted to help him, and off he went.



Nina:

 

Billie is going at a respectable 25 miles per hour when he reaches the edge of the golf course and turns onto the street just in time to side swipe a priest driving two caddies home from the golf club. As Billie once again tries to flee on foot he is shot in the stomach by a police officer. The officers ask the priest to give Billie the last rites. 

But I thought Billie was Greek! 



Lara:

 

He was! Don’t worry Billie had 9 lives and survives. Now to top everything else off Billie had the keys to the abandoned getaway car and bullets in his pockets. There was no way he was getting out of this. The two other suspects were brought in for questioning but later released. 



Nina: 

 

It was a true comedy of errors. Remember too that Billie had just recently purchased a $23,000 home in Lexington. He probably needed the money! The neighbors described him as an “average, quiet sort of guy”. They couldn’t imagine how it happened!



Lara: 

 

Average guy my ass! I forgot about the house!  We’ve got a great picture of that, but we have to wait to share it! Anyhow, after Billie recuperated  from his wounds he was tried in Dedham Superior Court and found guilty on September 27, 1956. The jury returned the verdict in one hour and 15 minutes. He was sentenced to 13 to 14 years in state prison for the bank robbery and an additional 3 to 5 years for stealing the lawnmower. The sentences were to run concurrently.



Nina:

 

The Assistant District Attorney had argued for an even longer sentence of 15 to 20 years. Billie’s attorney tried to argue that Billie’s war service should merit him some kind of leniency. But the judge was unmoved. 



Lara:

 

The man committed a bank robbery after borrowing his brother’s car while his mother’s funeral was taking place because he thought it would be a solid alibi. There’s no way the judge was going to take pity on him. Later on his wife tried to say that Billie was being irrational because both of his parents died in 1955, but his mother had only died a couple of days before the robbery. More than likely Billie was behaving irrationally because Jack was off the streets. 

.

 

Nina: 

 

Billie’s lucky the sentence wasn’t worse. 

 

But I’m pushing back on Billie ratting out Jack. When he got picked up after getting shot on the lawnmower, he wouldn’t give up his accomplices. He was the only one that went away for that heist. And the Feds never did find the money.



Lara:

 

Weren’t the police searching the sewers for the money and the guns?



Nina:

 

I’m not sure. I just don’t think Billie would give up Jack, but not flip on Sonny, Tommy, and Armen. Especially since the others already had records, and Jack didn’t. Plus, there was plenty of opportunity for Billie to tell the cops everything to save his own hide. But he didn’t.

Billie had his faults, obviously. But I don’t think disloyalty was one of them. 

 

It seems much more likely to me that it was Ben Tilley who McNamara squeezed. He was probably the one in Reno with Billie too. Maybe Tilley even passed the money to Billie to take to Suffolk Downs. Tilley probably didn’t want to go back to the can either. 



Lara:

 

Just an FYI, Tommy Richards had no record. You might be right about Ben Tilley. I don’t want to give too much away about what’s to come in future episodes. Jack did have a long-standing grudge against Tilley. BUT also Billie’s behavior further down the road leads me to believe that Billie may have had his own grudge against Jack. Maybe something as simple as jealousy. And how many years does Billie actually end up serving?



Nina:

 

We’ll get to that shortly! Billie is given a “Walpole” sentence. Lara’s been trying to teach me the difference between a Walpole sentence and a “Concord” sentence. Information I never imagined I’d need.



Lara:

 

You know, I never gave you a nickname. Going to start calling you the California Kid! I say that lovingly by the way! 



Nina:

 

So what is the difference?



Lara:

 

There were and probably still are two types of state prison sentences in Massachusetts. Concord sentences were typically given to men who didn’t have lengthy criminal records. Whereas men with lengthy records or those sentenced to a minimum of not less than 2 and half years and a maximum not beyond the established statute were given Walpole sentences particularly for violent crimes regardless of their criminal history. Once an inmate was in either prison they might at sometime have been transferred to another state prison, say a medium security or forestry camp. That’s enough of the Massachusetts penal code!

 

Ok! Now tell us about the Walpole version of Survivor!





Nina:

 

Well, instead of getting voted off the island, Billie managed to get himself voted out of Walpole! The prison administration polled the guards to determine who the most unpopular prisoners were, and guess who made the list? BILLIE!

 

In January of 1958 Billie was transferred to the Concord State Prison where he was almost immediately placed in the hole for 15 days for causing a disturbance by bouncing his mattress off of his cell door. But don’t worry Billie is soon out in the general population. And who is he doing time with?

 

 

Lara:

 

Jack! And dad and Roy Appleton. Whenever dad and I would drive past the Concord prison on our way to his favorite cheese shop which also wasn’t too far from one of their heist locations in the 60s, dad always referred to Concord as the institute of higher learning that he attended. This is where dad first crosses paths with Billie. Lucky for dad he was released 5 months later. Billie was long gone before I was born, but I did hear enough about him in the summer of ‘78 and ‘79 when dad was working with Ernest Tidyman on the book Big Bucks. The impression I got from those conversations was that Billie was annoying and greedy. Nina, you mentioned before that you thought Billie was an adrenaline junky. I have to agree. Richie said he was always poking around looking to get in on a piece of some score. Just as Jack didn’t rob for the money, but rather just for being able to pull it off. Billie most likely didn’t rob for the money but rather the action. The bottom line was Billie was a fucking aggie snapper!



Nina:

 

Without question. Think about the rush that he must have gotten when he was shooting from the B-17s in the war. You can’t just quit something like that. His family said he also suffered from PTSD from the experience. Maybe the adrenaline rush he got when he was robbing with Jack kept the nightmares away. Lara, do you know what motivated Richie?



Lara:

 

That’s a complicated one that we’ll get deeper into in episode 9 and throughout season 1, but without question money was a primary incentive for dad, but he also loved the game, the hustle. When his pockets were full, of course he enjoyed himself. But when he was tapped out and planning his next whatever, THAT’s what kept him going. So how long does Billie spend in prison?



Nina:

 

Billie is paroled in 1961, so about four and a half years.



Lara:

 

So did you think Billie got early parole because he cooperated in some way or because the COs just couldn’t tolerate him any longer?



Nina:

 

Probably the latter! 



Lara:

 

I agree, but here’s the thing, back then the maximum amount of good time an inmate could earn was 2.5 days a week. So at 4.5 years into his sentence he could have knocked off roughly 1.5 years of it. If he’d been sentenced to a house of correction rather than state prison, he would have been eligible for parole after serving half of his sentence. Given he had a Walpole sentence he shouldn't have been eligible until he served 2/3rds of his sentence. Considering that he was constantly in trouble, it’s highly unlikely that he was maxing out on good time. But to give Billie the benefit of the doubt, he did have a heart condition, so maybe his medical condition was a factor along with him being a pain in the ass.



Nina:

 

Would you want him around?



Lara:

 

Absolutely not! We will be hearing a lot more about Billie after episode 17. Trust me, he somehow manages to top his escapades so far. In our next episode, we will be discussing the Great Brinks Robbery of 1950, which at the time was the largest cash heist in history. There’s a method to our madness in how we have decided to tell these stories, I promise! 

 

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BYE!!!!