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April 13th, 2005 Angela Valdez | News Stories
 

Not the Usual Suspect

What the hell happened to Luke Deavers?

     
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Photos from inside the Wells Fargo Bank in Redding, Calif., that was held up Feb. 26.
The photograph shows 24-year-old Luke Deavers, all strong jaw and shaggy brown hair, with his goateed roommate Ben Shook. Their bright smiles and tired eyes speak of a night well-spent with dear friends.

Last month, less than a year after that photo was taken, several dozen federal agents burst through the front door of the Raleigh Hills home where Deavers lived with Shook and two other roommates. Deavers was arrested in connection with the armed robbery of a California bank.

Investigators say Deavers had strolled into a Redding, Calif., branch of Wells Fargo on Feb. 26, asked about opening an account, then pulled out a semiautomatic handgun and a .22 caliber revolver while demanding $50,000. He walked away with about $5,000, according to documents.

The promising Oregon State University graduate, who had been preparing for medical-school entrance exams, now sits in Multnomah County jail awaiting extradition to California.

There are about 20 bank robberies each day in the United States, but it's not every day that a suspect has Deavers' background. Most have histories marked by long-term desperation, not accomplishment and good prospects. With an average take in Oregon of about $1,500, and a 70 percent chance of getting caught, "it's just incredibly stupid," says agent Jay Bienkowski, who directs local FBI bank-heist investigations.

No one is sure how Deavers made the transition from student to suspect.

Deavers' ex-girlfriend Jessica Beck says he first approached her at an Irish rock concert in Corvallis in January 2003. Deavers was a psychology student; she waited tables. Instead of buying her a drink, he asked if she had ever been depressed. He talked about happiness and how to find it. He had just competed in a triathlon and his body was lithe and muscular-but he didn't fit the model of a mindless jock. His idea of a date was hiking in a park or cocooning at home.

An earnest overachiever from a southern Oregon mill town, Deavers earned spots in OSU's most elite psychology labs. Professor Jennifer Connor-Smith said Deavers got noticed as much for his charm as for his intelligence and hard work. "He didn't seem like the kind of guy who would hurt anyone," she says.

In early 2004, Deavers and Beck moved to Portland together. Deavers started waiting tables and enrolled in science courses at Portland State University to prepare for med-school applications. But nightlife and new friends beckoned, as did women and forging a new self-image. Deavers broke up with Beck last fall and moved in with Shook, a friend of his sister's who owned a rambling house in the leafy, upper-middle-class neighborhood of Raleigh Hills. The four young men who shared the house, all artists or students, played and worked hard.

Shook, a carpenter with a degree in classics, says Deavers was "confused and overwhelmed by the possibilities'' of living in Portland. Deavers was almost naively generous-always loaning money to friends and dropping change in beggars' hands.

Deavers, hundreds of miles from his mother-a strict Seventh Day Adventist back home in Glendale, Ore.-felt free to explore liberal politics and the pleasant effects of alcohol.

While these changes seemed normal, friends soon noticed more dramatic deviations.

Within the past few months, Deavers bought a new Subaru on his waiter's salary, bleached the tips of his near-black hair and started shopping almost exclusively at Banana Republic, a sleek choice compared with his usual thriftstore fare.

Beck says Deavers became hyper-aware of the judging eyes of the city.

"He cared too much about what other people thought," she says. "He was trying to create some sort of image."

Deavers began drinking more than ever and took to calling Beck late at night, audibly intoxicated. Beck says he sounded "confused" and wanted to reconcile.

At the same time, friends say Deavers began sneaking away to meet various women, often without telling his roommates.

Throughout his time in Portland, Deavers' barstool conversation had the odd tendency of veering into excited musings on schemes for a bank heist.

"He said he wanted this stripper who he was kind of infatuated with to be the getaway driver, that it would be a cool way of getting to know her," Shook says, referring to Deavers' favorite dancer at the Magic Garden. "He would say things like, 'I could do, like, two or three jobs right in a row and I would be set up for my whole life."

The notion that Deavers might act on his daydreams didn't hit home until early in the morning of Wednesday, March 23.

At 6 am, a battering ram crashed through the front door of Shook's house. A small army of FBI agents employed automatic rifles to roust the four roommates and two girls who'd spent the night. The dismayed friends were corralled, handcuffed and partially clothed, in the center of the living room. Minutes later, an agent escorted Deavers in from outside-he had tried to run.

A search yielded two guns, about $1,500 and bags of what appeared to be marijuana and hallucinogenic mushrooms. According to the search-warrant affidavit, a Portland informant tipped the FBI and said Deavers had displayed guns and cash and claimed to belong to a group of college students responsible for armed robberies in several states. Deavers is being investigated for other robberies in Oregon, and Redding police say he confessed to the Feb. 26 robbery in an interview with them.

The arrest sent Deavers' friends searching for answers. Some see an explanation in family problems.

His father, a Vietnam vet, died suddenly of stomach cancer about two years ago.

Within the past few months, Deavers clashed with his mother, a retired schoolbus driver, over her strict religious beliefs.

Lorenzo Jordan, Deavers' boss at Pasta Bella, a Southwest Portland restaurant where he'd worked since last August, visited Deavers in jail.

He says Deavers stared back at him and shook his head: "He just said, 'I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.'"

 
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