By the time Blake Fitzgerald had reached 29-years-old he had already racked up a series of criminal charges including DUIs, assault and armed robbery. He had also fathered three children with three different women, in which his relationship had been strained. Joplin Municipal Jail had become his home away from home and if it wasn’t jail, it was a revolving door of rehab clinics. In spite of his rocky past, his family believed the last time they picked him up from an inpatient rehab clinic things would be different.
This time Blake would get clean for good, re-establish his relationship with his children and turn over a new leaf. Unfortunately, old habits die hard and at some point in January 2016 Blake decided that life on the straight and narrow wasn’t the life for him.
Between January 16 and 18 someone had robbed the Fitzgeralds’ home where Blake had been living at the time. Reportedly a large sum of money had been missing from the residence. Blake’s parents never implicated him in the crime and to date the burglary remains unsolved. Less than a week later an emergency room doctor reported to police that someone had taken $500 in cash, a television and a number of guns from his residence. Though police couldn’t prove it, Blake was regarded as a suspect in both burglaries and some believe they may have been what had set off a several week long crime spree orchestrated by Blake and his girlfriend, Brittany Harper.
On January 28, 2016, the couple walked hand-in-hand into a used car lot in the nearby town of Webb City. They said they wanted to test drive a 2009 Cadillac STS. After a salesman agreed to go along for a test drive, Fitzgerald filled out a credit application and asked if he could take the car over to a trusted mechanic to make sure he was getting a fair deal.
He and Harper left in the car, but not before making a quick pit stop at a residence to steal CDs and a few other items. They wouldn’t make it too far down the highway in the freshly pilfered Cadillac before Johnny Law was on their tail.
A police chase through Cape Girardeau County ensued. The couple was able to make a clean getaway, but they knew that police would be looking for the stolen Cadillac. The pulled into a Cape Girardeau residence once they were certain they had lost the cops and swapped it for a Chevy TrailBlazer.
The couple appeared two days later at Tuscaloosa, Alabama hotel. Fitzgerald and Harper told the clerk that they had run out of gas and they were trying to make their way to Florida. Fitzgerald then pulled out a semi-automatic weapon and forced the night clerk to get into a car.
As the couple held the clerk hostage heading towards Birmingham, they told him that they were going to Florida to get married and hoped to start a new life. Fitzgerald was adamant about not returning to prison and the clerk feared that if police were to show up there would be a shootout.
While the clerk was still being held hostage in the backseat of the stolen car, the couple pulled into a McDonald’s and ordered the manager to hand over her money and car keys. The woman screamed, scaring the couple off.
The couple dropped off the hotel clerk and 15 minutes after the attempted McDonald’s robbery, they made their way to Vestavia Hills. A family had been sitting at their table eating breakfast when a man barged into their home and demanded to take their car. Fitzgerald ordered a woman at gunpoint to get in the car with him and Harper. She was later dropped off unharmed nearly 10 miles away.
The couple’s senseless crime spree was quickly gaining momentum within the media, and social media users closely followed their exploits, likening them to a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde.
The couple would re-emerge on February 1, 2016, this time at a gas station in south Georgia. Fitzgerald robbed the clerk at gunpoint, demanding money and cigarettes, before forcing the clerk into the car with Harper. They sped off down the highway, dropping the clerk off unharmed approximately 15 miles away.
By Wednesday, February 3, 2016 the couple was believed to be in Florida after two more robberies were reported. U.S. Marshals held a press conference and offered a $10,000 reward for the couple’s capture and conviction.
On February 4, 2016 a Pensacola Famous Footwear store reported a robbery. Officers pursued the couple’s vehicle as they led them on a high-speed chase throughout the city. The police eventually lost track of the couple, buying them enough time to stop and steal a family’s red pickup truck.
It would be just after midnight when the police would catch up with the couple again. Police tailed the stolen truck as it made its way down a rural street and headed towards a home. A shootout broke out between Fitzgerald and the police.
Fitzgerald grabbed Harper and used her as a human shield as gunfire erupted around them. Fitzgerald was killed in the melee. Harper sustained injuries and was taken to an area hospital for treatment.
When asked for comment on the couple’s escapades, Escambia County Sheriff David Morgan said,
“You hate any time we glamorize crime. I can tell you, in law enforcement, that only encourages people to be copycats. There is nothing glamorous about death. There is nothing glamorous about taking hostages. Now, we’ll probably see a TV move made of this. If I had my way, I would wipe their existence from all social media and everywhere else and we would not do any glamorization of this because we’re only influencing young people. Let’s remember Bonnie and Clyde were a couple of thugs too.”
Brittany Harper has since been released from the hospital and is facing charges related to kidnapping, home invasion and auto theft in four different states.