Alabama authorities on Monday were hunting for a Missouri couple suspected of robbing and abducting a hotel clerk, attempting to rob a McDonald's manager and briefly kidnapping a woman in the Birmingham suburbs before stealing her SUV.
No one was harmed in the back-to-back crimes early Sunday that police in three cities said occurred within a span of about two hours and across a distance of roughly 60 miles.
The U.S. Marshals Gulf Coast Regional Fugitive Task Force was asked to help in the search for the vehicle and the two suspects, identified as Blake Fitzgerald and Brittany Harper, both 30, of Joplin, Missouri. A $10,000 reward is being offered for information that helps lead to an arrest and conviction, said Tuscaloosa police Lt. Kip Hart.
"They're considered armed and dangerous," Hart said. "We have no idea why they're running or where they're running from or running to."
A clerk at a Microtel Inn in Tuscaloosa alerted police early Sunday after arriving at work to find the overnight clerk gone, the safe open and money missing. Security video showed the clerk being robbed about 6 a.m., Hart said, and the couple forcing him to leave with them as they took his car. Fitzgerald and Harper were charged with kidnapping, theft and robbery in connection to the Tuscaloosa case, Hart said. The Jefferson County District Attorney's Office issued arrest warrants for Fitzgerald and Harper on charges of kidnapping and theft in connection to the woman's abduction in the upscale Birmingham suburb of Vestavia Hills.
In Hoover, about 55 miles northeast of Tuscaloosa, the Missouri couple tried to rob a McDonald's manager, said Hoover police Capt. Gregg Rector. A gunman approached the manager and demanded money and her car keys, Rector said. The manager began screaming, threw her keys on the ground and ran into the store as the couple fled, he said. Rector said interviews with the manager and other witnesses led police to believe the same Missouri couple was responsible. They have not been charged yet in that case, however.
About 15 minutes after the McDonald's robbery attempt, the woman in Vestavia Hills found a man entering her home through an open garage, saying he was having car trouble.
The man pulled a gun, demanded her SUV and forced her to get inside, said Vestavia Hills police Lt. Kevin York. The woman's young children were home at the time, but not hurt, York said. The woman was later released unharmed about 10 miles away and flagged down a passer-by for help, York said. Now, police are searching for the stolen SUV — a 2010 silver Ford Edge.
"We want to know what the motivation is," York said. "I mean, what's the whole point in all of this?"
The suspects were last seen in Alabama heading east on U.S. 280 toward the Georgia line, but York said "they could be headed anywhere."
Missouri records show Fitzgerald is no stranger to legal troubles. In 2013, he and an accomplice were charged with burglarizing a Joplin woman at knifepoint in her home and making off with her purse, jewelry, electronics and a car.
Fitzgerald entered an Alford plea — not admitting guilt but acknowledging the prosecutors had sufficient evidence for a conviction — and was sentenced in 2014 to a suspended seven-year prison term.
Fitzgerald also was sentenced in southwestern Missouri's Jasper County to a simultaneous 120-day term in a drunken-driving case. Last July, Fitzgerald pleaded guilty in a Missouri assault case and was sentenced to a suspended five-year prison term.