A homeless man charged in Friday’s bank robbery had several run-ins with local authorities in his early 20s, including once claiming to be the killer of an elderly woman, but apparently made an attempt to fly straight after his release from prison last year.
John David Vanstennis, 28, told The Decatur Daily in May that he was a recovering drug addict and ex-convict trying to get his life back on track.
In November, he was back behind bars on an auto theft charge. Vanstennis had been out of jail on bail less than a month when, according to investigators, he entered Peoples Bank on Beltline Road Southwest, pulled a pistol and demanded money from a teller.
His alleged accomplice, Joseph Michael Borden, 51, was unknown to Decatur police before the robbery.
Police said the 600-pound man, originally from Garden City, Mich., who had a pet dog riding with him in the pickup, said Vanstennis forced him to help with the robbery, but investigators didn’t buy it.
Vanstennis and Borden each face first-degree robbery charges. They were transferred to Morgan County Jail on Monday. Vanstennis is being held without bail, and Borden’s bail was set at $75,000.
Vanstennis was arrested and charged with auto theft Nov. 29. The car was reportedly taken outside the Food Plus convenience store at 206 Austinville Road S.W., about a block from the Salvation Army housing Vanstennis used as his address.
Salvation Army Capt. David Sams said Vanstennis moved out of the transitional living apartment before that incident.
Vanstennis dropped out of Austin High School as a junior but earned his GED.
In 2007, Fort Payne police accused him of making a prank phone call in which he claimed to be the killer of Shirley Sumrall, 70, a Marshall County woman whose beaten body was found in the trunk of her car. Police said the caller indicated there would be another killing.
After his capture, Vanstennis admitted to making the call, but denied being the killer or ever being in Fort Payne, then-Fort Payne Police Chief David Walker said.
“It was stupid. It was a prank call,” Vanstennis said at the time.
Vanstennis pleaded guilty later that year in Morgan County to multiple counts of breaking and entering a vehicle.
He spent four years and seven months in prison before release from Limestone Correctional facility May 23.
He told The Daily after his release that he “had nothing” until Sams gave him a chance.
Vanstennis worked as a fork-lift operator and baler at the Thrift Store and helped tend a garden to feed shelter residents.
“When he was in the paper last year, he was doing good,” Sams said. “He was not featured by chance, and talked to the reporter on his own behalf.”
Sams said he didn’t know what went wrong and declined comment on Vanstennis’ drug problem.
Borden also stayed at the church’s homeless shelter. That’s where he and Vanstennis met, police said. Sams was not certain when they left the shelter.
Sams said he saw Vanstennis when he took Christmas presents to Morgan County Jail in December, but otherwise had not seen him in several months.
Borden worked for a local contractor, police said.
He had no arrest record in Decatur, and it’s unclear how long he has been here.
Vanstennis apparently spent time in Hartselle recently, police said.
He also gave jailers an address on South Brownstone Court Southwest, though Sgt. George Silvestri said he did not reside there.
“He’s not really living anywhere. Just bouncing around,” Silvestri said.
Borden was driving a white Ford F-150 pickup with Texas plates that belonged to a relative when Hartselle police stopped the duo Friday on Vaughn Bridge Road, about 30 minutes after the 2 p.m. stickup.
Police spokesman Lt. John Crouch said the boxer dog was turned over to animal control officers, who later met with Borden at the jail.
“He became very emotional when speaking with them about his dog and asked to make arrangements to have the dog released to a friend,” Crouch said.
Animal Control officer Miles Naylor said the dog was well-cared for.
“He’s a beautiful dog and very sweet,” Naylor said.
Seth Burkett can be reached at 256-340-2446 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recent bank robberies
Jan. 25 — Peoples Bank in Decatur
Jan. 25 — Peoples Bank in Somerville
Jan. 14 — Premier Bank of the South in Eva
Dec. 4 — Bank Independent in Hartselle
Dec. 7 — Bank Independent in Hartselle
Dec. 28 — Bank Independent at The Crossings in Decatur
Aug. 8 — Traditions Bank in Priceville
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