'I thought I was dead' - Woman had gun held to head by 'Skull Cracker'
A woman who had a gun held to her head by a violent armed robber nicknamed the "Skull Cracker" said she feared he would kill her during a bank raid.
Clare Townsend told Radio 5 Live that 55-year-old Michael Wheatley, who failed to return to HMP Standford Hill open prison on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, on Saturday after being temporarily allowed out, appeared to be "perfectly innocuous" as he stood next to her in the queue.
She said: "I thought he was just another customer standing next to me.
"He seemed perfectly innocuous and then suddenly, without any warning, he had one hand around my neck, another holding a gun pressed to my head and he began screaming and shouting at the cashiers to give him money.
"It was an extraordinary transformation because one minute he was standing beside me quietly, the next minute he was raving and screaming."
Ms Townsend said Wheatley was yelling at the cashiers, telling them they must not press buzzers or set off alarms.
She told the radio station: "At first they froze. That was quite a scary time for me because I felt he only wants one thing, he wants money, so I am standing here with a gun to my head, please give it to him, but obviously, you know, shock takes people in different ways.
"After what seemed a long time, but I don't think it was very long at all, one of the cashiers suddenly snapped to and started pushing money through on to the counter and there was a temporary relaxation in the way he was holding the gun because with his left hand he was shovelling money down the front of his jacket."
Ms Townsend said at that point she thought she would be all right as Wheatley had got what he wanted.
She continued: "Suddenly, my mobile phone rang and this seemed to really, really spook him.
"He whirled round to me, his face was angry, contorted. He was still screaming about buzzers and I just said 'do you mind if I answer my mobile phone' because I thought, he thinks this is some sort of alarm, it's not, it's just my phone, and that seemed to suddenly break whatever spell he was under.
"However much he must have psyched himself up, at that point he stared at me and then he shrugged his shoulders and said 'oh, do you what you like', then picked up the rest of the money, took the gun from my head and raced out of the door.
"So then it was all over, but at certain times I had felt he was going to kill me."