Sep. 26-HIGH POINT - Imagine being robbed at gunpoint while working at a small neighborhood grocery store, and then being left to die in the store's walk-in freezer locker. And now imagine the same thing happening again only a week and a half later.
Talk about double jeopardy.
That's exactly what happened to a pair of High Point sisters who were working at their father's supermarket in 1962.
It happened at the old Duggins Store, a small community grocery on E. Russell Avenue. The store was owned by 66-year-old L.L. Duggins, but he was fortunate enough to be away from the store both times it was robbed. His two adult daughters, Wilma Cromer and Doris Stoker, were not so lucky.
The first robbery occurred on the afternoon of Nov. 23, 1962, when a pair of masked bandits stormed into the building. One man wore a handkerchief tied across his face and brandished a chrome-plated pistol. The other had disguised his appearance by putting tape around his mouth and nose.
"All of you, get in the back!" the gunman shouted. "Quick, quick, quick!"
The man forced the store's four occupants - the two sisters, along with customers Austin Wilson and Stacy Duggins - into a freezer locker at the back of the store, then slammed the door shut.
"We had some bad moments locked in that freezer," Cromer later told The High Point Enterprise. "Boy, it was cold in there! The man told us not to make any noise until he got away, but after he closed the door we didn't hear anything else."
While the bandits cleaned out the cash register, the four captives in the cooler began to panic. Wilson tried using a bottle to bust a reinforced window in the cooler, but the bottle broke first.
"Then all we could do was holler and beat on the door," Cromer said.
Fortunately, that was enough. After enduring the freezing temperatures for about 15 minutes, they were released by a pair of brothers, ages 10 and 9, who had entered the store and heard the captives' cries for help. The bandits were long gone, along with about $190 in cash.
Police were called, and the victims described the suspects as best they could, still shaken up by the ordeal but thankful to be alive. Little did the two sisters know that only 10 days later, it would happen to them again.
On the afternoon of Dec. 3, the bandits returned - no, really, it was THE SAME TWO GUYS - and staged a repeat performance. The only difference was that the other robber brandished the gun this time, and only one of the two wore a handkerchief over his face - the other's face was clearly visible.
When Doris Stoker realized what was happening, she fled toward a back door, but she stopped in her tracks when the gunman yelled, "No, you don't - I'll shoot you!"
Again, the robbers forced the store's occupants into the freezer and then emptied the cash register, this time escaping with about $150.
The four people herded into the cooler were Stoker and Cromer - again - along with their mother, Mina Duggins, and 6-year-old Robert Thornton, a customer in the store. This time they managed to free themselves within minutes and called police, telling them the bandits had returned.
Considering these two guys weren't exactly the sharpest crayons in the box - "Duh, let's hit that same grocery store again" - it was just a matter of time until they slipped up and got caught.
Sure enough, that's what happened. It turns out their second visit to Duggins Store was part of a wild crime spree in which they - take a deep breath - carjacked a Kannapolis teenager's vehicle, stole the teen's money, gagged him and tied him to a tree in the woods, drove to High Point for the Duggins Store robbery, stole another car in Greensboro, and pulled a gun on the police chief in Spencer, who was investigating what they were doing in an alley behind a bank. According to The Enterprise, they were allegedly conspiring to rob the bank.
When they were finally arrested on Dec. 6, the two men - Jimmy Gary Hicks, 22, of Tennessee, and Charles Robert Hannah, 24, of Liberty (and formerly of High Point) - confessed to the Duggins Store robberies, and the witnesses from those crimes confirmed their identity.
The following month, Hicks and Hannah pleaded guilty and were sentenced to serve five to 15 years in the state penitentiary. It was a relatively light sentence - the maximum penalty was 30 years - but, confidentially, we suspect it was enough to keep them from ever making a third visit to Duggins Store.
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