This is off topic for those looking for my typical poker articles. If you want to read more about my past life before poker, I invite you to read this long article.
Twelve years ago today, I lost a close friend and coworker to murder. She was murdered at our workplace during an after hours robbery. I still cannot get over what Papa John’s did and did not do that caused her to get murdered. Papa John’s did not pull the trigger, but their incompetence and refusal to secure a store led to the situation that caused it. Now that I write for a living, this seems like the time to expose their behavior and hope that it never happens again. I will start with a background of the situation.
I started working for Papa John’s at 7277 Roswell Rd in Sandy Springs, GA in 1994. I had two sources of income, one was working for the pizza place, and the other was beating local poker games. You might even say the pizza job was a front for my poker playing. The pizza job guaranteed my rent would be paid, and if I needed more money, hours were always there. I would work 20-50 hours a week, depending on my need, how much I liked the employees, and how many poker games I was getting invited to. I worked more with Monica because I liked her. To give you an idea of manager turnover, Monica was my 22nd manager in six years, not including the times I would manage it after people would get fired or quit and they could not find replacements.
Lack of Secure Environment
The person that worked out of the corporate office as the supervisor was a complete jerk and he wanted Monica gone. She did not want to be there either. The neighborhood was really rough and went downhill more every day. The parking lot was dark with no working lights. The landlord and company would not do anything about it. There was no back door to the store and no outside cameras. Looking back, it was a pretty scary place to work. I feel the company was wrong for creating such an unsafe working environment. We did not even deliver after dark to the apartments that shared a majority of the property line with the store. I grew up about a mile away so I probably felt safer than I should have, but I still complained constantly about the security problems. I never dreamed it would lead to this.
Future Murderer Gets Hired
There was a thug that was a friend of someone that was a shift runner at this store. The thug got a job because his friend recommended him. He was useless and we figured he would stop showing up like they always do. The problem was this one kept showing up because he liked a girl that worked there.
On Sunday, June 11, 2000, this thug showed her a gun and bragged about it. The thug was 20 years old, too young to legally possess a gun. Even if he was old enough, he cannot have it in the store. The girl, who was only 16 or so, immediately told Monica that this guy had a gun in the store and he was showing it off to her.
Papa John’s Corporate Orders Victim to not Call Police
Monica called the supervisor of the store, who we all knew was a major problem. He told her to send the thug home. She said she was going to call the police, she was told not to do that and to just send him home. To make sure there were witnesses to this order, she pulled me into the office to hear him tell her that in a follow up phone call. Monica was too loyal to go against a direct order. The supervisor later denied ever saying this even though I heard it. Monica fired him and he left without incident. I considered calling the police, but the girl who saw the gun was scared and would not talk to me about it.
Warning from Neighboring Business
There was an auto detail shop next door. The murderer would spend a lot of time over there talking to the guys that cleaned cars the days following his termination. The guys that worked over there told us we needed to watch out for this thug, they thought something bad was going to happen. It was a bad situation. I did not call the police because I had not seen the gun and had no first hand knowledge of it, and nobody else seemed to want them involved. That is a decision I will regret every day for the rest of my life.
Ignored by Corporate Office
On Wednesday, June 14th, I called the Atlanta corporate office for Papa John’s. I could not get anyone to take this situation seriously. I got passed around from person to person who did not care and eventually was given the voice mail of the Atlanta Operational Vice President. I left him a voice mail that told him I had “grave concerns” about the store and begged him to call me ASAP. They never bothered to call me back. It was important to get Monica out of that store immediately and her direct boss needed to get fired, but her boss was reportedly close to buying many franchises which made him untouchable. At the time, Papa John’s took care of anyone they thought would buy a franchise during their rapid expansion.
Monica cried in my arms multiple times that week about how scared she was. I would hint that she should quit, but Monica was no quitter.
I was not some random whiner. As far as I know, I was the biggest employee cash investor in the Atlanta market. There were less than 100 publicly disclosed shareholders in the company that owned more stock than I did. None of those shareholders were employed in the market. My ownership was well known throughout the market’s management team. My complaints were still ignored. I sold my entire investment before leaving the company.
Friend That Referred Thug Bails on Working Night of Murder
On Friday, June 16th, the friend that referred the thug conveniently told Monica he could not work Saturday night. I later suspected he knew what was going to happen, but never was able to prove it. This employee was even allowed to continue working for the company after the murder.
Monica found someone to open on Saturday the 17th and she would close. The opener was late and we had a big order due early, so Monica had to drive 20 miles to the store to help get the order out. She was angry, and rightfully so, but eventually headed back home but had to be back in a few hours. That night we were short staffed, and she called her husband and a close friend to come help her out who both worked for Papa John’s. The night was the craziest night I had ever seen there. I am pretty sure the day broke every record outside of the Olympics.
Something Was Not Right
The whole night felt wrong. I cannot put it into words. There was just something eerie. At 11:30pm, I had been there for 14 hours. Georgia used to have a law that you could not buy beer after 11:45pm on a Saturday. I wanted to get beer before the cutoff. I asked Monica if she would be OK and she said yes. I asked “Are you sure?” implying I would come back but not outright offering. She insisted that I go home and relax. I would never see Monica alive again.
After I was home a couple of hours, I thought about calling the store to check on Monica. Something just was not feeling right. I then thought I would go up there and help her close. I had consumed a few beers though and thought better of it. Monica was in my dreams all that night and I was restless. The dreams were “Day in the life” type dreams. I knew something was wrong when I woke up. I was not the only one that had those types of dreams that night.
Arriving to the Murder Scene
I was to open the store the next day, which was Father’s Day, June 18th. As I was driving south over the hill at Dalrymple Rd and Roswell Rd, I saw one police car over the horizon. As I got closer, I saw our parking lot full of police cars. I also saw Monica’s car parked in the exact same place it was the night before. Every news channel in Atlanta was in the shopping center parking lot across the street. I knew what had happened before even pulling in the parking lot.
“We’re Opening Anyway”
I pulled into the parking lot anyway and was stopped by a police officer. I told them who I was and they let me proceed to the door where I was greeted by the store’s corporate supervisor, the one who wanted Monica gone. He told me “There has been an accident, Monica is dead”. He then tells me to come back later because the store will be opening in a few hours. After nearly collapsing in shock by the callousness, I exploded in anger and started yelling at him because I knew this was no accident. He had helped create the situation that got Monica killed. The police pulled me away and took me in front of the neighboring apartments.
Initial Detective Interview on Scene
While I am still fuming, Detective Yates comes over and introduces himself. The news crews are creeping closer, so he takes me to the alley next to the building where Papa John’s is. He asks me several questions about my background and my knowledge of store procedures and why I am so angry at the supervisor. He leaves me with one last question, “Who did this?” and I answered “Carlous Gibbs, he lives in Spalding Bridge Apartments”.
After he asks me that, I look over and notice one of the detail shop guys pressure washing the sidewalk in the alley. I had assumed she was killed in the store, but it was obvious she was killed just feet from where I was standing. I will spare you the gory details of what I saw, an image I will never forget.
The dumpster had been completely emptied and garbage was all over the place. It had been picked through piece by piece by the police looking for evidence. I had a break down in the alley, and eventually got enough composure to make it back to my car. The detail shop employee came over and gave me a hug. I asked him if I could use his phone because I did not have one on me. He let me use it and I called my mom, my best friend from high school, and a couple of coworkers. At some point, I had to get out of that parking lot, and finally got the composure to leave.
Face to Face with Murderer Minutes Later
The first thing I did after leaving was go up to the BP gas station at Dalrymple/Roswell Rd to let them know what happened. I had gotten to know them well over the years. While I was there, the murderer showed up and acted all surprised when he got told Monica had been murdered. When he left I let them all know it was him.
Living Minutes from Murderer
I went home and called everyone I knew that worked at the store that I had a number so I could let them know. It started to occur to me that the murderer lived less than a five minute walk from me. I lived on Colquit Rd in Dunwoody Club Apartments and there was not even a fence separating it from Spalding Bridge where the murderer lived. I got paranoid and had to get out of there. Luckily, I had several friends that took me in for a couple of days.
Full Interview with Detectives
Two days after the murder, I went to the Major Crimes Division of the Fulton County Police Department and got interviewed for about six hours. I have never been somewhere so stressful in my life. I was drenched in sweat, but wanted to help them. Several times they accused me of having an affair with Monica and I denied it each time. Nothing had ever happened, nor ever would have. After several accusations, I blew up and told them I was going to leave. They finally left that alone and I calmed down. They were very concerned about my poker, which they had dug up somehow. I proved to them I was in no need of money. They were also very concerned about who I called on the day of the murder and why I used the detail employee’s cell phone. The interview finally ended. My sister, who is an attorney, thought I was crazy not to have her or another attorney there for questioning. In hindsight, she was right.
I found out when I was there that my neighbor was a police officer. They notified him that a witness in the case was his neighbor and he watched out for me. When I touched base with coworkers after the interview, I was told they had the murderer in custody at that same time. I was very relieved. They released him later that same day.
On Wednesday, June 21st there was a meeting at the store. We were told the store would reopen in two days. The revenue for the first three days would go to her husband. I worked that weekend to show support and put my tips in the collection jar. After that, I was told that since I was a witness on the case, I could no longer work at the store. They offered no alternative. I was basically laid off. I was one of several employees told that. I applied enough pressure to get us paid leave, threatening to go to a news channel to blow the whistle on them. I am glad I never did, as I did not want to blow the case. I eventually worked for friends in another area, great friends I made due to this horrible tragedy.
Monica’s funeral was on Thursday, June 22nd. I spoke at the funeral, but have never remembered what I said. Several of us that worked at the store went to Masquerade for 80’s night that night like we sometimes did, just to try to have some sort of normalcy. After this tragedy, the group went to 80’s night weekly, where I eventually met my wife.
Police Lost Him
Weeks went by, and the murderer was still at large. I later found out the police had lost him. One night, I got dropped off from 80’s night and my police officer neighbor opened the door at 4:30am and let me know he had run off someone matching the description of the murderer who was hiding in a back stairwell about an hour before I got home. It could have been a coincidence, but who knows. Keep in mind that his friend that referred him, that got out of working the night of the murder, had access to all employee information including addresses. Referring someone that murdered an employee is not grounds for termination or even a demotion at Papa John’s. I pointed out the fact that this employee should not have access to employee files to upper management, but it fell on deaf ears. Before I could get too in my head about that, the murderer was located and arrested just a few days later.
After being arrested, the murderer fully confessed, and he eventually pleaded guilty. He is serving life in prison. I was always curious about the case. Open records laws would allow anyone to see the entire file, but I did not want to see the crime scene photos. I had already seen enough in person.
Another Robbery at Store - Female Victim Assaulted
Many of us begged the company to close the store permanently. Instead, the company finished a remodel that had just started when the crime happened. Within a few months, there was an armed robbery at the same store where a female employee got beat up, but her life was spared. The company still did not close the store until much later, after a replacement store was built. They clearly did not care how unsafe this store was. Sales were obviously more important.
Learned Full Details
A month or so before moving to South Dakota in 2006, I ran into Detective Yates. I asked him about the case and he told me many details I had never known. There is no reason to go into the gory details, but if anyone wants to know, contact me privately.
I worked for a couple of friends in the company while I still played poker. When online poker exploded in 2003, I got to the point where I was losing money by going to work so I quit and never looked back.
You Can Never be too Careful
I have never shared this full story with anyone, only bits and pieces, and I needed to share it. I hope it makes people understand my obsession with security. I know my South Dakota friends never understood why I would never leave someone alone at the Happy Tavern at closing, I hope this makes that more clear. All I can say is that you can never be too careful.