2 Cahokia brothers charged in Steak 'n Shake killings
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
UPDATED AT 5:30 p.m.
CLAYTON -- Two brothers who had worked at Steak 'n Shake until about six months ago were charged today in connection with the murders on Monday of a cook and waitress at the south St. Louis County restaurant, police said today.
Waitress Tammy L. Cantrell, 44, and cook Mark L. Gerstner, 24, were found slain inside the eatery. The restaurant is at 5828 South Lindbergh Boulevard, in a small municipality of Green Park, in south St. Louis County.
The brothers -- Anthony D. Akins, 20, and Oundr'e T. Akins, 19 -- are each charged with two counts of first-degree murder, three counts of armed criminal action and one count of first-degree robbery. They were charged today by St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch. They are being held without bond.
Investigators said they began examining records of employees who had been fired or who used to work at the restaurant, and that in part helped lead to Anthony Akins, who was arrested and questioned by police Wednesday night. The employee records, combined with evidence gathered at the scene, interviews with current workers and people who were in the vicinity of the eatery early Monday, helped the case fall in to place, police and McCulloch said
St. Louis County police Major Ted Hylla said detectives "strongly believed" robbery was the motivation behind the killings. Hylla declined to provide additional details, but police investigators said they did not believe the killings were in retaliation for one of the brothers being fired as a worker for the restaurant.
Neither McCulloch nor police investigators would say whether the victims struggled with their killers. They also would not say how many times the victims were shot, or where in their bodies they had been shot.
Less than $200 was taken during the robbery, McCulloch said. The brothers used a swipe card key from one of the victims to access the cash register. McCulloch did not say if the key was taken before or after the workers were killed.
"Whether $200 or $2 billion, it's still a murder," McCulloch said.
Anthony Akins was arrested Wednesday night; he is being held at the St. Louis County jail. Oundr'e Akins was arrested at his parents' Cahokia home Thursday morning and is being held at the St. Clair County jail as authorities attempt to work out extradition to Missouri.
On Wednesday, the Steak 'n Shake company offered a $50,000 reward for the arrest and successful prosecution of whoever killed the employees. But McCulloch said that the reward did not help break the case.
The company has also provided money for the victims' families.
Officials at Steak 'n Shake's headquarters in Indianapolis said this afternoon that the company is encouraged that arrests have been made in the case.
Sardar Biglari, the Company’s Chairman and CEO, thanked the police for its hard work on the case. Biglari said that the killings had brought employees together, not pushed them apart.
“Nothing can bring back Mark and Tammy, but this horrible event has shown what wonderful associates we have at Steak n Shake," Biglari said. "We have come together in this difficult time to help each other."
The case broke open early Thursday morning when the Illinois State Police tactical response team swarmed a house where both men lived with their parents in the 1600 block of Armand Drive in Cahokia, said Capt. Mark Bramlett, the local investigative commander of the Illinois State Police. The area is near Camp Jackson Road, not far from Cahokia Park.
About 6:30 a.m. today, police burst into the home in Cahokia.
Tony Akins Sr., the father of the two men, told the Post-Dispatch this morning that he, his wife and four of his six sons were sleeping in the home when police broke down his front and back doors. Police made them wait on the front lawn while they searched the home, he said.
Police carted off evidence taken from the home. Tony Akins Sr. said his two sons had worked at the Steak 'n Shake until about six months ago. The older one was fired; the other one quit, upset because he thought he was being passed over for promotions, Akins Sr. said.
"If they done this .... I just don't understand why, because they had everything going for themselves," Akins Sr. said.
The Akins' small, frame home is well-kept with flowers in front, but family members were sweeping up the broken glass and cleaning up other debris in the wake of the police search.
Akins Sr. said he tried to raise his sons right and traffic tickets were their only runs-ins with the law before. After they were fired from Steak 'n Shake, one of the brothers got another job at a steel plant but was laid off last Friday -- three days before the murders, Akins Sr. said.
Akins Sr. said a police officer told him his sons had confessed, but said he doubted that was accurate and won't know what to think until he talks with them. He said he found it difficult to believe his sons could commit such acts.
"I did everything in my power to raise my boys right," he said. "It's really sad, All the people over there (at the restaurant) were nice to me and my boys. I don't know how to explain it. I believe in my heart there's got to be someone else involved in this. I don't see them pulling the trigger."
Akins Sr. said he thought his sons were home when the crimes occurred.
Akins Sr.' brother -- the suspects' uncle -- still works at the Steak 'n Shake where the killings happened. That uncle attended Cantrell's wake on Wednesday. Officials said they have no information to suggest the relative was involved in the crimes
Akins Sr. says he knew Cantrell and had met her a couple of times when having coffee and breakfast at the restaurant. Neither of his sons knew Gerstner, he said.
Akins Sr. said neither son was acting suspicious the last few days. "They did their usual things every day," he said.
Akins Sr. said his sons had it good -- they didn't pay bills but were allowed to live with him as long as they kept a job. The 20-year-old son liked the job he had at the steel plant, making $700 a week. The 19-year-old was still looking for a job.
Akins Sr. said he believes his sons are innocent.
"I can't understand what is going on," Akins Sr. said. "If they had any involvement, God's going to have to deal with them. Look at their records. They don't have any criminal records."
A criminal records check showed that both of the sons had a handful of traffic and misdemeanor charges. One of the two brothers is facing a misdemeanor charge of resisting a police officer, and is awaiting trial on that charge. The incident allegedly happened on Aug. 7 in Centreville.
Later today, St. Louis County police plan to hold a joint news conference with prosecutors to talk about the developments.
Cantrell's father, Robert Cantrell, was elated that arrests had come.
"I am so happy," said the father, who lives in unincorporated Jefferson County. "I hope it is the right ones."
Robert Cantrell said he thought all along that it had to be an "inside job," committed by disgruntled former employees. He figured that only someone familiar with the restaurant would have known that the front door was unlocked, even though a sign posted on the door said the business was closed. The restaurant was temporarily closed so an exterminator could spray for bugs before the breakfast rush.
The back door couldn't be used because a key had been broken off in the lock for some time and the company hadn't fixed it, he said.
Robert Cantrell said Tammy Cantrell worked at the restaurant for five years. She got to work Sunday night about 11 p.m. About 4 a.m., a bread deliveryman found Tammy Cantrell on the floor and called police.
"Tammy was type of girl if she had a job she'd go to it. She didn't have enemies," her father said.
Through tears, Robert Cantrell added: "I'm happy that they caught someone."
What the family saw at the funeral home convinced them that Tammy Cantrell knew her killer.
"She had kind of a smile on her face, and that told us that she knew whoever it was," he said. "That's what it showed us."
The funeral for Tammy Cantrell was Wednesday.