ROLLING THROUGH BABYLON (PART TWO)
Zach Grimes punched Ed LeBrun as Robert Reid placed his knees against the back of Ed’s neck to tie his hands behind his back, telling the others, “Sweep the house.” In a phony English accent, Reid passed the incursion off as a simple robbery, one that would be over in a few minutes.
Inside a Chameleon Twist Nintendo 64 box, Jonathan Coffey discovered prescription pills, eight small bags of crystal meth and six tabs of ecstasy. Grimes uncovered a box of coins. When LeBrun told him they had sentimental value, that his grandfather had gifted them to him, the burglar put them back. According to Coffey’s testimony, Ed implored them to, “Get it over with and get out of my house. Take what you need and get out.”
Grimes also later testified, “Me and Jonathon Coffey started going through the rooms, not finding anything in two rooms, then eventually went to the back room. It was like a disco with glow lamps, pictures, and it also had an egg seat I wanted, a wax lamp, and Jonathon wanted the turntables. We carried that stuff downstairs and I went back upstairs to get a picture.”
While the other two stacked their haul by the front door, Reid guided LeBrun upstairs to the bedroom where he terrorized his victim with a double-edged dagger, offering him two possible scenarios””take a tranquilizer so he can’t see them leave, or be put to death. Yanking the wallet from Ed’s back pocket, Reid asked for a pin number and got it. In his preposterous ‘Clockwork Orange’ affectation, Reid posed the Hobson’s choice again:
Sedative, or die. LeBrun, who remained passive throughout the ordeal, understood his helpless situation. “I really don’t have a choice,” LeBrun said, again, according to Coffey’s testimony. He swallowed the pill. That’s when Robert brought out the syringe.
After injecting Windex into an artery, Ed was shot up with air, then rubbing alcohol from the bathroom. Reid told LeBrun he needed another dose, then handed the instrument over to Coffey, instructing him to find something appropriate. Focusing his attention on the cleaning supplies under the kitchen sink, Coffey found just the right chemical for the task at hand, concentrated Simple Green. He filled the syringe with the Kryptonite-colored fluid then bolted back upstairs where Reid plunged the needle deep into LeBrun’s neck. Grimes and Coffey looked at each other, both thinking the same thing – events they should have known could spiral out of control were now playing out in the worst possible way.
Grimes told prosecutors, “We realized Ed LeBrun was probably gonna end up dead at that point. Ed was on the floor groggy and you could tell some pretty ill shit had just happened to him. As we were walking down the hallway I could hear Robert saying his ninja saying, ‘The paths are my shadows and no one will see my face.’ He had told me previous murders that he had been implicated in, that was [what] his group would say to someone before they killed him.”
They pleaded with Reid not to go through with it, to no avail. Grimes testified, “I walked downstairs, turned around, saw Jonathon at the top by Ed LeBrun’s room. Jonathon turned his head to the left like he couldn’t believe what he just saw, then walked downstairs.” What he witnessed was Reid straddling the 39-year old, plunging the dagger a dozen times into his chest and neck. As they fled the scene, Grimes straightened out a small welcome mat that was displaced during their forced entry.
With Grimes behind the wheel, Reid was exhilarated at “what a rush” it was taking a man’s life. Turning on to Page Street, they remembered the satchel and LeBrun’s First Union Bank card had been left behind. They turned around and went back to the house before rendezvousing with Coffey back at their Stonesthrow Homes lair. Once there, they snorted some crystal meth, then set out to ditch the evidence.
Keying in the number 0664 they extracted $200.00 from an ATM at Super K-Mart, then hit two more machines for the daily limit of $500. Combined with the cash taken from Ed’s home, the total came to a little less than $1,600.
With the other two tweaking in the living room, Grimes slid into bed with his girlfriend, Kara O’Connor, who is of no relation to Shaun O’Connor, around 4:15 a.m. and told her what had happened. The alarm was set for 6:30 a.m. He was scheduled to open at Fuddruckers.
Reid didn’t need to punch in until 3 p.m. later that afternoon. After he got off work, he met up with Grimes and they drained LeBrun’s account of another $500.00 before burning the debit card and receipts.
Now, with pockets full of cash, the three perps got inked at Forever Yours, bought some LSD, then further feathered their nest by burglarizing a gun collector. Armed with a cache of weapons, they boosted a Family Dollar store on September 26th, netting $1,200 in cash and merchandise.
On October 13, 1999, Coffey, Grimes, and Reid were cruising up and down High Point Road looking for a business to hit when they observed the Olive Garden’s backdoor ajar. Grimes waited with the motor running while the other two stumbled through the door, making so much noise Coffey wanted to call it off, but Reid urged him on. According to plea deals that were contingent on the confessions, it was made evident that the trio made off with $2,500, a good portion of which Reid tried to swindle his compatriots out of while they were counting the loot.
While they may have been wanted for dozens of felonies and misdemeanors, what Reid, Coffey, and Grimes weren’t suspected of was the murder of Ed LeBrun. During their two-month crime spree, Greensboro detectives were confident they had the killer locked safely behind bars. In fact, GPD bagged their prey within the first 48 hours, even rounding up an accomplice, and did it without a shred of physical evidence linking them to the crime.
“I was unable to sleep the night I received your letter. A lot escapes the mind after so much time, whether it be repressed or just forgotten. It reminded me what a piece of shit I was. Regardless of what I intended or did at the behest of others doesn’t change the fact crimes were committed, a man died, and my person was involved.” Zachary Grimes has a lot to be remorseful about and plenty of time to think on it: He’s serving a 30-year sentence for his part in the torture and murder of Ed LeBrun, the east coast’s leading rave promoter.
Ed’s First Friday events were legendary at Babylon, the only nightclub in Downtown Greensboro in 1994, an after dark beacon amidst a desolate no-man’s land summoning amped-up ravers attracted by the biggest names in EDM: Sasha, Icey, Doc Martin, Huda Huda, Christopher Lawrence, Sneak, Supa DJ Dmitry, Micro, Mr. Bubble, BjÃ¸rn Svin, and Donald Glaude. Upwards of a thousand blissed-out whirling dervishes flowing in and out of 221 S. Elm Street, glow sticks twirling in each hand, furiously sucking on pacifiers, Vicks inhalers tucked into their back pockets, music blasting 130 beats per minute, humidity approaching monsoon levels.
“I was working at Elizabeth’s and everyone said, ‘Turn on the news.’ We had TVs in the restaurant so I could see that it was for real. I’m like, ‘You gotta be kidding me, I saw him last night.’ Elizabeth’s was like six doors down from Spins. The doors were locked but there were already flowers and cards, a memorial. So I did the same thing, I left flowers and cards.” DJ Mr. Bill will never forget that afternoon.
Sunset Hills was on edge when news spread of the heinous attack that occurred just one block from the UNCG campus. Families slept easier when, two days later, a suspect was hauled in for questioning based on a tip and a blurry surveillance photo that matched the culprit, at least to the satisfaction of lead detective David Spagnola. Spagnola managed to wrench a confession from 19-year old Tim Laney, not for murder, but for using the decedent’s ATM card. That admission of guilt put Laney at the center of the crime. Now the detective needed a name: Who gave him the card? Laney implicated his friend Josh Gordon who was quickly jailed.
It was front-page news when the arrests were made – sweet music to the ears of Zachary Grimes, Jonathon Coffey, and the guy who actually stabbed LeBrun to death, Robert Reid. They were in the clear. Perhaps Reid was the shadowy Shinobi Warrior he claimed to be.
“Had Reid said, ‘Let’s go kill this man’ neither Jon Coffey or I would have gone.” Zachary Grimes detailed how his life descended into madness in the weeks following the morning of August 16, 1999. “After the murder of Ed LeBrun, we were to meet the real Robert Reid. He had the charisma of a gifted politician. Reid became ever demanding, he wanted us to do more crimes with him. He knew that we knew he was capable of murder. Jon and I complied several times, but we were in too deep. We started resisting doing things, our choices were limited and my girlfriend was scared to death.
“I was sidelined while Jon and Robert continued on [committing crimes]. Reid’s threats and spell were wearing off. I was trying to salvage what I believed was left of my life. I was trying to put the pieces back together, but every one I picked up would crumble into more. A line had been crossed that could not be uncrossed. As for Jon, he was deeply affected by being involved in a murder. I believe he knew time was running out and he just gave in to the downward spiral. Robert began to feel the tension and rising reluctance to his every little whim or crime he wanted to commit. He went off about us not being loyal to him and not wanting to really ‘build something.’ He pulled a gun and started making threats about if we were to tell he would kill us or go to our family’s homes and kill them. We knew he had no problem killing so the days leading up to the arrest were stressful. Robert shot a hole in the wall, narrowly missing Jon.
“Jon and Robert’s spree would come to an end the night he stole my car, and in the days after [when he] would break into our apartment with two 16-year olds… his new crew and next to be enthralled in his charismatic clutches.”
Reid had a habit of boasting about his escapades to any random person, then threatening their lives if they ever ratted him out. Busted with his mini-mob in the midst of a burglary in Jamestown, he folded. Omitting any suggestion of his central role, he gave up Coffey and Grimes as LeBrun’s assailants. The two were swept up and charged with first-degree murder.
“I’m not sure who interrogated me. It was late at night when I was brought in and I had smoked weed and dosed a couple of hits,” Grimes said. Things looked grim for Grimes. Reid fingered him as the sadist who stabbed the record storeowner 12 times in the neck and chest in a premeditated rage and revenge attack.
“The District Attorney’s office truly believed I was the man who had killed Edward LeBrun. I would go before a Rule 24 hearing for the death penalty. I just knew Robert had won. His web of lies with a twist of truth was going to lead to my death,” Grimes wrote in a letter.
To their credit, detectives noticed almost immediately the version of events they were being fed were riddled with holes. Before he could be cut loose, Reid was charged with being an accessory to murder. It was only the ringleader’s insatiable need to grandstand that allowed the truth to finally come out. Reid bragged to his cellmate about his treacherous run of burglary, butchery, and bloodshed. His cell soldier ratted him out. Tossing Reid’s belongings, the screws found a memoir containing key details about the homicide. Combined with letters sent to one of his high school English teachers, detectives now had a clearer view of what really transpired.
Tim Laney, the original suspect in the LeBrun murder who ‘celebrated’ his 20th birthday during the two-and-a-half months he languished in lockup awaiting a trial date for capital murder, was roused from his cell on Friday, October 30th, and abruptly and without explanation was spat out on to the sidewalk. Another innocent man, Josh Gordon, had been sprung six weeks earlier, but only after his lawyer demanded a hearing to ascertain exactly what investigators had against his client.
There wasn’t a shred of physical or credible circumstantial evidence against either man.
The story Laney told the press days after his release was harrowing. A coerced confession after a 10 hour long grilling during which the suspect reportedly asked for a lawyer but was told, “This isn’t TV.” He had an alibi, but detectives threatened the witness with life in prison if he didn’t change his story. Laney was lied to about his family identifying him in the ATM photo, threatened with the death penalty””all perfectly legal, of course. (Well, except for the part about being denied a lawyer.)
Greensboro Police Capt. Jim Scifres was quoted as saying, “I admit it is not the norm for us to charge people [with firstdegree murder charges] and then release them but when we get additional evidence sometimes that occurs,” Scifres is quoted as saying in the News & Record. By “additional” the Captain apparently meant actual evidence.
Coffey and Grimes pled to second-degree murder, agreeing to testify against Reid. Shaun O’Connor sat beside Ed LeBrun’s father, Sid, in the courthouse.
“Every day of the trial I was there, Robert Reid just sat there spinning his pen with a smug look on his face. I remember, vividly, Benny from Spins and I having to contain ourselves because all we could think of was taking that pen and sticking it into his neck and chest,” said Shaun O’Connor.
Assistant District Attorney Richard Panosh prosecuted the case for the state, “Ed LeBrun had dreams. He took those dreams and turned them into goals. He worked hard and turned them into a business.
“The defendant had fantasies. His fantasy… to become a Ninja Warrior. The defendant dreamed he would form his own little army. One of the things he wanted to become was an assassin, and unfortunately Mr. LeBrun became the object of his fantasy.” Panosh hammered the point home by pounding the jury box 12 times, once for each slice of the dagger, to highlight not just the brutality and length of the assault, but the dozen opportunities Reid had to stop.
When the verdict was read, LeBrun’s family and friends were jubilant; tough guy Robert Reid openly wept into his tie. He barely escaped the death penalty, but will spend the rest of his life in prison.
Nine months after one of the most depraved murders Greensboro was ever witnessed, police got hip to the haps on Elm Street and raided Babylon in May of 2000. Pills, tabs, baggies and origamis filled with white powder carpeted the floor after club goers dropped their drugs to avoid a possession charge. Cops swept up more than enough evidence to shutter the nightclub for good.
When I moved back to Greensboro in 1994 after 16 years flailing around in the Los Angeles Punk then Underground clubs imagine my surprise to discover a scene much more engaging than what was going on in LA. Within a couple of months I was dating then living with the artist who designed flyers for Ed’s events, I met a dozen of my best friends through Babylon. But it occurred to me that, after 15 years had passed, no one had told this story. I entered into this project with no preconceived notions, following the story where it led. Some of the people I wish I could quote here won’t go on the record, they have offspring who read and surf the net. How do you explain this to the kids while telling them drugs are bad?
When I began my investigation more than six months ago I waded into a tragic tale with no winners, only losers. Because there were so many unanswered questions and conflicting memories I began corresponding with Zachary Grimes, although I warned him if his story differed from someone else’s account I would go with the other person. (He had a big problem with how his former boss Mike Marion characterized his demeanor, I went with Marion.) While I have zero sympathy for Robert Reid both Grimes and Coffey’s lives were effectively destroyed, they’re facing another 15-20 years behind bars, respectively. I do believe they had no intention of seeing Ed killed, details in their testimony bear this out, but that doesn’t mean much in the end, does it? Grimes’ letters to me are circumspect and filled with regret. “Every day of this sentence I’ve been drug free, as the drugs started to be leeched from my body over time my mind started to heal. The pollution that helped magnify my ignorance and studied stupidity was now gone.
“I will never lose sight of the pain I’ve caused the people who loved [Ed LeBrun]. They never got to say goodbye and their last memory of him is tainted. It’s so clear now, I just can’t believe I was so stupid. I believe Robert Reid is a truly evil person, sadly our names will be used together as long as the internet exists. I can only pray he lives forever in this place that crushes every last thing you love.” !