KIRO 7 Investigation sparks police action in fatal Lynnwood armored car heist

by: KIRO 7 Investigative Reporter Chris Halsne Updated:

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LYNNWOOD, Wash. —

For the past two weeks, Lynnwood police have been actively checking out fresh leads in a decades-old robbery of a Loomis armored car.

The renewed interest comes as a direct result of a KIRO 7 Investigation in which our team of journalists spent months tracking down witnesses, possible suspects and their associates. Our interviews gleaned never-before-known information.

The February 19, 1991, attack occurred in broad daylight, across the street from the Lynnwood Police Station, at a Fred Meyer store. Despite intense national attention, the two men who committed the crime remain unknown.

Driver, Peter Berg, was executed; guard, Jeffery Pease, barely survived.

Pease was shot seven times and left for dead in the Fred Meyer parking lot. He recently asked KIRO 7 Investigative Reporter Chris Halsne if he could help solve the 21-year-old case.

After a months-long search that crossed the country, KIRO 7 determined the key to solving this robbery seems centered around one man: A convicted felon and former Loomis guard named Michael Wortz.

KIRO 7 obtained previously sealed, secret grand jury testimony from 1995 which gives new insight into how the attack might have happened –- and the small number of suspects who could have pulled it off.

Gary, Wortz’s former roommate, and Jenney, Wortz's ex-wife, both told federal prosecutors that just prior to the Fred Meyer robbery and murder they helped Wortz conduct surveillance on the store.

In short, Wortz wanted their help in knocking off the Loomis armored car in the exact location in which it occurred months later. According to grand jury documents, Michael also tried to recruit others to join in his robbery plan.

Police sources close to the investigation tell KIRO 7, the odds that a criminal would independently plot to rob the very same armored car -- in the same parking lot, without hearing about the plan from Wortz or one of his associates, are astronomical. 

Wortz worked as a Loomis armored car guard in the early 90s, giving him insider information on the company's security procedures and Snohomish County routes.

After several phone calls to Wortz were not returned, Halsne flew to Waterford, Michigan, to get answers in person.

Wortz was shocked and suspicious of the visit.

"You're the first one to talk to me, ever," Wortz said. "I still don’t know you guys aren’t FBI. I mean, come on, I’m going to assume you are," he told Halsne, while demanding to see some identification.  

While our camera rolled, Halsne asked Wortz if he knew who pulled off one of the most brazen heists in Snohomish County history.

Halsne: "You weren’t the trigger man? You weren’t there?"

Wortz: "Wasn’t there."

Over a 15-minute period, Wortz laid out how his plan to rob money from a Loomis truck spiraled out of his control, resulting in a bloody, deadly mess.

"I was 28 when this happened. I’m not a criminal, not a career criminal. I just get caught up in stupid stuff, had some mental health issues, depression issues," said Wortz.

In 1996, Wortz was also convicted of stealing $25,000 from a money bag in the back of a Loomis truck when he worked for the company in the early 90s.

"When I stole that money from Loomis I was super depressed, man. I was looking for a fix,” Wortz said. “I had an opportunity, figured out how to do it. I was a little bit of a thief when I was a kid. Stole a few things, stole some money."

Soon after the theft, Wortz quit his job at Loomis and hatched the robbery plan.

Halsne bluntly asked Wortz if he was a murderer.

After a long pause, Wortz replied, "I shoo bees out of my house; I don’t kill them. I certainly don’t do that to people."

Wortz told us he abandoned the plan, but by that time his ex-wife had already circulated the idea to a small circle of people.

"I was pressuring her to know someone or find someone to help me do this, and as a result of that, she may have spoken to people without my knowledge, people I didn’t know about -- about this and set it afoot," Wortz said.

Jenney testified to the grand jury that the only friend she tried to recruit refused to participate. She also claimed that Wortz recognized a police sketch of the killer when the robbery made news.

When KIRO 7 contacted Jenney recently, she called Wortz an “abusive psychopath” and reiterated that her grand jury testimony reflects all she knows about the armored car heist. She also asked that we never contact her again. 

In part, due to her testimony, Michael Worzt was convicted of conspiracy to commit second-degree robbery in 1996, but the true assailants who killed one guard and shot another at the Fred Meyer store were never identified.

KIRO 7 flew to Wyoming to speak with former Loomis guard and crime victim Jeffrey Pease. To our surprise, police have never shown Wortz’s mugshot to Pease -- or asked if Pease recognized Wortz’s small circle of friends and relatives as being at the murder scene on the day of the crime.

"Somebody didn’t chicken out because that’s what happened," said Jeffrey Pease.

Former Loomis guard Jeffrey Pease has been living in virtual isolation since nearly losing his life in the Fred Meyer heist.

"The shooter runs over, gets down on one knee and shoots me in the head, right here, to finish me off. It took out from here -- over," said Pease pointing to his jaw and face. "The bullet lodged against my back molar."

Pease said the daily physical and mental pain he's endured since the robbery is at times, more than he can bear.

"People always say you’re here for a reason and I’m like if that guy had been a millimeter better of a shot, I wouldn’t be going through all this (expletive) I’ve been going through for the last 20 years," Pease said. "I wish he’d have done me in, I really do. This is no way to live a life."

In addition to living with his injuries, the Department of Labor and Industries is moving to slash his benefits.  Read the full story

We showed Pease Michael Wortz's mug shot. He didn’t recognize him as being part of the actual robbery, but for the first time since that horrible attack, he said KIRO 7 has brought him a little hope that justice may finally be served.

"As far as me, if they catch the guy, I'd feel great he was in prison. That's about the best I could hope for. Pete ain’t coming back; his family isn’t going to see him again. I’m not going to get my 21 years back," Pease said.

Halsne told Wortz about Pease's plight during their interview. Halsne explained Pease is angry and has a desire for vengeance and finality.

"For that man that was hurt in that crime, I can’t imagine what you’ve lived with. I can’t imagine your pain and anguish and your fear," Wortz said.

But Wortz did not leave it at that.

He provided Halsne with a name; someone he suspected stole his armored car heist idea and ran with it.

KIRO 7's independent research also uncovered another potential suspect, a now-deceased close associate of Wortz who matches the general description of the shooter shown in a 1991 police suspect sketch.

For Pease, catching the two men responsible for trying to kill him means he can stop grabbing his own gun every time someone drives up his dirt road.

"I'm done; I’m serious. I want to feel safe. This has gone on long enough," Pease said. "Let’s get this thing settled."

KIRO 7 is withholding some information we’ve gathered during our investigation because there are certain details, provided to us by Wortz and others, that are highly sensitive to the ongoing homicide case.

We did, however, share all our findings with Lynnwood police. Detectives have already taken action based on our findings.

If you knew Michael Wortz or any of his friends, relatives or associates in the early 1990s, Lynnwood police want to hear from you.   You may call Detective Arnett at 425-670-5669.