New Orleans police on Friday arrested a man with a name like a country singer who they say was living as a real-life outlaw, committing seven armed robberies and a carjacking over the past month, several of them along Chef Menteur Highway.
Kenneth Rodgers, 47, has been booked on those counts as well as illegal carrying of weapons, possession of a firearm with an obliterated serial number, possession of a firearm by a felon and possession of drug paraphernalia.
Police are hoping to connect him to even more stick-ups, which they say he committed to fuel an addiction to heroin.
“We think he’s a heroin user, so he was just bouncing from gas station to gas station, giving us issues,” 7th District Lt. Ryan Lubrano said at a district commanders’ meeting Wednesday. Lubrano noted that Rodgers’ name is “Kenneth, T-H, not Kenny (Rogers), the country singer.”
“They’re both gamblers,” one district commander replied, referring to the singer’s most famous tune.
Police said the criminal action started Nov. 11, a day after Rodgers skipped a court date for a simple burglary rap he picked up last year. A man had just finished pumping gas at the Discount Zone gas station at 6711 Chef Menteur Highway about 8:50 a.m., according to a police report, when a man and woman walked near his 1997 Ford Taurus station wagon.
That vehicle was dented and missing a hubcap, but apparently those flaws did not turn off the robbers. The victim told police he felt a gun touch his back and heard a man say, “Drop the keys.” The victim saw a black semi-automatic handgun and complied. The man and woman drove off in the car.
On Nov. 23, according to a police report, a man with bulging eyes walked into a Chevron station at 10422 Chef Menteur Highway and asked for a pack of cigarettes about 9 p.m.
The cashier said the man had “a very bad stuttering impediment which made him almost incomprehensible.” She turned around to get the smokes, and the man pointed a large black gun at her. The man was trying to tell her something, the cashier said, but she could not understand what. She pressed a panic button under the counter and ran into an office. The man fled.
Then on Nov. 24, police said, an unknown man and 23-year-old Jessica Dickinson walked into a Boost Mobile Store at 2108 St. Bernard Ave. Dickinson asked a clerk about her phone, police said, but then her male companion whipped out a handgun and demanded money. Both tried to flee when police arrived, but only the man got away. A judge set Dickinson’s bail at $100,000; she remains in jail.
The same day, police said, a man with a stutter walked into the Krystal Burger at 2713 South Claiborne Ave. about 9 p.m and placed an order. Then he pulled out a handgun and fled with cash stolen from a clerk.
Just hours later, police believe, the same robber walked into another Discount Zone, this one at 1533 Esplanade Ave., about 5 a.m. Police said that after asking for a cigar, he pointed a gun at the cashier and stole money.
During a district commanders’ meeting on Nov. 25, 7th District Cmdr. Lawrence Dupree marveled at the long series of cases police attributed to one man.
“One strung-out dope fiend can really do a district bad,” Dupree said.
The major break in the case, Lubrano said, came from a palm print lifted from the Ford Taurus stolen Nov. 11. The print was matched to Rodgers, who had been convicted of armed robbery in September 1991 and sentenced to 21 years in prison.
Police obtained a warrant for Rodgers’ arrest, but he remained on the loose. Police said he walked up to the register of the Family Dollar store at 9711 Chef Menteur Highway with a bag of paper towels about 9 p.m. Nov. 25 and pointed a gun at the clerk.
The would-be robber told the clerk in a stutter to empty the register, but the clerk ran into the store’s office. Another employee said the robber reached over the counter and tried to get into the register but failed.
Fifth District Cmdr. Christopher Goodly said Rodgers’ ride came to an end Friday when he was spotted rummaging through a milk crate in the 2500 block of North Roman Street. Police responding to a report of a suspicious person recognized that he was the man wanted for the armed robberies in the 7th District. Goodly said a gun was found inside the crate.
Witnesses in several of the armed robberies have identified Rodgers as the perpetrator from photographic lineups, according to police.
Authorities have booked him with several additional crimes since his Friday arrest, and they believe they will link him to even more in the future.