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2 charged in restaurant slayings near St. Louis

Thursday, November 13, 2008 | 6:58 p.m. CST

 CLAYTON — Two Illinois brothers were charged Thursday in the shooting deaths of a waitress and cook at a Steak 'n Shake restaurant where the suspects had worked, authorities said.

Anthony Akins Jr., 20, and Oundr'e Akins, 19, were each charged with two counts of first-degree murder, one count of first-degree robbery and three counts of armed criminal action.

Akins Jr., initially just taken in for questioning, was arrested Wednesday night. Oundr'e Akins was apprehended Thursday morning during a police raid on his father's home in Cahokia, Ill., where the brothers lived, about a 20-minute drive from the restaurant.

Waitress Tammy Cantrell, 44, and cook Mark Gerstner, 24, were found shot to death early Monday at the Steak 'n Shake restaurant in south St. Louis County, about 10 miles outside St. Louis' city limits.

St. Louis County Prosecutor Robert McCulloch said the "horrible murders" were part of a robbery that yielded less than $200 for the suspects. He said both men, who are being held without bond, were familiar with the restaurant and its procedures.

"They just walked in," he said, and swiped a key card belonging to one of the victims to open the cash register. The charges said the crimes occurred at 3:30 a.m., a little over an hour before the victims' bodies were discovered.

St. Louis County police Lt. Tom Larkin said that as a starting point, investigators went down the list of current and former employees but didn't have to go far on the list before the case started to unfold.

On Wednesday, the Indianapolis-based fast food chain offered a $50,000 reward for information leading to an arrest and prosecution. McCulloch said that "outstanding police work" rather than reward money led to the arrests.

The men's father, 41-year-old Anthony Akins Sr., said both of the sons worked at the restaurant until about six months ago, when one of them was fired and the other quit, unhappy about not getting promotions. Akins said his brother Ronald also has worked at that eatery. McCulloch said there's nothing to indicate that Ronald Akins had a hand in the crimes.

Akins Sr. said Anthony Akins Jr. quickly found work at an area steel plant but was laid off last Friday, three days before the killings. Oundr'e Akins never found work after the Steak 'n Shake job, his father said.

The elder Akins said neither son acted suspiciously after news of the killings saturated St. Louis media outlets in recent days.

"They seemed like they usually do. They didn't act like something was wrong," he said of the two sons, among five who live at the parents' house searched by authorities Thursday morning. Akins' sixth son, the oldest, has a family and lives elsewhere.

The father said the two sons now suspected in the killings "weren't interested" in going to the funeral home visitations for the two victims.

Akins Sr. said agents stormed his home from the front and back, battering in the rear door as many of the occupants slept.

He said the prospect that the two sons may have taken part in the killings was disturbing, insisting that he and his wife always provided them free rooms and that the boys "never wanted for anything." The sons have had traffic tickets but no other criminal background, their father said.

"All I told my boys is keep some form of job," he said inside his well-kept ranch-style home with a newer roof and flowers in the front yard. "I don't understand what this is all about.

"Lord knows I hope they didn't have any involvement in this," he continued. "If they did have any involvement, they're going to have to deal with God."

Sardar Biglari, Steak 'n Shake's chairman and chief executive, said the company was pleased to hear of the arrests "in this sad matter."

"Nothing can bring back Mark and Tammy," Biglari said in a statement. "But this horrible event has shown what wonderful associates we have at Steak 'n Shake," underscored by their donations to the victims' families.

 

Jim Suhr reported from Cahokia, Ill.

 

 

 


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