The Grisly Crimes That Went Down At Blockbuster

For a couple of decades in the late 20th century, Blockbuster Video was as much a part of many Americans' daily lives as school, church, and the grocery store. The idea of walking into a brick-and-mortar store in order to rent a physical copy of a movie, to be brought back at a later time, may seem incredibly strange to younger readers, but for a while, no weeknight was complete without a stop by Blockbuster to find a movie the family could enjoy.

These days, the locations of former Blockbuster stores stand as a living testament to the relationship between commerce and technology: unfortunate relics of an obsolete system. Many such buildings have been repurposed to house new businesses, the structural "bones" of the building still revealing what had once been inside.

What some readers may not realize is that a fair number of those former Blockbusters were active crime scenes when they were video rental stores. Indeed, Blockbuster stores have been the sites of murders, sexual assaults, and assorted other grisly crimes.

A would-be robber murdered four men at an Alabama Blockbuster

On May 15, 2002, four men were inside an Anniston, Alabama, Blockbuster location at the worst possible time. Two of them were employees, two of them were customers. None would make it out of the building alive that day.

As The Gadsden Times reported, five days earlier, Donald Ray Wheat, accompanied by his girlfriend Tina Marie Duke, began what would become a weeklong, two-state crime spree, beginning with the murder of a convenience store owner in Georgia.

The pair convened on the Blockbuster location and relieved the cash register of about $100 in $1 bills, then Wheat led employees Douglas Edward Neal Jr., 27, and Austin Carl Joplin, 23, into the back of the store and shot them in the back of the head, execution style. Following, he shot and killed customer Joseph Michael Burch, 20, and Burch's brother, Andrew, 19.

Wheat was sentenced to death for the killings, according to The Tuscaloosa News, but died in prison of natural causes before the sentence could be carried out.

A robber murdered two employees at a Texas Blockbuster store in 1994

The 2002 Alabama Blockbuster murders weren't the only homicides committed at the former video store chain.

On April 4, 1994, as The Dallas Morning News reported, two employees at a Blockbuster location in White Rock, Texas, in suburban Dallas, had the misfortune of crossing paths with Leon Dorsey. A career criminal, Dorsey had robbed a few hundred dollars from the cash register at the front of the store but, unsatisfied, demanded that employees James Armstrong, 26, and Brad Lindsey, 20, open the safe in the back room. And when they failed to open it quickly enough, Dorsey shot and killed them both.

The incident was caught on security cameras. However, owing to the infancy of the technology at the time, the black-and-white images captured no sounds of what was going on. Still, writer Scott Goldstein opined that the body language of the murderer and the victims told more than enough of the story.

"The young men who died that day appeared to be doing their best to meet Leon Dorsey's demands. They gave him the money in the cash register up front. When that wasn't enough, they tried to get the back room safe open to get him more money. And when they weren't able to open it, Mr. Dorsey had had enough. He executed them both," he wrote.

Dorsey was executed for the murders 14 years later, in 2009, according to WFAA.

A robber murdered a Mountain View, California, Blockbuster clerk

The list of people murdered while working or visiting Blockbuster locations extends beyond just Texas and Alabama.

On September 19, 2001, according to Mountain View Voice, Carl "Chip" Mirikitani, 33, was working as a clerk at a Mountain View, California Blockbuster location. Unfortunately for him, Michael McGrath also chose to enter the store that early morning, although he had no intention of renting a video.

What happened and why were a matter of dispute, but prosecutors would later say that McGrath, high on methamphetamine, decided to rob the store, and his victim was in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Video surveillance footage would capture McGrath stabbing Mirikitani and exciting the store with a handful of cash. McGrath's defense, however, would argue that their client had no intention of robbing the store; the distinction would be the difference between a charge that resulted in life in prison vs. one that would net McGrath 15-25 years.

Ultimately, McGrath was convicted of the more severe charge.

Mirikitani's friend, Russel Mar, would later say that he was hoping his friend's murderer would have gotten the death penalty.

"[Chip] was a good guy," Mar said.

Police broke up a sexual assault at a Tennessee Blockbuster

Violent robberies that resulted in murder aren't the only heinous crimes to have taken place at Blockbuster locations.

As The Bowling Green Daily News reported at the time, in late 1999, a string of robberies at Blockbuster stores in and around Springfield, Tennessee, bedeviled police in the city. However, a break came on December 6.

Officials said that a Springfield police officer happened to be in the right place at the right time, noticing "unusual activity" taking place inside a Blockbuster. Specifically, a woman inside signaled to the officer to come inside. There, two women said that a masked man had entered the business, forced them into the back at gunpoint, and ordered one to undress while he attempted to sexually assault her.

The arrival of the officer thwarted the sexual assault, while the suspect fled the scene, only to be apprehended a short time later.

Police arrested Matthew M. Jackson, 19, and questioned him not only about that particular incident, but about multiple other robberies that turned into sexual assaults or attempted sexual assaults at Blockbuster locations around Central Tennessee.