On May 26, 1970, at around 1:00 a.m., a man appeared at the office of the Bellevue Drive-In movie theater a few miles outside Peoria, Illinois, drew a revolver and announced a robbery. The offender tied up the projectionist, Maurice Cremeens with some nearby speaker wire and then took the office manager, Mamie outside to another building where a safe was located. Unbeknownst to the offender, Mr. Cremeens was able to untie himself and call the police.
While the offender and Ms. Manuel were outside, a Peoria County Sheriff Department undercover car, being driven by Sergeant Raymond Espinoza, drove into the driveway of the Bellevue Drive-Inn. A police informant, Jerry Lucas, Jr., was in the passenger seat. When the police car approached the offender and Ms. Manuel, the offender drew his weapon and fired three shots into the car, killing Sergeant Espinoza. The offender then took Ms. Manuel hostage and sped away in a Blue Rambler automobile. Mr. Lucas got on the police car radio to report the shooting and that the offender had fled in a Blue Rambler automobile. A police chase ensued involving several police cars from both the Peoria County Sheriff’s Department and the Peoria Police Department. When the offender came to the T-intersection of Blaine and Butler streets in Peoria, he tried to make a right turn at a high rate of speed and wound up crashing the Rambler into a parked car.
The offender immediately exited the vehicle and ran north through a nearby yard. Minutes later police officers arrived on the scene. But, the offender was gone. Ms. Manuel was found in the Rambler with slight injuries from the crash, but otherwise unharmed. A few minutes later, officers reported seeing a black male running several blocks north of the crash. They gave chase but ultimately lost sight of the offender. About 30 minutes later, Cleve Heidelberg, Jr., who earlier that evening had loaned his Blue Rambler to a man named Lester Mason, received a telephone call from Mason telling his that the Rambler had been abandoned near the intersection of Butler and Blaine, but making no mention of the shooting at the Bellevue Drive-In or the police chase.
Heidelberg had some friends drop him off near the intersection of Butler and Blaine and shortly thereafter he was spotted by the police who chased him, caught him, and then proceeded to beat him while he lay on the ground handcuffed with his hands behind his back. K-9 dogs also attacked Mr. Heidelberg as he lay on the ground. Mr. Heidelberg was taken to a local hospital where he received five stitches over his left eye. Mr. Heidelberg was then taken back to the Peoria County Jail where, despite his stitches and a swollen eye and face, was placed in a lineup with three other men. The police would claim that three witnesses – Ms. Manuel, Mr. Cremeens, and Mr. Lucas – all identified Mr. Heidelberg in the lineup as the person who attempted to rob the Bellevue Drive-In and who shot Sergeant Espinoza. Mr. Heidelberg told the police he had nothing to do with the crime.
In December, 1970, a trial took place and the three witnesses again identified Mr Heidelberg as the offender. The jury found Mr. Heidelberg guilty and he was sentenced to 99 years in prison. Mr. Heidelberg appealed his conviction but the jury verdict was affirmed on appeal. Mr. Heidelberg has been incarcerated since 1970 and currently is a prisoner at the Hill Correctional Center in Galesburg, Illinois. He was 27 years old when he was arrested. He is now 72 years old.