Death Row Diaries: Poland brothers impersonated officers, robbed guards, dumped bodies in Lake Mead

Posted at 7:21 AM, Feb 27, 2016
and last updated 2018-07-27 15:56:49-04

Arizona’s most notorious death row inmates past and present have incredible stories.

The Poland Brothers

Date of Birth: June 11, 1940
Executed: June 16, 1999
Date of Birth: March 8, 1950
Executed: March 15, 2000

On May 24, 1977, two Purolator guards, Russell Dempsey and Cecil Newkirk, left Phoenix in their armored van for their Northern Arizona run to Prescott, Sedona and Flagstaff. 

They never made it. 

The security guards were stopped on Interstate-17 near the Bumblebee exit by the Poland brothers who were disguised as Arizona Highway Patrol Officers; wearing uniforms and driving a car fitted with emergency lights.

The brothers took the men captive and removed nearly $300,000 in cash from the armored van.

They were put into large canvas bags... and the two guards were thrown into the lake alive

The next day, Michael Poland rented a boat from Lake Mead Marina and met his brother. Dempsey and Newkirk were forced into large canvas bags weighted with rocks, and as they went across the lake, the Poland brothers threw them into the lake - alive.

It took three weeks for their bodies to be found.

The Investigation

The security guards first stop on their route was supposed to be the Great Western Bank in Prescott. When they didn't show up, Purolator officials call Prescott police. But they didn't find the armored van until the next day, still sitting on the side of the road on Interstate-17 near the Bumblebee exit.

Inside, police found blood and $34,000 in coins. A truck was found in the sand nearby, it was registered to one of the Poland brothers.

Three weeks later, the bodies of the two dead guards surfaced in Lake Mead, revealing new evidence:

  • The canvas bags that held the bodies were purchased at Phoenix Tent and Awning.
  • Another large bag contained 2 guns and a license plate.
  • Police learned where the brothers bought the police uniforms and emergency light bar on the car.
In one week they spent more than $100,000 in cash


Police were also watching the Poland brothers closely in their hometown of Prescott. Both men had in financial difficulty before the heist, but now they seemed to have plenty of money. They went on a spending spree and repaid large loans in cash.

In one week they spent more than $100,000 in cash.

In July of 1977, the FBI searched Michael Poland's home and found $13,000 in cash, a police belt, a siren and other evidence. 

The same day, they raided Patrick Poland's home and found $15,000 in cash.

Nearly a year after the deaths of Newkirk and Dempsey, the Poland brothers were arrested.

In 1979, the Polands were sentenced to 100 years in prison on federal kidnapping and robbery charges. They were convicted on state charges of first degree murder twice, in 1979 and in 1982. Their first convictions were overturned on appeal. 

Michael Poland's execution process:

During his appeal, Michael's attorneys tried unsuccessfully to convince the courts that he didn't understand that he was going to die by execution. They argued he was mentally incompetent and 3 psychiatrists diagnosed him as delusional.

One of his attorneys, Dale Baich, said Poland believed he had the power to influence people and to stop his execution by a force of his will.

Michael Poland's last meal:

3 Fried eggs, sunny side up

4 Slices of bacon

1 Order of hash brown potatoes

2 Slices of whole wheat toast, with two pats of real butter

2 Bowls of Raisin Bran cereal with milk

2 Cups of Tasters Choice coffee

Michael Poland's last words:

He mouthed the words "I love you" to his two sons who witnessed the execution, but his last spoken words were: "I'd like to know if you're going to bring me lunch afterward...I'm really hungry. I can't think of anything else."

"I'm really hungry. I can't think of anything else"

Patrick Poland execution process:

In an interesting twist, one of the prosecutors in the second murder trial, Mel McDonald, felt Patrick had true remorse for his part in the killings and wanted see Patrick's life spared.

McDonald was a witness to his execution and said later, "I hope that his death will bring peace... Mr. Poland paid for this crime each and every day for 23 years. I think he had genuine remorse. I felt justice was done in the execution of the first brother. I felt mercy could have been done today by giving Patrick Poland life in prison.''

Michael Poland's last meal:


"I'm sorry for the pain and suffering I have caused"


Patrick Poland's last words:

"If I may, once again, to the Newkirk and Dempsey families, please accept my apologies. I'm sincere. I'm sorry for the pain and suffering I have caused. I do thank you for your forgiveness. I ask my family to forgive me for the pain I have caused them. I ask all my friends and people who believed in me to please forgive me, and I ask the woman I love to remember I will always love her."

Yavapai County prosecutor Arthur Markham, spoke to some of the victims' relatives after the execution and said they felt his expressions of remorse were truthful. "A man would not lie just before death,'' Markham said.