When Ira R. Andrus Jr., 80, was a teen, his family moved from New York State to Philadelphia. Little did his family know that they moved next door to a career criminal, a safecracker who was looking to pass on his knowledge. He found a willing student in Andrus.
“He taught me how to crack safes, how to live as a career criminal,” Andrus said. “You stay by yourself, you obey all the laws and you don’t get caught.”
He moved frequently, always pretending he was wealthy.
“I rubbed shoulders with Elvis Presley and stole one of his girlfriends,” Andrus said. “I was better looking than Elvis Presley. I never told anyone what I was doing. I would tell them my daddy was rich.”
Things went well for him until one fateful night.
“I had set up a place in Daytona Beach. I went and frequented the place many times. I cased it,” he said.
Andrus had targeted the place because it was quite popular and busy, but most importantly all the money made over the weekend wouldn’t be taken to the bank until Monday morning. So he broke in late one night intending to clean out the safe.
“I got in there and everything was going fine and the lights went on,” he said. “I was surrounded by the FBI. They were waiting for someone but it wasn’t me. I had actually gotten the safe open.”
Andrus ended up in maximum security because he escaped twice. At one point he contracted tuberculosis and his doctor wanted to cut out one of his lungs but Andrus wouldn’t let him. Today he has both lungs and is free from jail and TB.
“I’ve been a Christian for 38 years,” he said.
“The Lord gave me a love for the Bible and I went to study the Bible. You find God is love.”
Since getting out of jail, Andrus, now a resident of Cutler Bay, has written more than six books for the Christian market, including the recently released In the Beginning Love. He also has one called Dead Man Living, which is the story of his life.
“I was a habitual criminal with two escapes. I was shot down during a robbery in Louisville, KY. I was bold. Too strong,” he said. “They gave me the 10 years for the escapes. I was supposed to be retried. They released me.”
Andrus said he was released from prison because of Gideon’s Law, a result of the Supreme Court ruling in Gideon vs. Wainwright. He was one of more than 2,000 people convicted in Florida who had been tried without counsel and released from prison.
“I slipped through the cracks. That’s one of the miracles of God,” he said.
From then on, Andrus was a law-abiding citizen. He became a Miami-Dade County Public School bus driver, a bus driver trainer, and then he went into management.
“I was always upfront [about his past],” he said. “When the Lord finally turned my heart around, I built up a very good work record.”
Since his retirement, he’s not only written books, but he learned to paint. He and his wife have six children between them, 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He and his wife adopted one of the great grandchildren, who is now in middle school and an accomplished musician.
“My life is a miracle from beginning to end,” he said. “I’m 80 years old, 200 pounds and don’t take a pill. I love God, with all my heart and soul. I care about people.”
Published by Tate Publishing and Enterprises, In the Beginning Love is available through bookstores nationwide, from the publisher at www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore, or by visiting www.barnesandnoble.com or www.amazon.com.