The young woman was sitting in her car in a parking lot in Woodridge last May when an elderly-looking man approached and asked her quietly, almost in a whisper, if she needed help.
"I thought he was an old drunk homeless guy," said the woman, who
told the stranger she was fine.
Moments later, the man pointed a
pistol at her chin and demanded her keys before driving off in her 2000 Pontiac
Grand Am, authorities said. The terrified woman alerted police, who stopped the
stolen car minutes later, at about 9:45 p.m.
Police arrested the driver, Michael
Buhrman, a 31-year-old licensed senior reactor operator at the Dresden nuclear
power plant in Morris, authorities said. They allegedly recovered a pistol from the
car, along with a two-way radio and a high-quality latex mask — of an old
Authorities wondered why a well-paid nuclear plant operator might
steal a 12-year-old car at gunpoint. But an even more pressing question arose
when Buhrman disappeared after posting bond. A GPS device that had been attached
to his leg was found Sept. 28 in his deserted Coal City house, its strap sliced
in half, authorities said.
DuPage County prosecutors presented evidence Thursday that Buhrman
perhaps has fled the country and should be tried in absentia. They also revealed that the FBI had been
investigating Buhrman for other crimes along with at least one Dresden co-worker, who also might have
fled the country.
Assistant State's Attorney Demetri
Demopoulos said he could not reveal additional details of that
Judge Kathryn Creswell set a March
trial date and will rule then on whether it should proceed if Buhrman remains
whose car was taken May 9
positively identified Buhrman shortly after he was arrested based on his green
windbreaker, dark jeans and black gloves. But his youthful face didn't match the
robber's, she said this week. The mask he allegedly wore had thinning hair and
encased the head and neck, said the woman, who asked to not be
"You couldn't even tell it was a mask,"
On May 11, Buhrman posted $20,000 cash bond, but
he was back in court in July. Prosecutors learned he was dating a 20-year-old
college student. He told her he planned to flee to Chile and had amassed gold,
according to files.
Buhrman was ordered to surrender
his passport and was placed on home confinement with a GPS unit strapped to his
ankle. He made his last court appearance in August.
His former wife thinks Buhrman is gone for good.
"I don't believe I'll ever see him again," Melissa Gates said
They married in 2005, about a year after
they met in San Diego while both were in the Navy. Gates was a hospital
corpsman and Buhrman a nuclear engine technician. Both are from
"On the outside, you'd think he was the
greatest guy in the world." Gates said. "He was a master at putting up a
Gates filed for divorce in 2007, court
records show. By then, both had left the Navy and settled in Coal City
after Buhrman was hired at the Dresden plant.
Sept. 25, three days before he disappeared, Buhrman showed up at his ex-wife's
residence with gifts for their 6-year-old son.
same day, he withdrew $14,000 from his bank account, money that had been wired
in the previous day from an international account, prosecutors
Exelon Corp., which owns the plant where
Buhrman worked, declined to comment. A spokeswoman for
the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said reactor operator positions like the one
Buhrman had require years of training and include a licensing process with
ongoing mental health checks and background
The woman Buhrman was alleged to
have robbed still wonders why a man with his background would do what he is
alleged to have done.
"I would never think that someone like that would pull a gun on
somebody and steal their car," she said.