CLEVELAND — It was a theft so large and brazen that even law enforcement officials admit some admiration for it.
One suspect, the authorities say, spent nine months working for an armored car company, learning its employee-shift patterns and the access codes for its safes. By the police account, he and his girlfriend waited until the Monday night after Thanksgiving, when the year’s largest receipts from retailers were in those safes, then looted them and drove to the remote hills of southern West Virginia.
There, joined by his mother, they holed up in a mobile home they had found on a scouting trip in October, and counted their haul: $7.4 million in cash and checks.
“It sounds like a good plan, I know,” said Tony Slifka, police chief of Liberty Township, Ohio, the Youngstown-area community where the theft occurred on Nov. 26. “But they left a trail like Hansel and Gretel leaving the crumbs in the forest.”
As a result, the young couple, whom at least one online true-crime site has called the Goth Bonnie and Clyde for their love of fantasy role-playing games and vampire novels, were back in Ohio on Wednesday, pleading not guilty to charges stemming from the theft. All the money they are accused of taking has been recovered, the police say, except for a few hundred dollars.
The pair — Roger L. Dillon, 23, and Nicole D. Boyd, 25 — face up to 25 years in prison on charges of conspiracy to steal money from a bank; conspiracy to transport stolen property across state lines; and transporting and aiding and abetting in that transportation. Mr. Dillon’s mother, S. Lee Gregory, 48, faces up to 15 years.
Brought into federal court in Cleveland in hand and leg shackles and orange prison jumpsuits, the three defendants, separated by their court-appointed lawyers, exchanged affectionate smiles with one another. Only Ms. Boyd had relatives among the spectators, and at the end of the hearing she mouthed “I love you” to her mother and grandmother.
After the theft, the working-class couple quickly became suspects, and just as quickly became figures of local lore in Youngstown, where they and Ms. Gregory lived. Talk radio and online chat rooms were filled with admiration for them.
“They are heroes,” one person wrote in an online discussion at the site of The Vindicator, a Youngstown daily. “Nobody was hurt. It’s one for the working man or woman.”
But after they were caught, they became a subject of derision for having made it only as far as Pipestem, W.Va., just 350 miles away. Inspired by discussions on talk radio, Alan Matavich, a lawyer and amateur songwriter, wrote the lyrics for “Dumb as Dillon,” which has been popular on pop and rock stations in the area.
“You hear people now saying that, like, ‘Oh, you’re dumb as Dillon,’ ” said Scott Kennedy, a disc jockey on Y-103, a local rock station that plays the song.
The police rapidly focused on Mr. Dillon. He had, after all, failed to show up to work at the armored car company, AT Systems, the day after the burglary, and he, his girlfriend and his mother could not be found. The authorities also learned that they had bought a 1989 GMC Safari minivan the day of the theft. And Ms. Boyd’s pickup truck was discovered in a parking lot in the town of Salem, just south of Youngstown.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation searched the pickup and found receipts indicating that the couple had been in Beckley, W.Va., the nearest large town to Pipestem, in October. Among the receipts was one for purchase of heating oil that was delivered to the mobile home.
At 4:30 a.m. on Dec. 1, an F.B.I. SWAT team from Pittsburgh surrounded the trailer and ordered the three suspects out. The agents turned more aggressive when Ms. Boyd, her agitated dog refusing to come with her, was slow to respond to their orders, her parents say.
“It almost made it worse for her,” said her mother, Valerie Rosati. “She was scared as it was, and the dog wouldn’t come out of the house with her.”
While Ms. Boyd was worried about her dog, Mr. Dillon was trying to figure out where his plan had gone wrong. “The agents tell me the first thing he asked them was, ‘How’d you get us so fast?’ ” Chief Slifka said.
A more confounding question for some who knew them best was how such a seemingly nice couple — like Mr. Dillon’s mother without a criminal history — could have ended up this way.
No one is more perplexed than their landlord, Cookie Bowman, who said that on the day of the theft, Mr. Dillon, Ms. Boyd and Ms. Gregory all helped tend to Ms. Bowman’s mother, who had just fallen and broken her hip.
“I mean, these are not people you expect to steal $7 million,” Ms. Bowman said.
On the other hand, Ms. Boyd, employed most recently as a seamstress and a stripper, was fonder of spending money than of working, said her former husband, Mike Stuckey, who has had custody of their 5-year-old son since their divorce.
“Her dream job was not working,” Mr. Stuckey said.
Mr. Dillon, who regularly led long sessions of the role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons, dreamed of doing something grand with his life.
“Roger was always looking for a way to break from the everyday and become extraordinary,” said Jared Mason, his best friend since fourth grade.
Friends of Ms. Boyd and Mr. Dillon say they never drank alcohol, took drugs or smoked, preferring books, movies, music and role-playing games for entertainment.
“Would I say she lived at times in a fantasy world in her head?” said her mother, Ms. Rosati. “Yeah, and I don’t think she ever got out of it.”
Friends, family and law enforcement officials say that if Mr. Dillon had a fateful flaw, it was probably his supreme confidence in his own cleverness.
“He thought he was infallible,” Chief Slifka said. “That’s what gets you in trouble. When you’re under stress you make mistakes. And that’s how you get caught.”