The Ballad of Donna Lewis


Fifth Estate # Daily Barbarian Number 3

Fifth Estate Home > Issue 319, Winter, 1985 >

On the night of November 1, 1982, one day after Halloween, Donna Lewis, Clarita Henry and Lawrence and Arnet McClung had their lives transformed from rags to riches when money bags tumbled from an armored car as it traveled down Detroit’s Lodge Freeway. As the armored car came to a quick stop, Lewis and friends watched as guards scurried about, retrieving the loot.

After collecting what they thought was all of the money, the guards continued on their merry way, oblivious to the fact that Lewis and her pals were watching an unidentified man kick one of the money sacks under his car. To make a long story short, they followed the man until the sack fell from his car’s undercarriage. Stopping, the unknown driver grabbed a few loose bundles, jumped in his car and sped off into the night, leaving $407,000 for Lewis and friends. But all of the fun and excitement. came to an abrupt end as Donna mustered her sense of “moral duty” and turned her friends over to the long arm of the law (in exchange for her freedom, of course!).

At the time all of this was going on, I wrote an article in the FIFTH ESTATE (5928 2nd Ave., Det., Mi. 48202), in which I gave Donna Lewis the dubious honor of “Most Domesticated of the Year” award. But now it’s 1984 and Donna, along with the 407,000, is back in the news. This time though, it’s happy news for Clarita and the McClung brothers, but alas…not for poor Donna.

Recorders Judge John H. Gillis has ruled that everyone but Donna Lewis can keep the cash because, “Finding is not taking.” Donna was left out in the cold for turning state’s evidence!

Below are the lyrics to “THE BALLAD OF DONNA LEWIS,” written by the Detroit band, The Layabouts. I thought it only fitting to reproduce them here:

The Ballad of Donna Lewis

We found a canvas sack, lyin’ on a railroad track

It fell out of an armored car and landed at our feet

We looked left and right, not another soul in sight

We threw the sack into the car and took off down the street


Four hundred thousand bucks will buy a lot of cars and trucks

We tossed the money in the air and laughed as it came down

The kids squealed with delight, grandma nearly died of fright

As we danced crazy through the night and spread the wealth around


But Donna soon became concerned, she said the money wasn’t earned

Besides which the coppers might be breathing down our necks

She’d been raised to sit up straight and say a prayer before she ate

To speak when she was spoken to and stay away from sex


How were we to know right then she’d later call her Uncle Ben

Sad to say her uncle was the local deputy

And bein’ such an upright man he took Donna by the hand

“To make it to the Promised Land, your duty’s plain to see.”


Now I am just an average Joe, I listen to the radio

I learn a bit from magazines and watchin’ the TV.

I don’t believe in mortal sin but when I heard she’d turned us in

I knew that she’d condemned us to the penitentiary


And so the lesson I have learned is money that you haven’t earned

Will get you into trouble if you take it recklessly

So if you think you’ll find a sack that you might wanna not give back

You’d better be more careful with the company you keep.


You’ll have to allow the Layabouts a little poetic license with the outcome there, since they wrote the song before Judge Gillis’ decision.

All of this of course has thrust Donna once more to the forefront and put her once again in the running for “Most Domesticated” for this year—but the year’s not over yet, and there are still some pretty strong contenders out there.