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Area incidents reflect wider trend

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Posted: Wednesday, October 3, 2007 10:00 pm

When a man robbed a Woodbridge bank Tuesday afternoon, one thing stood out as law enforcement agencies began gathering information: He was wearing a white afro wig.

That description, along with the man's gray jacket, led authorities to make a likely connection with a Stockton robbery about half an hour earlier. That suspect had also worn a not-so-common white afro wig.

The clown-haired bank robber wasn't the first to hit up a costume shop before robbing a bank, and he joins a long list of suspects with unique disguises.

Take, for instance, the man who taped tree branches to himself in July, then robbed a New Hampshire bank.

The man gained instant fame across the country. "Robber branches out, gets nipped," read a Chicago Sun-Times headline announcing an arrest.

Even police couldn't help but comment. "He really went out on a limb," a Manchester sergeant told the media.

Or there's the man who last month donned a surgical mask and put some large goggles on his head before robbing a Pennsylvania bank.

FBI agents gather information on thousands of bank robberies every year, and they welcome unique attributes, said Sacramento-based Special Agent John Cauthen.

In fact, the FBI itself gives serial bank robbers catchy names, hoping to attract media attention that will lead the public to take a second look at suspect photos. After all, who wouldn't be intrigued by the names of "Grandpa Bandit" and "Ponytail Bandit," two Sacramento-area bank robbers?

A man wore a hard hat during a robbery at Provident Bank in Crofton, Maryland. (Courtesy photo)

A man suspected in robbing four Chicago banks earlier this year didn't stand out, in terms of wigs or masks. But his "Paint By Numbers Bandit" nickname might make the public pay attention long enough to read about his description and learn that he usually wears paint-spattered clothing, the FBI reasoned.

It's humorous and the man was captured, but not all bank robberies end peacefully. Last year, one bank employee, one guard, one law enforcement officer and 10 suspects died during robberies, according to the FBI. Another 129 people were injured, including 75 bank employees and 17 customers.

And plenty of people are traumatized when gun-wielding robbers storm banks, make threats and cause pandemonium. Many only present demand notes, but surveillance photos from across the country show plenty of guns.

In February, a Lodi credit union employee was hospitalized after she was pistol whipped.

Most bank robberies these days don't lead to roving gun battles, as they did in the 1930s. A number of bandits gained notoriety then, and some of them also got nicknames, a practice that continues today.

In 1934, a 25-year-old man named George Nelson gained notoriety and became known as Baby Face Nelson because of his youthful appearance and 5-foot-4-inch height. He died later that year after a gun battle with FBI agents.

Many robbers' names are not known, but they still get catchy titles.

In August, a man sported a cowboy hat when he robbed a Long Island bank, and he was soon dubbed the "Cowboy Bandit" by media there.

A year earlier the FBI had bestowed the "Cowboy Bandit" nickname on a man who robbed a Portland bank.

Another 2006 Portland bank robber was dubbed "The Golfer," because he wore a blue and green golf shirt when he robbed a bank Sept. 16, according to the FBI.

Non-law enforcement people get in on the action, as a fast Internet search will reveal. After all, what blogger could resist laughing at a goofy robber's costume?

For instance, the "Spelling Bee Dropout Bandit" got the attention of a blogger on bankersonline.com in January 2004. The Long Island suspect got the name from his poorly written demand note: "This is a robery, hand over cash fast no one get hurt."

Last year, 918 bank robberies and burglaries were committed in California, or 12.6 percent of the nation's 7,272 bank robberies. That total was up slightly from 6,957 in 2005.
Nationwide, bank robberies accounted for 2.1 percent of all 2006 robberies, according to crime statistics the FBI released last week.
All told, robbers got away with $70.3 million in cash, or nearly $10,000 per robbery. Law enforcement recovered about $9.5 million of the stolen cash.
Of 9,010 suspects identified in robberies, the largest group were black males, totaling 4,137. White males followed, with a total of 3,275.
Banks were most commonly robbed between 9 and 11 a.m. on Tuesdays, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesdays and from 3 to 6 p.m. on Fridays.
Firearms were involved 1,855 times last year, and demand notes were used slightly less than 4,000 times.
Bank robberies are investigated by both local agencies and the FBI. Local law enforcers are the first to respond and take the main reports. Most banks and credit unions are federally insured, and in 1934 it became a federal crime to rob a bank.
Source: FBI.

The blogger noted that a $25,000 reward would probably lead the suspect's own family to turn him in.

In several areas, the FBI has launched its own Web sites devoted to suspects.

LABankRobbers.org shows a variety of surveillance photos, including a man who left his motorcycle helmet on while robbing a bank last month.

BankBandits.org, which focuses on robberies in the Washington, D.C. and Maryland areas, also shows a number of photos. A motorcycle helmet-wearing man is among the suspects, as is a man wearing a yellow hard hat.

In some cases it pays off: In June, the Los Angeles division of the FBI announced the arrest of the "Goofy Hat Bandit," saying he had robbed 39 banks in Southern California in the past two years. In most cases, he wore a goofy hat, including fedoras, baseball caps and fishing hats.

A man in Englewood, Colo., didn't wear a crazy costume when he robbed a bank in September, but he did have a unique method: He presented a teller a demand note that had been written on one of his own checks. Though he'd blacked out the name on the checks, FBI agents could still see the name, and soon tracked him down.

In San Francisco, a man was arrested on a bank robbery charge in February a week after being released from federal custody.

Cops caught him because surveillance video showed that he was wearing a Members Only jacket, which he'd worn a week earlier when a probation officer took his photo.

Sometimes even the most basic of disguises will stick in memories.

Students at St. Anne's School in Lodi likely still remember an April 2005 take-over robbery at the bank south of their school. What the students remember most: the fact that their school was locked down, and that the three robbers left a trail of red ski masks as they fled through the neighborhood.

Contact reporter Layla Bohm at layla@lodinews.com.

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  • posted at 4:19 am on Fri, Oct 5, 2007.


    Here I go again, questioning myself.

  • posted at 5:07 pm on Thu, Oct 4, 2007.


    Ive grown up in Lodi this new generation is not too bright...AS you can tell

  • posted at 12:59 pm on Thu, Oct 4, 2007.


    This guy is not from Lodi.

  • posted at 12:58 pm on Thu, Oct 4, 2007.


    Lodian 6:50am: Really?

  • posted at 12:55 pm on Thu, Oct 4, 2007.


    Not so Native- you are a bit misinformed. As a 5th generation Lodian I hardly know anyone anymore. I'm in my 40's and back 20+ years ago that was true, but not anymore. Sure, I can & do see people throughout town but not like the gool ol daze. It's not a bad thing, just the paving over of the best soil in the valley.

  • posted at 10:43 am on Thu, Oct 4, 2007.


    Lodi is such a small town, and everyone knows everyone, that it is IMPERATIVE that you wear a disguise lest someone ask you "Hey, how's the family?" whilst sticking them up!

  • posted at 10:43 am on Thu, Oct 4, 2007.


    The REAL Funny part is .. the guy wearing the "afro" wig was later arrested .. his natural hair style??? an afro ... apparently, a not-so-clever disguise.

  • posted at 8:39 am on Thu, Oct 4, 2007.


    You are very welcome Uncle Buck.

  • posted at 7:14 am on Thu, Oct 4, 2007.


    Delta- thanks for a good laugh! I almost spit out my coffee reading that one!

  • posted at 3:52 am on Thu, Oct 4, 2007.


    Looks like the Village People need some cash.

  • posted at 1:50 am on Thu, Oct 4, 2007.


    Wearing a disguise is a good idea, it helps hide your identity.



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