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'Crowbar robber' evades capture

In and out of banks in less than a minute, the man is responsible for a two-year crime wave, authorities say.

By CHRIS TISCH

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 22, 2000


A prolific bank robber who often wields a crowbar or hammer and threatens to kill the tellers he sticks up has been terrorizing Tampa Bay area banks for two years, springing at least 13 holdups in four counties, authorities said Wednesday.

The man, whom investigators are calling the "crowbar robber," began his crime wave on Jan. 20, 1999, in Manatee County. His string has hopscotched as far west as Sun City Center and as far north as Port Richey. The last robbery in the man's two-year blitz on banks was Dec. 13 in Dunedin.

"It's a long run," Pinellas County Sheriff's Office Sgt. Greg Tita said of the robber's streak. "And it would tell me that this is a very cautious robber."

Cautious, but not calm. The robber barges into banks, then barks orders and death threats that in some cases bring tellers to tears. He usually orders people to the ground, jumps the counter and grabs handfuls of cash. He has waved a dark semiautomatic handgun or a stainless steel revolver during some hold-ups.

But Tita said the brazen robber, who always wears gloves and a mask or stocking over his head, also is using his brains. It appears he spies on the banks until there are no customers inside. He is in and out of the bank in less than a minute, according to investigators.

He usually picks free-standing bank buildings, giving him some isolation from bustling areas. The robber has been seen riding a bike, and he chooses banks near shopping centers.

Tita said the robber may be pedaling the bike to a getaway car parked within the camouflage of a mall parking lot, then driving off to a nearby interstate.

The man usually strikes on a Wednesday or Thursday. Sheriff's Office criminal analysts say he is likely to strike again soon, most likely near Jan. 2 or Feb. 3, based on his track record.

It appears the robber has been a pro from the beginning, when he held up an American Bank in Ellenton. Carrying a crowbar, he "ordered everyone to the floor and went from drawer to drawer taking money," according to a Manatee County deputy's report.

Tita said deputies and local banks have been put on alert to keep an eye out for the robber. He said authorities fear the robber's threats of violence could be acted out in his next holdup.

"It does not appear to be veiled threats," Tita said. "It may be the next one that causes him to go over the edge or it may be the robbery where somebody tries to do something that maybe sets him off to take a more violent approach. We just hope nobody gets hurt."

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