FBI forces 'Grandad Bandit' into retirement

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The Independent US

He was ageing, bald and a bit pot-bellied, but the man whom the FBI dubbed the "Granddad Bandit" was, above all, brazen. For almost two years he meandered through 14 American states visiting bank branches and demanding wads of cash without so much as a false moustache or a pair of dark glasses.

Finally, after a 19-month investigation that at times seemed to be going nowhere, armed agents arrested a suspect on Wednesday after a six-hour stand-off at a home in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He was identified as Michael Francis Mara, who, though not in the best shape possible, turns out to be a not-quite-ancient 52 years old.

For a frustrated FBI, the arrest could not have come soon enough, assuming Mr Mara is their man. Just about all of the 25 banks robbed had handed over video footage of him carrying out his dastardly deeds. Because he never bothered with anything close to a disguise, bar an occasional baseball cap, there was no mistaking what he looked like. Yet in all those months, detectives were unable to identify him.

In the end, it was the public who solved the mystery after the FBI, resorting to a strategy usually reserved for more dangerous criminals, flashed images of him on some 2,000 digital billboards in 40 states. Someone in Virginia then came forward with information on Mr Mara and photographs matching the images from the banks.

In his alleged spree, Mr Mara was seemingly always methodical and never overly ambitious. According to the criminal complaint filed against him, he took the precaution of writing his demands on a note – initially for around $2,000 (£1,300) in bills, though over time that grew to $5,000 – and always asked for the note back. Leaving a handwriting sample behind is the most common mistake a bank robber will make.

"Give me $2,000 in large bills. You have one minute to comply. Hand me back my note," was the message scrawled on a deposit slipped handed to a teller in a bank in Richmond, Virginia, in December 2008. It was the first robbery attributed to the Granddad Bandit. And if he wasn't quite as elderly as the FBI thought, he was at least gentle.

While some cashiers reported watching him reach towards a pocket as if for a weapon, there is no evidence that he went into any of the banks armed and no one was hurt during any of his strikes. He targeted banks in states across the eastern side of the US, from Kansas to Virginia and from Florida to Texas, though he never robbed two banks in a row in the same state.

Prosecutors allege that Mr Mara's last robbery occurred as recently as this Tuesday in a bank in Charlotte, North Carolina. By then, however, detectives were already on to him, they said, thanks to the tip-off. He was taken into custody on Wednesday afternoon and was said to be co-operating with the investigation.

"We've got him," said Amanda Moran, the FBI Supervisory Special Agent who is in charge of bank robbery investigations across the country. "It's a great feeling. It was a lot of work for a lot of field officers. The public came out and really helped us." There is no information on Mr Mara's total alleged haul from all the banks he raided.

If robbing banks is a part of American lore, it is a tradition that has survived into the modern era: 5,900 bank hits are committed annually across the United States. And while The Granddad Bandit eschewed disguise, other robbers this year have made headline because of their get-ups. This summer a man wearing a burka robbed a bank in Maryland, while in Long Island a bank branch was struck by a man in flowing robes and a Darth Vader mask.