After 31 bank robberies, 'El Solitario' is caught

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Spain's most wanted man, suspected of robbing 31 banks and killing three men over 14 years, was finally caught by police yesterday in the Portuguese coastal town of Figueira da Foz.

The serial bank robber, known as "El Solitario" ("The Loner") for his habit of operating without accomplices, owed his long criminal career to a succession of crude but effective disguises that enabled him to foil the scrutiny of security cameras.

Identified for the first time yesterday, Jaime Giménez Arce, 56, was armed and carrying items of disguise when caught in Portugal, where he was apparently planning his next attack. That marked a departure for the man who has robbed banks throughout Spain.

El Solitario's modus operandi was always the same: he would acquaint himself with his chosen bank's security procedures; then, disguised with a dark wig and false beard, armed with a pistol or a machinegun, and with his fingertips covered with sticky tape to avoid leaving prints, he approached the counter just before lunchtime on Thursday or Friday, when the tills were stuffed with cash.

He targeted bank branches in small towns, calculated how long his operation could take before the police arrived, and usually he treated cashiers politely. Recently he walked with a limp and carried a metal crutch that diverted attention when metal detectors registered the weapons hidden under his clothes.

During the course of his criminal career he amassed about €600,000 (£400,000). His biggest single haul was €108,000 (£72,000). He is suspected of murdering at least three people: two paramilitary civil guardsmen in Castejón, Navarra in June 2004, and a local policeman in Vall d'Uixó, near Castellón, in May 2000.

Police in May issued images of El Solitario caught on security cameras. They warned the public that he was extremely dangerous, and set up a special hotline.

Police held a grudging admiration for the fugitive since he carried out what is believed to be his first attack in 1993. He was a skilled marksman which suggested he had received military training.