Police said Tuesday they have arrested a man they suspect of being the "Mr. Magoo" bank robber, a bespectacled bandit who has held up at least 23 banks in Orange and Los Angeles counties since March.
The FBI coined the Magoo moniker, after the nearsighted cartoon character, because the robber wears very thick Coke-bottle-style prescription eyeglasses.
"We thought it was a disguise, but it turns out he wears them because he's legally blind and can't see without them," said Sgt. Ron Taber of the Torrance Police Department.
Police arrested 33-year-old Robert Michael Graham and his suspected getaway driver, Kraig Fujinaka, 30, of Long Beach, after watching them allegedly rob a Great Western Savings Bank in Long Beach on Tuesday.
Graham, a transient whose last known address was on Lincoln Park Avenue in Los Angeles, is believed to have hit banks from Garden Grove to San Luis Obispo in Central California, authorities said.
The latest Orange County robbery took place Sept. 12 in Santa Ana when a white man in his mid-30s wearing thick glasses made off with $238 from the Sanwa Bank on South Bristol Street, said Santa Ana police spokeswoman Maureen Thomas.
The string of 23 purported Mr. Magoo robberies does not approach the all-time record for the Los Angeles area, said FBI spokesman Fred Reagan. Edward C. Dodson was accused of robbing 64 banks over six months in 1983 and 1985.
But authorities said the Mr. Magoo bandit was remarkable for his feverish pace. Graham stands accused of robbing four banks in a single hour on March 30.
The next day, in Anaheim, the robber allegedly stole $3,000 to $4,000 from Home Savings of America on South Harbor Boulevard at 9:30 a.m., then lifted $3,300 from the Bank of Anaheim less than 40 minutes later, Anaheim Police Lt. Marc Hedgepeth said.
"Both places the eyeglasses were something that caught their attention," Hedgepeth said.
Graham is also suspected of the April 8 robbery of Home Savings of America in Garden Grove, Taber said.
"Sometimes he gives them a note, sometimes he threatens that he's got a gun, but he always has a conversation at the counter," Taber said.
Detectives in Torrance took a special interest in the case because seven of the "Mr. Magoo" robberies were committed in their city. After receiving a tip that Graham was working with Fujinaka, detectives began a regular sunrise-to-sunset surveillance outside Fujinaka's home a week ago, Torrance Police Lt. Dave Marsden said.
They hadn't seen anyone matching the "Mr. Magoo" description until Graham walked out of the home with Fujinaka Tuesday morning, Marsden said.
"We just said, 'Holy Cow!' " Marsden said. "That was a very pleasant surprise."
Unaware that police were tailing them, the pair rented a car in Long Beach, and drove to the Great Western Savings Bank, where Fujinaka waited outside as Graham held up the bank, Taber said. The two were arrested in the rented car about a mile away.
Both men were held without bail in the Torrance jail and were expected to be arraigned today.