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'Cowboy' Wanted in 11 Valley Bank Heists

May 17, 1990|JESSE KATZ | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A suspected bank robber known as the "Cowboy Bandit" struck the San Gabriel Valley again last week--his 11th holdup in five months, FBI officials said.

The man, whose nickname derives from his Western-style garb and the cowboy hat he often wears, is suspected of netting between $20,000 and $30,000 during the spree that began Jan. 6 in La Verne.

The latest robbery took place May 9 in Temple City at Security Pacific National Bank, whose branches have been the target of all the heists, FBI spokesman Jim Neilson said. Neilson would not specify how much money was taken.

In February, the bandit allegedly robbed branches in Colton and Covina. In March, he is suspected of holding up a branch in La Puente. In April, he hit branches in Temple City, San Gabriel, South Pasadena, Azusa, Altadena and Covina, federal authorities said.

In the holdup this month, he returned to the same Temple City branch he is suspected of robbing in April and allegedly approached the teller with a small handgun, demanding cash. As in the other heists, he worked quietly, waiting his turn in line so that no one other than the teller was aware of the robbery, Neilson said.

The suspect is described as a stocky white male in his late 50s, with a mustache and gray hair. He is about 5-10 or 5-11, and he is estimated to weigh about 180 or 190 pounds.

FBI officials say he is one of the most prolific local bank robbers. "At the present time, he's probably one of the bigger ones out there," Neilson said. "But we have a few of these guys. It's certainly not unusual to have a person rob that many banks in that period of time."

In the first four months of 1990, there were 603 bank robberies in the seven Southern California counties, from San Luis Obispo to Orange. The vast majority occurred in Los Angeles County, Neilson said.

That represents a sharp rise over 1989, when 1,440 bank robberies were recorded for the year. In 1988, there were 1,351, and in 1987, there were 1,305.

The increase is attributed to the expansion of bank branch networks, extended operating hours and the growth of the narcotics trade, which the FBI believes is linked to about 85% of all heists.

Ultimately, about 80% of all bank holdups are solved, Neilson said.

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