Cashiers at fast-food joints around the San Fernando Valley won't soon forget one dirty-blond-haired transient who came to their counters and ordered a meal to go. And it's not just because of his malodorous scent, according to police.
A man identified Monday as the "Stinky Bandit" also pulled a blue-steel pistol on dozens of restaurant employees and ordered them to fill his paper food bag with cash from the open register. In many cases, police said, the thief escaped with more than $100, and sometimes a lot more.
After an intensive investigation, police said they have arrested a man suspected of robbing between 30 and 50 fast-food restaurants and small businesses since late December alone.
Ronnie A. Thornburg, 34, a transient heroin addict whose last known address was in Palmdale, was arrested Friday afternoon as he left a pizza parlor, police said at a news conference Monday at the Los Angeles Police Department's Devonshire station.
Although he did not hold up the pizza parlor, police said Thornburg has admitted committing robberies daily for more than two months to feed a drug habit. Thornburg, also dubbed the "Hungry Bandit," was recently released from state prison after a conviction on narcotics charges, said Lt. Kyle Jackson. He said police recognized the suspect by his description--both physical and olfactory.
"Many of the victims," Jackson said, "described the suspect as having a strong, foul body odor."
Thornburg's arrest climaxed a task force investigation headed by detectives from the LAPD's Devonshire and West Valley divisions and the department's specialized major-crimes task force, known as Covert Operations Battling Recidivist Activities, or COBRA.
Police had been looking for a bandit matching Thornburg's description for weeks, and they finally got a break last Wednesday when witnesses to a holdup in Van Nuys provided a vehicle description and license number. COBRA officers were dispatched throughout the Valley. At 1:30 p.m. Friday, one of them noticed a man getting out of the suspected getaway car and entering the pizza parlor, but the officer waited to arrest him until reinforcements arrived, said Sgt. Paul Mattson, the COBRA commander.
Mattson and Jackson said the undercover officer who spotted Thornburg entering the restaurant did not immediately know he was the suspect. The officer waited for assistance because he was alone and in plainclothes, and the suspect was believed to be armed and dangerous, Jackson said.
"Certainly, from a safety standpoint, for an officer in plainclothes it would be too dangerous to try to arrest the individual, so he was allowed to enter the location, and he was arrested on the way out," Jackson said.
Thornburg is scheduled to be arraigned today in San Fernando Municipal Court.