With year's end just days away, at least four serial bank robbers are still eluding FBI agents and hiking up Ventura County's total holdups in 1995.
"Serial robbers generally keep robbing until they get caught," said Gary Auer, FBI agent in charge in Ventura County. "Unless they are caught quickly, the numbers can go up in a real hurry. That's what happened in 1992 when we had 97 bank robberies."
So far this year there have been 47 robberies, compared to an annual average of 55 over the last decade.
The FBI has solved just 52% of the robberies this year, compared to its average of about 80%. Auer said he is confident several more robberies will be solved by early next year. Twelve bandits are in prison or awaiting trial for robbing 22 banks this year.
Geographically, Ventura was the hardest hit with 12 robberies, followed by Oxnard with 10, and nine in Thousand Oaks.
Another trend this year is that robbers increasingly are waving guns at customers and forcing them onto the floor. There have been eight of the so-called takeover robberies this year, by far the highest ever locally. Seven of the eight robberies have not been solved.
The crime's volatile nature concerns law enforcement officials.
"There's a much greater potential for violence because they are armed," Auer said.
However, just one shot was fired this year during a takeover--at a First Interstate Bank in Camarillo in May.
The only injury during a robbery occurred in September when a bandit slapped a teller in the face at a Bank of America branch in Thousand Oaks.
Auer said he suspects the takeover bandits are from south of the Ventura County border, and that makes identifying them harder. Local bandits are often nabbed when acquaintances, local police or probation officers see their photos in a newspaper or on television.
Although takeover robberies--with masked gunmen ordering patrons to the floor--make a big splash in the media, most robberies are far more prosaic.
Authorities say today's bank robber is more likely to be a note-passing local drug addict than a gun-toting Bonnie or Clyde of yesteryear.
One of this year's most notorious bandits, Robert Kenneth Porter of Casitas Springs, who was convicted of robbing six Ventura County banks in six weeks, fits that profile in more ways than one.
Porter--also known as the Fat Man because of his girth and the Taxi Cab Bandit because he twice fled in a livery car--never even pulled a gun. Instead, the 35-year-old unemployed plumber passed a handwritten note to a teller announcing he had a gun and wanted money.
Tellers are taught to avoid aggravating a situation by complying with a bandit's demands.
"The average robber is 25 to 35 years old, has a prior record, is unemployed and needs money for drugs," Auer said. Porter had a costly addiction too, gambling.
Porter was a slave to bandit fashion as well.
"They all seem to wear baseball hats and sunglasses," said FBI Agent Larry Dick. "Ray-Bans are popular."
Note-passing crooks can be polite. "Several bank robbers said 'Thank you' and 'Have a nice day,' " Dick said. "A few even apologized."
And some are more literate than others.
Some bandits write down enough instructions for a short novella. Others can't spell something as simple as "this is a bank robbery," Auer said.
No one month is more popular than another with bandits, Auer said. "It's a myth that more banks are robbed around Christmas," he said. "They're not robbing to buy Christmas presents, they're looking to get money to buy drugs."