THOUSAND OAKS — Hoping to smoke out two men who shot and killed a 39-year-old bank teller at point-blank range Monday, authorities today expect to announce a reward that could top $100,000 for information leading to their arrest.
"Someone out there knows these men or has seen these men," said Bob Brooks, a chief deputy with the Ventura County Sheriff's Department. "That could be the information we need to break this case."
Frustrated by conflicting witness statements and descriptions of the robbers, investigators were heartened to learn late Tuesday that the Western League of Savings Institutions is planning to offer a reward--possibly in excess of $100,000--for information on the men who killed Monica Lynne Leech, a Camarillo mother of two children.
"We are in the process right now of coordinating the reward fund from our member organizations and some banks," said Kathy Wedeking, senior vice president for the group.
The league--an El Segundo-based association of about 70 savings and loans in California--has offered similar rewards in the past.
A $135,000 offer two years ago by seven California banks was instrumental in leading authorities to the youths who shot and killed a teller in Pomona.
The amount of the reward in the Thousand Oaks incident is expected to be announced early today, Wedeking said.
In addition to that reward, the Thousand Oaks City Council is also considering a $10,000 offer, and the local Crime Stoppers group has added $1,000 for information leading to an arrest.
The reward offers come as sheriff's deputies and FBI agents sift through the details of the crime and potential tips for clues to the whereabouts of the two masked robbers. Despite blanketing the city with more than 40 investigators and deputies, authorities have few leads on the two men--one white and one either black or dark-skinned. Both are described as being in their mid-20s, about 5 feet, 11 inches tall and last seen in a white sport utility vehicle with a license plate starting with "3T."
Deputies conducted a street-by-street search of the city Monday and canvassed businesses in the area of the robbery on Tuesday looking for anyone who may have seen the car or the robbers.
FBI agents have been comparing characteristics of this robbery with other holdups in Southern California, looking for cases with similar weapons or methods, said supervising agent Gary Auer of the FBI's Ventura office.
Two deputies on motorcycles slowly cruised along the sides of the Moorpark Freeway on Tuesday morning looking for anything that may have been thrown out of the car.
Although composite sketches of the suspects have been drawn, the sketches do not closely resemble one another. "We have four different witnesses and four different sketches," one investigator said in frustration.
Said another: "We're going to break this case through a snitch."
Callers phoned in dozens of leads to the sheriff's station in Thousand Oaks on Monday and Tuesday, reported Brooks, who expressed confidence that his team of investigators, working with the FBI, would solve the case.
"We'll solve this because we have the will to," he said, but added: "I'm not aware of any real hot leads as yet."
Officials believe that the robbers are experienced holdup artists who knew what they were doing when they robbed the small storefront bank.
"The way they announced themselves and took control of the situation leads one to believe that they were not amateurs," Brooks said.
Although they were in and out of the bank quickly, it did not appear that they had been casing the bank for very long and may have simply been looking for a business to rob when they noticed that there were no customers at the bank, he said.
"It has windows on each side, so that would have allowed them to observe everything in the bank," Brooks said.
A woman told authorities that she had seen a white sport utility vehicle matching the description of that used by the robbers carrying two men in construction hats and yellow jackets about two miles from the bank, five minutes before the holdup.
Authorities Tuesday gave this description of the fatal takeover-style robbery:
Before the men entered the bank, they parked their car about a block away and pulled nylon stockings over their faces.
They stormed into the bank with their guns drawn, yelling that they were robbing the bank.
After corralling the four employees and handcuffing Leech and one other worker, one robber jumped the teller counter and emptied the teller drawers of cash.
The employees were then hustled into a side room that contained a stand-alone safe and were ordered to put the money into a bag. They were then ordered to their knees, and according to sheriff's officials, Leech was shot in the back of the head, execution-style, for no apparent reason.
The robbers dashed out the front door, passing a customer on her way inside, and ran to their getaway car, described as a white sport utility vehicle--either a Ford Explorer or a Jeep. The same car was involved in a hit-and-run accident at the Hampshire Road onramp to the northbound Ventura Freeway, authorities said. The vehicle was last seen traveling north at high speed on the Moorpark Freeway near Avenida de los Arboles.