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Bank Robber Strikes Twice in a Single Day

Authorities search for 'plaid shirt bandit' who is suspected in a series of heists dating to the '70s.

June 08, 2005|Wendy Thermos | Times Staff Writer

A convicted bank robber, nicknamed "the plaid shirt bandit" and believed responsible for as many as 50 bank robberies over the past 30 years, is the target of an intense search by authorities after allegedly striking again last week in La Canada Flintridge.

Michael Mason Wolke, 58, of Montrose is suspected of accosting a woman about 2 p.m. Friday after she made a large withdrawal from a Glendale bank, then, minutes later, pulling off a heist in La Canada Flintridge, authorities said.

"His actions were very brazen, in broad daylight," said Glendale Police Det. Keith Soboleski.

Police issued a statewide all-points bulletin for Wolke, described as armed and dangerous and likely to strike again.

FBI Special Agent Andrew Forristel said his agency is aiding in the search for Wolke, who is believed to have carried out dozens of bank robberies since the early 1970s and has been arrested numerous times on suspicion of assault, narcotics offenses, burglary and robbery. He has served nearly 16 years in federal prison for two separate bank robbery convictions.

Authorities believe Wolke staked out a Washington Mutual branch in the 600 block of Brand Boulevard in Glendale on Friday. After watching a female customer withdraw money at the teller window, Wolke followed her to the parking lot, Soboleski said. He then allegedly knocked the woman to the ground and tried to grab her purse.

"Luckily, three good Samaritans scared him off" when she screamed for help, Soboleski said. The robber fled in a pickup truck, but one of the rescuers wrote down the license plate number of the vehicle, which was registered to Wolke.

Half an hour later, wearing different clothes, Wolke walked into a Washington Mutual branch in the 700 block of Foothill Boulevard in La Canada Flintridge, just north of Glendale, Soboleski said.

Security camera videotape shows a man in a plaid shirt, whose face is clearly visible, appearing to hold a weapon and reaching over the counter to take an undisclosed amount of cash from a teller.

Wolke left a note for his wife at their home in Montrose and has not been seen since Friday, Soboleski said. "He said some things had gone wrong," Soboleski said. "He apologized to her and said he would not be back for a while."

Police did not know how Wolke has been supporting himself since he was last released from prison in late 1999.

According to authorities, Wolke was arrested for bank robbery in 1976 and served six years of a 10-year federal prison sentence. In 1984, he was charged with bank robbery in Los Angeles and served about 10 years of an 18-year sentence.

When indicted in 1984, Wolke was wanted for dozens of bank robberies in California, said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller. He served a year in prison in 1998-1999 for a parole violation.

"He only knows one way of making money, and that's robbery," said Glendale Police Sgt. Tom Lorenz, adding that Wolke faces a possible three-strikes conviction in the current case that could send him to prison for life.

Wolke is white, 6 feet tall, 200 pounds and has gray hair, brown eyes and extensive tattoos on his arms.

His silver 2001 Chevy S-10 pickup has a cracked windshield, an Oakland Raiders sticker on the back window and license plate 6P94589.

Anyone who sees Wolke should call 911 and not approach him, officials said.

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