FBI Hunts 'Grandpa Bandit' in Robbery Spree

He's old -- and authorities say you should consider him armed and dangerous.

Investigators in Tennessee and Georgia, led by the FBI, are hunting for a suspect they have nicknamed the "Grandpa Bandit," who they believe is behind a spree of bank robberies in two states over the last month-and-a-half.

A federal warrant was issued Friday for the arrest of Bobby Joe Phillips, 69, a day after he allegedly targeted the Tennessee Members First Federal Credit Union in Knoxville, Tenn. During that Nov. 1 robbery, according to Special Agent Gary Kidder of the FBI's Knoxville field office, Phillips had a handgun stuffed into the waist of his blue jeans as he demanded money from the teller.

"It's an escalation," Kidder said, describing the Thursday heist. "The first couple of robberies were straight note jobs, then he started saying he had a gun, and then he showed what appeared to be a gun."

Phillips, of Covington, Ga., is wanted in five bank robberies that began Sept. 20 in his hometown at the First Georgia Community Bank. Authorities say Phillips then struck the First Tennessee Bank in Knoxville on Oct. 1 and again on Oct. 12.

In both of those robberies, surveillance footage shows Phillips, a gray-haired white man with eyeglasses, handing a note to the teller before taking off with a bag of money.

Phillips then allegedly struck at the SunTrust Bank on Oct. 24 in Suwanee, Ga., Kidder said. A red Chevrolet S-10 standard cab pickup truck was seen in the area of that crime and may be connected to Phillips.

Last Thursday, Kidder said Phillips struck again. This time, witnesses told police, the suspect was wearing a ball cap, a large silver buckle and a handgun clearly tucked into his belt.

Police identified Phillips Friday after a federal magistrate issued a warrant for his arrest.

"It's pretty unusual," Kidder said of the nearly 70-year-old suspect. "We've been using the term 'Grandpa Bandit' because of his age."

Now that investigators have identified the suspect by name, Kidder said, they are optimistic that they will soon apprehend Phillips.

"A single bank robber has in the neighborhood of a 60 percent chance of getting caught," he said. "That goes up with multiple bank robberies, and once they're named it goes up even more."

Anyone with information about Phillips should call the FBI's Knoxville field office or Knoxville Police Department.

"You don't want people trying to play vigilante," Kidder said.

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