In what authorities described as one of the most unusual robberies in recent memory, a man wrested a bag of cash from an armored truck guard and escaped down a creek with an inner tube after using decoys summoned from a Craigslist ad to distract witnesses.
Police from the small town of Monroe, Wash., are still wondering how he managed to pull it off. They were on the scene two minutes after the call came in Tuesday, but have not found the robber, who shed his clothes as he ran toward the local creek and, according to witness statements, escaped with an inner tube.
Police spokeswoman Debbie Willis said the robbery was unusual both in preparation and execution.
"The Craigslist thing is very weird," she said. "Hopefully, that will give us some clue as to where they are."
Willis said an ad was posted on the free classified advertising site, asking for 15 to 20 men to show up near the Bank of America on Old Owen Road at 11:15 a.m. Tuesday to work on a maintenance project called "Restore Monroe."
The men were to wear dark blue shirts and surgical masks covering their noses and mouths. In return, they'd be paid about $28 per hour, which Willis said is well above the standard for that kind of work.
Mitch Ruth, a councilman and manager of his family's real estate businesses, was sitting in his office talking on the phone shortly after 11 a.m., staring directly at the Brink's armored truck that was parked in front of the freestanding Bank of America at a local shopping center.
"A guy walks across the street, seemed very normal," Ruth said.
He was wearing a blue, long-sleeved T-shirt, sunglasses and a light blue baseball cap, his long shaggy hair tied into a ponytail.
Ruth said he was carrying a two- or three-gallon spray tank and thought the man was just one of the shopping center's grounds workers. But when the truck driver got out of the armored vehicle carrying a large canvas bag, the man broke into a run.
Ruth said the man dropped his spray tank and held up a smaller spray can, about the size of a hairspray bottle, and blasted the guard in the face with what police said was Mace or pepper spray.
The blast, which Ruth said extended several feet behind the guard's head, gave the man the opportunity to snatch the canvas bag, rip out the plastic bag containing the cash, and take off.
The Brink's guard hit with the pepper spray received medical treatment at the scene.
Police would not release the amount of cash stolen from the Brink's truck, but Willis said it was "a large amount."
Seeing him run toward his office, Ruth -- who was on the phone with 911 by then -- gave chase, watching the man toss off his hat, revealing short dark hair underneath.
He lost him as the man entered the woods leading to the creek.
"Tasseled loafers, I guess, aren't the best in dirt and wet grass, anyways," Ruth said of his own footwear.
That's just as well for Ruth, who has been chastised by everyone from the police to his wife for running after the robber.
"I've been teased just unmercifully for this," he said.
Willis said police found the man's shirt and pants. Witnesses reported seeing him with a yellow inner tube, which police found about 200 yards down the creek that feeds into the larger Skykomish River.