Bank Robbers in Disguise: Color Them Bad

Criminals get creative with dress of choice, police find value in nicknames.

July 24, 2010, 1:08 PM

July 24, 2010 — -- It's a strange trend in the crime world: Bank robbers are now getting dressed in outlandish get-ups. But police don't seem to have a problem with their dress of choice.

In fact, they're the ones giving these bad guys catchy monikers because it makes it easier to nab them.

Armed with flowers, the "Bouquet Bandit" was arrested Wednesday, July 21, for allegedly knocking over a bank in New York.

Also that night in Oklahoma, police say the "Underwear Bandit" held up a McDonald's drive-through.

A police chief in Midwest City, Okla., described the alleged robber as "a middle-aged female wearing a blonde wig and possibly underwear on her face."

And Friday prosecutors in Boston charged Rolando Galla, 28, dressed in distinctive clothing and a rakish hat, with bank robbery. Authorities dubbed him the "Backstreet Bandit" because he dressed like he was a member of the Backstreet Boys.

There are so many robbers running around these days that you had to go all out, such as the Darth Vader bandit, who robbed a bank in Setauket, N.Y., on July 22, just to get noticed. He's still on the loose.

So are these creative criminals on the rise? Law enforcement officials say they aren't, but the practice of nicknaming them is.

"We have over 200 bank robberies a year," Ross Rice, an FBI agent in Chicago, said. "It's much easier for the investigators to refer to somebody by their serial name rather than the guy that robbed five banks."

And it's also a good way to grab headlines. An old man robbing a bank may not get your attention, but dub him the "Geezer Bandit" -- like the man accused of robbing 11 banks in San Diego this year -- and the media pays attention.

The "Geezer Bandit," whose real name is Arthur Williams, of Gadsden, Ala., was even fodder for late-night humor on "The Tonight Show."

Jay Leno cracked, "Guy in his 70s says he's going to keep robbing banks until he finds one with money in it."

The man, believed to be in his 70s, died in a car crash in Maryland on July 16, after a two-and-a-half-mile mile chase that led to his barreling into a tree a few days after attempting to rob a store, with his oxygen tank alongside him.

More Media Attention Means More Pressure on Criminal

That "Bouquet Bandit" who approached a teller's window with a large bouquet of flowers? Edward Pemberton was arrested within two weeks of his story -- and his nickname -- going public.

Even New York Police Commissioner Ray Kelly made a reference to the bandit's catchall nickname when he announced the alleged robber's arrest on Wednesday, to put him in context of other criminal elements in the city.

But some say it's a double-edged sword, that turning a petty criminal into a media star can boost a criminal's confidence.

Like the recently nabbed so-called "Barefoot Bandit," with his nickname, Colton Harris-Moore, 19, became a folk hero for not robbing banks but for stealing boats and planes. He has his own Facebook fan page, and police believe he had help from his online supporters.

But with a 75 percent arrest rate on bank robbery, the FBI probably won't change its practice anytime soon.

The FBI said that 80 percent of people who rob bank are first-timers, so there are a lot of amateurs out there who will try again in ingenious disguise.

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