Grandma Bandit Holds Up SoCal Banks

Police are on the hunt for an elderly woman who has robbed four banks so far.

ByABC News via logo
March 30, 2009, 8:48 PM

March 31, 2009 — -- The face of the typical bank robber is young, male and often worn by the stresses of drug abuse. But as the weakening economy spreads desperation from New York to California, the face of bank robbery may be changing.

Meet Southern California's Grandma Bandit.

She's about 60 years old, a sturdy 5 feet 4 inches tall and speaks with a foreign accent. She works quickly, pulling stick-ups with a nervous energy that gets her out in a couple of minutes.

In bank surveillance video obtained exclusively by "Good Morning America," she wears a range of attire, from a turban to wigs to hooded sweatshirts. So far, she's robbed four banks -- two in one day -- since January 2008, the latest in December. And though she looks harmless, even sympathetic, she's nothing of the sort.

If you've seen the Grandma Bandit, call the FBI's Inland Regional Apprehension Team Tipline at (951) 248 6533.

"We have to assume that she's armed and dangerous," said Don Roberts, supervisory special agent with the FBI in Riverside, Calif. "We just don't' know what's going to happen, so we have to be careful."

No one knows yet what makes the Grandma Bandit rob banks -- or how long she may be at it. She's unusual not only for her age, but for her gender.

Female bandits commit only a small fraction of total bank robberies nationwide, though their numbers are on the rise: In the last 10 years, the percentage of female robbers has jumped from 2 percent to 6 percent of the total.

One reason for recent increases may be the weakening economy.

In May 2007, a woman named Joyce Banks, 56, and sporting a T-shirt with "I'm mad as hell" written on it, entered an Atlanta bank and asked a teller for $2,000. She was promptly arrested and confessed to the crime.

In December of that year, a woman named Valerie Harris, 51, robbed a bank in Northern California. She was convicted and sentenced to three years in prison.

According to authorities, both women said they were behind on their bills and desperate for the money.

If the Grandma Bandit is following their pattern, retired FBI bank robbery coordinator Bill Rehder said, she's hurting financially, too.