White Man Used Lifelike Black Mask to Evade Arrest in Robberies

Cincinnati police mistakenly arrested black man before uncovering ploy.

ByABC News
December 1, 2010, 5:01 PM

Dec. 2, 2010— -- After a string of robberies in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area earlier this year, police arrested an African-American man who'd been picked out of a photo line-up by several of the victims and identified by his mother, who thought she recognized her son in a bank surveillance photo shown on TV.

But it turns out the man didn't rob any banks at all. The real culprit was a white Polish immigrant with a realistic, Hollywood-style mask.

Conrad Zdzierak, 30, pleaded guilty Monday to one act of aggravated robbery and five robberies in Hamilton County Common Pleas Court. He faces up to 35 years in prison and deportation back to Poland.

He was arrested in April after a girlfriend encountered the mask and a pile of ink-stained cash, and called police, his attorney, Christopher McDowell, told ABC News.

"I've represented people who've robbed banks before. I've represented people who've worn masks before. But I've never represented someone who wore a mask that was this nice, so to speak," McDowell said, explaining how authorities detained the wrong man.

"There is a guy who looks exactly like the mask," he said.

Hamilton County authorities have not revealed the name of the wrongly accused man.

Authorities say Zdzierak stole around $10,000 in robberies at four banks, a credit union and a CVS pharmacy in March and April. Surveillance photos depict the robber as a black man with sunglasses, wearing a hooded sweatshirt.

Several of the store clerks picked the same African-American man out of a police photo lineup, McDowell said, leading authorities to arrest a man that was not Zdzierak.

McDowell said his client purchased the realistic silicone mask from SPFXmasks in California.

The company's website describes the masks as "movie quality" and says they "look and behave like real flesh and muscle."

Zdzierak, 30, originally emigrated from Poland to Florida. He later moved to Ohio, McDowell said.

Asked about his client's motivation for the robberies, McDowell said "we'll present evidence of mental illness on his part" during the sentencing hearing on Jan. 7.