A gang of four robbers armed with a sawed-off shotgun and automatic weapons held up a bank in the Catonsville area yesterday in the latest in a series of armed robberies that have kept the police in Baltimore and Baltimore County scrambling.
Details of yesterday's robbery of the Household Bank in the 5500 block of Baltimore National Pike matched the techniques used in a string of armed robberies in the city and county since late October.
It was the second holdup in less than 24 hours that bore the same trademarks: a liberal display of weapons -- usually a shotgun among them -- and the swift and efficient completion of the robbery.
About 10:30 p.m. Sunday, four men -- three armed with shotguns -- forced five employees of a McDonald's Restaurant in the 2100 block of East Joppa Road in the Carney area to lie on the floor. The gunmen then cleaned out the restaurant's cash drawers and safe, police said.
But one aspect of yesterday's holdup made the supposedly efficient robbers who have terrorized area banks, supermarkets and fast-food restaurants look like the gang that couldn't shoot straight: When the gunmen emerged from the bank after taking an undisclosed amount of cash, their getaway car was nowhere to be found.
"Where's the [expletive] car?" one of the robbers shouted when he came out of the bank, according to a report given the police by a witness.
The gunmen then stopped a passing pickup truck, forced the driver to get out and tried to make their escape in it. But the pickup had a faulty transmission, and the robbers abandoned it less than a mile away.
Most important, perhaps, was that cameras inside the bank were on during the robbery. Baltimore County police said the FBI was studying videotapes of the crime last night in hopes of getting a clear description of the holdup men.
"It's hard to say if it's the same gang or not, there have been so many" robberies, said Officer Steven C. Hannon of the county police, who investigated the Household robbery. "Everybody has the impression that this is one gang, but these could be look-alikes or copycats. We don't know."
Sgt. Stephen R. Doarnberger, a county police spokesman, said the robbery occurred at 3:42 p.m. when the four men entered the bank, which is in the Ridgeway Shopping Center near St. Agnes Lane. One of the men, armed with a sawed-off shotgun and wearing a ski mask over his face, vaulted the bank counter and ordered bank tellers to empty four cash drawers into a blue, nylon athletic bag.
The three others -- one armed with a handgun described as a 9mm automatic -- stood in the bank lobby and prevented about 20 customers and bank employees from leaving. After about 10 minutes, the gang made off with an undisclosed amount of cash. None of the employees or customers was harmed or robbed of personal possessions.
Things began to go wrong for the robbers when they rushed out of the bank's front door, where they waited briefly in the parking lot for a getaway car that never came. The police said the four men then ran across the parking lot and commandeered a pickup truck from a passing motorist, ordered him out of the vehicle and then drove away.
The motorist, whom the police refused to identify, was unhurt. He told the police that one of the men flashed an Uzi submachine gun before taking the truck.
The pickup truck was ditched by the suspects at Stamford Road. No arrests were made.
The string of robberies has perplexed the police, who have made a number of arrests without halting the holdups of fast-food restaurants, convenience stores, banks and other businesses. The police are convinced at least some of the robberies have been committed by "copycat" gangs, but they are uncertain just how many robbers they are looking for.
Baltimore County police arrested one man for a food market robbery about two weeks ago and have obtained a warrant charging another man with three robberies, including that in Pikesville last week in which a motel manager was wounded.