A 50-year-old fugitive wanted in connection with the 1987 stabbing death of his wife in Prince George's County and a four-year string of Baltimore County bank robberies has been captured in Las Vegas following a bank robbery there, authorities said.
Charles Wilson Chester, whose last known address was in Harrisburg, Pa., was arrested shortly after 9:30 a.m. yesterday when officers spotted him in front of a convenience store on Sunset Road in Las Vegas after a bank robbery.
Chester, also known as Roland Smith, has been charged with federal bank robbery with a deadly weapon in Las Vegas. He is being held in lieu of $20,000 bail, a spokeswoman at the Clark County Detention Center in Las Vegas said today.
The former insurance salesman is also being held on two detainers that would automatically keep him in jail if he were to make bail on the most recent bank robbery charge.
An FBI spokesman said the various prosecutors who want the suspect will have to decide where he will be tried first and on what charges. "The decision-making process on this could take weeks," the spokesman said. "There are two U.S. attorneys and a state prosecutor in Prince George's County, Maryland who are trying to iron this out."
In addition to federal bank robbery charges, Chester is also charged by the state with robbing the Mercantile Bank, 7000 Security Blvd. Sept. 22, 1989, Sgt. Stephen Doarnberger, spokesman for the Baltimore County Police, said today.
He said he did not know the county prosecutor's position on bringing Chester to trial.
Chester and his car matched the descriptions of an armed robber who took an undisclosed amount of money from First Western Savings at 9:30 a.m. yesterday, Las Vegas police said. A 1991 blue Chevrolet Camaro matching the description of the getaway car was spotted at the store 15 minutes after the robbery, police said. Police and FBI arrived, sealed off the area and arrested Chester as he walked outside the store, authorities said.
In the car, police found a .357 Magnum revolver, a semiautomatic pistol, clothes similar to those worn by the robber and money believed to have been stolen during the bank robbery, according to an FBI spokes man in Baltimore.
Chester has been wanted in Prince George's County since the June 8, 1987, stabbing death of his wife, Aster Belaynek Chester, 33.
Her body was found in the kitchen of the couple's Largo home after relatives reported they hadn't seen her in several days. Prince George's police obtained a fugitive warrant for Chester from the FBI.
Chester is also a suspect in as many as 20 bank robberies that began the day after the woman was murdered and continued until April of this year, according to James Dearborn, an FBI spokesman in Baltimore. "It took four years, but at least we got him," Dearborn said.
Meanwhile, the day after his wife's death, police said Chester, then-co-owner of Chester and Williams Associates Insurance Co. Washington D.C., began robbing banks. Dearborn said 15 to 20 banks, mostly in Baltimore County, were robbed by a well-dressed man wearing a fedora, who carried a briefcase and a large gun. The robberies netted an average of $2,000.
The mustachioed robber, who also wore sunglasses, usually made everyone lie on the floor and told them somebody was watching the bank from the outside, authorities said.
At least one of the robberies occurred in Prince George's County and there may have been three or four in the Frederick area, Dearborn said. But the robber focused on Baltimore County.
"Why Baltimore County, we haven't any idea," Dearborn said.
By matching bank surveillance photos with a photo of the murder suspect, FBI agents determined in January 1989 that the murder fugitive and the bank robber were the same man. Since then, Chester's photo has been published in wanted posters in post offices across the country. His story was also featured on the popular crime show "Unsolved Mysteries."
Dearborn said the last bank robbery attributed to the well-dressed man occurred April 10, 1991, at First National Bank on West Ridgely Road. After that, he disappeared, Dearborn said. Authorities traced him to Harrisburg, Pa., where he was reported driving a blue Camaro with Pennsylvania plates. However, the robber left after his photo was published in a local newspaper, Dearborn said. Authorities believe he went to Harrisburg so he could commute to the Baltimore area to rob banks. "The man is quite intelligent," Dearborn said. "He just didn't make a lot of mistakes."
However, the Camaro, which was registered to Chester's alias Ronald Smith, may have been one.
Las Vegas FBI agents knew about the Chester case and thought unusual for a car with Pennsylvania plates to be in Las Vegas.
Authorities identified Chester through fingerprints.
The FBI said the investigation isn't over. "Our job will be to find out what he's been up to the last couple of months," Dearborn said.