Thieves find best bait for night deposits $65,000 stolen with hook and line

November 11, 1992|By Sheridan Lyons | Sheridan Lyons,Staff Writer

Midnight anglers went fishing in the night depositories of at least four Baltimore County banks during the weekend and caught at least one big one.

More than $65,000 in cash and checks was stolen from the Maryland National Bank at Heaver Plaza in Lutherville. Employees of at least three other banks found fish hooks and line in their depository vaults, although nothing appeared to be missing, police said.

Employees of the Heaver Plaza bank in the 1300 block of York Road discovered the theft Monday afternoon when women from a local church came to verify the deposit of their congregation's Sunday offerings, sources said.

When the church's bag was nowhere to be found, bank officials checked with other frequent weekend depositors -- then called in police and the FBI.

After conferring with the head of the bank's security force, Maryland National spokesman Daniel G. Finney said, "Since 1975, as far back as the two of us go, this has never happened: a theft from a night deposit box."

Not all of the bags were taken, he said.

Officer Joseph C. Smith Jr., of the Cockeysville precinct, reported 18 zippered deposit pouches were taken from the locked night depository, "by unknown means but possibly with fishing line or adhesives." One bag, found at the scene, had been slit open by a sharp blade and emptied, he said.

There was no sign of tampering at the keyhole of the depository, indicating that the thieves had a key, police said, and the vault had not been opened from inside the bank from the time it closed Friday night until Monday morning.

The depository, used by businesses and others who want to deposit money after hours, is opened with a key. The pouches are put into a revolving opening of the vault, which rotates -- theoretically to prevent anything from being removed. On the next banking day, an employee unlocks the vault from inside, verifies the deposits and sends receipts to the customers.

Some of the checks taken from the Lutherville bank were found, loose, among the deposits at a nearby Chase Bank, Officer Smith said, but police weren't sure who had deposited them.

The illicit fishermen weren't so lucky elsewhere. Police spokesman E. Jay Miller said employees of a Nations Bank branch in the 6200 block of Baltimore National Pike found a broken fish hook and a section of nylon line in their night depository box.

"They don't know how many people might have deposited bags, so they don't know whether anything's missing," Mr. Miller said.

Two other banks, the First National Bank in Painters Mill and the Mercantile Bank at Joppa Road and Perring Parkway, also have reported finding fish hooks in their vaults since the weekend, he said.

In these two, he said, "nothing was taken, so apparently the system was not compromised."

In Baltimore City, police in the property crimes section said they weren't aware of any bank thefts by fishing pole -- saying their usual suspects prefer handguns.

Police, bank officials and vault manufacturers still hadn't figured out yesterday how the thieves got into the Lutherville depository. Some thought it might have been possible because the depository had an older-style internal mechanism. It was replaced yesterday with a newer model.

One such anti-theft device, with a clawed closing mechanism, includes "anti-fish fingers, . . . so you could possibly fish a line down, but not bring anything up," said Ed Schwartz, a service supervisor for the Jessup office of Mosler Inc., a vault manufacturer. He was unaware of any such thefts.

At rival Diebold Inc. in Canton, Ohio, spokeswoman Dianne Digianantonio said she had never heard of such a theft but observed, "Almost anything, with enough determination, can be broken into. From time to time, it's been a concern."

She added that "All of the after-hours depositories that we sell have theft-resistant features, and they have been certified by Underwriters' Laboratories."

At Maryland National, Mr. Finney said, "Our boxes are in compliance with all security regulations." He wasn't sure which type of vault the Lutherville branch had, noting that the bank has some 350 branches.

Meanwhile, Mr. Miller said, one other bank has reported a single missing pouch but isn't sure it was stolen.

He attributed reports of thefts at other banks to rapidly spreading rumors.

But more may be discovered, he said, because it will take several days before customers who made deposits realize that they haven't gotten their receipts.

He and bank officials refused to say or to speculate about how many vaults might be vulnerable -- expressing concern about today's Veteran's Day bank holiday. Mr. Miller also noted that most deposits are in non-negotiable checks.

"I don't want everybody getting out their 30-pound test line," he said.

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