Witness helps foil a bank robbery


June 12, 1993|By Michael James | Michael James,Staff Writer

Doug Strouse knew something was amiss at the bank Monday morning. The man at the teller's window wore a flowery print dress and carried what looked like a bomb.

"I saw this strange-looking person at the commercial window, and the teller had a very perplexed look, one of total apprehension," recalled Mr. Strouse, 42. "I think my degree in organizational psychology helped. I was able to read the information and see that something was going down."

So began a bizarre encounter for Mr. Strouse -- the president of a downtown court-reporting and litigation services company -- who played a key role in thwarting the getaway of the bank robber's accomplice.

"I don't think of myself as a hero, just a citizen doing his civic duty," said Mr. Strouse, who ended up recovering a shopping bag filled with money after one of the robbers dropped it during a foot chase with police. "Still, it was unbelievable. You close your eyes and you wonder if it happened."

Mr. Strouse had gone to the Maryland National Bank in the first block of Light St. about 11 a.m. Monday to withdraw money when he saw the strange person at the teller's window. The man was wearing a bright springy-type" full-length dress, modest women's shoes (not pumps,) a grayish wig, and had a build that "just did not look like that of a woman," Mr. Strouse said.

"What caught my eye was the wig. It immediately reminded me of the annual fathers' skit we do for our daughters at Notre Dame Preparatory School," Mr. Strouse said. "The wig the guy in the bank was wearing looked just like one of the wigs a guy wore at last year's skit."

According to police, the robber put a supposed bomb -- which turned out to be harmless flares taped together around a clock -- onto the counter and handed the teller a note saying, "It's going to go off in 15 minutes." The teller put an undisclosed amount of BTC money into a bag and gave it to the robber, police said.

Mr. Strouse, who had been watching from the line of customers, said others in the bank were apparently unaware that the man in the dress was robbing the teller.

Mr. Strouse said he followed the robber out of the bank and continued to follow him discreetly, about three or four steps behind him.

The robber walked south on Light Street, then east on Redwood Street, where he met an accomplice who was wearing bright-yellow shorts and a blue-striped shirt, Mr. Strouse said. "They both crouched down and seemed to exchange bags. I was standing at the corner trying to act nonchalant," Mr. Strouse said.

The man in the dress then walked off in one direction while the accomplice, holding the bag of money, headed west on Redwood Street. "I decided to follow the person with the money," Mr. Strouse said. "I felt that was the most important thing."

"We walked about three blocks," Mr. Strouse said. "As he walked north on Calvert Street, I heard police sirens. . . . I went toward the cruiser approaching, flagged him down and yelled, 'Individual, yellow shorts, straight ahead!' "

The officer and several others pursued the suspect down Fayette Street, where he attempted to stash the money bag under a car. He was arrested moments later, while Mr. Strouse recovered the bag -- with $100 bills overflowing.

Another man was arrested minutes later after several Metro riders spotted him hurriedly trying to wriggle out of a dress on a train he boarded at Charles Center.

Robert W. Mallette III, 33, and Kevin Burrell, 32, both of Baltimore, have been charged with bank robbery.

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