No lie, `Dishonest Abe' makes robbery rounds

Disguised as Lincoln, bearded bandit steals cash from 9 stores

November 05, 1999|By Candus Thomson and Kris Antonelli | Candus Thomson and Kris Antonelli,SUN STAFF

ROCKVILLE -- An armed bandit who disguises himself as Abraham Lincoln has held up nine suburban Maryland stores in the past seven months.

Dressed in a stovepipe hat, long dark coat and fake beard, the bandit has made his mark in Howard, Anne Arundel, Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Police call him "Dishonest Abe."

"We've had serial robbers, but dressing up is not something that happens often," says Montgomery County police spokeswoman Joyce Barrow.

Peter A. Gullotta, of the FBI office in Baltimore, says most robbers don't bother with a disguise, but an outrageous one can distract a victim from taking note of any details.

While this Abe might get points for creativity, he's probably hastening his capture, says a nationally known criminologist.

"It's not what you'd call a good technique," says Richard Moran, a professor of sociology at Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley, Mass. "Most robberies are successful because they contain an element of surprise. Once this guy gets out of his car, he can't surprise anybody. He can't even stop in traffic with the beard on."

Abe's inaugural appearance was April 29 at a Friendly's restaurant in Kings Contrivance Village Center in Columbia. He walked into the shop between the lunch rush and dinner crowd, opened his coat to show the cashier a gun and took money.

He drove off in a decidedly unpresidential, stolen blue Camry, which was found about a block from the restaurant.

Exactly two months later, he robbed an Exxon station on Washington Boulevard in the Prince George's portion of Laurel.

Two days later, on July 1, he struck again in broad daylight at one of Montgomery County's busiest intersections. A clerk at a Freestate gas station in Wheaton told police a Lincolnesque man helped himself to money from the cash register and drove off.

The next day, he hit an Amoco station in Falls Church, Va., followed by the Parkway Exxon on Fort Meade Road in Anne Arundel on July 14.

Switching from gas stations, Abe robbed the Linens and Things store on Cherry Hill Road in College Park on July 22, then waited exactly two months before visiting the Waccamaw pottery store at Baltimore-Washington Parkway and Route 198.

By his next appearance -- in Howard County Oct. 7 -- Abe had a running mate, described by police as a male, 5 feet 10, dressed in a gray suit, gloves and fake beard. The pair robbed the Upton's store on Dobbin Road in Howard County.

In real life, Abe could be an otherwise upstanding citizen holding down a steady, legitimate job, police say. "He could just be supplementing his income," says Sgt. Karen Shinham, head of the Howard County Police Department's Robbery Unit.

Abe has been quiet and polite in the Howard robberies -- calmly asking for the cash before leaving the store. And while witnesses have caught a glimpse of his getaway cars, he has been smart enough to use stolen cars that police have not been able to trace back to him.

"He's a challenge all right," Shinham says. "But we will catch him, no doubt about that."

Perhaps running low on supplies, Abe and a partner struck again Oct. 12 at the Cosmetic Center in Rockville. But the robbery was foiled when the clerk locked herself in an office and refused to come out.

By Abe's next stop five days later, at an Exxon station on Route 3 in Bowie, he was solo again.

This is not the first time in suburban Maryland merchants have been threatened by presidents. In 1993, bandits in Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan masks struck three restaurants and a bank in Anne Arundel County during a nine-day period.

Police arrested two suspects, but a federal jury acquitted them of the bank robbery charges. They were never charged with the restaurant crimes.

Montgomery officers have a photo of Abe in action at the Freestate gas station, and the county's Crime Solvers program is offering a $1,000 reward for the tip that leads to an arrest and indictment.

"We've had really good luck in the past when we've released the photo and the public calls in," says Barrow. "We put one out on a bank robber once and, within 24 hours, his mother recognized him and turned him in."

The FBI's Gullotta offers this advice: "I would be mildly suspicious if anyone came walking in my store as Abe Lincoln."

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