He's got a name, he's got the cash and he's gotten away

He's hit 15 banks, but time's bound to run out for Countdown Robber

November 26, 1999|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

If you're a bad guy, there's one way to know you've hit the big time.

You get a nickname: Pretty Boy Floyd. Baby Face Nelson. The Unabomber. It means one thing: You're pretty good at being real bad.

It's time to add one to the list: the Countdown Robber.

He has robbed 15 banks in Kansas, Missouri and Omaha, Neb., since Feb. 2, 1996. His most recent robbery was Oct. 21 at a North American Savings Bank in Lee's Summit, Mo., FBI spokesman Jeff Lanza said.

Each time, it's the same routine: The Countdown Robber enters the bank, announces a robbery and orders everyone to lie face down on the floor. He either gets the money himself or has a teller do it for him.

On his way out, he tells those in the bank not to get up until they have counted from 100 to zero. Then he flees.

He has brandished a handgun during each robbery but has yet to use it, Lanza said. However, he is demanding, even authoritative.

Authorities won't disclose how much the Countdown Robber has stolen so far, but the average take nationally for a bank robbery is about $4,000, said Sonia Barbara, spokeswoman for the American Banking Association in Washington, D.C.

The Countdown Robber's method has made him the most prolific Midwest bank robber since the T-Shirt Bandit, Lanza said. That thief, later identified as Robert Dee O'Kane, hit 23 banks -- netting more than $300,000 -- before being busted in 1993.

The Countdown Robber has particularly exasperated authorities, and has been featured twice on the television show "America's Most Wanted."

Still, authorities have no leads. No getaway car model, no license plate number, not a single sighting after he leaves a bank.

"We're just a little frustrated," Lanza conceded.

The lack of leads indicates that the man may live outside the area and travel to where he carries out his robberies. He may even hold a full-time job, Lanza said.

He is described as white, 30 to 40 years old, 6 feet 2 inches tall and 200 to 230 pounds, with a medium build. He has short, dark blond or light brown hair and a mustache. He usually wears wire-rim glasses.

"He looks like a white-collar type guy," Lanza said. "He's probably recently taken up robbing banks, and that would be unusual in a mid-life situation. But who knows what his criminal background is?"

That profile isn't typical of bank robbers, who tend to be drug-addicted people in their 20s looking for quick cash, Barbara said.

And, Barbara said, the Countdown Robber's professionalism probably has contributed to his success.

"Most [bank robbers] are inexperienced and don't put a lot of thought into it," Barbara said. "If they're experienced, their goal is to get the money and get out, so they're not likely to cause an incident."

If the Countdown Robber continues his spree, Lanza said, the law of averages will catch up with him. The FBI's Kansas City branch clears about 60 percent of area bank robberies, he said.

Bank security measures such as exploding dye packs in the money or silent alarm systems should help trip him up, Barbara said.

"At some point, we usually get a lucky break," Lanza said. "It's kind of surprising he's been able to get away so far. It's a combination of maybe his ability and some lucky breaks. Fifteen is, without a doubt, a large number of bank robberies."

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