Police seek serial bank robber

Description posted of man who staged 6 holdups, 3 attempts

January 07, 2007|By Melissa Harris | Melissa Harris,sun reporter

One man is suspected in nine of a record 25 robberies and attempted robberies of banks in Howard County last year, the county's criminal investigations chief said last week.

Robbers stole money from banks 21 times last year, a marked increase from the one incident in 2005, said Sherry Llewellyn, a spokeswoman for the Police Department. Four bank robbers were thwarted last year, one in 2005.

"This just goes to show you how much of an impact one person can have on crime in this county," said Capt. Tara Nelson of the criminal investigations bureau.

Police believe 16 of the 25 total incidents in 2006 were committed by four serial offenders, Nelson said.

Two suspects, Michael Francis Zemanick of Ellicott City and John R. Martin of Columbia, were arrested. Zemanick, 52, pleaded guilty to a single count of robbery in November and was sentenced to 10 years in prison, according to online court records.

The county's most-prolific offender, however, remains at large, and Nelson said that investigators know little about him other than his physical description.

Nelson said she attributes the increase in bank robberies to a string of offenders being released from prison. Law enforcement agencies, however, do not keep a national or statewide database of known bank robbers, Nelson said.

If the offender is charged in state court under the more general category of "robbery," as Zemanick was, prison officials would not have a more detailed description of the incident and would be able to notify local police only that a "robber" -- not a "bank robber" -- was being released. Nelson said the distinction is an important one.

"People don't just wake up one day in their 40s and start robbing banks," Nelson said. "Bank robberies are more brazen. They take more organization, more finesse. Juveniles are scared to do it, and other criminals know it's a federal offense. So if they get caught, they're going to do a lot of time."

Police last week arrested John R. Martin, 47, minutes after a robbery at BB&T bank on Columbia 100 Parkway.

According to court records, the robber wore latex gloves during the holdup, which would prevent him from leaving fingerprints, and a black mask to hinder identification via video surveillance.

The robber jumped the counter and removed $8,924 from the tills himself so that a teller could not insert a dye pack that would later explode and stain the cash. The stains, which are permanent and often red, alert people that the cash has been stolen.

Nelson said Martin has been convicted previously of bank robbery.

Detectives are combing through thousands of records to identify the robber, who police believe has been active in Howard County since May 2005. He is believed to have robbed six banks and tried to rob three others last year. He also attempted to rob a bank in 2005.

Patrol officers have delivered wanted posters with two surveillance photos of the serial robber to every bank branch in the county, Nelson said.

Police describe the robber as a man in his 40s with some gray facial hair, broken and crooked teeth and a large gap in his top front teeth. He typically wears a baseball cap, sunglasses and coat and escapes in a 2002 or 2003 dark gray Nissan Maxima with tinted windows.

The robber has implied he was armed but has not shown a weapon. No one has been injured in the incidents. The Police Department has increased to $10,000 the reward for information leading to an arrest. Police believe the man may also have robbed banks in Harford and Baltimore counties.

"Our problem is someone else's problem, as well," Nelson said.


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