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The One That Got Away -- 13 Times; "Fishing Hat Bandit" Eludes FBI

For one Minnesota fisherman, it's been open season for more than a year.

Dubbed the "Fishing Hat Bandit" by the FBI, the man held up his 13th Twin Cities-area bank Saturday. He has committed the most Minnesota robberies by one person in modern history.

What motivates such a spree by a man believed to be in his mid-50s isn't known -- maybe a drug habit, gambling debts or just the sheer thrill of the crime, said FBI spokesman Paul McCabe. But the man has been elusive and bold enough to rob two of the banks twice. Surveillance tape from a bank he hit Saturday in Savage indicated that he was moving an object in his waistband that appeared to be a gun.

The bandit usually wears a plain, floppy fishing-style hat, sunglasses and either leather or latex gloves. He has targeted smaller banks, using a low-key approach to quickly make his demand to a teller and leaving before anyone else's attention is drawn to him, McCabe said.

"We don't know if he leaves the area of the banks by foot, bike or car," he said. "He just seems to disappear into thin air."

The Fishing Hat Bandit broke the previous in-state robbery record held by Richard Romaszewski, 58, who is serving time for robbing 10 southern Twin Cities banks in 2002. But perhaps Minnesota is more famous for being home to William A. Kirkpatrick, part of the duo known as the "Trench Coat" robbers, who were involved in the largest bank heist in U.S. history in Tacoma, Wash., in 1997. Although Kirkpatrick pleaded guilty in 1999 to three robberies, authorities say he acknowledged participating in more than 20 bank robberies, including several in Minnesota.

The Fishing Hat Bandit has robbed two banks in Bloomington and one in Savage, but the rest were on the east side of the Twin Cities area. There isn't an obvious reason why he would focus on a specific area, other than he might feel "it's his comfort zone," McCabe said. The man doesn't appear to be connected to robberies outside the metro area or in other states, McCabe said.

Following his last robbery Saturday, the Bandit was described as a white male, 50 to 60 years old, between 6 feet and 6 feet 2, approximately 200 pounds with a thin build. Although he usually wears a fishing hat, on Saturday he was wearing a tan/khaki fedora-style hat with a blue stripe. He also wore dark wrap-around sunglasses; a dark red or maroon long-sleeved, collared pullover shirt; blue jeans, and oversized cream or clear latex gloves.

In a December robbery in St. Paul, the FBI said he had a false, pencil-drawn mustache.

Some witnesses have described the Bandit as younger than 50, but the FBI has determined he is between 50 and 60 after reviewing surveillance tapes. Varying perceptions of age can lead to a range of descriptions, McCabe said.

The Bandit's first robbery was the American Bank in St. Paul in June 2003.

Serial bank robbers have become more common in the last three to four years, McCabe said. What isn't common about the Bandit is his age -- a typical bank robber is in his 20s.

McCabe contacted several previous FBI supervisors to determine whether the Fishing Hat Bandit is indeed the state record holder. The supervisors couldn't recall more robberies in the state by a single suspect since at least the 1970s, but McCabe said he believes the Bandit has the highest number in the history of Minnesota.

"Unless a historian is able to come forward and tell us that there was a higher total by somebody in the early pioneering days when banks were first established in the state," he said, "this man is the most prolific bank robber in Minnesota."

Authorities had leads on the suspect, but no one has been arrested. The FBI has shifted more agents away from bank robbery investigations and relied more on local authorities in the last several years, but McCabe said that's not a factor in the Bandit's eluding capture.

Serial robbers are of greater concern to the FBI because the more they rob, the more bold and dangerous they become, McCabe said. The Bandit's demand notes have been threatening, and he may have had a gun during his last robbery.

"If the suspect gets cornered, it's hard to predict how he will react," McCabe said. "But I fear it could lead to violence."

Anybody with information about the robberies or the suspect can call the FBI at 612-376-3200.

"Someone out there has to know this guy," McCabe said.

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