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Church lady bandit’ strikes again

Emily Collard / Lantern designer

Less than a month after robbing the U.S. Bank in the Ohio Union, the suspect dubbed the “church lady bandit” has struck again.

The robbery happened at about 1:36 p.m. Sunday at the Charter One Bank inside Kroger at 5727 Emporium Square on the Northeast Side, according to the FBI.

The suspect walked to the teller counter where two tellers were waiting for customers. Pretending to talk on her cell phone as she approached the desk, the woman told the teller that she needed cash and was robbing the bank. Officials at the FBI said they don’t think she indicated she was armed, nor did she appear to be.

The robber at Kroger did not pass a note to the teller like the woman who robbed the Union did on Oct. 20. But the result was the same — the teller complied and gave the robber money.

FBI Special Agent Harry Trombitas could not disclose the amount of money the suspect stole.

“Typical bank robbers get less than $3,000, and the typical amount they get generally falls in the $1,000 to $2,000 range,” Trombitas said. He said the Kroger suspect’s loot was less than $3,000.

After receiving the money, the robber fled, though officials said it is unclear where she went or how she got away.

“Most likely a car was involved,” Trombitas said. “We are checking Kroger’s parking lot cameras and cameras from nearby businesses.”

Trombitas said investigators don’t know if the suspect is getting outside help but said it’s plausible.

The “church lady bandit” is described as a medium-built black woman, about 5-foot-4 to 5-foot-7 and in her 30s or 40s. For the Kroger robbery, she shed the wig she wore during the Union robbery, opting for a dark baseball cap, glasses, a dark T-shirt and dark pants.

The “church lady bandit” has been linked to at least eight bank robberies since 2006: four in 2010, three in 2008 and one in 2006.

The FBI, Columbus Police and OSU Police are working together to solve the robberies, said Lt. Rick Green of OSU Police, lead investigator of the Ohio Union robbery.

Trombitas said the investigators from the three departments have followed up on more than a dozen tips and have more to sort through.

Sgt. Shaun Laird of the Columbus Police robbery squad said tips are usually just names of individuals who have some resemblance to the suspect, although “the quality of the leads generally depends on the quality of the video from the robbery.”

In the case of the Charter One Bank robbery, Laird described the video as “not good.”

For the Union robbery, “the cameras distorted the suspect’s face, which gave it some masculine characteristics,” Trombitas said. “We received some tips that the suspect was actually a male, but there has never been an eye-witness who said it’s a man.”

One reason why the string of robberies is different from typical bank hold-ups is because women commit less than 7 percent of robberies nationwide, Trombitas said. He added he does not think the suspect is a drug-user, as she takes extended layoffs between robberies. Drug users commit about 95 percent of robberies, he said.

“They’re looking for a quick fix,” Trombitas said. “They spend the money, get the fix, then rob again.”

Despite the abnormalities in the robberies, Trombitas remains confident the law will catch up to the “church lady bandit.”

“We will catch her, it’s only a matter of time,” he said. “And when we do, we will have a lot of questions for her.”

Carrie Carpenter, a media spokeswoman for Charter One Bank, declined to comment about the teller’s response and the bank robbery saying, “We leave all investigative information to local police agencies.”

Investigators ask anyone with information about the robberies to report tips to Crime Stoppers, the local police departments or the local FBI office. 

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