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Church lady bandit’ hits first hotel

After robbing eight banks since 2006, the suspect called “the church lady bandit” is thought to have robbed her first hotel.

“There’s so much publicity and posters out there about her,” said FBI Special Agent Harry Trombitas. “And she’s well known to go in banks, so it isn’t a surprise, though this is speculation why she would try someplace different.”

On Nov. 27 at about 2:35 p.m., the suspect, infamous on campus for an Oct. 20 robbery in the Ohio Union’s U.S. Bank branch, walked in the Hampton Inn at 2093 S. Hamilton Rd. She asked about room rates, received the information and left, according to an FBI release on Friday.

“When she came in the first time, she was probably just getting a feel for the layout, who was there and what kind of security guards they had,” said Trombitas, who, with the FBI, is working on the case with the Columbus Police Department and Ohio State Police.

The church lady bandit returned five minutes later and told the hotel employee she was robbing the hotel and wanted large bills, the release said.

Although unable to tell the exact amount that the robber stole because the investigation is ongoing, Trombitas said she didn’t pocket much.

The amount was “definitely less than $1,000,” he said. “Typically robbers get less than $3,000.”

Once she received the money, the suspect fled on foot.

Columbus Police Det. Steve Billups said officers arrived at the hotel within three minutes of the call, which was placed immediately after the robbery.

“The main challenge of the case is that (the church lady bandit) hasn’t left any physical evidence behind,” Billups said.

Physical evidence could be almost anything that police could get DNA from, he said, although fingerprints are the most helpful.

Billups and Trombitas said they have followed up on all leads and hope the video from the Hampton Inn robbery, in which the viewer can hear the robber’s voice and see her mannerisms, encourages people to give more useful tips.

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. At the time of the robbery, she was wearing a dark baseball cap, dark shirt and dark pants.

Since the robbery at the Union, the suspect, on Nov. 7, also robbed the Charter One Bank inside Kroger at 5727 Emporium Square on the Northeast Side.

The fact that the case is taking long to solve is not out of the ordinary, Trombitas said. “People around her could be holding back information. It’s possible she’s not even from around here.”

Still, he is confident that the church lady bandit will be caught.

“It’s just a matter of someone being in the right spot at the right time,” he said.

Calls to the Hampton Inn media relations were not immediately returned.

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

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