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Police arrest bank robber who could be ‘church lady bandit’

An exploding dye-pack caused a woman who police suspect could be the “church lady bandit” to be charged with a bank robbery Thursday.

At about 12:57 p.m., a woman holding a scarf to her face robbed the Fifth Third Bank at 155 W. Nationwide Blvd, according to the FBI.

The woman approached the teller counter and showed the teller a note stating she had a gun, was robbing the bank and that the teller had one minute to comply. The teller gave the woman money from her drawer along with a dye-pack.

The woman fled the bank with the money. Witnesses outside the bank watched the dye-pack explode on the woman, causing her to drop the stolen money.

FBI Special Agent Harry Trombitas could not release the specific amount of money the woman took from the bank.

“The average amount of money taken at a bank robbery is less than $3,000,” Trombitas told The Lantern. “All of the money was returned today.”

After the dye-pack exploded, the woman hid in the mail room area of a building across the street from the bank. Columbus police officers found her there, her clothes covered in red dye.

Witnesses identified the woman as the robber.

The woman was taken into police custody and identified as Sylvete P. Gilbert, a 46-year-old black female from Columbus. Gilbert confessed to and was charged with the robbery.

Officials say Gilbert could be the “church lady bandit,” a robber who has been a suspect in eight bank robberies and a hotel robbery since 2006, including a robbery of the U.S. Bank branch at the Ohio Union Oct. 20.

Trombitas said there is no certainty to official’s suspicions.

“Let’s not jump to conclusions that this is the church lady,” Trombitas said. “We have a lot of investigating to do yet.”

Officials are comparing Gilbert’s physical description to previous surveillance images of the “church lady bandit” and comparing the way the robberies were committed.

The Lantern reported Nov. 8 that the “church lady bandit” wore a wig during the Union robbery and a dark baseball cap and glasses when she robbed a Charter One Bank inside a Kroger.

During the Union robbery, the “church lady bandit” passed a note to the teller demanding money, just like Gilbert did Thursday.

Although the note Gilbert presented to the teller Thursday said she was armed, officials said it made a false claim.

“She did not have a weapon,” Trombitas said.

A gun was not shown at any of the robberies involving the “church lady bandit” either, Trombitas said.

The “church lady bandit” has received a dye-pack previously, Trombitas said. Other tellers have had them but might not have had the opportunity to give them to the robber.

“When some people are in the process of being robbed, they’re very frightened and not thinking clearly,” Trombitas said.

The FBI, Columbus Police Department and OSU Police Department are working on the case.

“As we do in other cases, we will examine this arrest to see if there is information, evidence or similarity to connect this suspect to any open investigations we may have on campus,” OSU Police Chief Paul Denton said Thursday in an e-mail.

Detectives from the Columbus Police Department were not immediately available to comment.


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