Police believe a man who used a fake bomb to make off with $11,000 from a Zions Bank branch here is a suspect in similar robberies throughout the Northwest.
The FBI calls him the "Hoax Bomb Bandit" and has been trying to hunt him down since 1992, when he first robbed an Oregon bank. Investigators have not identified the suspect but believe he may be a former Eugene, Ore., area art student who uses fake, clay bombs to hold up bank tellers.In each of 11 robberies, the man, disguised in dark sunglasses, hat, wig and fake mustache, walked into a bank carrying a duffel bag, an FBI bulletin states. He approached a teller, took a piece of clay with wires and electronic parts attached from a bag and threatened to blow up the bank if he didn't get money.
He then took the money away in the bag, leaving the fake bomb behind.
"He's very good at what he does," said Logan police detective Mike Vaughan.
After the bandit robbed the First Interstate Bank in Bend, Ore., on July 2, 1992, he reportedly hit a Longview, Ore., bank exactly three months later at the same minute of the day, 10:38 a.m.
Since then, he has gone on to rob nine more banks in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, the FBI says.
His latest holdup, Sept. 29, 1998, at Logan's Zions Bank, is believed by the FBI to be his first robbery of a Utah bank.
A bank employee initially reported the holdup as a bomb threat, and the time and care officers must take responding to it can serve in the robber's getaway.
The scene at Zions Bank wasn't cleared until hours later because police had to wait for a bomb disposal team from Hill Air Force Base to arrive.
In a 1993 holdup in The Dalles, Ore., officials so feared the fake bomb left at a bank that they evacuated an eight-block area.
Vaughan, who has been in contact with the FBI, said the suspect often chooses banks in congested areas, preferably near large shopping centers.
The suspect is believed to be about 5-foot-8 and 150-165 pounds, and he often pads his clothes to make himself appear bigger. Witnesses estimate his age in the mid-20s to late 30s. He is believed to have a dark complexion.
He was seen leaving the scene of a 1996 robbery in Twin Falls, Idaho, driving a 1989 maroon Chrys-ler LeBaron with stolen Oregon plates.
The FBI cautions, "None of the devices left at banks have been explosives, but this does not mean bombs left in future robberies would not be explosive."