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Tracking the ‘Bombshell Bandit’

Using threat of explosives, the 5-foot-3-inches tall woman has hit 3 banks with similarities in loca

Posted: July 27, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 20, 2014 2:00 a.m.

This image, taken from a bank surveillance camera, shows a woman dubbed the "Bombshell Bandit," who is suspected in three bank robberies, including one in Valencia. Photo courtesy the FBI.

 

She walks into a bank wearing sunglasses, sometimes a head scarf, and at least once in flip-flops. She leaves with cash — investigators and banks won’t say how much — and promptly disappears.

She’s done it three times in six weeks, all with the threat of a bomb.

The young woman dubbed the “Bombshell Bandit” by FBI agents is in her early to mid-20s, stands just 5-foot-3-inches tall, and weighs no more than 140 pounds.

In all three robberies she has sauntered up to a bank teller and handed over a note demanding cash, threatening to detonate a bomb strapped to her leg if she doesn’t get it.

“We just don’t want to see a fourth or fifth bank robbed,” said Darrell Foxworth, spokesman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation field office in San Diego, site of the most recent hit by the Bombshell Bandit.

“At this time, no bomb has been observed,” he said of the three banks hit by the woman between June 6 and July 14.

“Unfortunately, threatening explosives or other weapons is not an uncommon tactic employed by bank robbers,” Bureau spokeswoman Laura Eimiller of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office said Thursday. “It exposes them to longer prison sentences when they’re caught, however, and it puts customers and responding personnel in danger while the situation is being resolved.

“No evidence of an actual explosive has been found during the robberies attributed to the Bombshell Bandit,” she said. “And it appears that these are hoax threats at this time.”

Santa Clarita Valley was the first place she hit.

Promenade Plaza

On June 6, a sunny Friday, at 3:05 p.m., the Bombshell Bandit walked with apparent calm into the Bank of the West branch at the Valencia Promenade Plaza on Magic Mountain Parkway, Sgt. Dan Peacock of the Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff’s Station said the day of the robbery.

She presented her note claiming to have a bomb and left on foot without a trace — but not without cash.

No shots were reported fired, and there was no commotion. No one was taken into custody, and no explosives were detonated. All that was left was video images of the robber.

“For someone to walk into a bank and to say they have a bomb is not unusual,” Foxworth said Thursday.

“Victim witnesses said the suspect appeared to be wearing a wig, auburn or brown in color, as can be seen in the bank surveillance photo,” Eimiller said earlier this month, “but that her natural hair appeared to be black.”

Within the month, FBI agents released images to the media, hoping someone would recognize her.

They received no tips, FBI agents said.

“Prior to the robbery, she was seen casing other banks,” Eimiller said.

Location, location

A month after the bank robbery in the Santa Clarita Valley, the Bombshell Bandit robbed a Wells Fargo bank branch in Lake Havasu, Arizona, and six days after that, robbed a Comerica Bank branch in San Diego.

All three banks have something in common — they sit in the middle of a shopping center, surrounded by scores of restaurants.

“There are a number of things to consider about this case. Location is one of them,” said Foxworth, who says he’s overseen hundreds of bank robberies in his 28 years with the FBI.

“They (bank robbers) find something in a location that they’re comfortable with and stay with that,” he said. “It could be a strip mall with a bunch of restaurants, or it could be the bank’s proximity to a freeway.”

In Valencia, the Promenade Plaza shopping center where Bank of the West is located is home to more than half a dozen restaurants including Black Angus, the Olive Garden and several smaller eateries.

At the Comerica Bank in San Diego, the Loma Square Shopping Center features an organic grocery store surrounded by at least 10 “casual eateries” including Wingstop Restaurant, Antique Thai Cuisine and the Yummy Buffet.

In Lake Havasu, the Wells Fargo branch is surrounded by restaurants including Tecuala’s Mexican restaurant, a Taco Bell and a Denny’s.

“It’s a pretty populated area,” said Sgt. Troy Stirling of the Lake Havasu City Police Department. “It contributes to people being able to sneak away.

“There are plenty of opportunities to walk into a store or restaurant,” he said.

Won’t stop

“I don’t think she’ll stop there,” Stirling said of the three heists attributed to the Bombshell Bandit so far. “There are plenty of other banks.”

The Bombshell Bandit is either white, Hispanic, Indian or of Middle Eastern descent, FBI agents report.

She’s worn a long multi-colored scarf covering head and neck; dark sunglasses with large lenses; a dark long-sleeved sweater and long black skirt. She’s also worn a long-sleeve jacket with front zipper and flip-flops, investigators said.

Anyone with information concerning the series of robberies is asked to contact the San Diego FBI at 858-320-1800, the Los Angeles FBI at 310-477-6565, or San Diego Crime Stoppers at 888-540-8477.

jholt@signalscv.com
661-287-5527
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@jamesarthurholt

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