Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Grandma Bandits

by Kathryn Casey

I'm not used to seeing suspects who look like grandmothers. Oh, there's the occasional black widow like
Betty Neumar, women of a certain age who have a trail of dead husbands and suddenly someone adds up two and two and gets, surprise, four, the four being that they may not all have died of natural causes. But for the most part, grandmothers aren't the predominant demographic for murderers, rapists, or, I would have thought, bank robbers.

So when I read about the "Grandma Bandit," as the FBI is calling her, I've got to admit that I was pretty shocked. I mean, does she look like a bank robber (photo top left)? A school crossing guard, Wal-Mart greeter, short order cook, or the sweet but maybe a little eccentric lady who lives next door? Sure. But a bank robber?

It seems however, if one believes the FBI, that's exactly what this matronly woman is doing in the surveillance photo from last Friday, not once but twice, to two Houston banks, four miles apart. Not only that, she's described in the news articles as brazen. She drove up in her white SUV, walked inside, confronted a teller, and threatened to pull a weapon. She didn't bother to wear a disguise, and, unlike some bank robbers, offered no excuses, for instance that she has her Medicare supplement, a tummy tuck or cataract surgery to pay for.

I know this isn't a laughing matter. I mean, somebody could get hurt, plus she's stealing other people's money. But she just appears to be such an unlikely candidate for a bank robber. The FBI spokesman theorized that in this dour economy more desperate people are turning to crime to pay the bills.

Wondering how often this has happened before, I Googled the phrase, "grandma bank robber," and up popped another case, that of a woman in 2008 who robbed the same Chino, California, bank twice, once lifting her shirt to expose a device with wires attached to her chest, presumably a bomb. (photo above right) At the time, she said she was being victimized by others, and a note she presented read: "Please help this lady. She's strapped."

I don't know if they mentioned that her hair looks like a white wig, but in the description in the BOLO -- be on the lockout for -- it did point out that she wore prescription glasses. In a later photo from another robbery, she wore a dark wig and a sweatshirt with a hood that made her look a little like a geriatric Unibomber. I looked but couldn't find anywhere that she'd been identified and/or arrested. I'm hoping that if she was forced into this crime spree, she's safe now. (If you know how this case was resolved, comment and tell us.)

A little more Googling and another Grandma Bandit turned up, in 2007, this time in Pittsburgh. This particular senior citizen, Marilyn Devine, was 76 years old. According to the news articles, she pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 23 months of house arrest and 20-years probation. At the time, Devine's husband, Ray, claimed that his wife was in a sad state around the time of the robbery, needing money to help their son, "because that's just the kind of mom she is."

So what did this session of Net surfing teach me? To remember that stereotypes are often wrong and that it's dangerous to jump to conclusions about what type of person does what. Sadly, people of any age can be desperate enough to break the law, even grandmas.


Anonymous said...

great post. i really enjoyed it!

Anonymous said...

I don't think you can tell anything about who would do what, like you say here. Seems to me that all kinds of people commit crimes.