Originally created 12/29/04

Police look for bungling bank robber



AIKEN - As bandits go, the masked man who robbed a Salley bank on Christmas Eve might not be the sharpest knife in the criminal drawer, police said Tuesday.

First, the robber didn't hide his face until after tellers granted him entry into the controlled-access branch of the Enterprise Bank on Railroad Avenue, and he stood in front of surveillance cameras, Salley Police Chief Brian Epperson said.

"When he got in front of the cameras, that's where he put his mask on - smart, huh?" said Chief Epperson, noting that the robber was recognized by a teller as someone she went to high school with.

The robber didn't use a mask; instead, he wrapped a tan scarf around his face, the chief said. Nor did he bother wearing gloves, leaving fingerprints while vaulting the counter to make off with the cash.

He also had a lousy sense of timing, picking the early afternoon of a holiday weekend when the bank was already low on cash from customers cashing checks and making withdrawals, Chief Epperson said.

And the robber was clumsy, spilling all but $1,232 in cash before he left the bank. While running down Poplar Street toward woods on the east side of town, he was tripping and falling when a volunteer fireman fired a warning shot in the air with a hunting rifle, the chief said.

Despite these blunders, the robber was still on the loose Tuesday.

Chief Epperson declined to release his identity, saying only that investigators are looking for a 22-year-old Columbia man who grew up in Salley, once worked at a business a few doors away from the bank and still has family in town.

He is described in the incident report as a black male, 5 feet 7 inches tall and weighing 160 pounds. He was wearing a dark sweat jacket, green sweat pants, a blue stocking cap with white stripes and a tan scarf.

When he walked up to one teller and demanded money, she thought he was joking and said, "I don't have any," the report said.

Lt. Michael Frank, a spokesman for the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, said investigators from his agency haven't narrowed the case to a single suspect. He also said his agency wasn't prepared to release surveillance tapes.

Perhaps the most serious blunder the robber made was brandishing what appeared to be a pistol wrapped in a dark stocking, Chief Epperson said. Real or fake, that will boost the eventual charge to the more serious felony of armed robbery, the chief said.

Reach Jim Nesbitt at (803) 648-1395, ext. 111, or jim.nesbitt@augustachronicle.com