The FBI has made a fresh appeal for the arrest of one of Chicago’s most wanted, the so-called "Wheaton Bandit," before he goes unpunished for his crimes.
The statute of limitations expires on a bank robbery after five years. And the Wheaton Bandit’s last heist took place December 7, 2006.
"He’s one of the more prolific serial bank robbers we’ve had in Chicago," said FBI spokesman Ross Rice. "We’re really short on time."
From 2002 to 2006, the Wheaton Bandit robbed 16 banks, almost half of his heists taking place in West Suburban Wheaton.
A woman named Mary worked at hit number 11, a Mid America Bank in the 600 block of Roosevelt Road in Glen Ellyn.
"He pointed the gun at me. Told me to get down on the ground," she recalled about the January 2005 robbery. "There were four other employees in the bank that day. He asked for them to put their teller boxes on the counter."
"The minute he opened the door and I saw the gun in my face. I knew exactly what was happening," remembered Lisa, an employee of West Suburban Bank’s branch in Carol Stream, robbed by the Wheaton Bandit in February 2003.
"I remember girls crying when he told us to get down on the floor."
The Wheaton Bandit always pounced quickly, but his spree of armed take-overs left a lasting impression. With the bandit still at large, neither woman wanted to reveal her last name. For the first time they’re talking publicly about their ordeals, in hopes the Wheaton Bandit will finally be punished.
"He’s hurt a lot of people," said Lisa. "I view it as a selfish act. It was not something that needed to happen and I feel sad if he felt that was the only option he had."
A special task force was assembled just to catch the Wheaton Bandit, but leads eventually dried up. His victims never got a good look at him.
"They said, 'Do you know what color eyes he had?' I said, "I wasn’t looking at his eyes. I was looking at his gun,'” recalled Mary.
Rice said the bandit never left much physical evidence. He wore a mask to conceal his identity and wore gloves so as not to leave any fingerprints. But despite all those precautions, law enforcement believe he slipped up on two occasions.
In December of 2004, bank surveillance cameras got a shot of a man wanted for questioning by law enforcement. He entered the Mid America Bank branch in Glen Ellyn, but he never carried out any business inside. He’s not a customer of the bank, officials said, and he fits the physical description of the robber. Two weeks after that sighting, the Wheaton Bandit robbed the bank.
Fast forward to November 2006. Before one of his heists, someone got a look at the serial bank robber without his signature ski mask pulled down over his head. From that encounter, law enforcement put together a composite sketch.
Police describe the Wheaton Bandit as a white male who stands between 5 feet, 10 inches and 6 feet, 2 inches tall with a thin-medium build. He's believed to be between 35 and 40 years old and may have law enforcement or military training based on the way he carried himself during his crimes and the way he held his weapon.
There is a $50,000 reward for information that leads to an arrest and conviction, but the time to collect is running out.
"People in law enforcement take a great deal of pride in doing their job. I just know in speaking to them, they would like to get this case solved," said Rice.
"I hate to see somebody get away with something that is wrong," added Mary.