Cell Phone Bank Robber Still a Face With No Name

By Tom Jackman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 12, 2005

No one noticed her when she was robbing banks. Now, millions have seen her on surveillance videotape, calmly talking on her cell phone during one of the holdups.

Still, no one can say who she is.

The young woman who calmly held up four Northern Virginia banks in recent weeks -- without ever putting down her phone -- remained at large yesterday despite remarkably clear photos of her in robbery action that were broadcast on television and published in newspapers across the country.

Theories abounded yesterday as to who she is, where she might be and why she does it with a phone stuck to her ear. Is she a master of disguise? Is she merely there to rob and then leave -- a tourist bandit? Is she under someone else's control? Is she hypnotized?

Experts yesterday tended to doubt most of the speculation, and they expect an imminent arrest. They also said that the crime can be addictive -- if not also caused by addiction -- and that the cell phone bandit probably will strike again, heavy publicity or not.

Police believe the same dark-haired young woman in her twenties robbed banks in Vienna, Manassas, Springfield and Ashburn from Oct. 12 to Nov. 4. Each time, she showed a note demanding money from a teller. In the last holdup, she also showed the teller a gun.

And each time, she conducted her entire transaction while talking on the phone, appearing indifferent to the whole "I'm committing another federal felony" matter.

Her technique is not entirely new.

In the late 1980s, a gang of bank robbers in the Los Angeles area chatted on cell phones while they waited in line, according to retired FBI agent William J. Rehder. And, back then, cell phones were big and unwieldy.

The gang leader would always give his accomplices a cell phone to keep them pacified, and he would be on the other end of the line, Rehder said. It was a way to reduce nervousness and anxiety -- and to look like a regular customer, he said.

Rehder theorized that Northern Virginia's bank robber -- believed to be about 5 feet 2 to 5 feet 6 and about 120 to 130 pounds -- was using her phone the same way, to look inconspicuous and reduce her anxiety.

Unlike in the movies, bank robbers don't usually have lookouts, getaway drivers and evil overlords, said Rehder, who investigated bank robberies for 32 years for the FBI and is now a security consultant.

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