A 27-year-old man who is suspected in a spate of bank robberies earlier this month in eastern Prince William County was caught by law enforcement authorities in Fredericksburg on Monday night.
Police said Ben Niles Compeau, who is unemployed and has no fixed address, attempted to rob one bank and was successful in stealing from three others -- two SunTrust banks and a Chevy Chase Bank. When he was arrested, police recovered about $400 from him, said Detective Dennis Mangan, a Prince William County police spokesman.
The hunt for a suspect was made relatively easy because the robber hardly wore any disguise -- just a baseball cap -- when he entered the banks and was captured on surveillance cameras. A person who saw the robber's photograph in a newspaper called the county's Crime Solvers tip line on June 3 -- a day after the first robbery -- and alerted authorities to the suspect's identity.
An arrest warrant for Compeau was issued June 4, and police distributed fliers to every bank in the county as well as other businesses, Mangan said. Police, who had the suspect's photograph on their cruisers' laptops, stepped up their patrols of shopping malls with bank branches.
Finally, police got a tip that Compeau was staying somewhere in Fredericksburg, and they handed out fliers to businesses there. A clerk at a mom and pop grocery store recognized Compeau and called Fredericksburg police on Monday at 3:30 p.m. after Compeau came in to buy some beer.
"It was one of those neighborhood stores where the clerk knows everyone. . . . [Compeau] was brand- new," said Prince William County detective Tom Garrity.
Compeau was frequenting the store so often, Garrity said, that police figured he was living nearby. They surmised he would be making a phone call at the pay phone outside the store later that night and arrested him about 8 p.m. without incident. He apparently was staying with a friend who did not know of Compeau's alleged robberies, Garrity said.
"It's common for a robber to go on a spree until he gets caught," he said. "If a robber starts robbing he just keeps going, because it's easy money."
The incidents began June 2 at 1:55 p.m. , when, police said, Compeau tried robbing the BB&T Bank at Mapledale Plaza in Dale City but, for reasons police would not divulge, was not successful. Garrity said Compeau then drove five miles and robbed a SunTrust Bank at Forestdale Plaza of an undisclosed amount of money about 40 minutes later.
Police said he remained quiet for about a week before surfacing again June 8, when he allegedly hit another SunTrust branch in Montclair at 1:11 p.m., handing a note to a teller and receiving an undisclosed amount of cash. Forty minutes later, according to police, Compeau robbed a Chevy Chase Bank off Old Bridge Road in Lake Ridge.
The heists each lasted about two minutes, which is why the robber was able to flee before police arrived, Garrity said.
Nessrine Kabbani, a Chevy Chase assistant bank manager, said the robber got away with a "few hundred dollars" at the Lake Ridge branch, but did not specify the amount. The robber, she said, handed the teller a crumpled piece of paper that she could not read.
"He told her directly, 'Give me all your money,' " she said. "He put his hand against his waist like he was holding a gun."
Police said it is unclear whether the robber brandished a gun during any of the incidents, but he implied to tellers he was carrying some type of weapon, Garrity said.
Compeau was charged with robbery and is being held without bond at the Prince William County Adult Detention Center, Garrity said. He is expected to face a preliminary hearing next month.