ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI)– Police say they’ve broken up a serial bank robbery ring that was targeting bank branches in area grocery stores. Three people have been charged in three unsolved cases, but cops believe they’ll tie the group to several more before they’re done.
The tipping point came with a surveillance photo from a robbery in Maryland Heights at a U.S. Bank branch inside a Schnucks last November. It was not the first robbery by the group, according to police, but it was the first time they could look at surveillance photos and find similarities to other cases.
“We believed from the beginning that this was going to be a group involved in these serial bank robberies. So we formed a task force of eight agencies who had had similar incidents,” Maryland Heights Police Captain Mike Klos said.
The three suspects are Latonya Jones, 28, of Berkeley, Michael Abbott, 28, of Florissant, and Damon Gibbs, 35, of Ferguson.
Each is charged in one case for the moment. Jones’s case is in Maryland Heights, Abbott’s in Brentwood, and Gibbs’ in Jefferson County. But police say the group could be charged in as many as seven more robberies before it’s over.
The robbers did what they could to make it appear as though the cases were individual and random. The robberies were performed by individuals, not the group. They are a diverse group comprised of a black male, a black female, and a white male. And sometimes they even disguised that.
“A couple of them looked like the same suspect involved,” Klos said of the surveillance pictures, “and then there were separate suspects who we had no idea who it was. Then we had males and females who were involved. Then we had some where it appeared males were disguising themselves as females.”
A patrol officer in Maryland Heights got the ball rolling with some names for detectives to check. Then they were able to establish the three knew one another. The ring fell apart from there.
“At this point right now, this particular group, it seems to have ended their little ring of terror,” Klos said.
Grocery stores were concerned as the robberies piled up late in 2012.
“The chains in town were certainly discussing it with each other, all the grocery stores,” Dan Shaul of the Missouri Grocers Association said. “The community was discussing it internally what they needed to do to ensure the safety of consumers.”
He says they are certainly glad to hear this is gang that can put a stop to this rather than a trend.
“Now what we’ll worry about is some copycat in the future, but the fact that police were able to catch them so quickly I think will deter any copycats.”
And why did the three choose bank branches in grocery stores. They haven’t told police, though cops have their theories.
“You can walk into a grocery store and you can blend in with anybody until the moment,” Klos said. “And I think for them, once the first one or two occurred and they didn’t get caught there was a comfort level.”
Klos expects more charges against the three in custody, and possibly more arrests as well.