By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
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By Melanie Asmar
The agent got a break of sorts when red bills, possibly stained from the dye pack used in the first robbery, showed up in automated token-vending machines at a Black Hawk casino. But the casino's surveillance footage didn't help much. "It was clear these guys were going to be a little harder to catch than most," says Wright.
On Wednesday mornings, the Safe Streets team sits down to pick apart the three or four new robbery cases that come in, on average, each week. They deconstruct security-cam photos and speculate about the specific makes and models of getaway cars. But the fifteen investigators who gather around the conference table also banter and mouth off with a flippancy that comes with working sixty-hour weeks. They crack up over the latest stories from the field, like the one about a bandit who, once nabbed, called his father to plead, "It's not me" — only to have his dad retort, "I saw the robbery photo. It's you."
They rib Aurora investigator John Nagengast, the task force's "pattern" guy — the one best at extracting illuminating details and clues from otherwise arcane crime-scene ephemera — for obsessively doodling the same figures on his notebook over and over. They jokingly call Denver detective Mark "Woody" Woodward their human crime database; even with close to twenty years of working robbery cases in Denver, he can still dredge up the specifics of an obscure 2001 robbery or a long-forgotten 1993 hoodlum.
And they relish the task of naming new bandits, a custom born of keeping the robbers straight and the public interested. Some titles refer to clothing preferences, like the Inside-Out Bandit, who sported an inside-out hoodie, and the Hooded Safe Bandits, who wore hoods while cracking safes. Others are based on robbery techniques: The Military-Style Bandits robbed banks using assault rifles and Army clothing, and the Gas Can Robber, a real maniac, would spray employees at check-cashing operations with gasoline and threaten to light them on fire if they didn't pay up. Then there are the monikers that are just downright bizarre: A recent robber sporting a Superman-like logo on his shirt was hefty and sluggish, so he got nicknamed the Supersloth Bandit.
Each of these criminals had something in common, something that gave Wright hope for his own case: They all got caught.
While Wright is reluctant to note exactly how much money the Snowboard Bandits stole, it was probably in the national-average range of a couple thousand dollars per heist — hardly enough to justify the risk. It's possible they were hard up for cash and saw the jobs as easy money, as some robbers do. (Contrary to popular belief, say Safe Streets members, bank heists don't increase when the economy tanks.) Or maybe the Snowboard Bandits were scoring drug money or following gang rites.
Perhaps they were addicted to the adrenaline of the crime itself. "It is a glamorous crime," says Woodward, Safe Streets' elder statesman. "There is the thrill of the chase, trying to get away with it and outwit us. A lot of bank robbers get hooked on the thrill."
Whatever their reasons, Wright knew that as long as the Snowboard Bandits kept knocking off banks, sooner or later he'd get them. It was as if he was almost eager for another heist, in the hope that they would slip up or he'd get lucky. "If they had stopped, maybe they would have gotten away," he says. "But if they were going to keep doing it, we were going to catch them. There were just too many variables."
John Maloney, head of Colorado and Arizona security and investigations for TCF Bank, a Minnesota-based chain with 445 branches in seven states, couldn't help but take the Snowboard Bandits' heists personally.
They didn't target Bank of America or Wells Fargo or Compass Bank. For some reason, they were only hitting his banks, foiling his security measures and, most frustratingly, threatening his employees. It didn't matter that they weren't waving guns around; as the talkative Maloney likes to say, "It's not a bank being robbed, it's not a building; it's people being robbed." It's a bracing experience to come face to face with a masked individual who tells you to hand over all the money...or else.
That's why Safe Streets works closely with FBI victims specialist Karla Loader, who repeatedly checks in on robbed tellers. Some bank workers take robberies in stride; some quit. A few turn into Dirty Harry: A credit union employee took a baton to the so-called Bank Robber Bob this past September during his fourteenth heist. Besieged, Bob beat a retreat, but not before his disguise was knocked off, and the resulting security footage led to his identification and arrest.
With each passing day, more and more of Maloney's people were getting an up-close-and-personal experience with the Snowboard Bandits. On December 21, the two appeared in Colorado Springs, sticking up two TCFs in one day. On January 9, they returned to 55th and Wadsworth in Arvada, the first bank hit during their robbery spree. Ten days later, they were back in Colorado Springs, robbing one of the banks they'd taken over just a few weeks before.