Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Curse of Adirondack Bank Robbers

The robber of a Tupper Lake bank (in a presumably fake beard and mustache, left) is still at large, six days after the heist. This is unusual in the Adirondacks. The general wisdom is that nobody has pulled off a bank robbery inside the Blue Line, at least in recent memory. Hold up a bank? Sure, quite a few have done that. But get away? That’s the trick.

There are only so many forest-lined roads in and out of any Adirondack town, and if the police are quick with roadblocks, the theory goes, it’s simple enough to sweat out the thief. In the 1970s, cops caught the robbers of a Willsboro bank waiting for the Essex ferry to Vermont.

Others, such as a husband and wife in St. Regis Falls, were picked up locally within hours, and a guy who took off on foot from Adirondack Bank in Lake Placid was met by police on the Saranac Lake end of the Jackrabbit Trail.

Jack Lawliss, retired commander of State Police Troop B, began his career as a Trooper in Tupper Lake in 1955. He worked on several bank cases inside the Blue Line, all solved. The Willsboro case stood out in his memory because the same bank was the victim of an unrelated robbery a week earlier, and those thieves were apprehended in Reber, five miles away. The institution had operated without incident for a century before then.

After Lawliss retired, a 1992 robbery of a Key Bank in Au Sable Forks ended in the arrest of Robert Jones, who had also held up a bank in Plattsburgh with his wife as getaway driver and their two kids in the back seat. To reduce his wife’s sentence, Jones later confessed to the kidnapping and murder of Kari Lynn Nixon, a 16-year-old Au Sable Forks girl who had been missing for seven years.

Admittedly, an exhaustive search of Adirondack police blotters and newspaper archives dating back to the creation of the park in 1892 is a daunting project that we have not undertaken, so if you know of any successful in-park bank robberies please tell us.

Meanwhile, bank hits seem to be a nationwide trend, and there have been three unsolved hold-ups recently in Canton, north of the Blue Line.

The manhunt continues around Tupper Lake. Roadblocks, dogs and a helicopter Friday afternoon failed to net the gunman, who is reported to have fled on foot in the direction of Saranac Lake. “Solitary robbers usually target a bank that is close to their place of residence, making a car unnecessary,” wrote George Bryjak, retired professor of sociology at the University of San Diego, in a scholarly look at bank robber demographics in Wednesday’s Adirondack Daily Enterprise.

Police agencies have not said how much money was taken. Following is the State Police’s complete press release:

On April 10, 2009, at 12:15 p.m., the New York State Police responded to an armed bank robbery at the Community Bank, located on Hosley Avenue in the town of Tupper Lake. The preliminary investigation has established that a suspect entered the bank and displayed a handgun. The suspect fled the bank with an undetermined amount of cash.

Suspect is described as a white male, tall with a thin build, last seen wearing a tan hooded jacket and blue jeans. Subject may have tried to disguise himself with a moustache and or goatee and wearing sunglasses.

State Police Aviation, Canine, Uniform and BCI personnel, Tupper Lake Police Department, Saranac Lake Police Department and New York State Forest Rangers remain on scene and are continuing interviews of witnesses and searching the area for evidence.

Anyone with information is asked to contact the New York State Police, Troop “B” Headquarters, Ray Brook at 518-897-2000.

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Mary Thill lives in Saranac Lake and has worked alternately in journalism and Adirondack conservation for three decades.




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