Gunman threatens tellers with bomb in bank robbery

Published 12:00 am Friday, April 28, 2000

ALBERT LEA – Shopping carts, police tape, squad cars and fire trucks were used to cordon off the Rainbow Foods store and parking lot after an armed robbery and bomb threat at the Norwest Bank branch here last night.

Friday, April 28, 2000

ALBERT LEA – Shopping carts, police tape, squad cars and fire trucks were used to cordon off the Rainbow Foods store and parking lot after an armed robbery and bomb threat at the Norwest Bank branch here last night.

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Authorities with the Albert Lea Police Department report that around 5:30 p.m. a man entered the grocery store and approached two women tellers working in the bank. He demanded money and left. Before leaving, the man left an object that appeared to be a bomb in the bank vault.

According to Police Lt. Tim Mattson, the man ordered the women, who were the only employees at the bank at the time, not to call the police until 10 minutes after the suspect had left.

Mattson described the device as a pair of large pipes the length of a man’s forearm, one inch in diameter, taped together with duct tape. Between the pipes was a small metal box into which the wires were connected. The two pipes also were connected by another U-shaped pipe at one end. The opposite ends were capped, he said.

"It looked authentic to me," Mattson said. "I wasn’t about to handle it myself."

Shortly after the suspect left the building, police were called to the scene. Four squads arrived early and made a small perimeter around the building. Fire trucks and ambulances showed up minutes later.

The officers, both from the city and the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office cleared the grocery store, which is a part of Skyline Mall, and all of the stores north of it to Wal-Mart store. Blue-shirted employees gathered just outside the building, crowding the sidewalk.

Officers inspecting the device decided a larger perimeter was needed and told employees and customers to back away another 500 feet.

About 30 minutes later, the perimeter was expanded again preventing traffic from the lot. Onlookers were warned not to use cell phones or radios in proximity to the building.

"We don’t know if the device is fake or real, if it is set to a timer or could be triggered by a remote," Mattson said. "A cell phone or radio might just set it off."

Detective Spencer Osterberg described the suspect as a white male between the age of 30 and 40. He is about 5 feet 6 inches and stocky. He was wearing a white knit, pullover shirt and blue jeans and had a full beard, Osterberg said. He also wore a green ball cap.

FBI agents from the Rochester field office and a bomb squad from Bloomington were notified and were on their way a short time after the reported threat, Mattson said. Employees and witnesses were ordered to remain available to be interviewed by the agents.

Albert Lea Fire Chief Richard Sydness was at the scene following the initial report. His daughter, Terra, was on duty at the bank at the time of the robbery, he said. Sydness had a short conversation with his daughter before police whisked her away to be interviewed. Sydness said she was visibly upset.

"What I understand from talking to her briefly was that the suspect told her to sit quiet for 10 minutes in the vault, with the bomb, while he made his escape."

After 10 minutes were up, the woman notified police, her father said.

Another teller who was not identified also was visibly shaken and declined to comment. She was led away, arm in arm, by a female friend who arrived at the scene.

April Grecula, a security specialist with Norwest in Minneapolis, was passing through town shortly after the robbery and decided to stop in to do some business, she said. She spoke with agents from the FBI, but declined to comment about the robbery.

The Bloomington police bomb squad arrived at 8:09 p.m.

Officer Dan Murphy, donning full-protective gear, entered the building to examine the device. He gave a visual description of the device to his partner, Lt. Charles Kolar, who was sitting outside in the van. X-ray pictures also were taken, he said.

At 8:30 p.m., the bomb squad gave the all-clear signal, and an FBI agent was seen carrying what may have been the device in a plain brown paper bag.

The FBI declined to comment on whether or not the device was live.

Mattson described the suspect as a calculating professional. His identity is not yet known, and he is still at large, Mattson said.

"There is no question, this guy knew what he was doing," Mattson said.

There was no description of a vehicle given, as police are unsure what the suspect might have driven, Mattson said.

The FBI has officially taken over jurisdiction of the investigation, because the crime occurred in a Federal Reserve bank, Mattson said. The Albert Lea Police Department is assisting in collecting and processing evidence at the scene, including fingerprints and videotape from a security camera in the bank, he said.

A picture of the suspect caught on video security tape has been released by the Albert Lea Police Department and the FBI.

Before leaving, the Bloomington officers complimented the Albert Lea police on their security of the crime scene.

"One thing, Albert Lea (Police Department) did a great job. Everything was set up just right," Murphy said.

The suspect still is at large. Anyone with information that may lead to his arrest may call the Albert Lea Police Department or the FBI field office in Rochester.