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Pistol-Packin’ ‘Priest’ Preys on Teller

Times Staff Writer

To the teller at the Garden Grove bank, the man in his conservative black suit and gray clerical collar was a priest making a deposit for the church.

But he was only dressed as a clergyman. And he ended up making a substantial withdrawal.

The middle-aged bandit brandished an automatic pistol and stole $5,800 from the Bank of America branch at 1187 Valley View St., Garden Grove Police Sgt. Bruce Beauchamp said Friday. Police and FBI investigators said the man probably bought the religious garb at a thrift store and that he was not a man of the cloth. It was the first time in a dozen years that a Southern California bank had been robbed by a “priest in disguise,” one FBI agent said Friday.

“We’ve had Santa Claus and a lot of others, but no priests,” said Bill Rehder, bank robbery coordinator for the FBI’s Southern California region. “Not for at least 12 years. And no nuns. And that’s one you couldn’t very well forget.”

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Police said the bandit strode into the bank at about 1:35 p.m. Thursday and got in line at the merchant teller booth, where transactions can be made more privately.

He waved some envelopes to get the teller’s attention, Beauchamp said, then announced, “I’m from St. Jude’s and I have a deposit.”

Pulls a Pistol

The teller pushed a button that releases the locked door to the booth, Beauchamp said, and the man walked in. The man pulled a small automatic pistol and declared that this was a holdup, investigators said.

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He was wearing a small earphone similar to those used on transistor radios and told the teller that he could hear if she tripped a silent alarm. He demanded all the money in her teller drawer, stuffed it into a briefcase and walked out of the bank, Beauchamp said. At that point, the bank’s silent alarm was pushed.

“She (the teller) . . . said the priest attire, when he did get close, was kind of dirty and rumpled,” Beauchamp said, “not nice and neat like a priest usually is . . . . He was very polite though.”

FBI Agent Dave Struck, who is investigating the robbery, said, “He probably got the clothes at the Goodwill.”

Clerical collars vary considerably, Struck said, depending on the religious denomination, but there is no church or monastery called St. Jude anywhere near the bank. There are St. Jude hospitals in Fullerton and Yorba Linda. An FBI spokesman said the robber’s collar had a stud at the throat.

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Police and FBI investigators said the man was described as a Caucasian in his late 50s or early 60s, about 6 feet, 2 inches tall with a thin build. They said he had dark, medium-length wavy hair, and gray eyes. He was last seen stepping into a small black car outside the bank.


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