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Bank Robbery Probers Focus on Similar Crime

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Times Staff Writer

The FBI and Los Angeles authorities are investigating whether two men who earlier this week held the family of a bank teller overnight, then robbed her Buena Park branch, were involved in a similar holdup in Torrance, officials said Tuesday.

In the Torrance robbery last April, three men held a Wells Fargo Bank manager and her son in their home for 12 hours, then forced the woman to open the bank’s vault just before the branch opened. Officials have declined to say how much money was stolen in Torrance, but have stated that it was “a large sum.”

In a similar scenario, two men wearing black wigs and beards forced their way into the La Habra apartment of the Buena Park bank’s teller Sunday night and held her and three family members at gunpoint until Monday morning.

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The men then forced the woman into a Security Pacific Bank branch after saddling her with a device that they claimed was a remote-control bomb. It was fake and no one was injured, but the robbers escaped with $80,000.

“There are enough similarities between the two operations to cause us to look at whether they were committed by the same people,” said Lt. Fred Woodall of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department robbery division. “You don’t have to be a college professor to see enough similarities to provoke your interest.”

Fred Reagan, an FBI spokesman in Los Angeles, said the similarities were worth “some serious investigative consideration.”

No bomb or bomb threat was used in the Torrance robbery, according to authorities.

“Our investigators are comparing notes to determine whether the two (robberies) might have been committed by the same folks,” Reagan said.

Bucky Cox, who heads the FBI’s Orange County office, said several similar bank robberies have occurred in the West in recent years. FBI officials “have not eliminated anybody as suspects,” he said.

Buena Park bank teller Norma Yolanda Sanchez, 47, was distraught following the Monday holdup, in which the robbers threatened to explode the device if employees in the Beach Boulevard branch bank interfered with the robbery or notified police.

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The ordeal began about 7 p.m. Sunday, when two intruders confronted Sanchez’s husband, Andrew, as he was leaving their apartment in the 800 block of North Walnut Street. The gunmen held the Sanchezes, their 6-year-old daughter and Norma Sanchez’s son, Larry Kelly, inside the apartment until daybreak.

The robbers then forced Norma Sanchez and her son to the bank. One man waited outside with the son during the robbery. Inside the bank, the second gunman forced an assistant branch manager to gather money from the bank’s automatic teller machine, the vault and teller cash drawers.

The robbers were described as white men in their 30s. No descriptions were available of the bandits in the Torrance holdup.

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