In an apparently unprecedented robbery attempt at the El Toro Marine Corps Air Station, two men attacked three tellers at a credit union on base, hitting them with wooden table legs, but then mysteriously fled without taking any of the exposed thousands of dollars in cash.
The FBI, which is investigating, suspects that the attackers, both about 19 and long-haired, were not Marines.
"We tend to think they might be civilians, because of the longer hair," said Jose Ambriz, special agent of Naval Investigative Services.
Ambriz said investigators don't know how the men entered or left the Marine Air Federal Credit Union. The tellers had already locked the doors and begun closing procedures but were having some problems balancing the day's books when the men appeared at 5:15 p.m., he said.
The would-be robbers might have been hiding in the office or they could have entered through the self-locking employees' door, through which a fourth teller had just left, he said.
The attackers struck the women's heads from behind with table legs they had brought with them but fled when one of the women screamed.
"To tell you the truth, I'm not sure why they fled," said David De Priest, assistant special agent of Naval Investigative Services. "It's hard to tell at this point what their motive was for fleeing."
Ambriz said the attackers could have stolen thousands of dollars from the open vault and from one teller's drawer, which remained open.
"If they had just reached into the vault and grabbed a handful of cash, they could have gotten $2,000 easily," he said, in addition to about $1,000 in the teller's drawer. He was unable to estimate, and the credit union's vice president Dick Klarmann refused to disclose, the total amount of money in the office vault at the time of the robbery attempt.
Bucky Cox, an FBI supervisor in Santa Ana, said one of the attackers was about 6 feet, 2 inches tall with brown/blond hair short on the sides and long in back. The other was about 5 feet, 11 inches tall with sandy brown hair. Both wore baseball caps, scarf-masks and dark classes. One of them fled without his baseball cap, which is blue, with a yellow Camel cigarette logo and lettering reading "Camel" and "World Class Soccer."
They escaped in an older-model gray sports car.
Military officials had no recollection of any similar robbery attempt at the base but said records of the three credit union offices and a former base bank only go back three years.
The three tellers, who are related to Marines stationed at the base, were treated at the base clinic and a local hospital, then released, De Priest said. At least two of them required more than a dozen stitches.