Advertisement

‘Roofman’ Gets the Blame for 38 Robberies in 9 States

Share
TIMES STAFF WRITER

He makes his trademark entry through the roofs of hamburger restaurants and other businesses, hacking out a hole with saws and drills--even an ax--and dropping in to surprise employees.

Despite an occasional pistol-whipping or shots fired into the air, victims say the notorious rooftop robber remains a cordial character who suggests they don their jackets before he locks them up shivering in the walk-in freezer. He later calls the cops to open the cooler.

The masked, athletic suspect, whom authorities have dubbed Roofman, has struck 38 times across nine states from California to North Carolina. He has a penchant for Northern California, where 25 of his cat burglary-style robberies have been staged.

Advertisement

“He’s businesslike and focused, and very serious about what he does,” said Mike Van Winkle, a spokesman for the California Department of Justice. “But many of those he’s robbed have been struck by what a nice, decent guy he seems to be, a real gentleman.”

Since the crimes began in November 1998, authorities said, Roofman has robbed businesses in Nevada, Oregon, Minnesota, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina and Massachusetts. In California, nine robberies have occurred in Sacramento County. He also has hit restaurants in San Pedro, Castaic and San Luis Obispo.

While he mostly targets McDonald’s restaurants, the Roofman also has robbed Burger King, Blockbuster video, Toys R Us, Home Base and several grocery stores.

The thief last struck Sunday night in Clovis, just outside Fresno, taking about $2,000 from a McDonald’s and locking four young employees in a walk-in cooler--all the time wearing a smile, police said.

“For a guy holding a gun, he was pretty mellow,” said Clovis police Lt. Tim Bos. “He wasn’t excited in the least.”

McDonald’s officials say they may have a real Hamburglar on their hands.

“He likes us,” said one official, who asked not to be named. “He’s very brand loyal, a loyal customer. And we work hard to build that loyalty.”

Making off with about $100,000, Roofman has found a robbery recipe that suits his surprise-raid style, say authorities, who have offered a $10,000 reward for his arrest.

“It’s human nature that when you find something that works, you continue to do it,” Van Winkle said. “He knows that unlike banks, where you often encounter silent alarms, video cameras and armed security guards, that’s not the case with fast-food places.

“His victims are usually teens he knows aren’t going to risk their life over a few thousand dollars and a job serving up hamburgers.”

Authorities said Roofman scouts out his targets and then--usually under the cover of darkness--makes a 2-foot-by-2-foot hole and surprises employees, ordering them to hand over the day’s receipts. He then corrals them into a freezer or back room, escaping on foot.

Police describe him as 18 to 30 years old and between 5-foot-7 and 6-foot-3 with an extremely athletic build, full lips and a pronounced Adam’s apple. He may work with an accomplice.

Roofman often jokes with his victims. “As he herds them into the cooler, he’ll say ‘Well, look at it this way, at least you’ll get the rest of the day off,’ ” said Lodi police Det. Brian Scott. “He’s definitely not your typical ‘Hands up! This is a robbery!’ kind of crook.”

Still, during several holdups, he has fired his semiautomatic handgun into a wall “to show people he means business,” and he once shot a telephone to prevent employees from calling police, Van Winkle said. He also has shot out a glass door to escape.

In a Sacramento-area robbery in February, a McDonald’s employee surprised Roofman inside the restaurant, striking him on the head with a bucket. The youth was pistol-whipped by the robber but not seriously hurt.

“Nice as he may seem, we still consider Roofman to be armed and dangerous,” Van Winkle said. “We’re not sure how much violence he’s capable of.”

Sometimes, his exploits have taken a page from a Keystone Kops episode.

Dozens of times, local police have found half-drilled holes and abandoned equipment, suggesting his holdup attempts were foiled.

In Folsom on Thanksgiving, he drilled into a McDonald’s only to find that the restaurant was closed for the day. At other businesses, he has dropped through the wrong part of the roof, finding his path blocked by a freezer or other obstacle.

Scott said police came closest to capturing the fleet-footed crook after a robbery in Placerville. After being spotted by officers, he dashed across four lanes of traffic on U.S. 50 to make his escape.

Due to the widespread nature of the robberies, the California Department of Justice has assigned an agent to coordinate the investigation. Roofman has been so successful, investigators say, he has inspired a string of copycat break-ins.

“Based on the sheer coast-to-coast logistics, it’s hard to catch up with him,” Scott said. “You set up a surveillance in one town, and he just drives down the road.

“Or maybe to a different state entirely.”

Advertisement