There may be an easier way to rob banks these days – pulling off a heist from the comfort of your home, for example, as hackers have increasingly done in recent years.
They break in electronically, pirate funds from one bank, wire them to another, and send in human mules to withdraw the loot. No need for a gun, a getaway car, or a footrace down the street, leaving a trail of flying cash.
But Anthony Leonard Hathaway was old school. He dressed up, donned a pair of gloves and personally went door to door for his money. Two-and-a-half-dozen bank doors to be exact.
When the 46-year-old unemployed Everett, Wash., man went off to prison the other day, he ended what officials think may be a Northwest record for bank-robbing frequency: 30 holdups in a 1-year, 6-day span with a tax-free take of $73,628. That’s roughly two to three heists every month averaging around $2,450. At that rate, said Seattle police Det. Len Carver, a member of the FBI’s Seattle Safe Streets Task Force, “he might top the list for sheer number of robberies in a one-year period.” The FBI considers Carl Gugasian of Pennsylvania as the most prolific bank robber ever. Currently serving a 17-year-sentence, he robbed more than 50 banks, the agency said, making off with $2 million. But it took him 30 years.
It’s not uncommon for the agency task force to encounter bank robbers who keep going until they're caught. “For instance, in August 2011, authorities arrested the ‘Bad Hair Bandit’ after an alleged string of 20 bank robberies across Washington, Oregon, and California over eight months," Seattle FBI spokeswoman Ayn Dietrich-Williams said.
But Hathaway may be the most prolific ever encountered by the task force due to his successful modus operandi. He typically took only seconds to pull a job, hit some of the same banks more than once, and always wore a mask and gloves.
He was so busy that he earned two nicknames from the FBI, which typically hangs identifying monikers on serial robbers to catch the public’s attention. Initially, in 2013, Hathaway was called the Cyborg Bandit because he wore a textured metallic fabric over his face, giving him the aura of a science-fiction creature, the FBI said. That disguise drew considerable media attention -- so Hathaway switched to covering his head with a heavy shirt, cutting out two holes to see through. He’d drape the disguise over his head as he walked in.
The FBI then memorably labeled him the Elephant Man Bandit. In bank photos, Hathaway looked eerily similar to the movie character based on 19th century Londoner Joseph Merrick, who draped his disfigured face.
Hathaway, whose court record consisted only of traffic violations up to then, began his three-county bank robbery binge in Everett, north of Seattle, with the Feb. 5, 2013 holdup of a Banner Bank. It was a success, earning him $2,151.
As in all his heists, he never showed a gun -- though at some banks he implied he was armed, shouting, “Everyone get down!” as he bounded up to a teller and demanded money. (According to the FBI, most bank robbers use oral commands and demand notes rather than weapons).
Two weeks later, Hathaway hit a second bank, getting $2,122, and 10 days after that, his third ($2,760), according to an FBI task force chart. In that first month, he’d gotten away with just over $7,000 in cash.
After other holdups in April, he laid low until July, then hit three banks in 12 days, including one on Whidbey Island north of Seattle for what would be his biggest take of the string, $6,396. (His smallest haul was $700).
Hathaway continued in that off-and-on pattern, randomly hitting banks within a 50-mile radius, until Feb. 11, 2014, when he was arrested outside a Seattle bank.
Det. Steve Hoover, also a member of the FBI task force, said investigators had already established that a serial bandit was at work and had obtained the license number of an apparent getaway vehicle, a light blue minivan with a Seattle Seahawks decal on the back window, used in a Feb. 4 holdup.
Agents found the van outside an Everett apartment and then trailed it to Seattle, watching it circle a Key Bank in the University District. They saw the driver enter the bank while pulling a covering over his face. When he emerged, they arrested him.
Anthony Hathaway identified himself, handed over $2,310, and admitted not only to that bank holdup, but to 29 others, officials said.
“Most people who rob banks are supporting an addiction of some kind, drugs or gambling,” Carver said. In Hathaway’s case, it was apparently both. He was a frequent figure at casinos, where surveillance video showed him wearing the same clothes he’d worn holding up banks. Prosecutors said he admitted to being hooked on Oxycontin, prescribed for an injury. When he lost his job, he resorted to heroin financed with his crime money.
After spending more than a year and a half in jail preparing for trials in several counties, Hathaway agreed to a plea deal, admitting to five state charges of first-degree robbery. In mid-January, he was sentenced to almost nine years in prison.
Nationally, bank robbery rates have dropped from 5,000 in 2011, the last peak year, to just under 4,000 in 2014, the latest year for which figures are available.
That was the same year that Los Angeles, once considered the bank robbery capital of the U.S., lost that distinction to Atlanta. Among the causes were improved bank security methods and more thieves resorting to cyber heists (which are not currently included in FBI bank robbery figures).
The FBI's Dietrich-Williams said there was no indication the robbery rate is falling in the Seattle area, however. "Nothing stands out to our investigators to strongly suggest a decline here," she said -- other than, of course, the departure of Anthony Hathaway.
Anderson is a special correspondent based in Seattle.