Akeley bank robbed Friday at gunpoint
The suspect in an Akeley branch bank robbery may have spent up to two hours casing the building before he pulled up to the front door, went in and robbed the bank at gunpoint Friday evening.
Authorities spent the weekend searching for the middle-aged man who took an undisclosed amount of money shortly before closing time.
The suspect, shown in bank surveillance photos released 24 hours after the heist, appeared calm as he handed a small gym bag over to the female teller.
It was 25 minutes before closing time Friday when an armed stranger, dressed in a baseball cap and sunglasses, walked into the First National Bank of Walker's branch, pointed his gun at the teller and said, "Put the money in this bag."
She hastily complied.
"He was in and out in less than 30 seconds," said Hubbard County Sheriff Frank Homer, whose department is assisting the FBI in the investigation of the heist.
Homer said the man and the dark blue Chevy Tahoe SUV had been spotted in town about an hour or two before the robbery, but in a town of less than 400, he was not known, Homer said,
"He sat a little bit on the street, like someone bumming around," Homer said.
The suspect waited until the coast was clear.
"No one was in the bank" at the time of the robbery aside from the three females employees, Homer said. "He was in and out, I'm telling you, it was between 20 and 30 seconds. I mean he knew what he was doing."
The brazen nature of the crime only became apparent after the suspect had left the area.
The bank is at the intersection of two state highways, 34 and 64.
"He parked right in front, right on 34, right outside the door," Homer said. Upon leaving the suspect took a right turn around the corner, then another right heading east toward Highway 64 on a road that eventually becomes County 23.
The bank's front door faces the highway. "That's why he didn't want to spend a lot of time in there," Homer speculated.
The suspect remains at large. The bank employees "said they had not seen him before," Homer said.
Because of the dirty condition of the SUV, Homer said authorities have been unable to get a license plate off the vehicle, so it is unknown if it is a Minnesota-registered truck.
The cash was taken from a single teller drawer, the sheriff said.
Three women were on duty at the time, Homer said. The bank closes at 6 p.m. Fridays.
"They didn't panic given the situation with a gun being involved," he said, "They were really courageous. They did what he asked."
"We don't normally release the amount that was taken, said FBI spokesman E.K. Wilson. "The amount taken was pretty consistent with what we normally see in a typical bank robbery. Even that factor alone, it's still an ongoing investigation and we're looking for some help in identifying who he could be and where."
Caught on tape
The grainy surveillance photos show the man, clad in light colored tennis shoes, jeans, a camouflaged jacket, ball cap and sunglasses, leaning against the teller counter demanding money.
Homer said the man seemed to know what he was doing.
"He wasn't going to waste a lot of time" in the bank, Homer said. "He'd either studied how to do it before or done it before," he said of the suspect's level of expertise.
The suspect was dressed in a camouflaged jacket and jeans. He's Caucasian, around 5'10" with a heavy build of around 210 pounds and is believed to be in his 40s or 50s.
"He might be in his 50s, even 55," Homer said.
But the suspect had a 24-hour head start before the photos were released.
"Obviously it's preferable to get images pulled from surveillance video and the sooner we can do that the better," Wilson said. "It's not always the case. Sometimes we don't have any images to release, sometimes they're of very poor quality to the extent they're pretty much useless. It would be preferable to wait for good usable images if it meant waiting for a period of time."
Both Homer and Wilson hope the pictures will bring some additional leads from the public.
Following the trail
Hubbard County investigators and deputies spent the weekend following up on leads and tips in the Akeley area, Homer said.
But by then, the suspect was long gone.
"We believe this is his M.O.," Homer said of the man's modus operandi. "He hits and runs."
Homer said authorities don't know if the robber is still driving the Tahoe or "if he ditched it, but it hasn't turned up anywhere so he may still be in it."
Monday morning a motorist from Deer River was pulled over in a Chevy Tahoe near Chamberlain, in east central Hubbard County. A criminal records check indicated a clean record, so the man was allowed to proceed on his way.
How'd he get here?
Whether Akeley was more vulnerable than other towns is unknown. The city recently laid off its part-time police force, citing money woes, and recently suspended its part-time police chief for alleged misconduct.
Homer said it's doubtful Akeley was singled out because of its lack of a police presence. The first officer on the scene was from neighboring Nevis.
Dep. Jeff Stacey, who arrived within minutes of the call, said the FBI and BCA were quickly brought in. Officers from the Minnesota State Patrol also responded, along with Hubbard County deputies and investigators.
"We've always been over here," said Dep. Jeremiah Johnson, who was patrolling Akeley Sunday with Dep. Jarod Andersen.
"We do get outstate bank robberies and the motives and circumstances vary," Wilson said. "I sure couldn't say specifically for this case but it's not out of the ordinary to have a few bank robberies outstate every year. But for this particular case I would not be able to speculate" whether Akeley was targeted by someone who knew it had no police department.
Homer said authorities are looking into recent fishing tournaments that could have brought the suspect to town.
"We had Audrey's Purple Dream and the Eelpout" tournaments, Homer said. "Could he have been part of either crowd?
"We're just trying to find all our options as to what brought this character to Akeley and a very visible bank on that corner, and a small bank with not a lot of employees and not a lot of eyes."
As soon as possible, Homer said his investigators plan on taking the surveillance photos to other banks in the region to see if anyone recognizes the suspect.
The photos were broadcast on several TV stations Monday night. Homer hopes the exposure brings tips from the public.
First National Bank of Walker has $256.5 million in assets and, besides the main bank in Walker, has branch banks in Longville, Backus and Hackensack, along with the Akeley branch. Funds are FDIC insured.
Business was back to normal Monday at the Akeley branch, where the employees reported, "we're doing pretty good."
Monday afternoon, bank president Michael Elsenpeter issued a statement. It said, in part:
"The bank personnel were unharmed and we commend them for the manner in which they responded and followed security procedures."
Elsenpeter thanked authorities and asked for the public's cooperation in apprehending the suspect.
They are asked to call 218-732-3331 with any information.