Cleveland Man Sought in Bank Robbery Spree

The robber's crime spree lasted two months, and his face appeared on surveillance images that sparked chatter in the blogosphere.

Surveillance photos showed a man, often wearing a knit hat, his face in full view. The strikingly clear photos became a staple on television and the Internet, with some bloggers wondering how that face could avoid arrest.

When the series of robberies was over, the man had hit 12 banks stretching from Erie, Pa., to Toledo, Ohio, the FBI said. Along the way, he hit up banks near Youngstown, Columbus and Cleveland as he made his way across Ohio, authorities said.

The robber followed a similar pattern in each theft. He would enter the bank and slip a note to the bank teller, demanding money, said FBI Special Agent Harry Trombitas. Then the robber would flee the bank before police arrived, Trombitas said.

Banks targeted by the robber included several branches of KeyBank, FirstMerit, National City Bank, Fifth Third Bank and PNC Bank, the FBI said.

Kenneth L. Gibson, 33, was charged on Dec. 30 with robbing a National City Bank in Cleveland on Dec. 29. Gibson has been jailed until his bond hearing scheduled for Monday.

The FBI suspects Gibson is the serial robber who held up 11 others beginning Oct. 27, but he has not yet been charged.

FBI spokesman Scott Wilson said charges are pending against Gibson in the other robberies.

Gibson has a rap sheet dating back at least 15 years for crimes including kidnapping, burglary and stolen property. He was ordered to undergo treatment for drug abuse in 1994, Cuyahoga County court records show.

His attorney, Debra Hughes, declined comment last week.

A woman contacted by The Associated Press at the address listed in court papers for Gibson said she couldn't comment or provide a contact who might. She declined to identify herself.

There were 52 bank holdups last year in the Cleveland area, but 24 came in the final four months of 2008 as the economy worsened. There were 59 holdups in 2007.

The FBI thinks the serial robber may have picked his targets because they are conveniently located near a highway. The FBI won't detail how much was stolen during the spree. An affidavit shows Gibson had more than $2,500 in cash taken from the National City Bank.

"Certainly the economic conditions do have an effect on crime rates," said Wilson, who has worked more than 1,000 bank holdups over a 19-year career in Cleveland and Detroit.

Serial bank robbers typically stage a holdup and quickly spend the money, often to fuel an appetite for drugs, alcohol or gambling, Wilson said.

"It's all about desperation," he said. "The majority of our bank robbers are desperate people and they do desperate things to get money to usually feed a habit."

Eyewitness Joseph Janke, 71, saw the robber's profile during the 12th heist, and said he was impressed by the robber's quick exit without attracting attention.

"I was wondering how come he got out of there so quick," said Janke, who was waiting to be called next in line at the bank. "I thought he did his business fast."