By Melinda Deslatte/The Associated Press
BATON ROUGE, La. — The so-called “Granddad Bandit” suspected of robbing banks in 13 states eluded authorities for about two years even as he stayed in plain, unremarkable sight.
Michael Francis Mara, 52, had recently moved into a modest home in Baton Rouge with his new wife, a schoolteacher. She told neighbors about his frequent business trips around the country.
But authorities say he is connected to a string of 25 robberies beginning in Richmond, Va., in 2008 and passing through Alabama, Texas, Georgia, Arkansas, Kansas, New York, Florida, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky and Missouri — but not Louisiana.
The trail ended Wednesday when police and FBI agents acting on a tip surrounded his home and he surrendered peacefully after a six-hour standoff.
Last week, the FBI began posting pictures of the “Granddad Bandit” on billboards across the country, saying he was connected to a string of robberies dating back to a 2008 holdup of a SunTrust Bank in downtown Richmond. U.S. Attorney Neil MacBride in the Eastern District of Virginia credited the billboards with helping catch Mara.
According to an FBI affidavit filed Friday in federal court in Virginia, the FBI received a tip last week from someone who identified Mara as the robber and gave authorities photographs to match to bank surveillance videos.
A hat, eyeglasses and wristwatch were among the items that appeared to be identical between the photographs and surveillance footage, officials said.
The documents say Mara had worked — and may still work — for a vehicle transportation company, giving him the ability to easily travel to other states. Earlier this year, Mara rented a car for 52 days and logged 9,669 miles, the affidavit says. During that time, three robberies in three different states were connected to the “Granddad Bandit.”
The rest of his background wasn’t immediately known.
Gerry Hunt, a 65-year-old retiree who lives next door, said Mara moved to the pale yellow house with the white trim when he married his schoolteacher wife, Patsy, just over a year ago. Hunt said she didn’t see Mara much because he said he traveled for his job, claiming to work for FEMA on disaster recovery issues.
“We really didn’t know him. (His wife) would always say he was going out of town, and now that I think about it, everywhere he went, banks were robbed,” Hunt said, listing trips to Tennessee and Arkansas among those she was told about.
Hunt said Mara acted as though he had a law enforcement background, and she insisted Mara’s wife couldn’t have known about the robberies her husband allegedly committed.
“She absolutely knew nothing,” Hunt said. “I’m sure she’s just as baffled as everyone else is.”
Officials said Mara would be placed in the custody of the U.S. Marshal’s Service and appear before a magistrate judge in Baton Rouge before being transferred to Virginia to face the federal charges. If convicted of the Virginia bank robbery, he faces 20 years in prison.
It was unclear if the robber was actually a grandfather. FBI agents said the nickname was devised to help law enforcement and the public easily identify the suspect. “He just looks like everyone’s granddad,” FBI supervisory special agent Amanda Moran said last week.
The “Granddad Bandit” was described as a 45-to-60-year-old white man, about 6 feet tall and 230 pounds, balding with short grayish hair on the sides. He usually wore wire-rimmed glasses, short-sleeved collared shirts and ball caps.
In the robberies, the suspect waited patiently in line and handed the teller a note demanding a specific amount of money. Sometimes, he made gestures indicating he had a weapon, although agents said there was no indication he ever actually used one. Once his demands were met, he exited quietly, on foot.
“If he was standing behind you in the teller line while you’re waiting for teller service you wouldn’t give him a second look,” Moran said. “He blends well with people, and his look reminds you of the fatherly granddad.”