Bank 'Bandit' Was Student of The Heist, Police Say

By Shelly Whitehead, The Cincinnati Post

Robbing banks was much more than a job to David Brankle, according to police who said the accused 47-year-old serial bandit treated bank robbery more like a profession.

In interviews with detectives after his Dec. 31 arrest in Indiana, the Vincennes man not only admitted to 42 Midwest bank robberies in 21 months, but detailed how he researched the techniques of the best bank robbers and tracked the progress of the five-state police investigation into the crimes he allegedly committed.

In other words, investigators said, he sought to be pretty good at a bad occupation.

Brankle was dubbed the Interstate Bank Mart Bandit because police say he always targeted bank branches inside supermarkets, typically large crowded grocery stores near interstate highways, which facilitated easy escape.

Ultimately though, law enforcement officials appear to have won out, using a massive 29-agency network of local, state and federal investigators to track and finally nab the suspect near his home. Police say the 47-year-old Brankle was driving the stolen luxury car videotaped fleeing the scene of several of the trademark supermarket bank branch robberies.

"It's been a really good team effort -- the best team effort really that I've ever been involved with in 23 years in law enforcement, -- (with) federal, local, state police and county sheriff's offices -- everybody exchanging information," said Blue Ash Police Detective Joe Schlie, who worked with the FBI and Louisville police to establish the interstate law enforcement task force investigating the serial bank robbery spree that began in April 2002. The Fifth Third Bank in a Kroger store in Blue Ash, robbed last February, was among Brankle's alleged targets.

"Let's face it, this guy is good. He was careful, and he did his homework before he robbed these banks. He knew the percentages. He researched other serial bank robbers to see how they did it -- I couldn't believe the tactics (of) this guy. He did a lot of computer work, and he was following our investigation through the news."

But police were also doing a lot of computer work, continually communicating information among departments in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri and Tennessee about grocery bank branch holdups and investigative leads.

That network and the information disseminated through it ultimately proved key to Brankle's capture after what should have been a run-of-the-mill traffic stop for erratic driving Dec. 29 in Bloomington.

After handing the Bloomington police officer his driver's license, Brankle sped away, perhaps knowing police would soon discover the $60,000 late model BMW he was driving was stolen. In fact, that is just what police found out.

Using the information on the driver's license Brankle left behind during that traffic stop, authorities found out where the man they only suspected then of auto theft was living.

On New Year's Eve, Indiana authorities went to Brankle's home, where they encountered their suspect preparing to drive off with his 5-year-old son in that same BMW. Police say Brankle again sped away and after a short car chase, jumped out and ran away, leaving his young son behind.

After a brief foot chase police had their man, though still unaware that he would soon admit to a 43-bank robbery spree that detectives say netted him approximately $200,000 in less than two years. Schlie said that's when more than one year of hard work by dozens of detectives and FBI agents paid off.

"It wasn't until (police) started checking out his car that they knew he might be connected to the bank robbery," Schlie said.

Brankle "had a newspaper clipping from the (Louisville) Courier Journal with a front page story that was all about the bank robberies. That piqued (police) interest, so they checked with the FBI and called Cincinnati -- and called me and (Louisville Metro Police Department Detective) Larry Duncan.

"But they wouldn't have known anything about these robberies -- if we hadn't been circulating the information like this.''

Brankle has been charged in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati with bank robbery. Kevin R. Brock, special agent-in-charge for the FBI's Cincinnati field office, said that Brankle is suspected of robbing 42 banks in Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee and Missouri.

Fort Wright, Ky., Detective Michael Knight joined the multi-state law enforcement task force investigating the robberies soon after it was formed in March of 2003. Knight was already investigating what police believe was Brankle's fifth bank robbery which occurred at the Provident Bank branch inside the Thriftway grocery store on Dixie Highway in December 2002.

Knight said he is anxious to interview Brankle. It will be an invaluable learning experience, he says.

"One thing about this individual that is unique is that all (the banks robbed) were inside grocery stores,'' he said. "The other thing is that he used duplicate copies of the same note with the same words in each note and he taped his fingers so we wouldn't get any fingerprints -- So I have a lot of unanswered questions."

But Knight said for all the pains Brankle allegedly took to get away with the crimes, he also made some big mistakes. Though he allegedly targeted busy grocery stores where he could blend into the crowd to make a getaway, he failed to realize that some of those supermarkets had exterior security cameras.

Video from those cameras may prove critical in the case since police say they show Brankle making his escape in a handful of cars, one of which allegedly was that same black BMW he attempted to use for his final getaway.

Detectives had little information about the life Brankle was leading in the Indiana college town. Schlie said Brankle's criminal history was unimpressive -- just a few minor crime convictions, he said. He said Brankle apparently had just one child. His marital status was not clear. But apparently Brankle was embarking on a more legitimate career.

"He said he's a budding real estate developer -- I think he needed that to run in the circles he was running," said Schlie. "So if he was trying to develop a site, he could meet with (wealthy) people and try to come off as something he was not. -- But he was living not too high on the hog -- though he had a really nice BMW."

As to why Brankle allegedly committed so many bank holdups, neither Knight nor Schlie could say. But Knight speculated that like other serial bandits, Brankle probably kept robbing because it seemed so easy.

"A lot of bank robbers, the first time they are extremely nervous," Knight said. "They get two or three under their belts, and it seems routine -- This guy probably did it for the financial (gain), but also because it felt relatively easy."

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