There was no shortage of tips made to local police in the handful of days following the Jan. 28 attempted robbery of the downtown Zebulon PNC Bank.
But the volume of tips was likely the result of the several rewards being offered for arrest-producing information related to the incident, and none of the leads had proven solid as of Friday, according to Chief Tim Hayworth.
“We are still obviously very active in the investigation,” Hayworth said. “We received quite a few tips. The fact PNC Bank is offering a $5,000 reward (for the arrest and conviction of the suspect) has led to a lot of tips coming in which, when we follow up on them, are dead ends. But we keep following up on them, and it’s our belief one of these leads is going to lead to a suspect.”
The N.C. Bankers Association is also offering a cash reward for information leading to the arrest of the suspect, as is Eastern Wake Crimestoppers.
The suspect attempted to enter the back door of the 300 N. Arendell Ave. bank about 9 that Thursday morning.
Surveillance video shows the bank’s manager standing at the door as the suspect approached, then holding the door shut even with the suspect showing a handgun and trying to gain entry. The struggle lasted a matter of seconds before the suspect fled, and no one was hurt.
Zebulon Middle School and East Wake Academy, located in the direction the suspect fled, were placed on lockdown for about an hour from the time the bank reported the incident.
“Once we got a police dog and tracked to some tire marks to a recent spinout, we determined the attempted robber got away in a vehicle and we went ahead and released the lockdowns,” Hayworth said. “We’re still asking if anyone recognizes the (suspect’s) clothing, if someone knows him and sees him and says, ‘Oh, I saw those clothes in his car, that looks like this guy,’ to call us and tell us.”
Past suspect at large
Police aren’t overlooking the possibility that the recent suspect could also be the robber dubbed the “Eyes Only Bandit,” who remains wanted for robbing four local banks in recent years, including the PNC Bank in Zebulon.
However, Hayworth could not say with certainty that the two suspects are one in the same.
“There is a possibility – there are some real similarities to (their methods)” he said. “We don’t want to lock someone in to say we believe that’s the same person, but we do believe it could be connected to previous robberies.”
The Eyes Only Bandit earned his nickname for wearing gloves, a hooded coat and scarf over his face in each robbery. Only his eyes were visible.
The Zebulon PNC Bank was the first target in his quartet of robberies, which began Dec. 16, 2013. He went on in 2014 to hold up the PNC Bank on Branch Street in Spring Hope on Jan. 10, and then the First Citizens Bank on Main Street in Franklinton twice, on Feb. 26 and March 13.
‘A lot of similarities’
Like the suspect in the recent PNC robbery attempt, the Eyes Only Bandit was described by police as a black male about or just shorter than 6 feet tall and of medium build. Police said the recent suspect presented a small, black semi-automatic pistol, similar to the weapon the Eyes Only Bandit showed in two of the four holdups for which he is wanted.
The recent suspect also donned gloves, a hoodie and a mask during the attempted robbery. He appeared in surveillance footage, however, to be wearing sunglasses, a variation from the “eyes only” theme.
“This guy is pretty close to (the same description),” Hayworth said. “His face is a little more covered, but a lot of the MO is the same. He parked in the same location, he ran in the same location, he used a similar handgun described in this case. A lot of similarities, but we’re not saying definitively it is the same person.”
Anyone with information on the recent attempted robbery is asked to contact the Zebulon Police Department at 919-823-1818 or Eastern Wake Crimestoppers at 919-366-2746.