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Bardstown bank robberies part of small-town trend

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By Kacie Goode

 The Arkansas woman accused of robbing a Wilson and Muir bank earlier this month adds to a growing list of cases targeting Bardstown branches, but the small town crimes are not unique to the area.

According to 2018 bank crime statistics from the FBI, close to 29 percent of bank robberies nationwide last year were in small towns or rural areas, and that percentage was actually at its lowest in a five-year span. Between 2013 and 2017, crimes committed in small cities and towns accounted for up to 36 percent of bank robberies across the U.S.

The prevalence of these small-town heists contradicts Hollywood’s portrayal of bank robberies in which gunmen storm a financial institution, take hostages and get away with millions. In reality, the perpetrators of these crimes most often leave with much lower amounts, rarely reach or even target the vault and many are later apprehended by police.

The topic is one The New York Times explored in a 2002 article called “Robbers Rediscover the Small-Town Bank,” when Jodi Wilgoren reported on two robberies that occurred in a small Kansas town of only 200 people. At that time, small-town robberies were on the rise.

Small-town targets

The Times article explored the question of why these small-town banks were being targeted by thieves, and a lack of certain security measures was among the suggested reasons. The banks in small towns were less likely to have security guards on duty, may not have metal detectors, and may have had poorer surveillance in place, if any at all. One reason the Times cited aligns closely with a theory from local law enforcement.

“I think robbers try to target smaller cities just because of the fact that you have a smaller police force” compared to large urban areas, said Kevin Thompson, assistant chief for the Bardstown Police Department.

For example, a robber might take into account how far away the closest police unit is when in a rural location or even how many officers are patrolling an area at a certain time of day. In some cases, if a town is small enough, law enforcement may not be present at all.

That was the case in two bank robberies in central Illinois in 2013, when the accused robbers, Joseph Allspach and Robert McKissic, were reported to have texted one another looking for small towns that had no police department.

But what would be seen in small towns as an advantage to prospective robbers is also something that can work against them. In the Illinois case, a lack of a police department in the area didn’t prevent the capture of the suspects.

According to The State Journal-Register, which reported on the Illinois crimes, residents were able to provide authorities with information such as the suspects’ description, what their getaway car looked like and a license plate number.

“To their disadvantage is that the people in small towns know who everybody is,” Jack Campbell, the undersheriff for Sangamon County, Ill., told a Register reporter. “They know who belongs there. They know what vehicles do not belong there, and when they see something out of the ordinary, they’re the ones who will take the time to notice things and jot down license plate numbers.”

That same type of community policing has been encouraged here in Nelson County, which not only has a fully staffed city police force, but also a county sheriff’s office. Residents have done their part to aid local law enforcement in solving crimes and have played a role in the capture of many suspects, including some of the robbers.

But even with a quick response from law enforcement — who arrive within minutes of the initial call — the placement of small-town bank branches can make it difficult to apprehend a robber immediately if they flee the scene.

In one of the local robberies, Thompson said, one reason a suspect gave for robbing a certain branch was that it offered “different avenues for escape,” and since most of the robberies were committed by locals, knowing the streets and being on foot gave them a short-term advantage.

While suspects have been captured for six robberies in Bardstown in recent years, only the most recent was captured the same day of the first crime.

When Crystal Gibbons allegedly robbed the Culpepper branch May 9, she was apprehended within five minutes after a brief car chase. When David Wayne Smith robbed the same branch in 2015, however, he was also captured the same day with the help of surveillance footage and witness accounts, but the robbery was his third in Bardstown within a month. Smith had eluded police after robbing branches on North Third Street and John Rowan Boulevard between March and April.

Kevin Mahana, who recently entered a guilty plea for robbing WesBanco on North Third Street Nov. 16, also eluded capture for close to a month. Ledrick Edwards, who robbed the same branch Dec. 7, was apprehended about a week later with the help of nearby surveillance video. Police response was fast in all of those cases and even when the perpetrator wasn’t captured the same day, police were quick to identify potential suspects.

Proactive measures

At the time of Smith’s 2015 robberies, then-Bardstown Police Chief Rick McCubbin called for some changes in robbery protocol for banks. McCubbin distributed a letter to banks asking that tellers not rely fully on their alarm companies to report robberies, but rather have the tellers contact Nelson County Dispatch directly so as to give police a jump on finding the suspect.

The request worked. After Smith’s robbery of the Culpepper location, police were on scene within minutes after they were contacted by the bank. The officers on scene were able to find security footage of Smith’s vehicle, provide a description to Kentucky State Police and other first responders and quickly had the suspected located and captured.

Other proactive measures have been in place following robberies at different locations.

After the bank branch on North Third was robbed for the fourth time while owned by three different companies, a marked police car was parked in the area throughout the week as a deterrent for any other would-be criminals. Thompson said that branch has also since updated some of its security measures and patrol was increased in the area.

Following the May 9 robbery on Culpepper, Thompson also said officers have been asked to step up patrol around other banks.

While Bardstown has had its fair share of bank robberies in recent years, Thompson doesn’t think the rate is unusually high. He’s seen three in his year-and-a-half with Bardstown, but coming from Louisville Metro, which averages more than a dozen a year, he said, the problem is one other areas also experience.

“In Louisville, some years it would be low, some it would be high,” he said. “And sometimes they had a serial robber, with eight in six months.”

Thompson also noted that in the robberies BPD has worked since he came on board, all three suspects have been located, charged and are currently going through the court system.  

Bank robberies going through court 

 

Crystal Diane Gibbons pleaded not guilty during her arraignment last week and had a preliminary hearing scheduled for Tuesday after press time for this edition. She is accused of robbing the Wilson and Muir bank branch on Culpepper Street by Walmart May 9, but is not the first to hit the bank, nor is she the only accused robber currently going through the local court system. The incident marks at least the seventh bank robbery the city has worked in four years.  

In 2015, the Culpepper branch was robbed by David W. Smith, a Bardstown man, who was also accused of robbing what was then Your Community Bank branches on North Third and John Rowan Boulevard within a month’s time.  

Smith’s robbery charges were amended to second-degree in October 2015 when he entered a guilty plea for all three cases, and he was sentenced to 10 years in prison. At the time of Smith’s arrest for the string of robberies, Bardstown Police were investigating four robberies in total, including another robbery at the North Third location in 2014 when it was a First Federal Savings Bank. But Smith was only pinned for three of the robberies. According to then-Police Chief Rick McCubbin, a suspect was developed for the 2014 robbery, but there was not yet enough evidence to issue charges. 

While Smith was sentenced for his crimes in 2015, another local bank robber, Kevin Mahana, is expected to be sentenced on Thursday for a second-degree robbery charge. Mahana pleaded guilty last month to robbing WesBanco on North Third Street Nov. 16. According to court documents, prosecutors recommend a five-year sentence for Mahana and oppose probation. He would also have to pay restitution to the bank in the amount of $4,800. 

A few weeks after Mahana robbed the North Third location, the bank was targeted again by Ledrick Edwards, who had just been paroled from serving time for a 2008 bank robbery in another county. 

Edwards is charged with second-degree robbery in the local case, and has a jury trial set for July 22.