No one hurt as man holds up St. John bank

Times Staff Writer

ST. JOHN -- Police are searching for a man who chose lunch time to rob Centier Bank on Monday.

St. John police Capt. Bernie Johnsen said the man robbed the bank at 9151 Wicker Ave. at 11:34 a.m. Monday. The robber allowed a customer to go ahead of him before presenting one of the tellers with a printed note that simply said, "This is a robbery."

The man did not display a weapon. After the teller handed the man an undisclosed amount of money, he walked out of the bank and disappeared into shrubbery and trees on the south side of the building.

The Centier Bank branch is just a few blocks north of the St. John police station.

The bank's video camera captured the robbery and investigators are studying the videotape for more information.

Johnsen said there were about seven people in the bank at the time, five employees and two customers.

"The man was in the lobby and he told one of the customers to go ahead of him, saying they were there first," Johnsen said.

Johnsen said the St. John police crime lab unit is processing a palm print from the counter. He did not release other details or other evidence or clues in the case.

Although this is the first bank robbery of the year in St. John, Johnsen said this Centier Bank branch also was robbed last year and the thief got away by disappearing into the same shrubbery, trees and side street on the south side of the bank.

"But we got him," Johnsen said.

Mary Phillips, Centier Bank's security officer, declined to comment about the robbery, referring calls to police.

Wendy Osborne, FBI special agent and media coordinator in Indianapolis, said FBI agents joined St. John police on the scene.

"We'll be working alongside St. John with the investigation," Osborne said, adding she had not seen the video.

Osborne said the robbery was the fourth at a Lake County bank this year. The most recent, on July 26, was a robbery at Mercantile National Bank, 7227 Calumet Ave., Hammond.

There have not been any bank robberies in Porter County so far this year.

That's a dramatic decrease from the number of bank robberies in Lake and Porter counties in the last couple of years, Osborne said.

Northwest Indiana was plagued by bank robberies in 2002 and 2003, with a total of 29 in 2002. In contrast, there were 17 robberies in all of 2001, 14 in 2000 and nine in 1999.

Centier is adjacent to the Steeple Gallery on tiny Steeple Street, a short, paved side street. The gallery, which also has a small parking lot, was closed Monday. Trees, additional shrubbery and a fence are on the south side of the gallery. Next door to the gallery is a single-family brick home. The street that runs behind the bank and gallery is Thiel Street.

Johnsen said it is not clear if the man had a car waiting in the gallery's parking lot.

The robber is described as being white, about 6 feet to 6 feet 2 inches tall, stocky, but not fat, weighing about 220 to 250 pounds and wearing shorts or cut-off blue jeans, a gray T-shirt, white socks, white tennis shoes and a white baseball cap. Authorities believe the man is in his late 30s to mid 40s. He also was wearing glasses.

Johnsen said a woman, who works at a State Farm Insurance Co. near the bank, thought she saw the same man sitting at Dunkin' Donuts earlier, but that report was not confirmed.

Meanwhile, customers continued to walk up to the bank or head for the drive-through, barely noticing the closed sign or the white sheet of paper that said, "Branch closed until further notice due to a bank robbery."

June Gladish, of Dyer, said she didn't pay attention to the sign until she was nearly at the door.

"I guess we're getting a little more notoriety around here," she said