Wednesday, October 20, 2004

At moment of capture,
robber showed pride

'I guess you know who I am'

By Andrew Wolfson
The (Louisville) Courier-Journal

Day 1: 'Gentleman' bank robber defied police
Day 2: More holdups feed confidence, bravado
Day 3: At moment of capture, robber showed pride

Two days after eluding a police officer who'd stopped him for a traffic violation in Bloomington, Ind., David Brankle peered out from his garage to see an Indiana State Police cruiser pulling up in front of his Vincennes home.

It was 9 a.m., on a brisk, sunny, New Year's Eve day, 2003.

Brankle's wife had gone for a run at the YMCA, and the Interstate Bank Mart bandit decided he'd better make a run of his own.

He placed his 4-year-old son in his stolen BMW and took off. Master Sgt. John Trotter chased him a mile to the Y, where Brankle abandoned the car - and his son - and took off on foot.

State Police Detective Sgt. Greg Winkler, off duty and making a bank deposit nearby, heard chatter about the chase on his radio and joined in, running down Brankle after a 250-yard pursuit.

Police still didn't know at that point that he was the IBM bandit, but the car was swimming with evidence, including the gun he was later charged with using in carjacking the BMW from a salesman in Louisville in March 2002.

Brankle knew his run was up.

"We need to talk," he told Winkler. "I guess you know who I am. I am the IBM bandit."

Winkler pretended he'd never heard the nickname. Brankle told him to call Louisville Metro Police Detective Larry Duncan. "He'll tell you who I am."

"You could tell on his face he was pretty proud of who he was," Winkler said.

Duncan was happy to learn the serial bank robber had been caught but disappointed at how it ended.

"From a detective's perspective, we didn't want him to get caught the way he got caught," he said. "We felt we could catch him in an operation. And every jurisdiction wanted to be the one to catch him - including me, more than anyone."

FBI Special Agent C.J. Freihofer said later that, while the IBM bandit was apprehended through a lucky break, the multistate investigation allowed law enforcement to link the robberies and provided the ammunition they would need when they finally interviewed Brankle.

Kim Brankle said she learned her husband was an accused bank robber when the FBI came calling.

"I knew he was a crook," she told a reporter. "But not that kind of crook."

A handshake, but no hug

Brankle, ready to confess, said he would tell his story only to Duncan, Freihofer and Blue Ash Detective Joe Schlie.

"I owe it to them, I'm gonna give this to them first, because they've been working on it the longest." When the hunters and hunted finally met on Jan. 3, 2003, Duncan reached out to shake Brankle's hand, and Brankle tried to hug him, Duncan recalled.

"I wasn't going for that," Duncan said, laughing. "I had Joe and C.J. there, and I wasn't about to hug this criminal in front of them."

But Brankle and Duncan established an immediate rapport, with Duncan leading him through a statement that consumed the better part of three days.

Brankle told interrogators about nine robberies they didn't know he had committed - and convinced them he hadn't done two they thought were his.

He said he knew he'd eventually be apprehended: "This is not a career kind of thing; I mean, even the best of the best ... get caught." Referring to his jail garb, he said, "We either retire wearing funky outfits like this, or we just quit, or we're shot in the process of doing it."

He insisted to police that he was going to quit - that that is what he meant when he wrote on a "priority list" found in his car, "Get out of the grocery business."

Duncan didn't buy it, for on the same list Brankle wrote, "Get wig plus facial hair." Duncan said he believes the "grocery" reference just meant that Brankle had decided to change his method - as he did on his final two robberies last December, when he robbed banks that weren't in supermarkets.

In court, one more lie

Facing up to 183 years in prison if convicted at trial, Brankle pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Cincinnati on April 26.

He admitted to the unarmed robbery of 43 banks in Florida, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri and Tennessee, and to taking a vehicle by intimidation and using a firearm during a federal offense.

To prove he was knowingly entering his plea, Brankle recited his educational accomplishments to Chief District Judge Sandra Beckwith, telling her - falsely - that he has a master's degree in business from Indiana University.

Why lie when he had nothing to gain?

"That's just Dave," Brankle said about himself later. "It's something I've been doing all my life."

Brankle was sentenced on Sept. 22 to 21 years in prison and ordered to pay $175,141 in restitution - part of it deducted from his prison pay.

He objected bitterly that the punishment was too harsh, citing other bank robbers he claimed were treated more leniently.

He will have to serve 85 percent of his sentence before he can be released, which - including various credits - could come in 2019, when he is 64.

"The only thing I never wanted to do was lose my son," he said. "And now I've done that myself, by my own hand."

Part 3 of 3In a 20-month spree that ended just before Christmas 2003, David Brankle held up 43 banks in six states, seven of them in the Cincinnati area and 11 in Kentucky, Police dubbed him the Interstate Bank Mart bandit. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced Sept. 22 in U.S District Court in Cincinnati to 21 years in prison.

This story is based on Brankle's 481-page confession to police, a five-hour interview with him, and extensive interviews with his former wife, the detectives who hunted for him and others.

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