In banks from Utah to Missouri to Pennsylvania, a middle-age man with grayish and thinning hair, glasses and a blue polo shirt has been demanding money from frightened tellers and sometimes telling the same sad story: He only had months to live.
After his fourth heist, he was nicknamed the “Bucket List Bandit” because the robberies were believed to be the actions of a desperate and dying man.
On Friday, the FBI announced that a suspect had been captured during a routine traffic stop Thursday night in the eastern Oklahoma city of Roland.
Officers determined that Michael Eugene Brewster, 54, of Pensacola, Fla., was driving a stolen SUV on Thursday that he borrowed from a friend 10 days before the first robbery and that it had improper Utah license plates, said Rick Rains, a spokesman for the FBI’s Oklahoma City office.
“They determined the vehicle was reported stolen, and one thing led to another. Ultimately, they called us and we were able to determine who he was,” Rains said. “It was a little bit of luck on our part.”
Rains would not say whether Brewster was armed. The robber told tellers he had a weapon but never showed one.
Brewster appeared briefly Friday afternoon in U.S. Magistrate Court in Muskogee, shackled at his hands and feet and flanked by a pair of federal marshals. He acknowledged being the man sought by the FBI and said only “Yes, ma’am” and “No, ma’am” when questioned by the judge.
According to the FBI, the robber had crisscrossed the country since June, hitting banks in nine states and telling employees he had only months to live. In some instances, the man explained he had cancer.
During Friday’s hearing, Brewster coughed twice and chuckled once while talking to his lawyer, who declined to comment on his health. Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Snow said he wasn’t aware of Brewster being terminally ill.
It was only on Thursday that the FBI issued an arrest warrant for Brewster, saying a confidential informant gave the agency his name and birth date following a Monday heist in Erie, Pa. Surveillance video from a nearby carwash showed an SUV similar to the rental that Brewster was accused of taking from an acquaintance in Pensacola on June 11.
The first robbery occurred June 21 in Arvada, Colo., and by July 6, banks were robbed in Flagstaff, Ariz.; Pocatello, Idaho; and Roy, Utah.
The robber picked up his nickname after a Utah teller told police that the robber passed her a note demanding money and said, “I have four months to live.”
Following a two-week lull, robberies resumed in Winston-Salem, N.C., and within five weeks the Bucket List Bandit was being blamed for heists in Chattanooga, Tenn.; Bloomington, Ill.; Columbia and O’Fallon, Mo., the FBI said. About two weeks passed before Monday’s robbery in Erie.
A teller at the Erie bank picked Brewster’s photo out of a lineup, and authorities then reviewed surveillance video and found an “obvious likeness” to Brewster during the nine prior robberies.
“We knew this was our person. We just didn’t know who was going to be lucky enough to get a hold of him,” said Bloomington Police Chief Randall McKinley.