It all started on a Thursday evening in February, when a masked gunman walked into TD Bank on Broadway in Methuen and showed his weapon to a female teller.
“He told her to empty the drawers out, including the drive-through drawer,” wrote Officer David Souther in a police report. “He also advised her not to trip the alarm or he would shoot.”
And so began a string of 13 robberies — six of them in Methuen and Lawrence — by a suspect the FBI has since dubbed the Merrimack Valley Bandit. In the last two weeks alone, police say the bandit has successfully held up seven banks and one convenience store.
The first robbery occurred Feb. 21. Three more followed in February and March: at TD Bank on Pleasant Valley Street and NESC Credit Union on Pleasant Street, both in Methuen; and at TD Bank on South Broadway in Lawrence.
On April 3 that same TD Bank in Lawrence was robbed again in what soon became the first of eight holdups so far this month in which the bandit is considered a suspect. Included in that stretch is five robberies committed over four days last week.
“Obviously there’s something that’s driving him,” said Paul Cavan, coordinator of the criminal justice program at Northern Essex Community College and a 26-year police veteran. “I don’t recall anybody even close to this number and this frequency.”
Police chiefs in Lawrence and Methuen agree — but also warn the bandit is getting more aggressive.
“I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Lawrence police Chief John Romero. “To be hitting as often as he’s hitting, you never see that.”
Romero said most bank robbers these days simply pass a note to tellers demanding money or suggesting they are armed. In all but one incident, the Merrimack Valley Bandit is believed to have brandished a small handgun.