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NICKNAMES CAPTURE BANK ROBBERS - TO A T.

Byline: Josh Kleinbaum Staff Writer

The Chevy Chase Bandit slipped on the floor mat of the first bank he robbed, stood up, brushed himself off and went about his business - just like the comedian opening a classic episode of ``Saturday Night Live.''

The Rodney Dangerfield Bandit was simply ignored by tellers after he came unarmed to his first two bank heists. He got no money and no respect, but he did get a nickname.

The Bozo Bandit wore a clown costume. The Benihana Bandit wielded sharp knives. The Miss Piggy Bandit was short and fat. The Miss America Bandit was, naturally, tall and beautiful.

Welcome to Los Angeles, the bank robbery capital of the world, where every serial bank bandit gets a nickname - and picking a good one is an art.

``It wasn't the thing that was most obvious, that beat you over the head,'' said Bill Rehder, a retired FBI agent who named every Los Angeles bank bandit from 1981 to 1999. ``A good name is something with a little back story, a little more thought.''

So the guy with the spotty complexion wasn't the Acne Bandit, he was the Clearasil Bandit. The guy with the giant schnoz? No, not the Big Nose Bandit. Try the Karl Malden Bandit. (Today, Rehder said, it would be the Ray Romano Bandit.)

When Rehder joined the FBI's Los Angeles bank robbery squad in 1969, agents were working to catch more than 40 active serial bank robbers at any given time, and giving them nicknames made it easier to keep them straight.

The FBI, though, had no formal or official naming process. That changed in 1981, when Rehder became the squad's coordinator.

He made a simple rule: Rob two banks, get a nickname.

Since then, the FBI's bank robbery coordinator has assigned a moniker to every serial bank bandit in the seven-county area that encompasses metropolitan Los Angeles. There are 3,500 financial institutions in the region, the FBI says, and nearly two are robbed each business day.

The coordinator gets the report from every robbery, so it's easy for him to spot the connections between the heists and come up with the name.

Then, when a bank is robbed, authorities can ask the teller a series of questions to quickly identify the bandit. If that's not enough information, authorities can access security-camera images within minutes to determine which bandit committed a robbery.

``Let's take the Big Belly Bandit,'' said Lt. Carlos Velez of the LAPD's Robbery-Homicide Division. ``If we get hit on a Friday afternoon by an individual with a big belly, we're more apt to tie him into the series.

``The Big Belly Bandit - that had a nice ring to it.''

The nicknames work because bank robberies are nearly always committed by serial bandits who don't like change. Once a robber is successful, he will nearly always rob again - and he'll use the same mode of operation and often wear the same clothing.

The Michael Jackson Bandit always wore a glove on just one hand. The Stereo Bandit always brought his car radio into the bank with him (just to make sure nobody stole it).

The Marx Brothers Bandits always wore fake bushy eyebrows and mustaches. The Buck Tooth Bandit always had a buck tooth.

``These are the most pragmatic people on Earth,'' Rehder said. ``Once they find something that works, they stick with it. Rarely do they change.

``The only guy that really changed was Rodney Dangerfield.''

Yes, Rodney changed his mode of operation. After being rejected at his first two attempted heists, he brought a gun to No. 3. This time, he got respect. And money.

Authorities also use the nicknames to generate publicity for a case. Newspaper editors and TV producers like funny names, and one of the best ways to identify a bandit is to get his picture in the news and wait for a tip.

``I manipulated the hell out of this stuff,'' Rehder said. ``If I had a particular case that I had a great photo (of), I was not above using a particular nickname to lend some sex appeal to this.''

That's how the FBI caught the most prolific bank robber in Los Angeles history - the second time, at least.

Eddie Dodson was living the high life in the 1970s and early '80s. Dodson, who owned an antique-furniture store on Melrose Avenue, hobnobbed with such stars as John Belushi and Jack Nicholson. His furniture store became a late-night hot spot for the celebs and high-rollers, and drugs became a mainstay. Dodson graduated from cocaine to heroin - and struggled to pay for his expensive addiction.

He robbed his first bank July 5, 1983, wearing a New York Yankees cap and sunglasses. Over the next 10 months, Dodson robbed 64 banks - including six in one day - stealing more than $280,000. He always wore the ball cap and the sunglasses, so he became the New York Yankees Bandit.

Authorities finally caught up with him Feb. 10, 1984, when a teller followed him out of a bank and flagged down a police officer. Dodson was arrested, reached a plea bargain with prosecutors and served 15 years in federal prison.

``He went in with the moniker that he robbed more banks than anyone in history,'' Rehder said.

But Rehder wasn't done with Dodson. Six years after the latter was released from prison, a new bandit surfaced. This guy looked disheveled and destitute, and the first two banks he hit were in Beverly Hills, so Rehder named him the Down and Out in Beverly Hills Bandit.

The Down-and-Outer hit seven banks in less than four months. The seventh included a carjacking. So Rehder called local news directors.

That night, surveillance photos of Down and Out appeared on the local news. The FBI got two calls, both identifying the man in the photos as Eddie Dodson - the former Yankees Bandit.

``The names are catchy,'' said FBI Special Agent John McEachern, supervisor of the Los Angeles bank squad. ``We're not trying to do that with the purpose of entertaining. If it does prove amusing or entertaining, so be it, as long as it helps us identify or arrest the individual.''

The Kangaroo Bandit always wore a backpack on his chest, keeping a gun in a side pocket of the backpack. The Large Marge Bandit was, well, large. The Happy Face Bandits always included happy faces on the notes they passed to tellers. The Boy Next Door Bandit had an innocent-looking face.

``Bank robberies in Los Angeles are like death and taxes,'' McEachern said. ``They're going to happen.''

And when they do, the FBI is waiting with the perfect nickname.

Josh Kleinbaum, (818) 713-3669

josh.kleinbaum(at)dailynews.com

CAPTION(S):

4 photos, box

Photo:

(1 -- color) Big Bills Bandit: Since June 2004, this bandit has robbed 20 banks. For a closer look at him and others, see Page 14.

(2) The Enormous Ears Bandit

(3) The State Street Takeover Bandit

(4) Big Bills Bandit

Box:

What's in a name?
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 28, 2006
Words:1168
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