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Cold Weather Robbers

Robberies drop in summer, but bank robberies spike in year’s final months.

2006 saw a drop in robberies over the summer months, as police used innovative methods to tamp down what had been a seasonal trend of rising robbery rates. But the fall and winter months were marked by a dramatic rise in bank robberies. Seven were committed between Oct. 25 and Dec. 13. On the morning of that day in December, police shot to death a bank robber who hid in an apartment crawlspace after resisting arrest, and a man with a handgun held up a bank in Belle View.

Brenda Agurs, the sister of Edward Agurs, Jr., 39, said her brother went out of his way to say goodbye on the morning of Dec. 13. After expressing his appreciation for her support during the years he spent in prison for robbing a cab driver, he walked back into the house to reiterate the message, “I really love you.”

A few hours later, he was dead, after robbing a Wachovia bank in the busy Mount Vernon Plaza Shopping Center while wearing distinctive clothes he had already worn in two other bank robberies that month, then walking beside the busiest road in the district. After resisting arrest and scaling a brick wall topped with barbed wire, Agurs was cornered by police in a crawlspace in an apartment building on Fordson Road. Police say that when he reached insistently into his backpack and refused to show his hands, a detective felt compelled to shoot him five times in fear that Agurs would produce a weapon. Agurs had money from the robbery and two box cutters in the backpack.

Fairfax County Police said it is their policy not to release the name of the officer who fired the shots, unless he is charged with a crime. The officer, who the police identified as being 50 years old and a 27-year veteran of the Fairfax County Police Department, has been placed on administrative leave pending an internal investigation.

The son of a respected pastor, Augurs had a long history of drug abuse and crimes both petty and serious. According to court records, he had appeared in criminal courts in Arlington, Alexandria, D.C., Prince William and Fairfax County. He had spent more than a decade in prison. But friends and family remember him as a good man who shared his music with everyone in prison, inmates and guards, and who tried to be present for his three-year old son. But he never adjusted to life outside. “Society doesn’t let you forget your past,” Brenda Agurs said. “They’re always going to throw it up in your face.”

BUT IN SEPTEMBER AND EARLY OCTOBER, the series of bank robberies that climaxed with Agurs’ death was unforeseeable. At that time, Mount Vernon police were celebrating a significant reduction in robberies in the preceding months.

In the summer of 2005, Mount Vernon had experienced a “huge spike” in the number of street robberies, according the commander of the Mount Vernon Police Station, Capt. Mike Kline. Police data showed most of the robberies occurring along Route 1, picking up as soon as it grew dark around 9 p.m. and falling off as the sky began to brighten around 5 a.m. Kline said the typical victim was walking alone late at night, sometimes drunk, often an immigrant carrying cash. In the ten hot weeks between June 5 and Aug. 31, 2005, 47 robberies were committed in Mount Vernon, according to data provided by the station. “That wasn’t going to happen again,” the captain vowed.

For the summer of 2006, Kline decided to alter the traditional three-shift system used by all stations in the Fairfax County Police Department. He targeted 1 a.m. to 3:30 a.m. for increased police presence. Kline increased the minimum staff number from eight to ten. He also broke the evening and midnight shifts into two sections apiece, staggering their 11 and a half hour shift so that there were 20 patrol officers working from 9 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. And 13 working until 3 a.m.

“I did this because I thought it needed to be done,” Kline explained. “It was not the plan that was directed from above. It was accepted from above. It was not the plan that the rest of the county used. If it had failed it would have been my ass.”

According to station statistics, there were 34 robberies in the summer of 2006, a decrease of 28 percent from the summer of 2005.

SEX CRIMES AND LARCENY also dropped that summer. But burglaries rose by 42 percent. A string of burglaries in Stratford Landing contributed to this rise.

On the afternoon of July 7, burglars apparently cased the neighborhood by car, then struck two homes. They were seen by several people in the area, according to an email from one of the victims. But no one thought their presence in the neighborhood, or even in a victim's’yard, warranted suspicion.

In the middle of the night nine days later, on July 16, one or more burglars entered five more homes only a few miles away. The homes were located on streets along Vernon View Drive. A home on Southdown Road and another on Edgewood Terrace were also burgled the same night. Police believe the seven burglaries were related, according to Det. Kevin Clarke.

The burglar who committed this crime exploited several vulnerabilities of many Mount Vernon neighborhoods. The most decisive, according to Kotteman, was preventable. Six of the seven homes were entered through unlocked doors. The burglar also took advantage of the darkness that pervades the many blocks of Mount Vernon that lack streetlights. He stole small items like wallets, cell-phones and purses that the police believe he spotted through windows while creeping close to the homes.

During eight days in October, Hybla Valley saw three incidents days apart involving a mysterious intruder in the vicinity of young girls. The three houses where the incidents occurred are each about one mile from one another.

On Oct. 16, a six-year-old girl reported that she had awoken to find a masked man in her bedroom. Police were called to the home on Fairchild Drive after the girl told her mother the next day. And on Oct. 21 a man in a black mask nearly abducted a seven-year old girl from her backyard, according to a police report. At about 2:30 in the afternoon the girl was walking into her backyard on Grey Goose Way in the Hybla Valley area when the man grabbed her from behind and wrapped her in his arms. The girl hit him in the face, pushed his arms off and ran away. The girl was uninjured and the man fled on foot towards Lockheed Boulevard.

On October 24, a man took a ladder from the yard of a house in Hybla Valley Farms and used it to climb onto the house’s roof. A resident of the home, who did not want to be named, said she and her husband were in bed at about 11 when they heard the ladder hit the wall. Her husband ran outside while she ran to the upstairs bedroom shared by her five and three-year-old daughters. She said she heard the man outside the children’s window and that he jumped off the roof after she turned to call 911.

Police reports said there was no indication that the crimes were related. The suspect in the incident on Grey Goose Way was described as a black man about 6 feet 2 inches tall and 200 pounds. He wore a gray and yellow long-sleeved shirt, yellow pants and a black mask.

LATER IN OCTOBER, the bank robberies began. According to police statistics there had been only three bank robberies in Mount Vernon District before Oct. 25. But a bank robbery on that day was the first of seven in the next seven weeks, all but one occurring on Richmond Highway. Police have placed responsibility for all seven on three individuals. Marcos Francisco Pacheco was arrested for robbing the same bank twice in six days, plus another bank in Lee District. Edward Agurs was killed by police after robbing a Wachovia on Dec. 13. He was also blamed for robbing two other banks in December. Police believe the man who used a handgun to robe the Belle View BB&T is responsible for another BB&T robbery that occurred Nov. 7 on Richmond Highway.

The 10 robberies thus far in 2006 are a tenfold increase since 2005, which almost got by with none at all. 2005’s lone bank robbery in the district occurred on Dec. 29, two days before the end of the year.

There have been 43 bank robberies in the county as a whole this year, according to Richard Henry, a spokesman for the Fairfax County Police Department. He said there were only 19 bank robberies in 2005, 18 in 2004 and 15 in 2003. But 32 of the 43 robberies this year have been closed he said, a good rate.

Police spokesman Mary Ann Jennings said there is no explanation for the burst of robberies this year. “Statistically we see this occasionally,” Jennings said. For instance, there were 45 bank robberies in 1997.

Jennings said that bank robberies are particularly frequent in the Richmond Highway area because the access to major roads that make it convenient for commuters also means there are plenty of get-away options, including Route 95 South and North and Route 1 North into D.C.

“There are just a number of ways that they can get away from the scene of the crime. And that’s usually what a lot of people that are bent on committing crimes are looking for,” Jennings said. “In general we see these kinds of crimes in areas where the robber can get away very quickly or blend in easily.”