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Spectral Saranac Lake bank robbery

April 17, 2010

Thursday, Dec. 6, 1979 - 11:55 a.m. - a well-dressed, handsome guy wearing a fedora hat, sunglasses and a trench coat walks into the Marine Midland Bank on Church Street, places a sawed-off shotgun on top of the teller counter, hands Kathy Lewis an attache case and tells her to fill it with cash.

He ordered Elise Yorkey, the only other bank employee on duty, and Beverly Byno Fobare, the only customer in the bank, to hit the floor. Another teller, Peggy Kentile, was out to lunch.

Ms. Lewis has letters of commendation for her actions that day; she was cool and calm as she followed the robber's directions and the rules of confrontation she had learned from bank security training. She activated the security cameras as the robber warned her not to hit the police alert button.

Article Photos

Teller Kathy Lewis fills the attache case with cash, $14,700; the robber, on the left, orders bank customer Beverly Byno Fobare to the floor.

She loaded the "bait" money (marked bills) first and filled the case with cash from her drawer and Ms. Yorkeys' he grabbed the case from her, ordered her to the floor and told her to count to 100 before she got up or called the police, but on her way to the floor she pushed the police button right beside a file drawer and thought she might be a goner when she heard the button click. The robber apparently did not hear the click, and as soon as Kathy heard the door shut she jumped up and called the police, whose phone number she had memorized.


An unwitting accomplice

I love this part of the story: Big Bob Dukett, a now-retired but long- time employee of Niagara Mohawk, had called and ordered his lunch at Evelyn's Coffee Shop because he had only a half-hour for lunch and was working that day at the garage. Newman & Holmes building was located at the corner of Bloomingdale Avenue and Church Street, and at the rear of the building at the lower level, facing the Grand Union Store, were a number of shops. Howard Hoffman's Pharmacy was nearest the street and at the other end was a pet food store; Evelyn's Coffee Shop was about in the middle.

The robber had parked his car near the pet food store where the driveway runs up to Bloomingdale Avenue. Bob drives in, the robber is at his 1977 blue-and-white Jeep Cherokee nearby with a dead battery, and as Bob gets out of his car the guy asks him to jump the Jeep. (Now most crooks are in jail because they are stupid, not just crooked). Bob at first says no, that he was in a hurry, but the guy says he'll give him a buck; you know, you could get lunch for a buck 31 years ago.

So Bob, when I talked to him this week, tells me that the guy has the hood open with the jumper cables already attached. He says he remembers that the engine was clean, like new, he was a nice appearing guy and he had removed his tie, glasses and hat by the time Bob arrived to start the getaway car.


He is caught within the hour

Now the robber we wrote about in Tupper Lake last week had a really goofy looking disguise but he has never been found. This sharp-looking robber was hardly out of the parking lot before police arrived across the street. (Might he have planned a little better - like parking behind Twin D and leave the motor running?) Bob picks up his lunch and leaves wondering what all the police cars are doing at the bank and found out back at the garage about the robbery. He later called police with his information when he heard the description of the vehicle.

(Oh, one other item: The robber never gave Bob the buck, so two weeks later when Kathy saw Bob again, she says, "Here, have a ball," and hands him a dollar.)


The Enterprise coverage

It was an Edward Conzola byline on the Enterprise story the next day which read in part:

"John H. Butler Jr., 36, of Massena, was arraigned in Saranac Lake Village Court Thursday evening on charges of robbery first degree and criminal possession of a weapon second degree in connection with the robbery at the Marine Midland Drive-up Bank on Church Street earlier in the day.

"The robber fled the scene and was apprehended approximately one-half hour later at a roadblock on state Route 73 in Keene by Trooper Robert McDowell and BCI Investigator Henry Wit of the Wilmington State Police Substation. He reportedly surrendered."


(More pictures and other details of the robbery will appear in next week's column.



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