Home Richmond Press Releases 2012 Serial Bank Robber Sentenced in Virginia to Multiple Life Sentences

Serial Bank Robber Sentenced in Virginia to Multiple Life Sentences

U.S. Attorney’s Office October 17, 2012
  • Western District of Virginia (540) 857-2250

HARRISONBURG, VA—A violent, repeat offender who robbed five banks in three states, fired a gun at a police officer during a three-month crime spree, fled the country, and later tried to escape federal custody was sentenced this afternoon in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

James Louis Whittlesey, 53, formerly of Maryland, previously entered guilty pleas to one count of aggravated bank robbery and two gun charges out of the Western District of Virginia. The defendant also entered guilty pleas to two counts of aggravated bank robbery stemming from a pair of bank robberies in the Middle District of Pennsylvania, one count of aggravated bank robbery for a separate incident in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, another count of aggravated bank robbery for an incident in the District of Delaware, and one count of attempted escape for acts undertaken in the District of Vermont.

This afternoon in U.S. district court in Harrisonburg, Whittlesey was sentenced to six life sentences and ordered to pay approximately $27,000 in restitution.

“Mr. Whittlesey is a violent, desperate man whose crime spree endangered communities up and down the East Coast,” U.S. Attorney Timothy J. Heaphy said today. “Today’s sentence is a harsh but just result for someone who brazenly fired at a police lieutenant in Winchester, Virginia, and then fled to Canada. The investigation and prosecution of this case is the product of cooperative law enforcement by agencies on both sides of the border. Their hard work ensures that Mr. Whittlesey will never again put so many innocent people at risk.”

“Mr. Whittlesey’s penchant for criminal activity, coupled with his reckless disregard towards law enforcement and the community, culminated in an exchange of gunfire with police and fleeing the scene in a vehicle—risking the safety of nearby schoolchildren and citizens. The investigative work of many law enforcement agencies within the United States coupled with that of the Canadian authorities, has ensured Whittlesey was brought to justice and today’s sentence is certainly fitting,” said Jeffrey C. Mazanec, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Richmond Division.

Whittlesey previously admitted to robbing a total of five banks between July 19, 2011 and October 14, 2011.

The defendant’s robbery spree began on July 19, 2011, when Whittlesey walked into the M&T Bank in Fawn Grove, Pennsylvania, and pointed a revolver at two tellers before demanding money and yelling at the tellers that this was not a joke. Less than 10 days later on July 27, 2011, Whittlesey entered the Citizen’s Bank in Willow Street, Pennsylvania, and announced a robbery by again pointing a revolver at the tellers. He demanded large bills and threatened to kill them if he discovered any “funny money” in the bag.

Whittlesey struck again on August 12, 2011, at the M&T Bank in Wilmington, Delaware. The defendant brandished a revolver, threw a gym bag on the counter and said, “No change, big bills, no BS.” Two months later, on October 7, 2011, Mr. Whittlesey walked into the M&T Bank in Lemoyne, Pennsylvania, displayed a revolver and demanded large bills and no “funny money.”

Finally, on October 14, 2011 in Winchester, Whittlesey again pointed his .38 caliber revolver at the tellers at a United Bank and demanded money. After receiving money and leaving the bank, Whittlesey was encountered by police. He responded by firing several shots at a uniformed officer before fleeing in a car. Soon thereafter, the defendant crashed the vehicle and escaped apprehension through a drainage pipe nearby. He hitchhiked to Interstate 81 and eventually made his way to Maryland. He then stole a car and drove to Canada, where he abandoned the car three-fourths of a mile from the Canadian border in Vermont.

On December 11, 2011, Whittlesey was arrested in Montreal. After he was deported from Canada, he was transported to the United States and delivered to the custody of federal agents. While being transported to federal court in Vermont to have his initial appearance on the Virginia federal charges, the defendant attempted to escape by removing his leg shackles, hand cuffs, and waist belt and jumping from the window of an SUV. Whittlesey was quickly apprehended by officials and transferred to the Western District of Virginia to face his federal charges after a court appearance in Vermont.

The investigation of these cases was conducted by the FBI; the Winchester Police Department; the Virginia State Police; the Frederick County, Virginia Sheriff’s Office; the Winchester City Sheriff’s Office; the Warren County, Virginia Sheriff’s Office; the Maryland State Police Fugitive Apprehension Team; the Baltimore County, Maryland Police Department; the Delaware State Police; the Pennsylvania State Police; U.S. Customs and Border Patrol; the Montreal Police Department; the Royal Canadian Mounted Police; the Canadian Border Services Agency; INTERPOL; multiple other local law enforcement agencies in Pennsylvania and Delaware; and the Virginia Forensics Science Lab. Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Healey prosecuted the case for the United States with assistance from the U.S. Attorney’s Offices in the District of Delaware, the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and the District of Vermont.