After months of robbing banks across L.A. County, Alan Freibaum was finally caught. The first thing he said to an FBI agent who was getting ready to question him?
"That name was horrible."
"That name" was the Irreconcilable Differences Bandit, the one assigned to Freibaum when he was just another unidentified serial bank robber.
You've probably heard about the Plain Jane Bandit, now suspected to be a 39-year-old Downey woman. You might have missed the Midlife Crisis
Bandit or the Cyclops Bandit, both of whom were still at large Friday.
These serial bank robbers and hundreds of others have gotten their nicknames thanks to one man: FBI Special Agent Stephen May.
But May, the bank robbery coordinator for the bureau's Los Angeles Division, doesn't get overly excited about the high-profile task.
"I don't get a big kick out of it," the 13-year veteran said. "I've been doing it since 2005, and it's part of the job."
The names, assigned only to people who've robbed at least two banks, help police and agents keep robbers straight.
That can be a challenge since bandits tend not to respect jurisdictional boundaries. The FBI's L.A. Division covers seven counties with a
population of more than 18million, and scores of police agencies work with the bureau on robbery cases.
"It's just easier to say 'the XYZ Bandit' than 'the white guy who robbed in Chatsworth and then he also robbed in Downey two weeks ago,' " May said.
The names also garner media attention, in part because they make for easy headlines.
The practice of naming bank robbers dates to the mid-1800s, said Robert McCrie, a professor at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice
in New York.
Apart from a few notorious serial killers and rapists, few criminals get official nicknames -- aside from bank robbers. That fact reflects the dramatic nature and storied history of the crime, McCrie said.
The practice of names has a throwback feel. Even the term "bandit" is old-fashioned.
It echoes the days when banks were imposing, downtown fixtures, rather than storefronts in suburban strip malls. Bank robbers were often violent, and the most famous were notorious media celebrities, such as John Dillinger and Bonnie and Clyde.
Today, luckily, bank robberies are much less exciting. But the fascination lingers.
How names are chosen
Sometimes it takes only a few seconds to name a bandit.
If there's a phrase the robber says over and over, relayed by tellers or witnesses at different banks, that usually becomes the name: the Make it Quick Bandit, the I Know Where You Live Bandit, the No Bands Bandit.
There's simple geography, based on where the robberies happen or the nearby freeways: the 405 Bandit, the 710 Lady Bandit and the Tri-Cities Bandits, who started in Pasadena, Burbank and Glendale.
Or there's an obvious physical or sartorial quirk: the Painter's Mask Bandit, the Low Hat Bandit, the Balding Bandit. The Stretch Bandit, Jerry Franklin, was a lanky guy who robbed five San Gabriel Valley banks before his 2011 arrest. The Cyclops Bandit wore a white eye patch over his left eye.
May picks about 95 percent of the names for the seven-county region. But he was not the man behind the Sweaty Back Bandit, a still-at-large Orange County robber.
"I officially did not name that one. I'll just say that right now," May said after a slight pause.
It was a somewhat touchy topic. May added, "We do not name them to mock them." (He didn't pick Bad Teeth Bandit, either.)
Another no-no: naming a bandit after a celebrity, no matter how tempting.
"Even though sometimes they're dead ringers," May said, "You're like, 'Can't do it. Not appropriate."'
He wouldn't name any particular celebrity a bank robber had resembled.
Another challenge: The FBI doesn't like to recycle names,
which makes it harder and harder to be creative.
That explains why there's the Grandma Bandit, still at large in Chino robberies, but also the Granny Bandit, who was arrested last year.
Perhaps one of these women knows the Geezer Bandit, who's still wanted; the Geriatric and Over the Hill Bandits, both captured; or the Grandpa Bandit, who turned out to be a retired Pomona police sergeant.
(Names aren't recycled within the L.A. area, but they are duplicated across the country. Years before California's Plain Jane Bandit, an Illinois bank robber was given that name in the 1990s.)
May has heard complaints about the names from more than just the Irreconcilable Differences Bandit. Most suspects know what their nicknames were, he said.
And not surprisingly, most don't like them.
'Slow news day'
Some names take a little more thought, boiling a mannerism or a modus operandi down to a word or two.
Freibaum, who admitted to 13 bank robberies after being caught in 2007, told tellers he was in the middle of a divorce and needed to wire money in a way his wife's attorney couldn't detect.
Thus: Irreconcilable Differences. Freibaum, who was sentenced to 13 years, is working out any irreconcilable differences from a state prison in Tehachapi.
Robbers, of course, like to wear masks, which can inspire their nicknames. One man wore a chinstrap beard reminiscent of the 16th president. But it couldn't just be "that guy who wore a Lincoln beard." Not too catchy.
So he became the Dishonest Abe Bandit.
Sometimes May runs a name by Laura Eimiller, the spokeswoman for the field office, to see what she thinks.
But, he said, "When naming them, I'm not going, 'How am I going to make this catchy so the media will pick up on it?"'
He admitted a little disappointment and surprise that the Paparazzi Bandit hasn't gotten more press.
That robber, who hit banks on Sunset Boulevard, snapped photos of tellers with a cellphone, an apparent way to intimidate them by suggesting he now knew who they were.
"I thought that might have caught on a little bit," May said. "It's L.A."
Eimiller said she's come to figure out the recipe for getting press attention, though it's not an exact science.
"Sometimes it's just a matter of a slow news day, honestly," she said.
Bank robberies have declined dramatically, going from 645 in 2002 to 288 last year in the L.A. Division's seven counties. Nationally, they were down 39 percent in the same period.
That mirrors a national drop in overall crime.
But McCrie, the professor, said it also reflects broader changes. Bank robbery has become a safer and less dramatic crime. Bank employees are instructed not to resist, and robbers know that, so violence is rare.
At the same time, banks have improved security measures, making it a riskier crime. About 60 percent of bank robberies are solved, the FBI said, and they can carry stiff federal prison time.
Add in the widespread use of video evidence, and the public use of nicknames to identify robbers seems less necessary than ever, McCrie said.
"The use is dying out, really," he said.
Except, perhaps, when it's a slow news day.
email@example.com, 818-514-5610, @ethartley ___
(c)2012 the Daily News (Los Angeles)
Visit the Daily News (Los Angeles) at www.dailynews.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services
Also on HuffPost:
Stretchy Pants Bandit
Leonard Brown, Jr. is accused of robbing a Ceres, Calif. Ban of America in late September, 2012. He has been dubbed the "Stretchy Pants Bandit" by police.
These surveillance photos provided by the Federal Bureau of Investigation's St. Louis Division shows a serial bank robber dubbed the Bucket List Bandit on, from left: June 21, June 27 and July 6, 2012. The FBI is using digital billboards around the country in the search for the man who is suspected of robberies in Missouri, Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, North Carolina, Tennessee and Illinois. He earned his nickname after he passed a note in one of the robberies claiming he had a short time to live. (AP Photo/FBI)
In this undated surveillance video frame grab released by the FBI showing a bank robber dubbed the "Plain Jane Bandit". The FBI says a Southern California bank robber dubbed the "Plain Jane Bandit" has struck again. The latest heist was Monday July 30,2012 at a Bank of America branch in Downey, Calif. Since July 12, the robber has hit seven banks. (AP Photo/FBI)
EDS NOTE: IMAGE WAS ALTERED BY SOURCE - This surveillance image provided by the King County Sheriff's Office shows a man armed with an assault rifle grabbing money while robbing a Chase bank in North Bend, Wash., on July 6, 2012. The FBI says the man is the same suspect who robbed a bank Feb. 29, 2012 in Chino, Calif., during which the robber shot and wounded a police officer., and a March 12 bank robbery in Vacaville, Calif. He is known as the "AK-47 bandit" because he brandished an AK-style assault rifle during the three robberies to which he's linked. (AP Photo/King County Sheriff's Office)
FILE - In this Dec. 16, 2011, file photo, Colton Harris-Moore, also known as the "Barefoot Bandit," appears at the Island County Superior Court, in Coupeville, Wash. Harris-Moore, who led police on a two-year crime spree in stolen boats, cars and planes, has been moved out of solitary confinement and into the general inmate population at another prison in Washington state, corrections officials confirmed Thursday, May 3, 2012. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
This July 15, 2010 security photo provided by the New York Police Department on Monday, July 19, 2010 shows a man police say robbed a bank armed with a bouquet of fresh flowers, in New York. Police say he reached into the arrangement and pulled out a note demanding $100 and $50 bills and warned, "Don't be a hero." He was given an undisclosed amount of cash before fleeing the Bank of Smithtown in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan. (AP Photo/NYPD)
In Australia, 'Buxom Bandit' Allegedly Commits Rookie Robbery
Police in Queensland, Australia are searching for a man and woman accused of holding up a gas station with a knife.
FILE - This Monday, June 7, 2010 file photo provided by the FBI shows a suspect identified as the "Geezer Bandit" robbing a USA Bank branch in Poway, Calif. Authorities say the robber branded "The Geezer Bandit" because he appeared to be old might actually be wearing a mask. FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said Friday the man was seen sprinting across a parking lot after his most recent holdup this month. (AP Photo/FBI)