COVINGTON - Covington resident Bobby Joe Phillips, who authorities believe is responsible for a string of seven bank robberies in Georgia and Tennessee, was arrested about 7:30 a.m. Saturday at a Holiday Inn in Perry.
Officer Matthew Leopard with the Perry Police Department was patrolling the hotel parking lot when he saw Phillips leaving in his red Chevrolet S-10 truck that had a lookout posted on it. Leopard stopped Phillips and arrested him without incident, according to a press release from the Warner Robins Police Department.
Authorities said Philips robbed the Security Bank in Warner Robins, near Perry, two days earlier.
Phillips is accused of starting off his crime spree with the First Georgia Community Bank on U.S. Highway 278 in Covington in September before going on to rob the First Tennessee Bank on Cedar Bluff Road in Knoxville on Oct. 1 and again on Oct. 12; SunTrust Bank in Suwanee on Oct. 24; the Tennessee Members First Federal Credit Union in Knoxville on Nov. 1 and Nov. 9; and the Warner Robins Bank on Nov. 8.
Sgt. Arvo Bowen with the Covington Police Department said the FBI will take out warrants on Phillips for the Tennessee crimes. However, federal authorities will not be prosecuting Phillips for the Georgia robberies, but the CPD will be bringing armed robbery charges against him.
"He confessed to the robbery in Covington," Bowen said. "He said he had just lost his job at Kroger and just decided to rob a bank. He did it the next day."
Phillips worked at the register and bagged groceries at the store that is located just behind the First Georgia Bank in Newton Plaza, Bowen said.
The detective said he learned that Phillips had a toy gun tucked into his waistband when he walked into the bank about 10:30 a.m. Sept. 20 and handed the teller a note asking for $3,000.
"He said he asked for that because he just wanted to get what was right there quickly and get out of the bank. He was scared," Bowen said.
Bowen said when Phillips was arrested he had approximately $3,000 on him, but he told Bowen the funds that came from First Georgia were already spent.
"He said he spent it on hotel rooms and buying things and didn't have any of that left," Bowen said.
Phillips made no effort to cover his face or disguise himself in any of the bank robberies, and because authorities said it is unusual for a man in his mid-60s to be robbing banks, he was dubbed the Grandpa Bandit and was immediately linked to all seven robberies.
The same Covington Bank was robbed again on the afternoon of Nov. 5, but footage from a surveillance camera revealed that this time it was another robber.
Bowen said detectives are still searching for that man, who is described as a white man with blond hair and wearing a beige jacket, latex gloves, sunglasses and a hat.
Bowen said the images captured of the robberies at First Georgia are aiding detectives in solving these cases and that their security system is in no way deficient. But he added that he wanted to caution all business owners to make sure their video surveillance systems are working as they should.
"They need to have a professional evaluate it and make sure that it's producing something we can use as evidence and that we can ID the bad guys," Bowen said.
He said too often victimized business owners don't know what the quality of their video system is and many times suspects can't be seen clearly enough to make an ID or for that identification to hold up in court. Also, he cautioned that often cameras on the outside of businesses aren't set so that a getaway car can be seen or a tag number read.
"They just need to contact the administrator of the security video system and have them look at it," he said.
Anyone with information concerning the second robbery of First Georgia Community Bank on Nov. 5 should call the CPD at 770-786-7605. Tips can be given to the CPD anonymously by visiting their Web site at www.covingtonpolice.com and clicking on "contact us" and then "secret witness."
Barbara Knowles can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.