Homeless family's help collars Bad Hair Bandit suspects

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Report
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It’s not every day you get a front-row seat to a bank robbery in progress – especially when it involves a notorious woman bandit on the FBI’s “most wanted” list. But a vagabond family living out of a travel trailer found themselves in just such a spot last week when the Bank of the West in Auburn was robbed. And their description of the fleeing car with two suspects inside – including a woman nicknamed the Bad Hair Bandit by authorities for her choice of ill-fitting and unstylish wigs – led to a quick arrest. Now Bill Steele, 56, Rose Silveira, 48, and their three children – ages 7, 11, and 12 – are hoping reward money will help them establish a new and better life after several years of hardship. Deeply religious, the couple say they felt God placed them in a dusty vacant lot on Aug. 15, when a silver Honda pulled in near them and a woman later identified after her arrest as Bad Hair Bandit Cynthia Van Holland emerged from the vehicle. The lot, once the location of a now-demolished gas station, sits behind a row of businesses in the Raley’s shopping center at the Foresthill exit. Steele, Silveira and their family had been living in their trailer at another location but moved that day after a confrontation with some drunken homeless people, Bill Steele said. “There was a reason why we moved over there,” Steele said. While Van Holland’s husband and suspected accomplice Christopher Alonzo, 26, stayed in the car, Steele said the family watched as she walked to the front of the bank and ran back about three minutes later clutching a bag. Steele and Silveira had already started taking mental notes of what was occurring as the family sat unseen inside the trailer. “I can’t believe they didn’t see us,” Silveira said. “Something told us to keep an eye on these guys.” The car’s back seat was stuffed with clothes and Silveira theorizes that they were some of the many disguises the Bad Hair Bandit donned to avoid recognition. The car kicked up gravel as it left the dirt lot and cut off two cars as it sped onto Lincoln Way toward Interstate 80. Steele got out of the trailer and walked to the bank, where a deputy was interviewing potential witnesses. When the deputy learned that Steele had a definite description of a getaway car and suspects, he relayed the information to fellow officers farther west on I-80. Steele described a silver Honda with a license plate from Idaho that included a pink ribbon in its design. He had also recalled the first two digits – “PB.” “The deputy said ‘Start talking,’ and by the time I’d finished, he said they’d got ‘em,” Steele said. Steele has been jobless for the past five years and unable to find work as a wood-floor installer after being laid off in Livermore. They’ve left the state and returned but continue to lead a relatively rootless life. The children are home-schooled, Silveira said. Now they’re hoping to collect at least $16,000 in reward money. The FBI has offered $1,000 for information leading to the arrest of the Bad Hair Bandit. A computer search by an acquaintance has turned up at least two bank rewards totaling $15,000. “We’re out here trying to survive and we’re thankful for the opportunity the Lord gave us,” Steele said. Van Holland and Alonzo were arrested 12 miles west of Auburn in Rocklin and are being held at the Placer County Jail on bank-robbery charges. Their next scheduled appearance in court is Friday. The story of the arrest of the Bad Hair bandit has gained media attention throughout the United States as well as England, where tabloids have printed photos and stories. The New York Times reported that Van Holland worked as a nurse in a penitentiary and traveled with her cat while the holdups were taking place, starting late last year. Lt. Mark Reed, of the Placer County Sheriff’s Office, said Monday that the arrest on I-80 can be directly attributed to the description provided by Steele and his family. “It played a big role,” Reed said. “This guy was able to come up with a description of the pink ribbon on the license plate. It was very important.” ---------------------------------------------------- Bad Hair day Here is the list of banks the FBI suspects the Bad Hair Bandit has robbed: Dec. 22 US Bank, Tacoma, Wash. Jan. 5 Key Bank, Tumwater, Wash. Jan. 12 Key Bank, Tacoma, Wash. Jan. 14 Wells Fargo Bank, Spanaway, Wash. Jan. 21 Heritage Bank, Tacoma, Wash. Jan. 26 Cathay Bank, Kent, Wash. Jan. 27 First Security Bank, Redmond, Wash. Feb. 10 US Bank, Auburn, Wash. Feb. 19 Wells Fargo Bank, University Place, Wash. March 25 Sound Community Bank, Tacoma, Wash. April 9 Wells Fargo Bank, University Place, Wash. April 21 Cathay Bank, Bellevue, Wash. April 26 Wheatland Bank, Ellensburg, Wash. April 27 Key Bank, Moses Lake, Wash. May 9 Chase Bank, Spokane, Wash. June 7 Sterling Bank, Moses Lake, Wash. July 1 Key Bank, Lake Oswego, Ore. July 18 Yakima Federal, Richland, Wash. Aug. 11 Bank of Butte, Butte, Mont. Aug. 15 Bank of the West, Auburn, Calif. Source: FBI