Man brandishing handgun robs Auburn's West America Bank

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A man brandishing a handgun robbed the West America Bank in Auburn on Monday, Auburn Police reported. The bank robbery – the fourth this year within Auburn city limits and sixth in the Auburn area – took place at 3 p.m. at the 424 Grass Valley Highway business. Police responded to the West America Bank's robbery alarm but the suspect had fled from the bank in an unknown direction, the report said. The man - described as in his mid-20s with a slim build - handed the teller a note demanding cash and brandished a small, silver handgun, police said. Witnesses' physical description and a security camera view of the robber show a man with short, brown hair, clean-shaven, about 5-foot-6-inches tall, with a light complexion. The suspect was wearing a black T-shirt with a gray logo on the chest, blue jeans and blue tennis shoes. He placed the stolen cash into a blue bag before leaving the bank, police said. The first in the current string of bank robberies occurred Aug. 27, when a white-haired robber told a Downtown Auburn Bank of America teller he had a gun and walked out with cash. The second robbery took place Aug. 28. A man in a dark glasses and a black knit cap walked into the North Auburn Wells Fargo Bank, passed a note to a teller saying he had a bomb, and walked out with cash. He was last seen fleeing on a bicycle north toward Highway 49. By Sept. 2, Auburn Police were linking the Bank of America robber to eight others in Northern California. He had been dubbed the Posse Box Bandit – because of a specialized clipboard the robber used in a Mountain View robbery. By Sept. 10, Auburn Police believed authorities had caught up with the Aug. 27 robbery suspect when John Robert Alexander, 56, of Half Moon Bay was arrested in Bridgeport. Alexander had been staying in the Auburn area at the time of the Downtown Auburn robbery and was charged with nine others holdups going back to June. A robber who sheriff’s deputies immediately linked to the Aug. 28 North Auburn holdup struck again Sept. 10, this time at the Bank of the West at the Raley’s Center in Bowman. By Thursday, investigators had identified him as 46-year-old Gregory DeFord, an unemployed homebuilder from Weimar. When detectives moved in to arrest DeFord, he eluded them and led authorities on a chase from Weimar to Colfax that ended with his car crashing. When deputies tried to take him into custody, “DeFord’s actions caused an officer to fire his weapon, hitting the suspect,” a sheriff’s statement at the time said. DeFord died later that day. The death is now under investigation, with the Sheriff’s Office declining to release any further information. The string of four bank robberies in less than a month follows two robberies early this year – March 8 at the Downtown Auburn Bank of America and April 13 at the U.S. Bank on High Street, also in Downtown Auburn. Four of the robberies occurred within Auburn city limits. By comparison, there was only one bank robbery in the city in 2009, three in 2008 and none in either 2007 or 2006, according to Auburn Police records. Police are encouraging anyone with information on the robbery to call the department at (530) 823-4237.