70-year-old man arrested in Cambria bank robbery

ktanner@thetribunenews.comNovember 20, 2013 

A Heritage Ranch man suspected of robbing the Rabobank branch in Cambria at gunpoint on Nov. 7 was arrested Wednesday and booked into San Luis Obispo County Jail.

Bruce Franklin Valentine, 70, was taken into custody shortly before 9 a.m. when investigators with the Sheriff's Office and county District Attorney’s Office served a search warrant at Valentine’s residence in the 4700 block of Egret Lane in Heritage Ranch, sheriff’s spokesman Tony Cipolla said.

Valentine was booked on suspicion of armed robbery with bail set at $250,000. His arraignment was set for Friday.

Cipolla said the FBI, State Parks, CHP, and state Fish and Wildlife assisted in the investigation.

“The Sheriff’s Office wishes to thank employees of Cambria Rabobank and Cambria community members for their assistance with this case,” he added.

Investigators aren’t saying how much money Valentine is alleged to have gotten in the Cambria robbery or how they connected him to the crime.

The robbery took place at 12:26 p.m. when a man wearing a mask waved a gun and demanded money. He drove off in what was described as a Hyundai two-door coupe. A number of vehicles matching the description were stopped along Highway 1, the only road leading in and out of Cambria, but the robber managed to elude capture that day.

While investigators don’t believe at this point that Valentine is the so-called “Geezer Bandit,” Cipolla said, they’re continuing to consider all possibilities. That robber is suspected in at least 16 California bank robberies, including in San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay in 2011. Although he is described as appearing to be 60 to 70 years old, authorities say he’s likely younger than that.

Wednesday’s arrest is the third apprehension in five days of suspects who allegedly robbed a bank or made off with the ill-gotten gains.

On Saturday, police arrested Arroyo Grande therapist Arthur McClay Watkins, 55, after spotting a ski-mask-wearing, gun-wielding man fleeing the Wells Fargo Bank in Santa Maria. Watkins allegedly robbed the bank, and when he dropped the money, a stranger, Jose Villa Mendez, 19, of Santa Maria, allegedly picked it up and ran away. Police arrested him, too; they do not believe the men were working together.

Bank robberies in Cambria are rare but not unheard of. The most recent occurred at Heritage Oaks Bank in October 2001. Two Southern California residents were taken into custody less than an hour after the robbery.

The Cambria Bank of America was robbed in 1994 and 1954, and an automated teller customer at the same bank was robbed in 1996 by juveniles who were arrested by civilians shortly afterwards and held until deputies could arrive.

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