Grand Forks man a person of interest in Gilby bank robberyA tip from an Argyle, Minn., man, and the purchase of some hot dogs were key clues that led investigators to a Grand Forks man who they figure was one of the two men who robbed a bank in Gilby, N.D., of more than $50,000 at gunpoint.
By: Archie Ingersoll and Stephen J. Lee, Grand Forks Herald
A tip from an Argyle, Minn., man, and the purchase of some hot dogs were key clues that led investigators to a Grand Forks man who they figure was one of the two men who robbed a bank in Gilby, N.D., of more than $50,000 at gunpoint.
According to federal court documents, FBI agents allege Clifton Patterson, 63, is the black man seen holding a handgun in security camera photos in the Bremer Bank robbery.
Patterson is in jail in Mississippi on unrelated charges; the FBI still is looking for the second bank robber.
In court documents unsealed Tuesday, FBI investigators give a clearer picture of how they say they cracked the case of an uncommonly strong-armed and rich bank robbery.
The afternoon of May 26 in Gilby, 30 miles northwest of Grand Forks, two strangers walked into the bank. The two large men — one black, one white — pointed guns at the only employee and told her to “Get down on the ground, get down on the ground,” according to an FBI affidavit seeking a search warrant June 2 filed in U.S. District Court.
The men had ski masks, but pushed them up, allowing their faces to be seen on security camera photos. The black man held a handgun, the white man a shotgun.
Local customer Duane Hunter walked in on the robbery, turned around and fled to the nearby farm implement dealership and the sheriff’s office was called.
The FBI says the men took about $50,000 from the bank's vault and more from the teller's till. The vault and the till each contained five $20 bills with recorded serial numbers, known as “bait money,” according to the affidavit. During the robbery, the black man took off a sweatshirt, revealing underneath a T-shirt with the lettering on the front, “I (heart) .38.”
The robbers handcuffed the woman while she lay on the floor but when the men left, she got up and caught a glimpse of the getaway vehicle.
Later found nearby next to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Honeyford, N.D., it was a Jeep Compass, a small SUV, stolen from Corwin Chrysler in Fargo, according to the affidavit.
The handgun was left behind, too, and found to be a Daisy BB gun.
The FBI quickly released images of the two men from the bank’s security cameras which were published online by the Herald and displayed by other media.
On May 29, a man from Argyle, Minn., called the FBI to say that, on May 25, he noticed a large black man with an “I (heart) .38” shirt like the one in the robbery photos near the Hugo’s Wine & Spirits store at 1325 S. Columbia Road.
The FBI quickly got security camera video from the store and found images it says show Patterson, wearing the same distinctive T-shirt, buying a pint of vodka two different times May 25, paying with cash. In a third instance, Patterson and a woman park outside the store on May 24 and she goes in to buy a six-pack of beer while he went next door to the Hugo's grocery store and bought $6.13 worth of hot dogs, buns and root beer, using what appears to be a credit card.
Through Hugo’s, the FBI learned the groceries were bought using a food-stamps card issued by Grand Forks County Social Services to one Clifton Patterson. His apartment at 2505 13th Ave. S. is next door to the Hugo’s stores.
A resident on Glen Circle, across 13th Avenue from the apartment building, noticed a law enforcement officer sitting in a vehicle on her street June 2 for hours, keeping an eye on Patterson’s building.
FBI agents searched the apartment June 3 looking for not only the money, but the clothing worn in the robbery, cell phones, the shotgun, cigars, vodka bottles, beer cans and keys to the Jeep Compass.
They found and took many items, including a toothbrush, plastic gloves, three cell phones, a bottle of Karkov vodka, a brown wallet and a DVD of the 2008 movie, “The Bank Job,” starring nobody famous and tagged online as “The true story of a heist gone wrong. . . .”
Ann Giedd lives down the hall from Patterson and knew his first name as “Clifford.”
“He was so friendly,” Giedd said. “I never once thought it would be him that would steal money.”
He only moved in about two months ago, and she hasn’t seen him since the bank robbery. The published surveillance photos of the bank robbers did resemble her neighbor, Giedd said.
Patterson lived with a “white guy,” who also was a large person, Giedd said.
Another neighbor agreed that Patterson was very friendly.
“He always said ‘Hi,’ and was very nice,” said a woman who asked that her name not be published.
He also seemed popular, the woman said.
“There were people always knocking on his door, and people were in and out all the time. I saw him over smoking with people from Hugo’s one day.”
When photos of the bank robbers were played in the media, the woman saw a resemblance.
“I work at the Rehab, and one of the detectives was coming in, and I was kind of kidding him and said, ‘That guy (in the bank robbery photos) looks like my neighbor that just moved in.’ But it surprised me when they showed it on TV today. I said, ‘Holy Crow!’”
When Patterson moved in the apartment building, the person helping him told this woman Patterson had been living at the Northlands Rescue Mission downtown and had also been “sleeping under a bridge.”
Giedd said there has been an exciting buzz around the building having a bank robbery suspect as an ex-neighbor.
“The FBI just came around and took all the furniture out of the apartment,” she said.
Despite the affidavit’s clear argument that Patterson is one of the bank robbers, FBI spokesman E.K. Wilson said he’s not being called a suspect at this point.
“This individual is a person of interest,” Wilson said. “All it means is that we’re interested in talking to him. He may have some information about the bank robbery.”
“We don’t want to indict the guy with that level of certainty” until charges are filed, he said. “He has not been charged yet.”
Wilson said because of the investigation he would not comment on whether the two men are suspects in other bank robberies, nor anything about the woman seen with Patterson at Hugo’s.
Wilson said authorities are “still looking” for the second bank robber and are pursuing leads.
Patterson has warrants for his arrest in Grand Forks County for theft of property and unauthorized used of a motor vehicle. The warrants are dated June 5 and involve the Jeep used in the robbery stolen from Corwin Chrysler.
The court documents indicate that the dealership had been looking for the Jeep “for a couple days.”
Patterson’s age makes him an unusual possible suspect in a bank robbery.
“That’s definitely on the high side of the age range than what we typically see,” Wilson said.
Patterson was jailed in Grand Forks in October, awaiting extradition to Mississippi on a grand larceny charge. But Mississippi officials did not retrieve him and he was released, a jail official said.
In October, Patterson gave Grand Forks jail officials his address as Oxford, Miss., and said he was born in Baltimore.
Dennis Peeks, a correctional officer at the Prentiss County (Miss.) Jail, said police arrested Patterson without incident in Booneville, Miss., about 3 a.m. June 5, for public drunkenness and possession of less than an ounce of marijuana.
Prentiss County Sheriff Randy Tolar said Patterson appeared in court on those misdemeanor charges Monday and was fined more than $450.
Patterson, who remains in jail in Booneville, has refused to waive his right to a court hearing on whether he can be extradited to North Dakota to face the car theft charges in Grand Forks County. Peter Welte, Grand Forks County state’s attorney, said his office is seeking a governor’s warrant to force Patterson’s return from Mississippi.
Reach Lee at (701) 780-1237; (800) 477-6572, ext. 237; or send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.