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Robber strikes again

Suspect may be tied to crimes in Bishopville, Sumter

Posted: July 26, 2011 3:01 p.m.
Updated: July 27, 2011 5:00 a.m.

A knife-wielding robber already suspected in a number of Camden-area cases struck again Sunday night, this time at the Holiday Inn on U.S. 521 South near the I-20 interchange. Camden Police Department (CPD) Chief Joe Floyd said it now appears the suspect may be tied to crimes outside Camden as well.

“We are looking at enough of a pattern to hold a meeting with the Bishopville Police Department, Lee County Sheriff’s Office, Richland County Sheriff's Department and Kershaw County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO),” Floyd said late Monday afternoon. “Sumter has had some cases, too, but they weren’t able to send anybody.”

Floyd said investigators from the different agencies met at CPD headquarters early Monday afternoon after they reported crimes with similar “M.O.s”

All of the cases save one have certain similar characteristics. In each case, a heavy set African-American man enters the business acting like a customer. Then, the suspect brandishes a large kitchen or butcher knife and demands money. After obtaining the cash, the suspect then makes the employee go to a back room or similar area so they cannot see him leave.

That was the case Sunday night. According to a CPD report, the man entered the Holiday Inn asking about the price of rooms. He then exited only to return a moment later and asked again about the price of rooms, this time asking the price of a room for four adults.

Suddenly, the man jumped over the counter. Floyd explained that one part of the counter is lower than the rest.

“He put his hands on the higher two sides and kind of lifted himself over,” he said.

The man landed feet first by the employee wielding what she described as a butcher knife in his left hand. She said he demanded money and she opened the register to show him it was empty. He then allegedly made her open the safe and retrieve money from it. She said he ordered her to the employee break room and saw her purse and demanded money from her as well. He reportedly told her to stay in the break room for five minutes while he left.

The employee described the man as being 5 feet 10 inches tall, 250 pounds with black hair and brown eyes and wearing a black T-shirt, dark colored jeans, white had with an emblem on it and brown boots.

Two nights earlier, a similar scene unfolded at the Kangaroo gas station up the street, closer to I-20. There, the suspect requested two packs of cigarettes and, when the clerk opened the cash register, brandished a knife and demanded money from the drawer. He then forced her into a back room so she couldn’t see him leave.

However, as soon as the woman heard the front door bell ring, she returned to the front area in time to see him enter a green Toyota Camry-type vehicle and speed off toward Sumter on U.S. 521.

Between the Kangaroo and Holiday Inn robberies, the suspect may have branched out to Bishopville. Floyd said a man using a similar methodology robbed the Econo Lodge in Bishopville Saturday night. He said both the Bishopville Police Department and Lee County Sheriff’s Office (LCSO) are looking into that robbery.

According to a copy of a LCSO incident report obtained by the Lee County Observer, a 20- to 30-year-old African-American man approximately 6 feet tall and 200 pounds entered the Econo Lodge on Sumter Highway at I-20 Exit 116. The clerk described him as wearing a blue hat with red writing, blue or black dark shirt and wearing a dark pair of sunglasses.

The man reportedly asked how much a room would be, left to purportedly retrieve something from his car and then returned with what the clerk said was a 10-inch knife and jumped over the counter. He demanded money from the hotel’s cash drawer and obtained $400. She said he asked where the safe was, but she told him she didn’t have the key to it. The suspect then reportedly tried to grab the safe, but could not lift it. At that point, he allegedly demanded money from the clerk herself and obtained $20.

Then the Bishopville case turned into something different from the others being investigated in Kershaw County.

According to the LCSO report, the suspect made the clerk remove her clothes, She said he explained he was not going to rape her, but needed to buy more time to escape. He reportedly made her go into a restroom, remove her clothes, took them from her and placed them in another room nearby.

“You’d better stay in there for at least five minutes or I’m going to do something really bad to you,” he said, according to the victim.

After five minutes passed, the clerk came out to find the phone ripped from the wall and a keychain with a key to the back door broken. She used her cell phone to call 911.

One thing might tie the Bishopville Econo Lodge case to one of the Camden robberies: the clerk in Bishopville reported that just before the suspect entered the hotel, he drove up in a small green car -- the same color as the car the clerk at the Kangaroo in Camden saw the suspect get in and drive away in when she returned to the front of the store.

Three other cases being investigated by the CPD and KCSO include:

• July 15 -- Dollar General, Jefferson Davis Highway in east Camden. The KCSO reported that a heavy-set African-American man acting like a customer came up to the counter with a buggy full of merchandise and then claimed he had to retrieve his wallet from his car. He exited and returned only to brandish a knife, demanding money from the clerk and manager and forcing them into a back room so they couldn’t see him leave.

• July 8 -- Check Into Cash, DeKalb Street, Camden. A heavy-set African-American man entered the store asking for a money order. Instead of a knife, however, the suspect pulled out a pistol and held it to the cashier’s cheek.

• June 20 -- Camden Title Loan, West DeKalb Street, Camden. This case is a little different in that a “skinny black man” between 20 and 30 years of age came into the business while a large African-American male waited in a SUV. The younger man entered, demanded money and claimed that a friend was outside with a gun and would shoot the clerk if she didn’t comply. She gave up about $1,100 and then the man left in the SUV, which turned right on DeKalb Street toward Broad Street.

Information regarding the possible Richland County cases was not immediately available.

Despite the differences, Floyd said all the agencies involved now believe these and other cases are being perpetrated by the same suspect or suspects. There are slight differences in the description and appearances from the Check Into Cash and Camden Title Loan -- where victims said the suspect was close to 300 pounds -- and the other crimes where the suspect was described closer to 200 pounds.

Anyone with information on any of these crimes is asked to call CPD investigators at 425-6025.

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