UPDATE: The second suspect mentioned in this story is still on the loose, the FBI said on Friday, and an unspecified reward is being offered for his capture and conviction. The FBI dubbed the men the "Late Night Bandits."
"The [second] suspect is believed to be African American, between 20-30 years old, between 5’8” and 6’0” with a slim build," an FBI news release states. "We are trying to identify the subject, wearing blue)."
Surveillance photos and a video of the robberies was released — see below.
Anyone with knowledge of the robberies is asked to call the FBI at 623-466-1999, Silent Witness at 480-948-6377, or submit a tip online at fbi.gov.
An Ohio man who claims he was stealing to feed his family is accused of holding up 36 Phoenix-area convenience stores and gas stations in the past seven weeks.
From December 20 to February 9, federal court records show, Anthony Wayne Hamilton, 25 or 26, threatened victims repeatedly in his spree with a handgun and got away with small-time loot that never ranged more than a few hundred dollars. Sometimes he'd have an accomplice. Witnesses eventually linked him to a car with Ohio plates, and authorities used Facebook to connect the car's owner to Hamilton, who's now sitting in a federal holding cell awaiting his next court hearing Tuesday.
The FBI and police from Phoenix and Tempe took part in the investigation, and members of the Tempe Criminal Apprehension Team, U.S. Marshal's Office ,and Mesa Police Department took Hamilton into custody immediately after he allegedly robbed a Chevron station in Anthem.
"It was only a matter of time before he hurt or killed someone." — Tempe Police Lieutenant Mike Pooley
"It was only a matter of time before he hurt or killed someone," says Tempe police Lieutenant Mike Pooley.
Court records detail 24 of the robberies. Hamilton, a short black man with dreadlocks and a high-pitched voice, had his method down. He picked the same type of businesses, hitting them between 11 p.m. and 5 a.m. while wearing dark clothing, gloves, and a bandanna. He typically would display his handgun — he was caught with a Glock 9-millimeter fully loaded with a 33-round magazine — and demand that his victims open a safe or remove money from their wallets. Sometimes he took Newport cigarettes or a bottle of tequila. Not all of the victims gave in to his demands, but he never shot anyone.
Hamilton was positively identified by the FBI as the Facebook user Nesta Wayne Furlow, an Ohio State Buckeyes fan who does appear to have a family. Mugshot sites show that Hamilton, from Columbus, Ohio, was busted in 2009 for alleged weapon and drug violations. A November 15 photo on the page shows the view out the window of a jumbo jet — a month later, the area-wide robbery spree began. The heists occurred in Anthem, Scottsdale, Tempe, Phoenix, and Surprise. Here are some of the highlights from the FBI's probable-cause statement:
December 22: Hamilton and another man entered a Circle K at 5879 West Van Buren Street in Phoenix, stole $35 from the register and filled a bag with cigarettes. Wielding the gun, Hamilton made a clerk and customer empty their pockets, but neither had any money. The men referred to each other and their victims as "blood."
January 6: Hamilton walked up to a Shell station at 6930 East Thomas Road in Scottsdale and said to a clerk sitting on a stool outside the store: "Excuse me, pretty lady, I'm going to need you to give me the money." He got away with $170.
January 14: Hamilton encountered another clerk outside a store. When the victim refused to go inside, Hamilton hit him in the head with his gun, then pointed the gun at the clerk's face. "The victim got up from the table he was sitting at, refused to comply with the demands...and ran away to call police," records state. Hamilton started to chase the victim, then fled without taking anything.
January 24: at the Mobil station at 2180 East Broadway Road in Tempe, Hamilton and another suspect swiped $248 from the register, then told a clerk to access a second register and a safe. The clerk told them he didn't have access, and Hamilton threatened to kill him. The men then took off after grabbing a couple packs of Newports.
January 25: Hamilton and another suspect forced a clerk inside the Superpumper store at 23609 North Scottsdale Road in Scottsdale. After taking money from the registers, the men demanded the clerk's wallet and stole $60 from it. They forced the victim to withdraw $200 from the store's ATM with his debit card before fleeing.
January 27: Hamilton and another suspect robbed the Shell station at 704 East Greenway Parkway in Phoenix. After cleaning out the registers, they told the clerk to use his debit card to withdraw $200 from the store's ATM. The clerk said he didn't have that much money. Hamilton grabbed the victim's car keys, went to the parking lot and "rummaged through the victim's vehicle." After obtaining nothing more, the suspects fled.
January 31: Hamilton was robbing the Chevron at 10444 North 32nd Street in Phoenix when a customer walked into the store. Hamilton stole $400 and a driver's license from the customer. An hour later, Hamilton robbed Jackson's gas station at 15515 North Scottsdale Road. When a clerk apparently didn't move fast enough for him, Hamilton told the victim, "You really don't care, do you?" The victim replied, "I'm not trying to lose my life."
A Peoria police officer on his way home from work on February 6 spotted a man matching the description of the robber, who was being sought intensely by police at that point. The man was driving a gray Nissan Versa, which had been seen by witnesses. The license plate matched with an Ohio resident who had a Facebook friend, "Furlow," who looked just like the suspect seen by witnesses and in surveillance videos. License-plate reader technology placed the car near the time and place of several of the robberies, and police located the car on February 7 at a Motel 6 near McDowell Road and 51st Avenue.
Two days later, the Nissan was followed to the Chevron Four Sons store at 4266 West Anthem Way in Anthem. Police watched as Hamilton robbed the store, then pulled him over a few minutes later in the getaway car.
Hamilton was to be charged with seven federal counts of felony robbery and one felony count of using a firearm to commit a robbery.
Surveillance photos and video of Hamilton and second suspect: