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Economy leads to upturn in crimes

By Ed Brock

As federal and local law enforcement continue to look for two suspects in area bank robberies they say such crimes have risen since the nation's economy went into decline.

Elester Middlebrooks, 52, of Douglasville, is still at large and wanted in connection with the January "take over" robbery of the Wachovia cash distribution center in College Park, FBI Special Agent Jeff Holmes said Friday. Two other suspects in that case, Darryl Shortt, 47, of Hampton and Larry Preston, 48, of McDonough, were arrested last week.

Also wanted is the man who passed a robbery note in the form of a fake check to a teller at the Suntrust Bank in the Publix grocery store on Tara Boulevard in Jonesboro on May 12 and who has been connected to several other bank robberies in the Atlanta area.

"There definitely is a rise (of robberies in the Atlanta area)," Holmes said.

Last year there were 251 robberies and similar crimes around the state and so far this year there have been 137 such crimes in the Atlanta area alone, Holmes said.

There are three likely reasons for the increase, Holmes said. Drug users are robbing banks to fuel their drug habits, convicted bank robbers have served their time and are back on the streets and the economy is bad.

"People are losing jobs and they have to support their family," Holmes said. "They've just sunk so low they're into bank robbery."

The good news is that most of the bank robbers are using notes rather than taking over banks at gunpoint, Holmes said.

Bank robberies aren't the crime on the rise in Clayton County, county police spokesman Capt. Jeff Turner said.

"I think we've seen more of an increase of armed robberies of pedestrians as opposed to bank robberies," Turner said.

In those cases the criminal often follows a person home and then robs them as they are getting out of their car, a far simpler process than robbing banks. Turner also cited the bad economy as a reason for the increase.

The same story was told by Riverdale police where two bank robberies have occurred in recent months.

"All of our robberies and thefts have been going up as the economy gets worse," Riverdale Officer Russell Rogers said. "A lot of our residents are airport employees and many of those people are losing their jobs."

There were 194 Part 1 crimes (including murder, assault, rape and robbery) in the city in April, an increase of 18 cases over the same time last year, Rogers said.

"The biggest thing we've seen an increase in is family violence," Rogers said. "People losing their jobs causing family problems."

By April of last year there had been 136 cases of domestic violence while as of last April there had been 238 cases. The number of simple assaults, 105 cases as of April this year, is also higher than usual.

Middlebrooks is considered armed and dangerous and is believed to still be in the area. He is described as a black male standing 5-feet 10-inches tall and weighing 180 pounds with graying brown hair and brown eyes. He was last seen driving a gray 1996 Ford Explorer, Georgia tag number 4144-APK.

The man wanted in connection with the Suntrust robbery is described as a short, stocky white male in his 30s with close cut dark hair and a short goatee. He has worn a yellow baseball cap in three of the robberies and he had a gun at least during the Jonesboro robbery.

A substantial reward is offered in both cases. Anybody with information can call the FBI at (404) 679-9000.