Notorious Female Bank Robbers

Tuesday, March 22, 2011 |

Bank robberies committed by women have been on the rise in recent years according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Crime statistics for the first quarter of 2010 show that nearly 6 percent of bank robberies for the quarter were committed by women. That number is roughly the same as it was in 2009 when the world financial crisis began and is a 25 percent increase over 2002 figures.

So what drives a woman to rob banks? In most cases, it's financial need rather than greed or thrill-seeking, law enforcement officials say. But not always as you'll see in the following slides. In all cases, though, it's a felony, punishable by up to 26 years in prison. And the FBI catches three out of four bank robbers.

Here, we take a look at some of the most notorious female bank robbers of all time. From the 19th century through 2010, here are 10 women who've kept law enforcement and the banking industry on their toes.

å³ Female Bank Robbers
Bonnie Parker

Perhaps the most infamous female bank robber of all time, Bonnie Parker was the female half of the famous duo Bonnie and Clyde.

After years spent running from the law for murders while robbing grocery stores, filling stations and small banks, Bonnie and Clyde met their end on May 23, 1934 in an ambush at their hideout in Black Lake, La. Officers waited for their car on a roadside and riddled them with 167 bullets. Bonnie was found holding a machine gun, a sandwich and a pack of cigarettes. Clyde, barely recognizable from the shots, clutched a revolver.

The couple's bodies were publicly displayed in Dallas before being buried in their respective family's burial sites. Bonnie and Clyde ultimately were responsible for killing at least nine police officers and an untold number of civilians.

Source: Texas State Historical Association

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'Church Lady Bandit'

Sylvete Phylis Gilbert, 46, finally got caught after a long string of bank robberies in the Columbus, Ohio, area. Law enforcement officials had dubbed her the 'Church Lady Bandit' because a witness in one of her early robberies said she looked like someone who had just come from church.

She was indicted Jan. 5 on 12 second-degree felony counts of robbery and 12 counts of robbery in the third degree for robbing numerous banks and businesses between January, 2006 and December, 2010. At the time of this writing, no trial date had been set. Gilbert was arrested Dec. 23 and remains in Franklin County jail.

Source: Wire Reports

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The 'Barbie Bandits'

Heather Johnston and Ashley Miller quickly became known as the 'Barbie Bandits' after their February, 2007, holdup of a Bank of America branch in Acworth, Georgia.

The girls, dressed in designer jeans and sunglasses as they robbed the bank, were both 18 at the time and news reporters couldn't resist poking fun at their tender age, one writing 'police don't know whether they had a getaway car - or whether they were old enough to drive.'

The girls, who met while working at a strip club, plotted with Johnston's boyfriend, Michael Chastang and a bank teller to pull off the heist. Miller was sentenced to two years in jail and Johnston to 10 years probation, getting a lighter sentence because she was the first to cooperate with the investigation.

Source: The Associated Press

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Cora Hubbard

In August 1897, 27-year-old Cora Hubbard was arrested for robbing the McDonald County Bank in Pineville, Mo. She stunned observers with her unrepentant attitude. Cora told the Daily Herald in nearby Joplin that she was 'not a damn bit' afraid during the robbery and suggested her only regret was that she and her accomplices hadn't 'held up the whole damn town.'

Hubbard and her partners had hatched the bank robbery scheme a month earlier on a farm in Oklahoma. With her hair cropped short and dressed in men's clothes, Cora held the horses while her male accomplices held up the bank.

They made their escape, but authorities caught up with them days later at Hubbard's father's home after a long chase and a couple of gunfights. A search of the premises turned up money and a Colt .45 revolver with the name 'Bob Dalton' etched on the handle, seemingly confirming Hubbard's claims that she had been a member of the Dalton Gang.

å³ Female Bank Robbers
'Starlet Bandit'
In early 2010, a string of 10 bank robberies in the Los Angeles area led to the culprit being dubbed the 'Starlet Bandit.' In just one week in April, she robbed five banks in Los Angeles County, including two in one day.

Law enforcement authorities gave the glamorous nickname despite her frumpy appearance - a casually dressed, hefty woman in sunglasses, carrying a shoulder bag and holding a cell phone to one ear.

In May, FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller told the Los Angeles Daily News that two women were in custody in the case and investigators believe that the Starlet Bandit may have actually been several women, not just one. The FBI did not disclose whether those women were in fact responsible for the robberies or if any charges were pending.

Source: Wire Reports, Los Angeles Daily News

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Ma Barker

Kate 'Ma' Clark Barker was the mother of four sons who led the infamous bank-robbing Barker Gang. There is still confusion about 'Ma' Barker's role, if any, in the gang. Alvin 'Creepy' Karpis along with Freddie Barker seemingly ran the group, and Karpis later wrote that 'Ma' was not involved in the gang, but was simply someone they looked after.

This contrasts starkly with the FBI's 'Bloody Mama' image, which depicted her as the brains that controlled members with an iron fist. By 1923 all four Barker boys were either in jails or reformatories, and 'Ma' worked tirelessly to get them out.

Source:, Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture

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Bank Robbin' Mama

Erica F. Anderson was apparently trying to multi-task on the day she was arrested for robbing the Umpqua Bank branch in Grants Pass, Ore., in September, 2010.

Had she gone out to rob the bank and then remembered her kids? Or had she gone out to pick up her kids from school and thought she might as well rob a bank on the way?

Either way, she probably would've been better off not doing both. A witness to the robbery was able to describe Anderson and her car. She and her accomplice, Joshua K. Deeter Tseu, 19, were both arrested on charges of robbery and theft after they arrived home to Anderson's house, kids in tow.

Source: Wire Reports

å³ Female Bank Robbers 'Cell Phone Bandit'

College student Candice R. Martinez was 20 when she was sentenced to 12 years in prison in March, 2006, for robbing four Wachovia bank branches in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. Seven years of that sentence were for pulling a revolver during one of the robberies.

Martinez was dubbed the 'cell phone bandit' for chatting on the phone with her boyfriend during the heists, which netted the couple $48,620. Martinez, who had worked for Wachovia prior to the robberies, apologized to the bank tellers when she was sentenced. 'My whole life is ruined,' she said.

Martinez's boyfriend, Dave C. Williams also was sentenced to 12 years in prison for helping to plan the robberies.

Source: The Associated Press
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Beauty Salon Bandit

Beauty salon owner Norma Balderas-Dehernandez started holding up New Jersey banks in January, 2009. By May of that year, the mother of three had hit three bank branches, netting a little over $8,000. In each robbery, she'd hand a note written in Spanish to a Spanish-speaking teller, demanding money.

Her robbing days ended in August when she was told at one bank that no one there spoke Spanish. One of the tellers recognized her from an FBI flier and notified police. They found her at a nearby bank branch, carrying two notes in Spanish, one demanding $10,000 and another $5,000. She was sentenced in July, 2010 to 30 months in federal prison.

Source: Wire Reports,

å³ Female Bank Robbers Patty Hearst

Patricia Campbell Hearst Shaw, the granddaughter of publishing titan William Randolph Hearst, made headlines in 1974 when an urban guerilla group, the Symbionese Liberation Army kidnapped her from her Berkeley, Calif., apartment. Two months later, she was caught on surveillance cameras robbing a San Francisco bank while brandishing an assault rifle, having apparently taken up her captors' cause.

At her trial, her attorney claimed Hearst had been brainwashed by her captors, but the effort didn't work and she was convicted in March, 1976. She served almost two years before President Jimmy Carter commuted her seven-year sentence. President Bill Clinton granted her a full pardon on the last day of his presidency.