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Victoria heists may be linked to Alberta arrests
Exotically clad group that was stopped in Hinton raises suspicions of theft ring

SHANNON MONEO
Special to the Globe and Mail
June 20, 2008

VICTORIA — The arrest last week in Hinton, Alta., of eight adults travelling in three vehicles stuffed with stolen merchandise may be linked to two incidents committed by exotically clad women and their male entourage six days earlier in the Victoria area.

On June 5, “what appeared to be a band of Gypsies,” made off with $556 from the Brentwood Bay Salvation Army Thrift Store, said Constable Ondine Easson of the Central Saanich Police Service.

“When I saw them coming, I said, ‘What the heck is this?,” said store manager Valerie Noakes of the five women’s flamboyant appearance. “Are they coming from a rehearsal or are they a religious group?”

It was near closing time and she was about to lock the door, but she saw one of the five women was carrying a baby, about four months old.

“That was the diversion, the bait,” she said.

The women, decked out in flowing black dresses, wearing head scarves and speaking with accents, were led by a “very glamorous lady wearing glitzy black clothing,” Ms. Noakes said.

“These people knew what they were doing. It was like they rehearsed,” she said.

Four of the women distracted Ms. Noakes and her co-worker while the fifth found the cash in an office, all within a few minutes, Ms. Noakes said.

“I don’t know how they disappeared so fast,” said Ms. Noakes, who has worked for the Salvation Army for 15 years.

Thirty minutes later, about 10 kilometres away, a group who “matched the Gypsy description,” struck again, said Sidney/North Saanich RCMP Corporal Chris Swain.

Several men and women entered a convenience store, distracted the lone clerk and made off with more than $2,000 worth of cigarettes.

And three hours earlier, a total of seven men and women dressed in “Gypsy clothing” entered Victoria Food and Florist store, said Victoria Police Department spokesperson Sergeant Grant Hamilton.

Some distracted the owner while others tried to enter the owner’s residence, which is attached to the store, police say.

They were foiled when the owner’s Chihuahua raised an alarm.

In the Hinton case, eight men and women were charged with possession of stolen property and are in jail in Edmonton, awaiting court appearances in Hinton, 270 kilometres west of Edmonton, said Sergeant Brenda Burns of the Hinton RCMP.

It can’t be confirmed that the Hinton and Victoria incidents are related, Sgt. Burns said.

But two women and one man from the Hinton group will be returning to Ontario where there are warrants for their arrests, Sgt. Burns said.

The group, totalling nine adults and eight children, aged one to eight, who spoke Romanian, had stopped illegally for the night on the road in Jasper National Park, Sgt. Burns said.

During the night, the Jasper RCMP “kicked them out.”

“They were a suspicious group of travellers,” Sgt. Burns said.

The Jasper RCMP alerted the Hinton RCMP, who intercepted the three vehicles on the morning of June 11.

Inside the two Dodge vans and 2005 Ford Mustang, all three with B.C. licence plates and possibly rental vehicles, police discovered more than $5,000 worth of clothing, shoes and electronics, including new and used cellphones and computers, Sgt. Burns said.

“It was an abundance of property,” she said.

While eight of the adults are in jail, the ninth, a male, is looking after the eight children.

Names of the charged have not been released.

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Mission armed robbery suspect escapes RCMP custody

Saturday, May 10, 2008
CBC News

A man arrested in the armed robbery of a convenience store on Friday has escaped from custody in Mission, B.C.

RCMP offered few details on David Glen Moody’s escape, except to say that he was outside the detachment when he assaulted his escort, ran down an embankment and made his getaway in a truck from a nearby works yard.

Police wouldn’t say whether he was handcuffed at the time, but an officer pointed out that since he was able to run away “it is kind of apparent he wasn’t shackled.”

Police recovered the vehicle, but Moody remains on the loose.

The Emergency Response Team, local police and the dog squad have been called in to track him down.

Moody is 5 feet 6 inches tall, 135 pounds and was last seen wearing a white muscle shirt and white boxers. He has no previous criminal record.

Anyone seeing him is urged not to approach him and to contact the RCMP [says the RCMP and CBC].

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Conditional sentence for grief-stricken bank robber

Kelly Sinoski, Vancouver Sun
Published: Friday, March 14, 2008

A young man who lost his family in an arson fire and then robbed two Vancouver banks in a “desperate act” to provide for his pregnant fiance was given a 20-month conditional sentence today.

Bolingo Etibako, 18, thanked Vancouver Provincial Court Judge Joe Galati for the conditional sentence, saying he was “truly sorry for this stupid decision I made” and promised not to disappoint him.

Etibako, who pleaded guilty to two counts of robbery in connection with two bank holdups in January, will spend about a third of his sentence under house arrest. A third robbery charge was stayed.

Bank robbery is a federal offence and usually carries a minimum two- to nine-year prison term.

Crown counsel Helen James asked for an eight- to 12-month prison sentence followed by probation, noting that Etibako had a “very disturbing background” but that the robberies were on the serious end of the scale.

Etibako walked into the two banks, both on West 10th Avenue, and demanded $10,000 from the manager, threatening to take hostages if he didn’t get the money. He never produced a weapon, but indicated he had one under his jacket.

James said the bank managers had reported that Etibako was “intimidating and threatening” when demanding the money. Yet, she added, his tune seemed to change when he was given cash, and at times was apologetic, telling one teller “‘I’m sorry, eh … this is my job, Robin Hood,'” James said.

He was caught by police shortly after the first robbery with some dyed bills; the second robbery was committed shortly after he got out of jail and the haul included “bait” $20 notes.

Galati ruled a conditional sentence was appropriate given Etibako’s age and history. But he weighted it with a list of conditions, including weapons and alcohol prohibitions, house arrest for six months, curfews, counselling for his anger and potential mental health problems and a no-go order within a two-block radius of the banks he robbed.

Galati also warned Etibako that if he breaks any of the conditions, he could face jail time.

“If you’re out past your curfew or do what you’re not supposed to be doing … and you get caught, you’ll be brought back, not in front of another judge, but in front of me,” Galati said.

“I gave you what you should definitely consider a break this time. It’s up to you to consider whether I’ll give you a break a second time.”

Defence counsel David Karp said that if Etibako – a permanent resident of Canada – was given a two-year jail term he could be deported back to the Congo, where he emigrated from with his family when he was nine. Although that risk still exists, Karp said said, it’s not as significant.

He said Etibako has learned his lesson while spending two months in jail. The robberies, he said, “were acts of a desperate man” who had suffered a great deal as a boy.

Etibako was the only survivor of an arson attack against his family’s East Vancouver home that killed his mother, three siblings and his then-girlfriend in 2006.

“He was very desperate to provide for [his fiance] and have a life for himself and his family,” Karp said. “He was in a situation where he wasn’t able to earn money to where he went to being in custody for two months. He realizes this isn’t the way to go.”

He said the robberies were “unsophisticated crimes” and Etibako wants to get back on track. He has the support of his aunt and brother, he said, as well as members of his church, the Calvary Worship Centre in New Westminster.

Etibako, who will live in New Westminster, also asked for house arrest.

“I feel this is good for me because I’ll get the services I need to get better. Being locked up is not what I need,” Etibako said prior to sentencing. “I’m really sorry for these events and I can’t believe what I was going through.”

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Inside job suspected

Inside job suspected

The Province
Published: Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A North Vancouver man has been charged with theft after allegedly robbing his boss. Police said the owner of a convenience store arrived at work on July 15 and found the safe empty despite there being no sign of forced entry.

Vancouver police later arrested 41-year-old Michael Meller on an unrelated matter and found him with $6,700 cash. He was unable to explain where the cash came from.

The store owner said he had employed Meller for a month to give the man “another chance” and had subsequently given him the safe and security codes.

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Notorious octogenarian ex-con believed to be living on Island
‘Granddaddy of armed robbers’ granted full parole this week

Elaine O’Connor, CanWest News Service
Published: Friday, July 13, 2007

VANCOUVER — After a life spent in prison or on the run, 80-year-old career criminal Ralph Cochrane is finally free.

It’s been a long road for B.C.’s most notorious octogenarian ex-con, who is believed to be living in a small community on southern Vancouver Island.

Cochrane committed his first crime at age 18. He stole a car and was convicted of robbery in 1944.

That was only the beginning. A string of armed robberies across Canada followed. So did multiple prison escapes.

This week, the National Parole Board decided to grant the man once called “the granddaddy of armed robbers” full parole.

At his advanced age and in ill health, the board ruled Cochrane, “a career criminal whose first conviction occurred in 1944 and who has spent most of his life since that time incarcerated,” had finally put his outlaw days behind him.

Cochrane has a history of drug abuse, “gangster fantasies,” an inability to hold a job or live a “pro-social life” and a diagnosis of “anti-social personality disorder,” according to the parole board.

They stressed he has had “no significant crime-free intervals in [his] history.”

Following his first encounter with the law, Cochrane was convicted of armed robbery in Vancouver in 1945 and sentenced to three years in jail.

In 1951, he was sentenced to nine years for violent robbery. In 1958, he was sentenced for another four robberies. In 1968, he earned another 10 years.

In 1970, he was sentenced to life in prison for an armed robbery in Calgary committed while he was on the run.

It’s an exhausting list. But he kept going.

In the next two decades he escaped prison periodically and committed six robberies in 1982.

He was paroled in 1990, yet quickly reoffended, committing 21 robberies in Vancouver, Burnaby, Surrey, Delta, New Westminster and Kelowna until his arrest in Kelowna on May 10, 1991.

That July, Judge Ted Bracknell ordered a life sentence plus 14 years for weapons offences for the man he called “the granddaddy of armed robbers, if not in the province of British Columbia, likely for Western Canada.”

In 1993 at the age of 66, he was arrested and charged with first-degree murder for the 1961 slaying of prison guard William Wentworth.

Wentworth was stabbed 11 times and left to bleed to death in the washroom of the Kingston Penitentiary’s dangerous “C” block on November, 23, 1961. Cochrane was serving time there for robbery.

The 42 convicts who heard Wentworth beg for his life kept silent for over 30 years until a Kingston cop opened the cold case and got former inmates to point the finger at Cochrane.

Cochrane pleaded not guilty. The case floundered due to lack of evidence.

The judge stayed the charges, ruling that too much time had elapsed. Cochrane dodged that bullet. But he wasn’t done with life on the run.

In 2000, at 73, Cochrane escaped from Mission’s Ferndale Institution. He spent nine months on the run before turning himself in.

He was paroled in July 2004, only to test positive for cocaine in August. Cochrane disappeared and was rearrested when he was hospitalized that October.

In September 2005, he was allowed to live in a sponsored facility outside the Lower Mainland and granted day parole in January 2006.

Now that he’s completely free, save for some conditions, Cochrane told the parole board he plans on visiting the seniors’ centre, “writing, going for walks, watching sports on TV, getting a pet and doing some fishing.”

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