Oak Lawn Bank Robbery Suspect Charged in Federal Court
Police said a man connected to Saturday's robbery of the Bank of America branch in Oak Lawn has been charged with one count of robbery. Bank employees say they heard what sounded like the robber talking to another person outside the bank on a cell phone.
Criminal charges were filed against a Chicago man in connection with Saturday’s take-over robbery of the Bank of America branch at 4606 W. 111th St.
Charles B. Estell, 38, was charged with one count of bank robbery in federal court on Sunday morning. Estell was found stuck in an air duct after he apparently hid in the ceiling of a shopping center, Oak Lawn police said.
More than 60 police officers and FBI agents spent eleven hours searching for the alleged bank bandit. They believed the robber to be hiding in the ceiling of the shopping center where the bank branch is located after finding a broken window in an upstairs office and a blood trail leading to different sections of the second floor.
SWAT teams captured the bank robbery suspect around 1 a.m. Sunday, more than eleven hours after the bank was reportedly robbed.
“[Estell] was stuck so tight we had to cut [the duct] off him,” Oak Lawn Division Chief Michael Kaufmann said. “We didn’t have much of a conversation with him. He was obviously an experienced criminal and he didn’t have much to say to police.”
SWAT team members from the FBI and South Suburban Emergency Response Team systematically dismantled the ceiling tiles searching for the alleged bandit, focusing much of their search over Quigley’s Irish Pub and Craft Beer.
At no time during the search that included robotic cameras and other tools, did Estell reveal to law enforcement that he was stuck in an air duct.
“They found him with a methodical search,” Kaufmann said. “He didn’t offer an announcement of himself. Nothing.”
According to the federal complaint, a lone black male suspect clad in black surprised two bank employees who were inside the vault counting its contents around 2 p.m. moments after the bank had closed.
Employees were ordered to lie down on the floor, after which, the bandit bounded one of the employee’s wrists with black zip ties and duct tape. Another employee was directed to open the vault. Estell then “emptied the open vault compartments into a black bag that he had brought with him,” the complaint said.
During the robbery, bank employees heard at times what seemed to be the alleged robber talking to another person, possibly on a cell phone.
Inquiring after the tapes from the bank’s video surveillance system, to which Estell was told there weren’t any tapes, he wrapped duct tape around the employees’ legs and mouths, the complaint said.
Police said the robber told the employees to “wait ten minutes before you do anything.”
At approximately 2:16 p.m., Oak Lawn police were notified by the Bank of America’s corporate security that they were watching the robbery in progress on the bank’s close circuit video surveillance.
Oak Lawn police responded almost immediately to the shopping center where the bank is located at 111th Street and Pulaski Road, where they saw a black male with dreadlocks carrying a black bag attempt to exit a door in a building adjacent to the bank. The complaint said the robber ran back inside after spotting OLPD.
Police found the bounded bank employees and released them from their restraints.
Kaufmann said that patrons of Niko’s Breakfast Club, Quigley’s Irish Pub, G&L’s Trophies and other businesses were evacuated by SWAT trucks backing up to their doorways and driving patrons away to safety.
Kaufmann did not have an exact number of how many were taken away from the scene because it was “fluid situation.” He said the largest number of people evacuated were inside of Quigley’s Irish Pub.
Oak Lawn Police quickly established a four-square-block parameter around the bank, closing Pulaski Road and 111th Street until the ordeal ended around early Sunday morning.
The village enacted the emergency notification alert, asking residents to remain indoors because of a “high priority incident” but many residents poured into the street anyway to watch the standoff.
When SWAT teams finally located Estell, they recovered a black dreadlock wig he had apparently used as a disguise. He was taken to the Oak Lawn police station to be interviewed.
At the station, law enforcement investigators said Estell admitted to robbing the bank. According to the federal complaint, Estell said he carried an unloaded black handgun and bag on to the roof. There, wearing the black dreadlock wig, he was able to observe bank employees below through an opening in the roof.
Both employees were the only employees remaining at the bank, which had closed approximately 30 minutes earlier. When the employees entered the vault, Estell said he climbed down through the opening and followed employees into the vault, the complaint said.
Estell exited the bank after stealing more than $100,000 in currency, and threw the gun off the roof of the bank, and possibly one of the money bags also, the complaint said. The alleged bandit hid in the ceiling of adjacent businesses, attempting to elude police.
Kaufmann said that police officers recovered a backpack and a bag filled with money on the roof.
The handgun used by the alleged robber has yet to be found, Kaufmann said.
Estell has prior convictions for vehicular hijacking and possession of a stolen auto, according to the Illinois Department of Corrections.
If convicted of the bank robbery charge against him, Estell faces a prison sentence of up to 20 years.
Tinley Park Patch editor Carrie Frillman and Palos Patch editor Dan Lambert contributed to this report.
READ ABOUT past Oak Lawn bank robberies: