The lone assassin

28th September 2004, Comments 0 comments

He has robbed over 20 banks in five years, stolen nearly a million euros and killed two police officers. But no-one has a clue who he is. We report on Spain's real-life crime thriller.

His false beard and wig are his trademarks.

The suspect always wears a false beard and wig

His routine is always the same; he always wears the same disguise, carries the same bag and works at the same time of day, between 1 and 2pm.

Though he will disappear at the hint of trouble, if a clerk or a customer gives him any problems, he is not afraid to pull his gun and threaten them.

Terrorists aside, this is Spain's most wanted criminal who has eluded the authorities for the past five years.  

He has robbed over 20 banks across the country and only twice had any problems with the police. So far he has got away with nearly EUR 800,000.

But in the hunt for this most elusive bank robber, the stakes rose substantially in June 2004, when he shot dead two traffic police officers in broad daylight as they tried to get him to stop his car.
*quote1*The officers, Jose Antonio Vidal, 29, and Juan Antonio Palmero, 31, had noticed something unusual about the Suzuki Vitarra he was driving and flagged him down on the N113 in Castejon in Navarra in northern Spain.

They had followed him for almost three kilometres before he slowed down and the officers started to pull out in front of his Suzuki.

But just as they drew alongside, the driver leant out of the window and opened up with a Magnum revolver, firing 23 times and killing both officers instantly.

Nineteen bullets hit their intended targets. This was not someone wildly firing in panic.

Initially, police thought it was the work of ETA terrorists because the murders took place close to the Basque Country.

Jose Antonio Vidal (left) and Juan Antonio Palmero

But this was quickly discounted, as was the idea it could have been a ruthless Eastern European gangster.

Careful analysis of the trajectory of the bullets, which were fired from an .45 automatic, told an altogether different story.

"None of my men can shoot like this, with such precision," said a source from an elite Guardia Civil firearms unit.

Now 40 officers are dedicated to finding the bank robber-turned-cop-killer.

Detectives believe that judging by his criminal success, this man knows how police work.

*quote2*But if that were true, he would know traffic officers can only impose a small fine and no more. Why shoot two officers and transform yourself from eccentric bank robber into the most wanted man in Spain?

An officer from the elite Central Operations Unit believes the killer may have known the officers and realised he might be unmasked at last if they stopped him.

Or perhaps he was preparing another robbery and driving a stolen car?  There are only 40,000 Suzuki Vitaras in Spain, so the one he was driving was driving at the time of the shooting was probably stolen.

The way he gunned down these officers now makes Spanish police believe he may well be ex-military or a former police officer. He could also be a gun fanatic or perhaps shoots as a hobby.

Physically, the only features which police can be sure are his own are his large eye bags.

Security cameras in banks across Spain have captured his image and witnesses describe a man with sharp, blue eyes. But he could be wearing contact lenses, disguising even the real colour of his eyes.

Police do believe he is Spanish, but without any particular accent. He is about 1.75 metres tall (5ft 8in tall), has a prominent nose and broad eyebrows.

He seems rough, wears cheap clothes and might even sport a bullet-proof vest under his coat. Or perhaps is a little overweight.

One police source confided: "All these factors, added to the way he works, makes us come to one conclusion: it will be difficult, very difficult to catch him."

Officially police remain confident they will eventually catch him out, but they do not hide the fact they are hoping for a break in the hunt and their most likely sou

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