ST. PETERSBURG — Two weeks ago, a stout, muscular man wearing a ragged black tank top, a camouflage hat and tinted eyeglasses walked into First Bank on Central Avenue and asked a teller for a withdrawal slip. Handed the paper, the man picked up a pen and, with a jittery hand, began to write.
I have a gun, don't do anything stupid, I will hurt you.
The teller read the message. Moments later, the man walked to the exit carrying more than $2,000.
The next day, the same man, wearing the same outfit, walked into Chase Bank on U.S. 19 in Pinellas Park and, again, stole cash before running away.
A day later, William R. Kane III dialed 911 from a cellphone as he stood outside a Wells Fargo Bank on Fourth Street.
Kane told dispatchers he was stressed out, tired and thinking about suicide. He wanted to go back to rehab to kick his addiction to crack cocaine, he said. After police showed up, Kane admitted he was the man who had robbed the two banks, police said. He was about to rob the Wells Fargo when he made the call, they said.
Kane's is a story not unlike that of the majority of bank robbers. Like most, he was no novice at crime. Twice, he had served time in prison for a string of similar robberies.
Money is rarely the sole motivator in bank heists, says William Rehder, a bank robbery expert and 33-year FBI agent. What drives the robbers, the thing that keeps them coming back to steal even more, is the excitement of the act itself.
"All bank bandits are serial," Rehder said. "Robbing a bank is as much an addiction as drugs can be."
That's likely what it was for Kane. As experts say, and as Kane himself told authorities after each time he was busted, it was addiction, the primal rush one gets from carrying out something as invigorating and dangerous as taking someone else's money, that led to his downfall.
But there was one trait that did set him apart from other robbers — something that might even have surprised police.
Before he was a lawbreaker, Kane was a lawman, just like them.
• • •
In the 1980s, Kane fulfilled a lifelong dream of rounding up bad guys when he became an officer at the Pompano Beach Police Department. He worked there two years. Then he left. He could have made it a career, but substance abuse forced him to quit.
Otherwise, Kane managed to maintain the life of a regular citizen — until 1995, when he committed his first robbery.
On Dec. 3 of that year, Kane walked into a Citgo gas station in Pinellas Park and asked the clerk to trade a nickel for five pennies. When the clerk opened the cash drawer, Kane grabbed $29 and ran.
The next day, Kane went to a 7-Eleven store on 49th Street in St. Petersburg and threatened the clerk with a knife before making off with $60. Later the same day, Kane walked into Barnett Bank on 54th Avenue S and handed a note to a teller implying that he had a gun and wanted money. He walked away with $1,014.
Three days later, he struck again, robbing an AmSouth Bank in Gulfport of $1,860. As he made his getaway, a bank teller ran outside and jotted down the tag number on Kane's truck, which led police to him.
After his arrest, Kane told police he was HIV positive and had been smoking crack for five days. He confessed to all four robberies.
"I'm an ex-cop," he said as officers took off his handcuffs. "I'm not going to hurt anybody."
At his sentencing the following June, Kane drew a judge's sympathy as he was ordered to serve five years in prison.
"I think the record is clear that but for your drug addiction, these robberies would not have taken place," Circuit Judge Raymond Gross told Kane. "Hopefully, with the advances we're getting in medicine, your condition will stabilize, you can leave prison, you can pay off these costs and be among your family."
• • •
In Florida and nationwide, bank robberies have been on a steady decline since the 1990s. From 2003 to 2011, the nation saw a 32 percent drop in bank robberies, according to FBI statistics. Florida alone has seen its number of robberies cut in half during the same time period, from 448 statewide in 2003 to 214 last year.
The decline is due to a number of factors, Rehder said, especially the heightened vigilance of banks. More and more banks employ greater security measures to deter robbers.
"The banks got the message," Rehder said.
Changing economic conditions have little effect on the frequency of bank robberies, Rehder said.
"The economy has little to do with anything in the bank robbery world," Rehder said. "There are blips in the radar from time to time that are inexplicable."
What stays constant are the criminal's motivations. The vast majority of robbers — as many as 80 percent, Rehder said — are found to be addicted to some kind of drug after they are caught. Crime fuels their addiction, which in turn motivates them to steal more.
It won't stop until they are captured, which Rehder says is inevitable as they continue to rob. And if they return to society, it is not uncommon for robbers to also return to a life of crime.
• • •
Kane served his time, but later violated probation and was sent back to prison. In 2003, he was released again, but was out less than four months before he was arrested.
This time, he hit a Bank of America on Belleair Road before going on a crack cocaine binge. He later turned himself in, with family members at his side, and was eventually sentenced to another five-year term.
Kane was last released in 2008 and apparently managed to stay clean until recently.
His family declined to comment for this story. But in an online comment on the tampabay.com article announcing his arrest, a person identifying himself as Kane's brother wrote a lengthy message expressing the family's frustration.
"Personally, I feel Bill for whatever reason cannot function in society anymore," he wrote. "Every end to the tragic periods in his life opened up to opportunities that any one of us would be happy to have, and then he self-destructs, over and over, he self-destructs."
Information from Times archives was used in this report. Dan Sullivan can be reached at (727) 893-8321 or firstname.lastname@example.org.