TAMPA — The first time he struck, he sounded almost apologetic. Police say the robber walked into a Burger King at 9211 N Florida Ave. on Nov. 18 and asked to speak with a manager.
A half hour passed.
"I got to be honest with you," he said when the manager finally appeared near 11 p.m., "I have a gun."
He tried to explain.
His mortgage needed to be paid. His family needed to be fed.
"Times are tough," he said before demanding money and threatening to shoot.
Tampa Police Detective Gary Balkcom related the conversation Monday at a press conference. Balkcom said the "polite" robber became more bold in subsequent robberies. In each one, he wore a hooded, gray sweatshirt.
On Dec. 7 at 10:47 p.m., he ordered a sandwich from an employee at Subway, 8410 Florida Ave. After she prepared it, the man asked for money. According to police, he once again sounded apologetic.
"L'il mama," he said, "you don't want to get shot, and I want to feed my kids."
The employee gave him the money and the robber fled on foot.
Then, on Dec. 13 at 11 p.m., the man returned to the Burger King he'd robbed earlier, police say.
This time, a female employee was checking the bathrooms when she found him in the men's room, washing his hands. About 10 minutes later, the same man emerged, this time wearing a bandana over his face.
He pointed a gun at her, cursed and was more aggressive as he demanded the store's cash, police say.
Balkcom said it's not clear whether the three robberies chart the rise of a man's robbery career.
"We do get a lot of people who have never been in any trouble at all who, because of desperation, go to this," he said. "Like this guy stated, times are tough."
Rebecca Catalanello can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3383.