Arrest Made in Connection With Bank Robbery

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A man from The Plains is in custody in connection with a Monday bank robbery at Hocking Valley Bank.

After three different interviews with investigators, Willard Whitmore, 68, of Walnut Street, is charged with armed robbery, possession of criminal tools and tampering with evidence, according to Athens County Sheriff Rodney Smith.

The arrest came after the Hocking Valley Bank in The Plains reported a man armed with a gun walking into the bank at about 8:20 a.m. The bank reported that the suspect allegedly showed the gun to employees, demanded money and fled down Hartman Road and into the woods,  Smith told WOUB during Monday’s investigation.

Investigators from the sheriff’s office, the Ohio State Highway Patrol, the Hocking County Major Crimes Unit, the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and the FBI began creating a perimeter in the area and set canine units to search as well.

Whitmore was located in a nearby wooden area behind the Foodland grocery store, but investigators initially found his story to be “credible,” and released him.

“He told (investigators) he was in the woods collecting golf balls…and he had golf balls in his pocket,” Smith said in a press conference on Tuesday.

Evidence, including clothes investigators say Whitmore changed out of after leaving the bank, was collected near where Whitmore was initially found, “making him a possible suspect,” according to Smith.

After a second conversation, Whitmore was officially considered a suspect and a third interview was conducted, which Smith said led to a confession from Whitmore.

The gun was found to be a toy gun purchased at a Dollar General, according to Captain Bryan Cooper. Investigators found that the gun had been spray-painted to look more like a real gun, Cooper said.

A search is ongoing for the gun, which investigators think is still in the wooded area.

Smith would not disclose the amount of money that was allegedly taken from the bank, but said the money was later found hidden in a tree trunk close to where they first found Whitmore.

“He was in need for money to complete a project he was working on,” Smith said, adding that he was not a regular customer of the bank.

Smith said the canine units were very useful in the search, adding that the bloodhound from the Major Crimes Unit was “very impressive” in using the scent taken from clothes and tracking the scent of the suspect.

Whitmore will be booked in the Southeastern Ohio Regional Jail on Tuesday, and will later appear in Athens County Municipal Court on the charges.