Andrew Welsh-Huggins

COLUMBUS: FBI agent Harry Trombitas took bank robberies seriously, but not always the people who committed them.

As a lead agent handling violent crime in the 1990s, Trombitas grew frustrated trying to figure out how to draw attention to the enormous number of bank robberies in those days — more than 100 a year in central Ohio, and five robberies in a single day on at least two occasions.

Trying to cut through the clutter of numerous news releases and catch people’s attention, Trombitas began writing his official crime notices with a bit of flair.

“Three-Eyed Bandit Robs Huntington Bank” was his release from 2009 about a robber with a tattoo of an eyeball on his neck.

“ ‘Church Lady’ Strikes Again,” said a 2010 release about a woman who witnesses described as dressing “like she just came from church.”

“ ‘Droopy-Drawers Bandit’ Hits Reynoldsburg Credit Union,” explained a 2011 release about a man wearing low-riding trousers.

Trombitas, 56, who lives outside Columbus, retires today as an FBI agent just ahead of the mandatory retirement age of 57. In a career spanning almost three decades, he chased car thieves in St. Louis, organized crime bosses in New York City and several notorious criminals in Ohio, including serial killer Thomas Dillon, who shot to death five outdoorsmen from 1989 to 1993.

“It just occurred to me that if we could take a look at what happened in the robbery or how the person looked, and come up with some kind of a nickname for that robber, that would give him his own identity,” Trombitas said.

His FBI supervisors never saw a problem with his approach. Other officers around town were initially uncomfortable with the practice, but they eventually came around.

“After a while they saw the value of doing that, and then it got to the point where everybody expected a nickname,” he said.

Other “best of” monikers from the files of Trombitas releases, which were always accompanied by bank surveillance photos: the “Grumpy Bandit” for a robber who grunted at a teller; the “Enviro-Friendly Robber,” named for bringing a reusable grocery bag for the loot; “Mullet Man,” because, well, say no more; and the 2011 suspect dubbed the “Dirty Bieber Bandit” because, as Trombitas noted, a witness described the man as looking just like Justin Bieber, “only dirty.”

Almost all cases had arrests within a few days or weeks.