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‘Trench Coat Robber’ Gets 24 Years

March 20, 1999 GMT

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) _ A man convicted in what authorities call the biggest bank robbery in U.S. history has been sentenced to 24 years and seven months in prison.

Ray Lewis Bowman, 54, of Parkville, Mo., was also ordered to pay $5.2 million and to forfeit 112 guns at his sentencing on Friday. He could have been sentenced to a maximum of 30 years behind bars.

The government alleged that from 1982 to 1997, Bowman and William Arthur Kirkpatrick of Hovland, Minn., pulled off 28 bank robberies that netted more than $8 million.

In most of the jobs, the robbers wore disguises, including trench coats, earning them the title of the ``Trench Coat Robbers.″ Authorities said the pair would slip into banks, often at opening or closing, surprise employees and quickly make off with large amounts of cash. The two rarely left behind fingerprints or other evidence.

Bowman was convicted in November of bank robbery, conspiracy to commit bank robbery, use of a firearm in the commission of a crime and transporting stolen property.

The trial centered on the Feb. 10, 1997, robbery of nearly $4.5 million _ approximately 335 pounds of cash _ from the Seafirst bank branch in suburban Lakewood. The U.S. attorney’s office said it was the biggest U.S. bank robbery.

Although the Trench Coat Robbers were among the most successful stickup men in the country, authorities had no idea of their identities until 1997. Small acts of carelessness _ waving cash around, falling behind on a storage bill, speeding _ ultimately led to the two arrests.

In 1997, Bowman failed to pay a bill at a Missouri storage company. When an auctioneer found guns inside, federal agents were called in.

That same year, a Nebraska state trooper pulled Kirkpatrick over for doing 7 mph above the limit. Inside his car, police found four pistols, ski masks, phony police badges, locksmith tools and $1.8 million in cash.

Charges against Kirkpatrick in the Lakewood robbery were dropped last year after a judge ruled the trooper’s search was illegally conducted. However, Kirkpatrick still faces trial for the 1993 robbery of First Bank in Burnsville, Minn., and is charged with eight counts of money laundering.

Bowman was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison last year for illegally possessing gun silencer parts.