Casino Surveillance Employee Breaks String of Bank Robberies

A San Jose woman suspected of pulling off a string of bank heists in the Bay Area was charged Friday in Placer County courtroom with three counts of robbery.

Cathy Lynn Longley, 39, is being called the "Bag Lady Bandit" by Roseville police in connection with more than a dozen robberies stretching from Santa Cruz to Sacramento areas.

She was arrested about 3 a.m. Wednesday by Roseville police after employees at the Jackson Rancheria in Amador County spotted her.

She expressed interest in pleading guilty to charges Friday afternoon for allegedly committing two robberies in Roseville that week and one in Rocklin in April. The judge ordered her to talk to a lawyer first, said Dee Dee Gunther, spokeswoman for the Roseville police. Longley's bail was reduced to $150,000 from $950,000.

The San Francisco FBI office's investigation of the case is ongoing. The agency has not formally confirmed that Longley is a suspect, said spokesman John Schachnovsky.

"But it's safe to say it's a very important arrest in our investigation." he said.

If Longley is connected to the Bag Lady Bandit crimes, including robberies March 21 and July 12 at a bank inside the P.W. Market on Vasco Road in Livermore, police Capt. Steve Sweeney said his department will pursue prosecution. But he said the feds may get the case first.

"My assumption is it will be handled at the federal (level) because there are so many cases and robbing a bank is a federal crime," Sweeney said.

The same woman is linked to similar robberies in Dublin, San Ramon, Scotts Valley and the Silicon Valley area.

Female bank robbers are rare, making up about 5 percent of offenders in the area, Schachnovsky said.

The Bag Lady Bandit, who got her name from the purses into which she stuffed her loot, chose banks inside grocery stores that tend to have more foot traffic and less security than standard branches, making getaways easier.

The robber's physical features are nondescript, Gunther said. Roseville received many calls from people reporting the suspect was someone they knew. At the same time, many people may have seen her but not remembered her.

"You may have stood next to her in line at the grocery store and thought nothing of it," Gunther said.

It was a trained eye that spotted Longley. Jackson Rancheria's surveillance employee Bill Pitzer saw her about 11 a.m. Tuesday leaving the casino floor, said Rich Hoffman, a tribal administrator with the Jackson Rancheria Band of Miwuk Indians.

Pitzer recognized Longley from news reports and had cameras focus on her. He followed her into the parking lot, where she took off in a green Sebring convertible -- the same vehicle the Bag Lady Bandit was seen driving.

"If you're a wanted person, this is the last place that you want to come to," Hoffman said, adding that the casino has trained personnel and about 1,000 cameras on the floor.

Tribal police, Roseville police and the FBI were contacted, and the agencies quickly concocted a plan to arrest her if she returned to the casino -- which she did about 12 hours later, Hoffman said.

"She helped us out with that part," Hoffman said.