Lake Worth woman says she is the lone ‘Wig Bandit’

07/09/2014 7:08 PM

07/09/2014 10:32 PM

A Lake Worth woman has confessed to being the “Wig Bandit,” saying she robbed banks to pay for her heroin habit.

Jessica Stell, 23, who was jailed on a parole violation and a drug warrant out of Wise County, told Fort Worth police that she committed the bank robberies — wearing two different wigs — during a six-month crime spree.

Stell confessed to seven robberies and “a search warrant produced several items of incriminating evidence,” said Cpl. Tracey Knight, a Fort Worth police spokeswoman.

Her case is expected to go to a federal grand jury soon, Knight said

Stell granted the Star-Telegram a jailhouse interview on Wednesday.

“It was all for heroin,” said Stell, insisting that she did not use a weapon in any of the holdups. “I spent what money I stole all on heroin. I don’t have any money now.”

Stell has been in the Tarrant County Jail since being arrested June 23 in Lake Worth.

FBI officials declined to discuss the case on Wednesday.

But Stell said FBI agents have questioned her about the holdups, which began on Jan. 30 and ended in early June, resulting in what she estimates was about $25,000 being stolen.

“I feel like an idiot,” said Stell, a mother of a 5-year-old daughter who she said lives with her father. “I’m more embarrassed for my family. They thought I was turning my life around, and then this happened.”

Authorities dubbed the bank robber the “Wig Bandit” because it was obvious the robber was wearing wigs for a disguise. At one time, investigators believed that there were two “Wig Bandits” hitting banks in Fort Worth because of different descriptions.

But Stell said she is the only one who donned wigs to rob the banks.

“Within an hour of joking about robbing banks, I was in a wig and at a bank,” she said. “I was so scared.”

Stell bought the wigs long before she began robbing banks, she said. She owns three but used only two in the holdups, she said.

She said she has a history of drug use that started with her smoking marijuana at 11, and then progressed to heroin at 18.

She said she attended Fossil Ridge and Arlington Heights high schools, but got her GED at Tarrant County College.

The spree begins

The first heist was on Jan. 30 at Chase Bank, 6700 W. Vickery Blvd., when she wore her long blonde wig.

“I passed the teller a note, and I don’t remember what was on it because I didn’t write it,” Stell said. “I demanded the note back because it had my fingerprints on it.”

Stell said she did not use notes when robbing the other banks.

The other banks included Comerica Bank, 4351 Western Center Blvd., on Feb. 5; Comerica Bank, 6388 Camp Bowie Blvd. and Woodhaven Bank, 6301 N. Beach St. on May 1; BBVA Compass Bank, 5701 Camp Bowie Blvd., on May 22; Comerica Bank (second time), 6388 Camp Bowie Blvd., on June 9; and Wells Fargo, 4533 Bellair Drive, on June 10.

Stell didn’t keep exact count of the banks she robbed or the amount of money she stole. In some cases, the money was split among her accomplices, she said.

She declined to talk about the accomplices. In two of the robberies she went alone, she said.

Exploding dye pack

Stell said that two of the robberies went bad. In one of the Comerica robberies, she walked up to a teller and demanded money from a cash drawer, but walked out without anything when the teller said he couldn’t open the drawer.

In the May 22 holdup of the BBVA Compass Bank, Stell said, a dye pack in the money exploded as she was getting in her car. She said the exploding pack also dispersed tear gas and started a fire in her purse.

“I got the fire out and drove, but I could barely see because of the tear gas,” Stell said. “The dye pack was red, so it was all over the money and my clothes.”

Stell said she rented a hotel room in Fort Worth and put the money in a bathtub to try and wash out the red.

“A lot of money burned up,” she said. “It took me two days to wash the red out of me.”

‘Just a matter of time’

Stell said she was arrested while sitting on the front porch of her family’s Lake Worth home.

“Some people had already recognized me from photos they saw on the news,” she said. “I knew it was just a matter of time before I was caught.”

During her interview with the Star-Telegram, Stell repeatedly apologized for the bank holdups.

“I can’t change anything. If I had to do it over, of course I wouldn’t have robbed banks,” she said. “Just days before I was arrested, my parents told me how proud they were that I was clean. I didn’t tell them then what I had done.”

But Stell finally told her mother.

“This is so uncharacteristic of me,” Stell said. “I’m embarrassed.”

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