Wig bandit indicted on bank holdup charge

A federal grand jury has indicted a Lake Worth woman called the “Wig Bandit” on bank robbery charges in a case where the 23-year-old has admitted to committing a series of holdups this year to pay for a heroin habit.

Jessica Renee Stell, 23, is charged with one count of bank robbery.

She was arrested June 23 at her parents’ Lake Worth home after Fort Worth police received a tip that she was the “Wig Bandit,” a bank robber who wore wigs during holdups.

Stell was in federal custody Wednesday.

The indictment, which was returned last week, charges Stell in the June 10 holdup at Wells Fargo Bank, 4533 Bellaire Drive South, in Fort Worth, where $1,409 was stolen.

Stell told Fort Worth police and the Star-Telegram that she robbed that bank and six others. The Lake Worth woman confessed to the Star-Telegram during a July 9 jailhouse interview. She had admitted doing the crimes to Fort Worth police during a June 30 interview, according to federal court documents.

In the June 10 holdup, an employee told authorities that a woman came into the bank and asked to speak to a teller, who was busy helping another customer.

The robber said, “No I have a gun, I will blast your ___ head off, and her head off, and his head off, and every customer in here (pointing at other employees and customers). Give me all your bottom drawer,” according to a federal criminal complaint obtained by the Star-Telegram. After getting the money, the suspect walked out of the bank.

Police later received a tip that Stell was the “Wig Bandit” and authorities arrested her a few days later. They seized wigs and bandages from a bedroom at the Lake Worth home where she was arrested.

“It was all for heroin,” said Stell, in the July 9 interview, 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.”

She began her crime spree on Jan. 30 and ended it in early June after taking, she estimates, about $25,000.

“I feel like an idiot,” said Stell, the 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.”

She said she has a history of drug use that started with marijuana at 11 and 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 first heist was on Jan. 30 at Chase Bank, 6700 W. Vickery Blvd., when she wore her long blonde wig.

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 said she 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 accomplices, she said.

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

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 to wash out the red.

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

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

“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.”

Stell repeatedly apologized for the 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.”

This report contains information from Star-Telegram archives.

Domingo Ramirez Jr., 817-390-7763