HIGH POINT —
It was a shot in the dark.
All anyone knew about the serial bank robber was that he was a man, and he was white.
Manila folders overflowing with still shots from surveillance video and Crimestoppers tips became a heavy burden weighing on High Point police Detective Travis Reams, who was the lead detective on the case.
For several weeks, Reams spent hours analyzing the video from the robberies and following dead-end leads to people’s doorsteps. It could have been anyone, Reams said. And the numerous tips from people pointing to men who looked very similar to the man in the surveillance footage was proof.
The first bank robbery happened in High Point before two others were robbed in Asheboro and Huntersville. Detectives learned he had robbed a Lexington convenience store a few days before hitting the bank in High Point.
Wearing a black-and-white-striped hoodie, thick black-rimmed glasses and a camouflage baseball cap, the man walked into the Bank of America on W. Fairfield Road on Oct. 27 and robbed them of the cash in the teller’s drawer.
“But this dude walks in casually like any customer would, stood in line and waited for a teller to open up,” Reams said. “Nobody paid him any attention. He didn’t come in with a mask on, he didn’t come in with a hood over his head.”
A teller told Reams the suspect passed her a note demanding the money in her drawer and flashed a gun.
“She was scared to death,” Reams said, adding that the teller gave the robber the money and the robber left.
Police scoured the area, going around town with a surveillance photograph of the robber’s face and asking people if they recognized him. Meanwhile, a K-9 unit attempted to sniff out the suspect’s trail.
The K-9 tracked the robber to a spot behind a building just a few of blocks down from the bank. There weren’t any surveillance cameras behind the building and no one saw anything.
For weeks, investigators were dumbfounded as the robberies continued. On Nov. 5, First Bank on N. Fayetteville Street in Asheboro was robbed. Several days later on Nov. 18, a Huntersville SunTrust Bank was robbed.
“And I’m like, stop. Just stop. This has to stop,” Reams said.
He asked Crimestoppers coordinator Amy Southards for help. Southards and Reams used to work on the same team when he was in patrol and she had a reputation for helping investigators track down criminals who left little or no evidence behind.
After seeing the surveillance footage from each bank, Reams noticed that the gunman wore a bandage on the left side of his neck. He also was carrying the same gun and wearing the same striped hoodie, black glasses and camo baseball cap. When the FBI got involved, it dubbed him the “Striped Hoodie Bandit.”
“We’re looking up in all of our different networks, you know, left neck tattoos or left neck scars, or marks, or something, and it’s just drawing blanks,” Reams said. “There’s nothing. My concern was, how many more people was he going to victimize?”
“And the more you’re coming up empty, the further away you think he must be,” Southards added. “Because it’s not uncommon for robbers to travel distances to do this. You have to assume it’s going to get worse every time, he’s not just going to be a friendly bank robber. How long until he accidentally shoots someone? Or someone in the bank tries to tackle him and someone gets shot, you know?”
Southards and Reams put their heads together. They decided on two key elements that must be true: the gunman has a mark on the left side of his neck and he’s not from High Point or the surrounding area since the cities robbed are “all very easy to get to off of (Interstate) 85.”
Southard began searching the nationwide police database filling in the fields — white male, between the ages of 40 to 55, and for distinguishing marks: left neck. Reams searched in the age range of 30 to 45 “anticipating that drugs had aged him,” he said.
They embarked on a tedious search through thousands of detainees throughout North Carolina and as far as Virginia and South Carolina.
Reams, along with investigators from Lexington, Asheboro and Huntersville, had arrived at a desperate point in the investigation. They had planned a meeting to “roundtable” all evidence and information gathered. It was Nov. 20.
Hours before the meeting, Southards called Reams into her office. She found a man who was charged in August with a DWI in Rowan County. A rookie officer happened to fill in the database with all of the man’s information, which is not something police normally do with a misdemeanor DWI charge, they said.
“I walked in here, and you know, I’m flustered. And I saw his face on the screen,” Reams said. “It was like Christmas. I was like, oh, my God.”
He canceled the meeting.
“We figured out who he was. She did what she does best, and she started digging into Facebook and, you know, all kinds of different outlets and found him,” Reams said, adding that he took the warrant out for his arrest and then gave all information to the U.S. Marshals Service.
Twelve days later on Dec. 2, the marshals tracked the gunman to Huntsville, Alabama, where he was staying with his girlfriend at an Economy Inn. Police detained 47-year-old Brian Dennis Kuhles of 6886 Hearthstone Lane, Liverpool, New York, along with his girlfriend, who admitted to driving the getaway car. Reams along with another detective left for Alabama the next day and came face to face with the man no one seemed to be able to identify.
“You know what it would be like to see Big Foot? You know. The elusive Big Foot,” Reams said remembering what it was like to walk into the same room with him.
He had spent hours analyzing Kuhles’ facial features, mannerisms and posture.
“When he walked in that room, it sent chills down my spine because I was like there he is,” Reams said.
And no, he wasn’t wearing the same thing. This time he was wearing a jumpsuit.
Kuhles confessed to the robberies and was charged with robbery with a dangerous weapon and possession of a weapon by a convicted felon by the police departments in Lexington, High Point, Asheboro and Huntersville.
Kuhles was extradited from Alabama to High Point on Dec. 18. After going before a judge in Rowan County for his DWI charges on Jan. 21, he is expected to appear in court on Jan. 23 in High Point, Jan. 26 in Asheboro, Feb. 4 in Huntersville and Feb. 9 in Lexington, for the robberies.
His bond was set to a combined total of $450,000 secured. He’s currently detained in the Guilford County Jail in High Point.
Kuhles has a history of armed robberies and was just released earlier this year after serving time for robbery charges in Florida, Southards said.
For Reams, this was his first “kryptonite case,” making it one he’ll remember for the rest of his career, he said.
“It’s one of those moments. Better than winning any fight… one of those rock on moments. All four agencies worked phenomenally together, we each have a zero tolerance for that stuff. I was proud to go into that interrogation room and introduce myself. It’s still surreal.”