Tips, tech helped solve butcher-knife bank robberies

Tips and technology led to an arrest in two bank robberies committed by a disguised woman armed with butcher knives.

The affidavit of a Harrison County sheriff’s investigator lays out those portions of the inquiry and tells how much money was taken and what happened during and after the April 8 holdup of The Peoples Bank in Saucier.

Brittnei Farmer, 28, of Saucier has been arrested in that armed robbery and one Aug. 3 at a Hancock Bank branch in Ocean Springs.

An Ocean Springs judge has ordered that Farmer get mental-health treatment.

She’s held at the Harrison County jail pending a hearing on the Saucier bank robbery.

What investigators knew

Before a person of interest was identified, here’s what sheriff’s investigators discovered, according to an affidavit:

A disguised woman whose only visible feature was her forehead walked into The Peoples Bank at 3:31 p.m. She held up a large knife, causing a teller to fear for her safety, and demanded the teller put money in a black trash bag. The clerk emptied her cash drawer and the robber left on foot with $6,800 and a customer’s iPhone.

A sheriff’s K-9 team found the stolen iPhone on the northwest side of Saucier Elementary School. The school’s security cameras filmed the woman getting into a dark-colored car and driving south on First Street.

Her identity was unclear. Her head was covered by the hood of her black sweatshirt. A black bandana covered the lower part of her face. And she wore black sunglasses, gray jogging pants and blue surgical gloves.

Then there was another bank robbery, this one in Ocean Springs and apparently committed by the same person.

Tips and a cellphone ping

Detectives began receiving anonymous tips on the woman’s identity after Ocean Springs police released a surveillance picture to other law enforcement agencies and the media.

A police detective in D’Iberville notified a sheriff’s investigator, who filled out a legal document to have Farmer’s cellphone carrier ping her phone. A ping sends a signal to a person’s phone and uses its distance from cellphone towers to show the phone’s location.

Meanwhile, video surveillance showed the woman who robbed the Ocean Springs bank had left in a gray or silver Cadillac.

The ping showed the phone was in D’Iberville.

Investigators saw a Cadillac at The Estates of Juan D. Cuevas apartments on Gorenflo Road. They followed it as it left The Estates, then stopped it, leading to Farmer’s arrest four hours after the Ocean Springs bank heist.

Ocean Springs police searched the car and D’Iberville police searched an apartment. Investigators reported evidence was seized in each search.

Farmer confessed to robbing the Saucier bank during an interview with sheriff’s investigators at the Ocean Springs Police Department, an affidavit said.

How much money was taken in Ocean Springs remains unclear.