An accused bank robber’s idiosyncratic penmanship landed him back in jail after a detective recognized the particular shape of the “O’s” in the New York City man’s demand notes, according to a criminal complaint obtained by The Daily Beast.
Federal charges against Elliott Allen were unsealed May 8, fingering the 27-year-old as the suspect in a string of stickups dating back to last year. Some of the demand notes used in the robberies were threatening, while others bordered on the apologetic, offering justifications for the robbery: among them, homelessness, child care expenses, and being “dopesick.” They were all written with a peculiar specificity, ordering tellers to hand over precise—and relatively modest—dollar amounts.
The first location was hit the morning of Nov. 10, 2022, when a man in a light gray Champion hoodie walked into a Santander branch in the Bronx and passed a handwritten note to one of the tellers.
“Big bill’s [sic], nothing less than 900$,” it said. “It’s a robbery.”
But the teller, safely ensconced behind a bullet-resistant window, simply walked away with the note, according to the complaint, which was filed by an FBI agent assigned to the FBI-NYPD Joint Bank Robbery/Violent Crime Task Force. And with that, the would-be robber abandoned the plan and left the bank, it says. (Stealing less than $1,000 from a bank is punishable by up to a year behind bars. More than $1,000 can get you up to 10 years, and using a gun carries up to 20.)
About six weeks later, on Dec. 28, a man in a dark hooded sweatshirt entered a Citibank branch in Manhattan’s Herald Square and handed a note to a teller.
“Pass me A grand or more, no less, or one of the employes [sic] will get hurt, on the other floor.” it said.
This time, the teller complied, handing over “approximately $1,000 in cash,” the complaint states.
On Jan. 4, the case agent met with an NYPD detective to discuss the investigation.
He showed the unnamed detective the demand notes from both incidents, according to the complaint, which says the detective “immediately recognized the distinctive handwriting on Note-1 and Note-2—in particular, the overlapping lines in the letter ‘O.’”
The detective identified the writing as belonging to Allen, who had been arrested in November 2021 for a series of bank robberies in the same general area, the complaint goes on.
“In the course of his investigation, the Detective had reviewed notes that Allen had used in the 2021 Bank Robberies (‘Note-3,’ ‘Note-4,’ and ‘Note-5’),” the complaint states. “On this basis, the Detective had become familiar with the distinctive features of Allen’s handwriting on Allen’s bank robbery notes.”
“This is a robbery. Give me 900 dollar’s [sic],” the first one said. “Give me 980$ dollars,” said the second. “This is a robbery.” The third said, “This is a robbery. Give me 900$ dollars now, no game’s [sic].”
In late February, Allen was arrested for a bank robbery in Brooklyn. The detective reviewed the demand note, which the complaint says “featur[ed] the same distinctive handwriting that appear[ed] in Note-1, Note-2, Note-3, Note-4, and Note-5.” This time, however, Allen had—allegedly—raised the stakes, as well as his potential punishment.
“I see what you look like, I will go after you on the outside, but I [sic] rather avoid that,” the note said. “So give me 2500$, no less than 2000 cash. Need to take care of children, losing home.”
The NYPD police lab linked Allen’s demand notes to 15 others in its Robbery Note Database, according to the complaint. The FBI also identified further common features, it says, such as a “distinctive lower-case letter ‘s’ that is either unusually horizontal… or appears unusually to consist of two separate pen strokes,” the “distinctive repeated use of inappropriate possessive apostrophes for plural nouns,” and the “consistent use of two vertical strikes in the dollar signs.”
Investigators also matched surveillance footage of Allen from the Dec. 28 Citibank robbery with security video taken inside a CubeSmart self-storage facility where Allen had been renting a unit on the fourth floor. He arrived at the storage space a few hours after the bank job, wearing the same clothes, the complaint states.
Allen spent a little less than seven weeks in jail before being released on April 12, according to New York City Department of Correction booking records. However, the feds allege he still wasn’t done.
On May 4, the complaint says Allen walked into a Capital One bank branch in Queens and passed a teller a note, which said, “Dopesick, homeless, please give me 2 grand cash, or I'll go over the counter please its [sic] a robbery.”
The teller gave Allen “an amount of cash,” according to the complaint, which does not provide further specifics. Only, this time, they slipped a hidden GPS tracking device in along with the loot, it says. The tracker led cops to the Co-op City neighborhood of the Bronx, where they arrested Allen at 2:23 p.m., the complaint states.
The demand note used in the Capital One heist, as seen in the complaint, bears the same unique “O’s” as each of the previous ones. In total, Allen allegedly stole a maximum combined total of just over $6,000 between 2021 and last week.
Joseph Giacalone, a retired NYPD detective sergeant who served as commander of the Bronx Cold Case Squad and now teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said he understands why crooks are tempted to rob banks—“Because that’s where the money is”— but that he still can’t fathom why they still think it’s a good idea.
“It’s the most surveilled location you can possibly have,” Giacalone told The Daily Beast. “It’s really not conducive for robbing the place. The employees are basically told to hand it over, but these things never end well for these guys. If you’re a bad guy, you don’t want to draw attention to yourself. Walking into a bank and trying to rob it is not going to do that for you.”
Allen’s lawyer, federal defender Sylvie Levine, did not respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment. Allen remains detained pending his next court appearance, which is scheduled for May 19.