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'Most Wanted' sets sights on city robbery suspect

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Chris Hamilton, left, senior show producer and coordinator for “America's Most Wanted,” interviews Winchester Police Sgt. Frank Myrtle inside City Hall on Thursday. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Chris Hamilton, left, senior show producer and coordinator for the TV show "America's Most Wanted," interviews Winchester Police Sgt. Frank Myrtle inside City Hall on Thursday. Production crews were filming for an upcoming segment on James L. Whittlesey, 52, the suspect in the recent United Bank robbery in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

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James Louis Whittlesey

By Candace Sipos -- csipos@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- "America's Most Wanted" filmed in the city Thursday for the first time in more than a decade, and law enforcement officials hope the resulting segment will signify the ending of the James Louis Whittlesey search.

The five-member crew stayed in the city from about 8 a.m. until nightfall, gathering more than enough information for what will likely be a five-minute story scheduled to air on Friday, Dec. 9 at 9 p.m. on the show's new network, Lifetime.

Producer Chris Hamilton wasn't able to set up the complete re-enactment of the crime for Thursday because of time constraints, but the crew might return later, he said.
In that case, he believes he would be able to film inside the United Bank at 1041 Berryville Ave., where the robbery occurred Oct. 14.

Two FBI agents joined Winchester police Sgt. Frank Myrtle in Rouss City Hall for the first round of interviews Thursday, and show producers also interviewed two teachers from the Grafton Integrated Health Network, which has a branch on Elm Street that went under lockdown following the robbery.

Robert Hilland, senior supervisory resident agent at the FBI's Richmond division, said that city police, the state police fugitive unit, Baltimore and Philadelphia FBI units and other agencies have all been working together to track down Whittlesey, who has had at least 19 aliases.

Hilland declined comment on much of the case, but said "it's just a matter of when" in regards to catching the perpetrator.

"We have to take advantage of every resource that we have," Hilland said. "We put Mr. Whittlesey's picture throughout the country, and again, we will bring him to justice."
"Our number one concern from a department aspect is to apprehend Whittlesey and place him in custody," said Myrtle, whose interview with the show lasted about 2 1⁄2 hours. "We want the viewers to know exactly how dangerous Whittlesey is."

Whittlesey, 51, who remains at large, has been charged by city police with robbery and attempted capital murder of a law enforcement officer, while federal authorities have charged him with aggravated bank robbery. After robbing the bank, Whittlesey exchanged fire with officers before fleeing the scene, police said.

The FBI launched a multi-state billboard campaign days later to no avail so far.

According to the FBI, Whittlesey committed three additional armed robberies in Pennsylvania and one in Delaware between July and October of this year.

Whittlesey has previously escaped from a Maryland prison, and tried to escape from a Florida prison, but was stopped by guards' warning shots, Hamilton said.

Often, Hamilton hears of interesting cases by way of show reporters who discover them. This time was different, however. Two law enforcement agents both contacted Hamilton within 24 hours -- a member of the FBI and a Maryland state trooper who was familiar with the case.

"The more we were digging into [the case], the more we realized this guy has quite the history," Hamilton said. "It's an exciting case too just from the standpoint of the dramatic twists and turns that it took. ... He is an extremely bad guy, and we want to catch the worst of the worst."

He said the show is "inundated" with requests from across the nation every day, many of which producers have to turn down. But this case stuck out among the rest, he said.

"This guy, with his history, his nationwide travel if you will, his criminal past, his propensity to do this again and his reckless regard for anybody else -- you look at this guy, and you say, 'This is somebody we got to get off the streets,'" Hamilton said.

This episode will be part of the first season on Lifetime, which will consist of 20 shows airing throughout April 2012. "America's Most Wanted" became popular on the Fox network, but was canceled in June, Hamilton said.

Out of the 1,067 episodes of the show so far, 1,161 fugitives have been caught. There are about seven or eight fugitives featured in each show, he said.

One major difference between the previous "America's Most Wanted" on Fox and the upcoming edition is the follow-up process, Hamilton said. For an hour before each 9 p.m. airing, the show will update viewers on previous fugitives, whether they've been captured yet or not. So information and footage gathered Thursday might benefit producers for more than one episode.

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