By Sally Voth
A violent and prolific bank robber who got into a shootout with Winchester police following his final bank heist a year ago was sentenced to six life terms on Wednesday.
James Louis Whittlesey, 53, was given the sentence after having pleaded guilty to five counts of aggravated bank robbery, two gun counts and one count of attempted escape from custody, according to a news release from the office of Timothy J. Heaphy, U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia.
Whittlesey went on a bank robbing spree that started July 19, 2011 in Fawn Grove, Pa. and culminated Oct. 14, 2011 at the United Bank at 1041 Berryville Ave. in Winchester. He also robbed three Pennsylvania banks and one Delaware one, according to the release.
It states Whittlesey was also ordered to pay $27,000 in restitution.
He was caught last December in Canada, and after being extradited to Vermont, tried to escape from custody, according to online court documents.
A statement of facts filed in July outlines Whittlesey's two-month reign of terror against bank workers. He flashed a Smith & Wesson .38-caliber revolver at the Winchester bank's tellers, demanded money, and got away with more than $10,000, it says.
As he fled the bank, Whittlesey fired about four shots at a uniformed Winchester police lieutenant. Whittlesey then got into his girlfriend's car, hit a tree and a parked car, and then drove it toward the officer, according to the statement. Both that officer and another officer shot at Whittlesey, who ended up crashing the car and escaping.
Near and around the car, police recovered the gun, most of the stolen money, maps and a magazine with Whittlesey's address, the statement says.
Whittlesey's girlfriend, who lived with him in Hydes, Md., identified him in the bank's surveillance video and told investigators he had shot his gun inside her bathroom, according to the statement. A bullet recovered from the home was forensically linked to the revolver recovered at the crash site, it states.
Whittlesey used the gun in the other robberies, and threatened workers not to add dye packs to the money or call police.
"...[he] stated that if he saw police, he would shoot the place up," the statement says.
In a separate robbery, Whittlesey "warned [tellers] not to give him 'funny money'" or he would come back and hurt them, according to the statement.
"When another teller began to move, the defendant asked what he was doing and told him to stay where he was" or he would blow him away, it adds.
As he left a robbery of a bank in Wilmington, Del. -- in which he made off with more than $13,000 -- Whittlesey apologized to a teller for scaring her, according to the statement of facts.
"The victim was shown a photo lineup five days after the defendant committed the Virginia bank robbery," it states. "She immediately chose the defendant, began to cry, and stated that she was 110% sure that the defendant was the robber."
Whittlesey's girlfriend told investigators he'd been out of a job since June 2011, and he seemed to have extra money in August, according to the statement.
"She confronted the defendant and he claimed that he had robbed a drug dealer at gunpoint," it states.
According to the statement, when Whittlesey was arrested Dec. 11 in Montreal, he pretended he was Canadian and gave a false name. He was identified by fingerprints and tattoos. The statement says Whittlesey had stolen a Volkswagen from a gas station in Baltimore, Md. four days after the Winchester robbery. That car was found Oct. 20 in Vermont, less than a mile from the Canadian border.
Following his extradition, Whittlesey was transported from Champlain, N.Y. to federal court in Burlington, Vt. by agents from Border Control and the FBI, according to the statement. They put him in handcuffs, leg irons and a chain-linked restraint belt, it states.
As the Suburban in which Whittlesey was riding approached the courthouse, he was able to kick out the window and get out, although the officers immediately caught him.
"Unbeknownst to the agents, he had managed to remove all of his restraints -- leg irons, handcuffs, chain-linked belt, and seat belt," the statement says.
Contact staff writer Sally Voth at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or firstname.lastname@example.org