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Crime & Courts

Tampa bank robbers embraced ‘Bonnie & Clyde’ comparison

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Published:   |   Updated: December 23, 2013 at 03:40 PM

TAMPA — Less than six months after they were married, and just days before she gave birth, Cara Lee Williams and Immanuel Lee Williams started robbing banks, officials say.

The couple are accused of hitting 15 banks in Florida and Alabama between Dec. 5, 2012, and Nov. 6, 2013. News reports in Alabama referred to them as a modern-day “Bonnie and Clyde.”

The duo couldn’t resist the comparison to the Depression-era bank robbers. Investigators who searched their home in East Tampa found a note Cara Lee Williams wrote to her husband, mentioning their “Bonnie and Clyde moments.”

And just as the law stayed one step behind Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, the FBI appears to have been tracking the Tampa couple as they staked out and robbed banks, according to court records.

But while Bonnie and Clyde died in a blaze of gunfire in 1934, Cara and Immanuel Lee Williams appear to be ending their crime careers quietly, in federal court.

Immanuel Lee Williams has agreed to plead guilty to a federal bank robbery conspiracy charge, which carries up to 20 years in prison, according to court documents. He is scheduled to enter his guilty plea in January.

Cara Lee Williams is in negotiations to resolve her case short of a trial, too, according to court records.

The couple stole more than $55,000 from the banks using notes that demanded tellers turn over cash and refrain from pressing any alarms, according to court documents. The first and sixth robberies were in Tampa. There were also robberies in Brandon and Plant City.

Cara Williams is believed to have been the getaway driver in all but one of the robberies. And in all but one, Immanuel Lee Williams went inside with the note and came out with money, according to court records.

During the robberies, authorities say, Immanuel Williams can be seen trying to cover up a scar on his left thumb.

He worked for a time as a temporary, part-time postal worker, while his wife worked in a bank, according to court records. But their bills far exceeded their legitimate income. And Immanuel Lee Williams had a “player card,” given to frequent gamblers at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino.

Investigators say Immanuel Williams wore a hat given to player-card holders during one of the robberies.

The robberies started 10 days before Cara Williams gave birth, on a day she took as vacation from her job at JP Morgan Chase Bank. Four of the robberies happened while she was on maternity leave, according to a criminal complaint. Two happened on days she called in sick.

After carrying out 13 robberies in Florida, the couple decided law enforcement was “too hot,” or likely to catch them here. So they started robbing banks in Cara Williams’ home state of Alabama.

And it looks like they were right; the FBI was tracking the couple at least as early as Oct., 29, two weeks after the last Florida robbery in Bushnell and about a week before the first robbery in Dothan, Alabama.

Agents followed the couple several times to the casino.

As they began to close in, according to court records, agents tracked the couple Oct. 29 driving from bank to bank along Interstate 4 without pulling off a heist.

They watched as Cara Williams drive her husband in her 2011 Mercedes Benz, taking exit 92 at Altamonte Drive in Altamonte Springs north of Orlando. She parked close to a bank, but neither of them left the car.

They returned to the highway and headed east, getting off in Sanford and driving past several banks before getting back on the highway again, according to an FBI affidavit.

They continued east three exits and got off I-4 again, made a U-turn got returned to the highway. They left I-4 near Deltona and made some more U-turns, stopping near two banks. Then they returned to the highway, this time headed west. They bought gas, sped off faster than 100 mph, exited at Longwood, made a U-turn and parked near two banks.

After several minutes, they got back on I-4 and returned home to Tampa, according to court records.

Agents obtained warrants to install tracking devices on the couple’s two cars, starting Nov. 2.

On Nov. 4, investigators say, Cara Lee Williams, donned a disguise and walked into the Trinity Bank in Dothan, Alabama. She slipped a note to a teller.

In all capitals in black ink, the note said, “This is a bank robbery. I have a gun so be quiet and fast & no one gets hurt! Hand me all your 20s, 100s, & 50s! Be fast and no alarms.”

Two days later, investigators say, Immanuel Lee Williams, wearing a disguise, used a similar note to rob a credit union in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

The next day, the pair was arrested.

esilvestrini@tampatrib.com

813-259-7837

Twitter: @ElaineTBO

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