‘Car wash bandit’ has stolen thousands of dollars in at least five states: police

MOORESVILLE, Ind. -- Police in Indiana and at least five other states hope to catch up with a thief who has figured out how to steal thousands of dollars from car wash auto-pay machines.

The white man in his 50s or 60s first appeared in Mooresville, Indiana last summer, when police say he got away with hundreds of dollars from two car washes. Mooresville police say he struck again in late January.

“The reason it was brought to the owner’s attention is that this time he actually emptied the machine out,” Mooresville Police Detective Chad Richhart told WXIN. “The owner was getting some phone calls about the machine being empty of coins.”

January 2018 suspect photo from Mooresville, IN.

Surveillance video from January 25th at a Power Wash Car Wash shows a white Chrysler minivan pull up to an auto-pay machine outside one of the car wash bays. A security camera mounted on the machine shows the man insert money into the machine, push a couple buttons, then grab handfuls of change from the machine. The man can then be seen pulling the bill back out of the machine before wiping down the areas where he touched the control panel.

Richhart says the same man was seen on video last summer, traveling in a blue Chrysler minivan, committing the same theft at the same two car wash businesses. In all, Richhart says the suspect has stolen more than a thousand dollars from the two Mooresville car washes.

“We have really good video of this guy, we have really good images,” Richhart said. “And I really felt like when we first put it on our social media, on Facebook, I thought I’ll come in in the morning and we’ll have this guy identified and we’ll get this taken care of. And now here we are months later and we’re still no further than when we first started.”

While investigating the case, Richhart learned that the same man is suspected of committing the same crime in several other states. Police are looking for the suspect in Illinois, Ohio, Iowa, New York and possibly Michigan.

The man is suspected of stealing thousands of dollars in the different states.

“It’s crazy, it really is,” Richhart said. “This individual is probably not from around here. And that’s why he’s been able to get away with this for so long. These communities he’s hitting, he has no ties to. So that’s why nobody can identify him.”

July 2017 suspect photo from Boardman Twp. Police, Ohio.

Two different police departments near Youngstown, Ohio have circulated images of the same suspect after thefts occurred at car washes there.

Boardman Twp Police Detective Richard Romeo believes the man used a $20 bill that was coated in plastic and attached to something similar to fishing line. The suspect entered the coated $20 bill 35 times and voided each car wash purchase to trigger a refund from the machine. Each time, he was able to pull the coated bill back out of the machine. By the time the thief was done, the machine was missing $700 in $5 bills.

Detectives in Ohio say investigators in the other states describe the same suspect using the same method to steal from car wash businesses.

“He’s doing a lot of traveling, so he’s definitely making some money off of this,” Detective Richhart said.

So far, police have not been able to lift fingerprints from any of the machines. And the only license plate caught on camera was a decorative New York Giants vanity plate with no identifying numbers. Detectives suspect the man may be changing the license plate before approaching car wash businesses he has targeted.

“He’s taken a lot of steps to not get caught,” Richhart said.

Some investigators think the suspect may be from Georgia, but nobody knows for sure where he’s from.

“I think he’s found that’s probably his best way of trying to get away with it,” Richhart said. “Staying out of communities where people would know him.”

“Somebody somewhere knows this man,” Richhart said. “This is somebody’s son, uncle, father, somebody.”

Anyone who sees the man or knows where he may be is asked to call Mooresville police at (317) 831-3434.