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Officials: Drugs may be reason for midstate bank robberies

Whatever it was that may have sent bank-robbing suspect Leonard William Willis Jr. on his alleged two-state stickup spree, police say he was friendly enough while he was doing it.

He wore no disguises and may not have used a gun.

Authorities say that before Willis held up the Wachovia Bank branch in Dublin on Monday, he bid “good morning” to a teller in the parking lot.

“They said he was as nice as he could be,” Dublin police Lt. Greg Dominy said Thursday.

Soon after holdups at banks in Forsyth and Barnesville, Willis was chased down Wednesday morning after a daring bit of police work. With cops tailing his white Chevy pickup north on Interstate 75, an officer standing at the Tanger Outlets exit in Henry County, with traffic bearing down on him, flung a knife-toothed “stop spike” in front of Willis’ truck. A mile or two later, Willis, 44, pulled over and was arrested.

He has been linked to eight bank heists – four in Georgia and four in his home state of Florida – that began in early February, authorities said.

What appears to be a case of Willis’ life spiraling out of control may have picked up speed as early as December.

In October, Willis walked out of Florida prison a free man for the third time in 12 years.

A habitual violator, Willis’ longest stretch behind bars was between 1998 and 2006 for dealing stolen property.

According to prison records, a year later, after an apparent parole violation, Willis, who police say had a crack cocaine habit, was back in prison.

After his most recent release on Oct. 13, Willis was apparently staying with his wife in Jacksonville, Fla. Willis was a long-haul trucker in the early 1990s, according to a woman at a trailer park where he once lived. It isn’t known if he’d found work after getting out of prison the last time, but by mid-December, his wife, Gina, had been arrested and had confessed to pulling off a pair of bank robberies in northeast Florida. A report in the Florida Times-Union newspaper said a tipster identified her from a bank-surveillance photo.

Dublin detective Dominy said, “Then a couple of weeks after that, he went and started just robbing banks. ... With her being sent off, that could easily have been” what triggered Leonard Willis’ alleged spree.

“He might have just decided that he was gonna go back (to prison) and that he’d do as much as he could before he got caught,” Dominy said.

“He wasn’t making any attempt to hide his identity at all. He obviously knew he was gonna get caught. It was just a matter of time.”

Leonard Willis was being held Thursday at the Lamar County jail in Barnesville. An investigator at the sheriff’s department in neighboring Monroe County, where a BB&T bank branch was robbed Wednesday morning, said Willis had declined to talk to interrogators.

Dominy said, “Everybody they interviewed in Florida said he had a real bad (crack) cocaine problem. ... Sounds to me like he was just feeding a habit, like he got hooked on drugs and that kind of controlled the rest of his life.”

To contact writer Joe Kovac Jr., call 744-4397.

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