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Four masked gunmen who stole $3.3 million in the...

By EDWARD B. HAVENS

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Four masked gunmen who stole $3.3 million in the largest bank robbery in U.S. history threatened to kill the manager's wife if officials did not cooperate in the heist, authorities said Thursday.

FBI agents said they had 'a lot of decent leads' in their investigation of the robbery at a suburban Tucson branch of the First National Bank of Arizona but refused to discuss any specifics.

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The heavily armed robbers, wearing grotesque Halloween and stocking masks, disappeared Wednesday after cleaning out a bank vault holding all of the previous day's receipts from Tucson metro area branches. Bank manager John H. Grainger and janitor Charles Virgil were held at gunpoint.

Virgil said the gang warned him they had accomplices with high-powered rifles outside Grainger's home ready to shoot his wife and children if he did not cooperate. Law enforcement officials could not confirm whether there were any such accomplices.

About 25 to 30 FBI agents around the nation pressed the investigation into the holdup but no suspects were in custody.

The amount stolen was equal to more than one-third of dividends paid to the banks' stockholders last year after record earnings.

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Lundquist said there was no way of telling how long it would take before there would be any arrests in the case.

'That is totally indeterminate,' he said.

'Everybody pretty much agrees it was pretty professional,' said Dean A. Lundquist, FBI special agent in Tucson. 'There are lots of decent leads, but it's nothing that I'm going to give out in detail or speculate about. All avenues of investigation are being followed.'

The robbery was the largest ever bank heist in the United States. The previous record had been a $1.5 million holdup in Plymouth, Mass., in 1962, said Tucson Police Department spokesman Mike Walsh.

Citing law-enforcement sources, a Tucson newspaper reported the gang may have included convicted killers and bank robbers from California, said to have arrived in Tucson within the past two weeks after staying in Phoenix.

'That information was internal information for investigative purposes only, and it was very speculative and unverified,' Lundquist said.

He said he would neither confirm nor deny theories that the robbers had an 'inside' accomplice familiar with bank procedures.

Bank spokesman Charles Hemann said an audit confirmed the loss and said all of the missimg money was in cash, mostly in 'very large denominations.'

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Rewards totaling $26,000 were offered by the Arizona Banking Association and the Pima County Attorney's office for information leading to arrest and conviction of the robbers.

'I've got to admit it's a pretty daring robbery,' said Susan Moore of the Pima County attorney's office.

She said authorities hoped to hear via a confidential crime-tip telephone hotline from anyone who might have spotted the robbers abandon their getaway van in a busy shopping center three miles from the bank.

Ms. Moore said if authorities could find out what type of vehicle was used in the switch, it would help 'put the puzzle together.'

The gunmen waited in the van outside the bank before it opened, seized Virgil and then manager Grainger and ordered Grainger to open the vault, which held all of the previous day's receipts for the bank's Tucson branches, investigators said.

The men, armed with revolvers, automatic pistols and a shotgun, got away with nothing smaller than $20 bills.

The First National Bank of Arizona robbery was similar to a Feb. 8, 1950, holdup at the Bank of Douglas, which netted $116,250. The money taken in the robbery 31 years ago was never found and the two robbers were never captured.

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Guinness Book of World Records lists the largest monetary robbery in history as negotiatable securities totaling $400 million stolen in April and May of 1945 from a Reichs bank in Germany just as the European phase of World II ended. An additional $200 million in gold bullion and jewels was stolen at the same time. None of the loot was ever recovered.

Guinness lists the world's largest bank robbery as $20 to $50 million from safe deposit boxes at a Beirut, Lebanon, bank Jan. 22, 1976.

Another large robbery occurred in August 1963 when a gang of robbers ambushed a Glasgow-London mail train in the celebrated Great Train Robbery, taking the equivalent of $7 million.

About 25 to 30 FBI agents around the nation pressed the investigation into the holdup at a suburban Tucson branch of the First National Bank of Arizona. A day after the robbery, there were no suspects in custody.

The amount stolen was equal to more than one-third of dividends paid to the banks' stockholders last year after record earnings.

The heavily-armed robbers, wearing grotesque Halloween and stocking masks, disappeared Wednesday after cleaning out a bank vault holding all of the previous day's receipts from Tucson metro area branches. Bank manager John H. Grainger and janitor Charles Virgil were held at gunpoint.

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'Everybody pretty much agrees it was pretty professional. There are lots of decent leads but it's nothing that I'm going to give out in detail or speculate about,' said Dean A. Lundquist, FBI special agent from Tucson. 'All avenues of investigation are being followed.'

Virgil said the gang warned him they had accomplices with high-powered rifles outside Grainger's home ready to shoot his wife and children if he did not cooperate. Law enforcement officials could not confirm if the threat was real.

The robbery was the largest in the United States since a Plymouth, Mass., bank was held up for $1.5 million in 1962, said Tucson Police Department spokesman Mike Walsh.

John J. Hinchcliff, agent in charge of the FBI's Phoenix office, took personal charge of the investigation in Tucson, which involved pursuit of undisclosed leads and interviews with bank personnel.

Citing law-enforcement sources, a Tucson newspaper reported the gang may have included convicted killers and bank robbers from California who were said to have arrived in Tucson within the past two weeks after staying at Phoenix.

'That information was internal information for investigative purposes only and it was very speculative and unverified,' Lundquist said.

He said he would neither confirm nor deny theories that the robbers had an insider accomplice familiar with bank procedures.

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Police said after the robbery they had no witnesses and Lundquist declined to say if any had since been located.

Rewards offered by the Arizona Banking Association and the Pima County Attorney's office for information that would lead to arrests and convictions were raised from $6,000 to $26,000 Wednesday.

Lundquist said the entire 18-member staff of the Tucson FBI office was working on the case in addition to agents at Phoenix and 'people from other offices whereever the leads are.'

He declined to say if marked bills were included in the $3.3 million.

'If there were, I wouldn't give that out. I'd really be out of line to comment on that if it would either give comfort or fear (to the robbers).'

'I wish we had some witnesses,' Walsh said, adding his department is assisting the FBI investigation.

Charles Hemann, spokesman for the Phoenix-based bank, said an audit confirmed the loss and said all of the missing money was in cash, mostly in 'very large denominations.'

'I've got to admit it's a pretty daring robbery,' said Susan Moore of the Pima County attorney's office.

She said authorities hoped to hear via a confidential crime-tip telephone hotline from anyone who might have spotted the robbers abandon their getaway van in a busy shopping center three miles from the bank.

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Ms. Moore said if authorities could find out what type of vehicle was used in the switch, it would help 'put the puzzle together.'

The gunmen waited in the van outside the bank before it opened, seized Virgil and then Grainger and ordered Grainger to open the vault. The men, armed with revolvers, automatic pistols and a shotgun, got away with nothing smaller than $20 bills.

The First National Bank of Arizona robbery was similar to a Feb. 8, 1950, holdup at the Bank of Douglas, which netted $116,250. The money taken in the robbery 31 years ago was never found and the two robbers were never captured.

Guinness Book of World Records lists the largest monetary robbery in history as negotiatable securities totaling $400 million stolen in April and May of 1945 from a Reichs bank in Germany just as the European phase of World II ended. An additional $200 million in gold bullion and jewels was stolen at the same time. None of the loot was ever recovered.

Guinness lists the world's largest bank robbery as $20 to $50 million from safe deposit boxes at a Beirut, Lebanon, bank Jan. 22, 1976.

Another large robbery occurred in August 1963 when a gang of robbers ambushed a Glasgow-London mail train in the celebrated Great Train Robbery, taking the equivalent of $7 million.

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First National Bank of Arizona, an affiliate of Western Bancorporation, had total assets of $3.68 billion in 1980, deposits of $3.09 billion, net income of $35.7 million and paid dividends of $9.4 million.

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