A headline on yesterday's front page, "For city police, one portrait of shame," was unfairly broad in characterizing the police department. The article concerned the charging of a former officer with a bank robbery committed while he was still on the force. Between the robbery and the arrest, he had resigned after failing a drug test, according to police sources. A city police lieutenant later identified the suspect after seeing a photograph circulated by the FBI.
The face on the bulletin-board FBI photo looked familiar, but who would expect to find a Baltimore police officer moonlighting as a bank robber?
But that's the conclusion a police lieutenant made when he recognized Wade Hampton Taylor III -- a former robbery investigator -- as the face in the photo taken by a bank camera during a 1991 hold-up in Westminster.
Mr. Taylor, 36, who resigned from the force last year, was arrested yesterday on a charge of robbing the former Vermont Federal Savings and Loan on Aug. 15, 1991, officials said. The robbery occurred less than three hours before then-Officer Taylor went to work his night shift at the Northern District.
Police said the 15-year veteran became a prime suspect recently after the lieutenant saw the photo pinned to the bulletin board in the city police homicide unit.
The lieutenant observed that the man in the photo -- which was taken by a bank surveillance camera and circulated by the FBI -- had a "striking resemblance" to Mr. Taylor, a police official said.
Baltimore police alerted the FBI and Westminster city police about the similarity. Investigators showed Mr. Taylor's photo to several bank employees and they positively identified him as the man who committed the robbery, the FBI said.
Mr. Taylor was arrested at 10:30 a.m. yesterday at a residence in the 2900 block of Baker St. in West Baltimore.
Sam Ringgold, a city police spokesman, said the news of the arrest was startling. "If he's convicted in court, it'll be a sad day," Mr. Ringgold said.
Mr. Taylor was scheduled to go in to work at 5 p.m. on Aug. 15, 1991, the day that the Westminster holdup occurred, police said. At the time, it was the first bank stickup in Westminster in five years.
At 1:30 p.m., a man with a revolver walked into the savings and loan and announced a robbery. He pointed the gun at an employee, who complied and gave him an undisclosed amount of money, police said.
The gunman then ran out of the savings and loan, in the 600 block of Route 140, and drove off in a car he had parked across the street at the Crossroad Square shopping center. Police later searched the area with dogs and a helicopter but found no sign of the gunman.
According to police sources, Mr. Taylor arrived on time for work at the Northern District and showed no signs of being distressed or nervous.
"He was one of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet. This is just too amazing to believe," said a Baltimore police officer who asked that he remain unidentified. "He was in operations. He investigated armed robberies, mainly commercial robberies. He was a good investigator."
Mr. Ringgold said Mr. Taylor resigned from the police force last September, citing "personal reasons" on his notification letter.
But two police officials close to the investigation said that Mr. Taylor opted to resign after he failed to pass a random drug test. In such cases, officers have the option of seeking drug treatment resigning.
Mr. Taylor, whose last known address was the 9700 block of Branchleigh Road in Randallstown, had joined the city police as a cadet in January 1975 and became a sworn officer on Aug. 16, 1977, Mr. Ringgold said. His personnel file "did not show any problems" throughout his police career, Mr. Ringgold said.
Police said the clothing the Vermont Federal robber wore was identical to clothing Mr. Taylor frequently wore. The gun the robber used was Mr. Taylor's off-duty service revolver, police said. He was charged in a warrant with bank robbery with a deadly weapon on May 20.
The major arrest is the second this year involving a member or former member of the Baltimore Police Department. In January, Sgt. James A. Kulbicki, a nine-year veteran, was charged with first-degree murder in the death of a woman was suing him over paternity of her son.
Officer Kulbicki is suspended without pay and is awaiting trial.