What Deters says masked bank robber goes to show

Posted at 12:23 AM, Feb 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-20 02:16:40-05

CINCINNATI -- When a serial bank robber struck in March and April 2010, surveillance images had many people convinced they knew the culprit.

Several tips came into Crimestoppers; all pointed to the same person, who was a bald black man.

"And when detectives went to that particular house, knocked on the door, and his mom answered it, and she said, 'I know why you're here. I just saw on television my son robbing a bank,'" Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters said.

Police took that man into custody; his name wasn't given to WCPO. But not long afterward, they got a call from a woman who said her boyfriend robbed the banks.

His name was Conrad Zdzierak, and he was white.

Police say Zdzierak wore a realistic mask that made him seem to be a bald black man.

"He had bought a theatrical mask from Beverly Hills, which cost a few thousand dollars, and it's very lifelike, as you know, and he had it on," Deters said. "And it looks like the guy they called Crimestoppers about."

After his arrest, police found dozens of notes on Zdzierak's computer between him and a mask company, along with notes about what went wrong during the robberies and how he could improve by doing things like drinking less coffee because it made him tense.

When he went into the banks, sunglasses covered Zdzierak's blue eyes; gloves covered his hands. The mask was so lifelike that even the original suspect's mother was convinced the surveillance images showed her son, though he was innocent of the crimes.

"That just tells you, don't believe what you see all the time, because you could be dead wrong," Deters said.

In fact, he said, eyewitness accounts are the worst kind of evidence, calling it a "recipe for some kind of disaster."

"I would consider identification one piece of evidence that you can use," he said. "It should never be the only piece of evidence."

Zdzierak pleaded guilty in late 2010 to six counts of robbery in exchange for prosecutors dismissing several other charges. He was sentenced to 25 years in prison.