OKLAHOMA CITY — Relatives of a man whom the FBI dubbed the “Bucket List Bandit” because he told victims he was suffering from a terminal illness say they were not surprised he again landed on the wrong side of the law.
Ronald Brewster said his brother, Michael Brewster, may have “wanted to go down with a bang” by allegedly robbing 10 banks in nine states since June. But he acknowledged he cut off contact with his brother six years ago, when Michael Brewster wrote him a letter from prison inquiring about insurance proceeds after their mother’s death.
“As soon as I saw him on the computer, I knew they had the right name and face,” said 49-year-old Ronald Brewster, an auto mechanic in Cincinnati, where the brothers grew up and attended high school.
Michael Brewster, 54, of Pensacola, Fla., was arrested Thursday night after running a stop sign near a casino at Roland, Okla. Federal marshals said Brewster is scheduled to be moved to Erie, Pa., to face charges that he robbed a bank there on Sept. 10.
Ronald Brewster said he and his brother haven’t talked for more than a decade, since Michael Brewster and another brother, Gary Brewster, were arrested in a forgery scheme that involved cashing bogus checks at Cincinnati-area banks.
Gary Brewster remains imprisoned on multiple charges, including forgery, possession of criminal tools and tampering with evidence, according to information from the Ohio Department of Corrections. Michael Brewster served a little more than four years on similar charges and was released in 2007, Ohio prison officials said.
“They’ve both been in and out of trouble forever,” Ronald Brewster said. “They never wanted to work 40 hours a week.”
According to FBI agents, Michael Brewster earned his nickname by telling frightened bank employees that he had only months to live. He told some he had cancer.
“I think he just wanted to go down with a bang,” said Ronald Brewster, though he said he couldn’t be sure whether his brother is really dying.
Court records show Michael Brewster has a long history of run-ins with the law. He served time in a Kentucky prison, and has an arrest record for being fugitive from justice in Colorado and for drug and property crimes in Florida.
Agents allege he took a rented SUV from an acquaintance in June and made his way across the country knocking off 10 banks in nine states — Colorado, Arizona, Idaho, Utah, North Carolina, Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois and Pennsylvania. No one was injured, and the total take isn’t known.
Last Thursday, after receiving a tip from a confidential informant, the FBI identified Brewster by name and birthdate. Surveillance video from a car wash linked him to the missing SUV, and also showed tracer dye on the robber’s hands after he exited the bank. When Brewster was pulled over, Assistant Police Chief David Goode found wads of cash covered with red dye in his pockets.
“At that point, I thought it was going to be a bigger deal,” Goode said. He said he also discovered a loaded .38-caliber handgun in Brewster’s vehicle.
The arrest didn’t come as a surprise to Brewster’s family in Cincinnati.
“We know he’s a criminal, so we weren’t too shocked. He’s a nice guy, but kind of conniving,” said 24-year-old Amanda Brewster, who’s the suspect’s niece and lives in Cincinnati. “I think he’s more comfortable living in prison.”
No one — not Ronald Brewster, Amanda Brewster, the FBI or public defender Julia O’Connell, who represented the suspect during his initial appearance in Oklahoma on Friday — acknowledged knowing anything about the suspect’s health, though he gave a Utah teller a note reading “I have four months to live.”
Ronald Brewster said based on his experience dealing with his two brothers, he had his doubts.
“They’ve been pretty good at lying for the past 40 years, so I don’t know why they’d start telling the truth now,” he said.