UPDATED: Suspected Birmingham Bank Robber Pleads Not Guilty in Ferndale
The man suspected of robbing the Comerica and Flagstar banks in Birmingham, as well others in Ferndale and Clinton Township, was arrested and arraigned in 43rd District Court on Wednesday.
The man suspected of robbing at least four local banks on Tuesdays – two in Birmingham — was arrested and arraigned in Ferndale Wednesday.
John Lee Westpfahl, 44, was arraigned in Ferndale's 43rd District Court on one count of bank robbery, charged with robbing Ferndale's Charter One Bank on Dec. 6.
Police believe Westpfahl, who is currently on parole from a 2006 bank robbery conviction in Roseville, to be responsible for several other bank robberies around Metro Detroit, including one in Clinton Township and two in Birmingham.
A man matching the same description from the Ferndale robbery robbed the Flagstar Bank at 35238 Woodward Ave. on Dec. 20, according to Birmingham police.
At the time, police said the man also matched the descriptions of the man who robbed the Comerica Bank at 14 Mile and Woodward on Nov. 22, as well as a robbery suspect from Clinton Township, where a Comerica Bank was robbed at Metro Parkway and Garfield on Nov. 15.
No weapon was seen in all the robberies and several times the suspect wore a large bandage over his nose. All of the incidents occurred on Tuesdays.
Westpfahl was arrested on Jan. 2 after Ferndale Patrol Sgt. Dan Simon recognized a green Grand Am — which investigating officers determined as the vehicle involved in the string of bank robberies — parked in the 8-Wood Motel parking lot at the corner of Woodward and westbound Eight Mile.
The officer discovered the car belonged Westpfahl, who was under supervised release probation due to the 2006 conviction. By staying at the motel, Ferndale Lt. Detective William Wilson said, Westpfahl was in violation of parole that stated he had to live at his sister's home in Warren.
Determining this, Ferndale police watched the vehicle until Westpfahl was seen leaving, shortly after which he was detained.
"At that point, police detained Mr. Westpfahl and searched his vehicle," Wilson said. "They found $4,000 in cash, mostly in $100 bills in the console of the vehicle."
Westpfahl's brother-in-law later told police that after seeing several media stories about the bank robberies, he recognized Westpfahl as the suspect.
"He recognized the coat and he said he had the coat at home," Wilson said. "The coat was Westpfahl's nephew."
A search of Westpfahl's motel room, police said, revealed a handwritten note making demands similar to several of the robberies, including the Charter One robbery.
Birmingham Police Chief Don Studt said his department continues to work alongside the Ferndale Police Department and FBI on the case, but Wilson noted he expects Westpfahl to be arraigned on charges from the three other bank robberies as soon as Ferndale's investigation is complete.
Beyond the 2006 bank robbery conviction, Westpfahl also had a 1991 marijuana possession arrest from Dayton Beach, FL, and a 2007 fleeing and eluding a police officer charge.
Magistrate Patrick Brennan entered a not guilty plea for Westpfahl and set his bond at $200,000. He is still detained. A preliminary exam conference was scheduled for 1 p.m. Jan. 12.
If Westpfahl is convicted he could face up to life in prison.