Robbery suspect tackled at bank

Police say he has confessed to five recent holdups

By John M. Guilfoil
Globe Staff / December 21, 2010

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An alleged serial bank robber — clad in a mask, hoodie, and baseball cap — was tackled and arrested as he walked up to a bank in Cambridge yesterday by police officers who had him under surveillance for several days, State Police said.

Authorities said a state trooper and a Somerville police detective apprehended Paul Gowell, 53, of Wakefield after a short struggle as he walked up to the Cambridge Trust Bank on Massachusetts Avenue at about 11 a.m.

He later confessed to robbing five banks over the past several months, State Police Sergeant Michael Grassia said.

Gowell had been under surveillance for several days after investigators developed information about him, State Police said.

He was charged yesterday with attempted bank robbery.

“Just before he gets to the bank, about two doors down, he put his mask on,’’ said Grassia, the trooper who tackled Gowell along with the detective. “Once we saw that, myself and the Somerville detective went out and jumped him. We ‘shock and awed’ him. He didn’t realize what was going on.’’

The detective’s name was not released.

Grassia, a 28-year veteran who spent many years working on narcotics cases, called Gowell a “serial robber’’ and “drug-dependant person’’ and said he sees a familiar pattern among many bank robbery suspects:

“They’re on drugs, and they can’t hold a steady job,’’ he said. “In order to buy drugs, they need to steal. A lot of them think the easiest thing to do is walk into a bank. They’re not thinking straight, and they don’t really care about the consequences.’’

Those who were watching Gowell were part of the Bank Robbery Task Force, which is composed of FBI agents and police officers from around the region.

“He usually hits within 12 to 15 days,’’ Grassia said. “He was due to hit again, so we had been on him.

“Saturday, he didn’t do much. Sunday’s always a quiet day. So we got on him first thing Monday morning, and, sure enough, he left his house around 10 o’clock.’’

Grassia said that police followed Gowell from his house in Wakefield to Cambridge and eluded detection as he circled the bank several times before stopping.

According to Cambridge police, Gowell has been charged in the Dec. 3 robbery of East Cambridge Savings Bank and the robbery of the Harvard University Employee Credit Union on Oct. 30. Authorities said other charges may be coming.

Grassia said that Gowell confessed to robbing three other banks, including two in Wakefield and one in Melrose.

A photo, reportedly of Gowell during the Dec. 3 robbery, was featured on the website

Grassia lauded task force officers from Somerville, Cambridge, Wakefield, the State Police, and the FBI, which helped close the case.

Gowell is expected to be arraigned today in Cambridge District Court.

John Guilfoil can be reached at