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'Red' Rountree; bank robber launched crime career at 86

DALLAS -- J.L. Hunter ''Red" Rountree, the nation's oldest known bank robber, who turned to crime in his 80s and said the robberies made him feel good for days afterward, died Oct. 12 in a prison hospital. He was 92.

A spokesman for the US Medical Center for Federal Prisoners in Springfield, Mo., said Mr. Rountree was transferred there shortly after his sentencing in January for a bank holdup in Abilene when he was 91. When he died Oct. 12, he was two months shy of his 93d birthday.

The Abilene job was the last of three bank robberies Mr. Rountree committed, beginning in 1998, when he was 86. In an interview this year, he said he walked slowly to a teller's window, handed over an envelope indicating his intent, and was greeted with a surprised, ''Are you kidding?"

The teller complied anyway, but Mr. Rountree was later caught and sentenced to 12 years in prison -- a death sentence for a man of his age.

''You want to know why I rob banks?" Mr. Rountree said in the interview. ''It's fun. I feel good, awful good. I feel good for sometimes days, for sometimes hours."

Born Dec. 11, 1911, in his family's farmhouse near Brownsville, Mr. Rountree was once a successful businessman who made his fortune in Houston by building Rountree Machinery Co., a relative said.

Before that, he had a business bank loan turn sour and the bitterness stayed with him, he indicated in the March interview from his wheelchair in prison.

About a year after his wife's death in 1986, Mr. Rountree, then 76, married a 31-year-old woman and spent $500,000 putting her through drug rehabilitation programs, he said.

In 1998, Mr. Rountree robbed SouthTrust Bank in Biloxi, Miss., and was sentenced to three years of probation, fined $260, and told to leave Mississippi.

A year later, he robbed a NationsBank in Pensacola, Fla., but was caught again and sentenced to three years behind bars. He was released in 2002. In August 2003, Mr. Rountree robbed First American Bank in Abilene.

No family member claimed Mr. Rountree's body, said Al Quintero, a prison spokesman. He was buried in a cemetery near the Springfield prison.

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