Notorious Bank Robber "Fast Eddie" Watkins Dies At 82

CLEVELAND (AP) - "Fast Eddie" Watkins, a notorious bank robber who claimed to have taken $1.5 million in 55 holdups from coast to coast, died Wednesday at Lakewood hospital. He was 82.

During his 43-year criminal career he threatened but never resorted to violence. He spent more than 50 years in jail and prison, and escaped numerous times.

The Pittsburgh native was about 13 when he left his mother's home in nearby South Euclid and went to California to see his father, a con artist who taught the youngster his trade.

In the late 1930s, Watkins (pictured, above) was involved in three dozen holdups in Cleveland that brought him his first stint in prison. After that, each time he was paroled or escaped from jail, he went back to robbing banks.

In 1965, he made the FBI's list of 10 most wanted fugitives after robbing five banks in the Cleveland area and another in Columbus. His companions were caught, but Watkins eluded police for more than a year.

Watkins earned his nickname because of his ability to get in and out of banks quickly.

In 1975, surprised by a Cleveland bank alarm, he claimed to have a bomb and took nine hostages. During the 21-hour standoff, Watkins told the hostages that he did not intend to hurt them.

He eventually cried, telling the hostages that he didn't want to return to prison.

After surrendering, Watkins was sent back to the federal prison in Atlanta. In 1980 he escaped, resumed robbing and was captured for the last time after a standoff with police in nearby Medina County.

Watkins said he only hid stolen money once, burying about $100,000 near Albuquerque. N.M., and finding out years later that a highway had been built over the location.

He was released from prison in 1995.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)