Gentleman Bandit

updated 08/19/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 08/19/1991 01:00AM

IN JUNE THE GENTLEMAN BANDIT struck, ever so gently, at Houston's deluxe Adam's Mark Hotel. Robert Jones, 51, a businessman attending an aircraft convention there, heard a knock on his door. He looked through the peephole to see a middle-aged man, your typical well-groomed conventioneer, who announced that he and Jones had met before. Could he come in? "It was just Mr. Congeniality talking to Mr. Cordial," says Jones, who couldn't quite place his visitor. "After a few minutes of small talk, he said, 'Well, I have to tell you I'm really here under different pretenses. I'm here to rob you.' And he pulled out this little .22 caliber pistol."

It was a scene that had been played out nearly 100 times over the last two years at motels and upscale hotels throughout southeast Texas and western Louisiana. As he did with Jones, the so-called Gentleman Bandit typically beguiled guests with his benign appearance and articulate pleasantries. Producing the gun, he asked his victims to lie facedown on the bed (if they preferred to lie on their sides, he obliged). Then he bound their hands and feet—not too tightly—using neckties (almost all victims were men) or strips torn from towels, apologizing before making off with cash and credit cards. "He never raised his voice or used profanity," recalls Jones, who lost about $600. He even patted down Jones's hair, which had become mussed. He also kept Jones's business card, explaining, "I might be able to pay you back someday."

The next morning, June 28, Houston police and Texas state troopers arrested Michael Harvey at his home in Cibolo, near San Antonio, on charges of robbing Jones and another man. A traveling salesman for a local food broker, Harvey, 44, was handcuffed and jailed, his bail set at $200,000. At the time, it looked as if authorities had nabbed their man. A composite drawing of the Gentleman Bandit had appeared in newspapers and on local TV, which led to a tip about Harvey's resemblance to the thief with the Everyman face. And Harvey was a man on the move: His company does business in each of the more than 15 cities where the bandit had struck.

At this point, however, there's more than a little doubt about whether Harvey is indeed the culprit. What is certain is that his life has been made a shambles by the arrest and by the 11 days he spent in a Houston jail. His release on July 9—bail was lowered to $20,000—came after his lawyer, Robert Hirschhorn, presented gasoline, hotel and restaurant receipts to the Harris County district attorney's office. Hirschhorn says the documents prove Harvey was in his hometown and not in Houston (225 miles away) at the time of the Jones robbery. "Either they've installed that bullet train between San Antonio and Houston," says Hirschhorn, "or this guy is Clark Kent using an alias." He also says Harvey can account for his whereabouts during many other robberies.

Although police concede they may have to drop the charges against Harvey, he still faces possible prosecution by Louisiana authorities. Victims there selected his driver's license mug shot in a photo lineup. "The photo is blurry," says Hirsch-horn. "Besides, Mike Harvey looks like thousands of other people."

Meanwhile, Harvey, his wife, Kathy, 41, and their daughters, ages 13 and 9, struggle to cope with the family's embarrassment, to say nothing of the legal costs. "This has been absolutely terrible," says Harvey, an Air Force veteran with two years of college. "My life has been consumed by this false arrest." Harvey says that, fortunately, his employer has been "200 percent supportive." Still, he and Kathy, an accounting assistant, have had to sell their prized collections of Maxfield Parrish prints and art pottery to pay legal fees of more than $8,500 so far.

The Gentleman Bandit hasn't struck since Harvey's arrest, though while he was in jail someone claiming to be the Bandit called police, insisting they had the wrong man. "That would be in character with this guy—to try to exonerate an innocent party," says Sharon Whitman, the state investigator who first detected that Texas had a have-a-nice-day thief. "But we don't consider him a gentleman. A gentleman doesn't stick a gun in people's faces."

RON ARIAS
ANNE MAIER in Houston, JOSEPH HARMES in Cibolo

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