Law enforcement officials are calling him "Average Joe."

He is white, in his 30s, and of unremarkable build - around 6 feet tall, 170 to 180 pounds. He always wears a baseball or fishing hat and sunglasses. He has never flashed a gun, though he has threatened to use one.

Nonetheless, according to police officers and Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, Joe is the single perpetrator in at least 17 bank robberies in southern Ohio and Kentucky in the last two years. And despite run-ins with surveillance cameras and an exploding ink pack - not to mention some face time on "America's Most Wanted" - he remains at large.

Joe's robberies are nothing special, police said. He simply walks into a bank, waits in line, hands the teller a note demanding money, and then walks out $3,000 to $5,000 richer.

What is remarkable is his ability to evade the police and FBI for so long.

Police said Joe follows the same routine at every bank, and never loses his cool. He has even been photographed smirking at a surveillance camera on his way out, officials said.

"It sounds like he's just trying to make ends meet robbing banks," said FBI agent Doug Warner, who has been tracking him since the first robbery - in Crestview Hills, Ky., a Cincinnati suburb, on Feb. 26, 1998. "It's like he's going to the ATM machine. It's like he's budgeting."

The robberies have brought him about $60,000, according to the FBI. The latest was May 19 at a KeyBank in Clermont County, Ohio, also near Cincinnati.

The FBI recently posted a picture and description on the Internet , but Joe's nondescript appearance makes it hard to identify him, Mr. Warner said. Because he wears hats and glasses, only half of his face is visible in surveillance photos - but his features seem as ordinary as his clothes.

In fact, no one has spotted Joe as the notorious bank robber before one of his robberies.

"It seems like everybody knows somebody who looks like him," Mr. Warner said.

Even a national television audience did not help. A March broadcast of "America's Most Wanted" featured the string of robberies but failed to elicit any useful leads.

Ed Boldt, an FBI agent in Cincinnati, said one reason Average Joe has remained so elusive is his skill in avoiding suspicion. Stealing relatively small amounts of money helps him seem to be conducting a normal bank transaction, Mr. Boldt said.

"Any bank robber that wants to 'clean up' at a bank is going to have to call attention to himself," Mr. Boldt said. "That raises the attention of more people." In Joe's robberies "generally it's only been the teller who knew the bank was being robbed."

After the robberies Average Joe has driven away like any other customer. Mr. Warner said witnesses have seen him do so in four different vehicles - all without license plates. He has not been stopped for driving without them, so FBI agents speculate that Joe removes the plates before entering a bank and replaces them a short way down the road.

But FBI agents agree that Joe - who faces up to 20 years in prison if caught and convicted - will probably make a mistake leading to his arrest.

"Murphy's Law could kick in for this guy," Mr. Warner said. "Seventeen banks, and only one thing has gone wrong. One time he got a dye pack.

"He's been lucky … but if he continues, he will be caught."


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