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‘Shirt masked bandit’ pleads guilty to 16 counts of 1st degree robbery, faces up to 20 years in prison

NKyTribune staff

Steven E. Thomas known to Northern Kentucky police as the “shirt masked bandit” has pleaded guilty to 16 counts of 1st degree robbery in a crime spree that lasted more than a year, but with a long hiatus.


Upon apprehension in September, Thomas told police that he committed the robberies to feed a heroin addiction, but stopped for more than a year while in recovery. After a relapse, he resumed the spree hitting up some of the stores he had robbed previously.

Thomas pleaded guilty on February 6 and, as a violent offender, must serve 85 percent of his sentence. Kenton Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders has recommended a sentence of 24 years.

Thomas is scheduled to appear before Kenton Circuit Judge Gregory Bartlett for formal sentencing on March 13.

The Kenton Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office has issued the following statement detailing the events that led to Thomas’s arrest and conviction:

On July 23, 2015, a white male wearing a baseball cap walked into the BP gas station in Ft. Wright with his shirt pulled up over his face. The man pulled a handgun from his waistband, pointed it at the clerk, and demanded money, before fleeing the store. Police responded but the man had vanished.

Two days the same man robbed an Ameristop in Covington, Skyline Chili in Crescent Springs, Racers Food Mart in Erlanger, and Shell gas station on Buttermilk Pike in Ft. Mitchell. Each time, he was wearing a ball cap with a shirt pulled up or draped over his face, and armed with a handgun.

Surveillance photo of Steven E. Thomas, dubbed the “shirt masked bandit,” who faces up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to 16 robberies.

On July 28, 2015, the same man robbed a Dollar General Store in Erlanger, again using the same modus operandi. By now every police department in Northern Kentucky was on the lookout for this robber, dubbed “the shirt mask bandit” by detectives.

Mysteriously, the robberies then stopped and the case grew cold as investigators still didn’t know who “the shirt masked bandit” was.

Suddenly, “the shirt masked bandit” reappeared more than a year later on August 31, 2016 when he again, robbed the same Racers Food Mart in Erlanger and BP gas station in Ft. Wright. He struck again in September, 2016, at a Florence BP gas station, Ameristop in Crescent Springs, Ameristop in Erlanger, Subway in Crescent Springs, again at the Ft. Mitchell Shell, and Dollar Tree in Crescent Springs.

Each time, the “shirt masked bandit” had vanished after fleeing the business on foot. When he robbed Petco in Ft. Wright on September 19, 2016, police caught the break they needed. Security video from a fast food restaurant next door captured a man coming from an older model, red Mercury Sable before the robbery and running to it after the robbery. 

Erlanger Police scoured the area for the red Mercury Sable and eventually located the getaway driver. He identified the robber as Steven E. Thomas and led Erlanger detectives to Thomas’ residence in Elsmere.

Thomas was taken into custody and a search was conducted at the residence. When questioned at Erlanger Police headquarters, Thomas admitted to 16 robberies in all.

Thomas told detectives he needed the money to feed a heroin addiction. When asked why the robberies had stopped for nearly a year before starting again, Thomas said he had stopped using the drugs and was clean during that time.

The robberies started again after he relapsed.

Thomas was indicted by the Kenton County Grand Jury for 16 counts of 1st Degree Robbery and 1st Degree Persistent Felony Offender based upon his 2 prior felony convictions for Burglary. On February 6, 2017, Thomas entered a guilty plea to all counts of the indictment. Commonwealth’s Attorney Rob Sanders is recommending a 24 year prison sentence.

As a violent offender, Thomas must serve 85 percent of his sentence (20 years) before being eligible for parole. Thomas will appear before Kenton Circuit Judge Gregory Bartlett for formal, final sentencing on March 13, 2017 at 9 a.m.

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