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Novato Robbery Suspect Shot in San Rafael ID’d

But authorities haven’t confirmed that the suspect is the serial bank robber known as the “Cotton Ball Bandit.”

A bank robbery suspect led sheriff’s deputies on a frantic chase that ended shortly after he crashed his silver Saturn into a parking sign. Credit: Gideon Rubin
A bank robbery suspect led sheriff’s deputies on a frantic chase that ended shortly after he crashed his silver Saturn into a parking sign. Credit: Gideon Rubin

Authorities on Friday confirmed the identity of a Novato robbery suspect shot at the end of a frantic Wednesday morning chase.

But they have not yet publicly identified Christopher Jay Wootton, 60 of Larkspur, as the serial bank robber known as the “Cotton Ball Bandit.”

NBC news on Thursday night confirmed that the suspect in Wednesday’s robbery of a Bank of the West on 1313 Grant Avenue is the serial robber. The report cited unnamed law enforcement sources.

San Rafael Police Department Spokeswoman Margo Rohrbacher confirmed in a prepared statement released on Friday night that establishing the link between Wootten and the bank robbery that NBC news has already confirmed continues to be the focus of an ongoing investigation.

“There has been much speculation in the press as to whether Wootton is the so-called ‘Cotton Ball Bandit’, responsible for a series of Marin bank robberies that began exactly one year ago,” Rohrbacher said.

“The extensive investigation into the bank robberies is on-going. The multi-jurisdictional inquiry is comprised of four agencies – San Rafael PD, Novato PD, Marin County Sheriff’s Office, and Central Marin Police Authority – and includes 11 robberies.

“Investigators are working on the link between the individual crimes and determining if they can be connected to Wooten. All the cases will be complied together and sent to the Marin County District Attorney for review.”

The “Cotton Ball Bandit” – so named because of the pom-pom ball atop the brown knit hat with earflaps he’s worn during most of his robberies – saw his alleged robbery streak end in a hail of gunfire, ostensibly on the front lawn of a Wells Fargo Bank on 600 Las Gallinas Avenue he’s suspected of hitting six weeks ago.

The chase started after he allegedly robbed a Bank of the West on 1313 Grant Avenue in Novato.

He was captured the day before the one-year anniversary of his first alleged heist (he’s suspected in the robbery of a Chase Bank at 401 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Greenbrae on Dec. 12 of last year).

The suspect is recovering from gunshot wounds he suffered after pulling a gun on a sheriff’s deputy who chased him from Highway 101 through the streets of downtown San Rafael to Northgate Mall, authorities said.

The chase ended when the suspect crashed into a parking sign on Las Gallinas Avenue near Northgate Mall (across the street from the Wells Fargo Bank) and tried to run away.

His 11th alleged robbery would tie him for the longest Marin County bank job streak in recent history.

The “Cotton Ball Bandit” would share that title with Tracy Bittner, who robbed his 11th in 2000, the Marin Independent Journal reports.

Bittner was nicknamed the “Bicycle Bandit” because he fled robbery scenes on two wheels, according to the report. He served a 40-month prison sentence after pleading guilty to nine heists in which he reportedly stole $58,000.

Multiple agencies including the FBI, which has issued a $2,500 reward for the serial robber’s capture, are involved in the investigation.

The case could go to the Marin County District Attorney or move to federal prosecutors.

Anyone with information about this case is asked to call the San Rafael Police Department at (415) 485.3000. Tips can be made online through Silent Witness at www.srpd.org/tips.

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