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Elderly bank robber sentenced to prison

An elderly career criminal who told police he’d robbed a Niles bank because he wanted to go back “home” to prison was sentenced Thursday to 3½ years behind bars.

Dressed in an orange jail jumpsuit and using a cane for support, Walter Unbehaun, 74, told U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman he was sorry for his crime and wasn’t as keen on life behind bars as he’d first made out to be.

“I’ve had a heck of a life, OK?” the balding, gray-haired Unbehaun said in a deep voice. “But I don’t want to die in prison.”

Unbehaun, who suffers from dementia, said he hoped to live out his days at a retirement home painting pictures.

In imposing the prison sentence, U.S. District Judge Sharon Johnson Coleman noted Unbehaun’s long history of crimes, some of them violent, and that he used a loaded gun in the bank robbery.

“This is not the first time you’ve inspired fear and caused a very dangerous situation for people,” the judge said.

Unbehaun pleaded guilty to robbing the Harris Bank branch at 7077 W. Dempster St. in Niles in February 2013.

According to court records, at the time of his arrest, Unbehaun said he had spent most of his adult life in prison and “wanted to go back as he felt more comfortable in prison than out,” according to the complaint.

He also told police that he wanted to spend the remainder of his life in prison.

“He knew that robbing a bank with a loaded gun would accomplish that,” the complaint said.

In a letter to the judge earlier this month, Unbehaun said that at the time he robbed the bank he was desperate and “at the end of my rope.” He said he now realizes the value of his freedom.

“I thought going back to prison was my only other option,” Unbehaun wrote. “I now realize, though, that I wasn’t thinking straight…I don’t want to die behind bars.

Prosecutors said Unbehaun, walking with the aid of a cane, entered the bank at about 9:43 a.m. , handed a note written on a bank slip and announced a robbery.

“This is a hold up. I have nothing to lose,” a teller quoted Unbehaun as saying. He then opened his jacket to reveal a silver gun tucked into his waistband. “I only have six months to live and have nothing to lose. I don’t want to hurt you,” the teller quoted Unbehaun as saying.

After the teller handed over $4,178 in cash, Unbehaun exited the bank and left the scene in a silver sedan.

He was arrested days later at the Great Lakes Motel in North Chicago. Police found a loaded handgun, a box of .32 caliber cartridges and $3,476 in cash in the room, according to the charges.

Unbehaun has a lengthy criminal history that includes the 1998 robbery of a Morton Grove bank branch.


©2014 the Chicago Tribune

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