09.28.10

The 'Where's Waldo' Bank Robber

After he allegedly held up a bank, Ryan Homsley made his Facebook page a shrine to the crime. Winston Ross talks to his friends and family about his downward spiral and bizarre behavior.

Up until about a week ago, visitors to Ryan Homsley’s Facebook page were treated to an array of music videos and pithy comments, from “Going crazy if I don’t get a red bull soon,” to “Why do they have braille on drive up Atms?”

Then, on September 22, Homsley began posting cryptic status updates that may ultimately have landed him in jail on suspicion of robbing a bank.

The 29-year-old Oregonian, whose floppy hair and thick-rimmed glasses would make him look at home at any hipster dive, posted a link, twice, to a news story about a bank heist that day in the Portland suburb of Tualatin. The story showed a surveillance photo of the suspect, who bears a striking resemblance to the children’s book character in Where’s Waldo, thanks to his striped sweater and glasses. The surveillance photo also bears a striking resemblance to Ryan Homsley.

He finally posted an apparent full-blown confession: “im now a bank robber,” to which a friend replied: “somehow, I am not surprised.”

According to the FBI, the robber told the Key Bank teller he had an explosive device, then left a small box and a backpack behind, neither of which, it turned out, contained any explosives. Investigators quickly dubbed their suspect “The Where’s Waldo Bandit.”

At first, Homsley’s Facebook postings about the crime didn’t give away too much. “The wheres waldo bandit strikes again!” read one. “money money money,” said another. But soon, they began to increasingly imply that he was the man who had held up the bank. One read: “db cooper was a great man... the wheres waldo bandit will be better... se ya gys in seattle next (sic).” Another seemed positively giddy about the heist: “I’m doing this to pay for my medical expenses....live for today~!” Then Homsley posted a video for the song “Scooby Snacks” by the Fun Lovin’ Criminals—a song that depicts a bank robbery. “This is the song I hear in my head when I did it,” Homsley wrote under the post. He finally posted an apparent full-blown confession: “im now a bank robber,” to which a friend replied: “somehow, I am not surprised.”

In case anyone had any doubt, Homsley changed his Facebook profile picture to the surveillance photo taken of the bandit at the bank.

Two days later, FBI agents arrested Homsley at a hospital in Eugene, where he’d been a patient for unknown reasons since Thursday. Homsley is diabetic, and his half-brother, Noah, told The Daily Beast that Ryan was known to let his insulin levels get dangerously low, then try to scam hospital workers for drugs once admitted. Noah also said he’d alerted the feds to check area hospitals.

Bureau spokeswoman Beth Anne Steele declined to say whether Homsley’s odd Facebook postings were used to help catch him, but they’ll certainly be used as evidence against him, provided prosecutors can definitively link the page to the man.

Facebook users who over-share often get accused of “TMI,” or “too much information.” Homsley’s strange admissions take TMI too a whole new level. Were they a cry for help, or a way to taunt the cops?

His 26-year-old sister, Kelly Homsley, said that her brother hasn’t been the same since their mother died suddenly five years ago. Kelly declined to elaborate on how exactly it happened.

“It hit us pretty hard,” she said. “He turned to drugs. He was married at the time, and his wife left him later on. He just doesn’t know how to deal with everything, so he resorts to drugs.”

Homsley led an otherwise normal life up to that point, Kelly said. The two grew up in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where she still lives. Ironically, her brother, now accused of being the Where’s Waldo bandit, once dreamed of being a cartoonist.

“But he wasn’t really motivated,” said Kelly. “He could have gone to art school. He was that talented. He just got lazy.” Instead, after a stint at technical school, Homsley dropped out and went to work at various jobs.

Once, several years ago, “He went to the hospital and lied, saying he’d been beat up, and got charged with making a false police report,” said Kelly. “He was looking for a way to get any kind of drugs.”

About two years ago, Homsley moved out to Portland to make a fresh start of it. It didn’t take. He wound up homeless and addicted to opiates, according to Kelly. “It just makes me sad,” she said. “He screwed up his life.”

Noah’s attempts to help him failed, one after another. “I knew he had a really bad drug problem,” he said. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think he would hold up a bank.”

Andi West met Homsley at a karaoke show at a Portland bar about a year ago. The two got to talking about comics, West said, and she mentioned she was working on a book and needed an illustrator.

Homsley fired off a few sketches on a placemat of some action figures and weapons. West was impressed, she said, and agreed to let him live with her in exchange for drawing her book. “He’s a really good illustrator,” she said.

But it was tough to get Homsley to stay on task, she said. His opiate addiction was his main focus, and he eventually lost contact with West—except for through Facebook.

When West saw his “Scooby Snacks” posting, she tried to reason with him by posting on his page: “Turn yourself in. Get the help you need. Do not get yourself shot!!” Then she quipped, “Looks like you’ll have time to finish the comic.”

West said she’s concerned about her friend, but she’s glad he’s alive. “He’s in a lot of trouble,” she said. “But at least he’s not dead.”

Where’s Homsley? In jail, on federal charges, awaiting his next court date on October 8.

Winston Ross is a reporter for the Register-Guard in Eugene, Oregon and a regular contributor to Newsweek.com.