Only in Portland could two bank robbery suspects lead double lives as bloggers bent on environmental sustainability and urban farming.
But that’s what one Southeast Portland couple appears to have done, according to Portland police.
On Nov. 7, Pamela McGowan, 25, and Stanley Ames, 31, blogged at UrbanSurvivalists.com about canning beets and making applesauce in the kitchen of their 1,800-square-foot Lents bungalow.
“We were busy, and totally exhausted that day,” the couple wrote at the end of their 685-word post. “But it all pays off in the end.”
How their other pursuits pay off is now a matter of federal concern.
Two days after their post, on Nov. 9, Portland Police Sgt. J. Santos had McGowan and a third suspect, 27-year-old Eric Wilcoxson, under surveillance at the Starbucks on Southeast Holgate Boulevard and 82nd Avenue, 15 blocks from McGowan’s home. What the pair didn’t appear to know then was that police were zeroing in on them as possible culprits in two recent robberies at U.S. Bank branches in Portland.
A license plate number on a vehicle witnesses described as a getaway car led police to Starbucks and McGowan, who sat at the coffeehouse with Wilcoxson searching for used cars on Craigslist with a laptop. Later that day, police say she used the fake name “Christy Kelson” to buy a silver 1990 Saab. Police say the trio was planning a third heist, according to a statement by McGowan.
That never came to pass. On Nov. 10, police arrested McGowan, Wilcoxson and Ames on suspicion of holding up two branches of U.S. Bank in the Woodstock and Cully neighborhoods, on Sept. 18 and Oct. 8, respectively, and stealing a total of $22,490, including several marked bills.
The trio appeared Nov. 12 before U.S. District Judge Donald C. Ashmanskas. They remained in Multnomah County Inverness Jail pending a preliminary hearing Nov. 16.
But the digital footprint left by the three alleged associates offers a bizarre, albeit limited, record of their lives. It’s the kind of record Bonnie and Clyde certainly never had to worry about.
McGowan, who called herself a structural engineer, attended Oregon Institute of Technology and earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 2008, according to her profile on LinkedIn.
On her personal blog, crackgerbal.blogspot.com, McGowan often wrote of having felt picked on as a student for being smart.
“The life lead [sic] by intelligent students who want to excel is not only miserable but dauntingly hopeless,” she wrote. “Next time you see a smart person...congratulate them for their accomplishments because I know they are probably getting a lot of crap from their class mates for ‘trying to [sic] hard.’”
In a Dec. 5, 2008, post, she suggested adults get licenses before having kids. “The planet is already over populated and I think its [sic] safe to say that given longer life spans and no regulation about child birth, that the planet would run out of resources quickly,” she wrote.
With Ames, her partner since 2006, McGowan sold handmade soap bars through UrbanSurvivalist.com. The two attended meetings of DorkbotPDX, described as “a community of creative types.”
Ames, who also says on his online profiles that he attended OIT when McGowan studied there, calls himself “just another disaffected proletariat” on MySpace. He was studying to be a mechanical engineer.
Wilcoxson, who worked as an Intel manufacturing technician, wasn’t as prolific as the other two. As blogger Jack Bogdanski wrote on bojack.org, Wilcoxson went by Batman83 online. He shared the couple’s interest in engineering. According to a court affidavit, Ames worked at Sulzer Pumps. The Swiss company has a Portland sales office and factory, which was where Ames allegedly created the email account used to buy the 1993 Ford Escort the robbers drove from the Woodstock bank Sept. 18.
If the suspects’ online presence paints a picture of geeky environmentalism, what police discovered at McGowan’s home offers a different view.
Police found a .40-caliber semiautomatic handgun, a .32-caliber semiautomatic handgun, ammo, two sets of body armor, masks matching the ones robbers wore in the banks’ surveillance videos and a note detailing how the $22,490 would be split among “Pam,” “Stan” and “Eric.”
FACT: McGowan and Ames’ Twitter feed had 1,011 followers, including Mayor Sam Adams, at the time of their arrest.