Image: James Madison
James Madison, 50, who spent nearly two decades behind bars for the slaying of his live-in girlfriend, was arrested Monday on charges of robbing up to 18 banks while wearing an array of headgear.
updated 7/23/2007 9:24:41 PM ET 2007-07-24T01:24:41

FBI agents said Monday that they have bagged a serial bank robber dubbed the “Mad Hatter” — a man who spent nearly two decades in prison for killing his girlfriend.

James G. Madison was arrested Monday and ordered held without bail on charges of robbing a bank the previous day. Authorities believe he is responsible for many others, all while wearing an array of hats, the FBI said.

“Although he’s charged in one robbery, he’s a suspect in as many as 18,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark McCarren told a federal magistrate in asking that bail be denied. A public defender for the suspect declined to comment on Monday.

Madison, 50, was paroled in 2005 after serving 18 years of a 40-year prison sentence for the January 1986 manslaughter of his live-in girlfriend. Authorities said Madison struck the woman with a lamp during a fight.

The body of Terry Wells was found nearly two months later, in a suitcase fished out of the Passaic River. By then, Madison had settled into a new life in California.

Madison, a machinist, was arrested early Monday in the parking lot of his Maplewood apartment complex and charged with robbing a Bank of America branch in a supermarket, the FBI said.

License plate did him in
According to a court filing, on Sunday a robber wearing a yellow baseball cap gave the teller a handwritten note that read in part: “Give me on top of counter 100s, 50s, and 20s. Don’t press silent alarm. No dye pack.”

The robber walked out with $3,000, but a bank employee wrote down the license plate of the black Nissan Altima as he drove off.

The car was traced to a woman who lives with Madison and who told investigators she had lent him her vehicle, authorities said. She said that afternoon she saw him counting 20-, 50- and 100-dollar bills.

Madison was charged with one count of bank robbery, which carries a maximum 20-year prison term. FBI agent Weysan Dun said Madison is the prime suspect in the other robberies because of similarities between the crimes, descriptions of the robber and the getaway car.

Blamed for at least 18 heists
The Mad Hatter has been blamed for at least 18 bank robberies in northern New Jersey since last year. Wearing a baseball cap, a fishing hat or a military hat, the robber strode into banks, handed a teller a note demanding money and walked out quickly and quietly with the cash.

The robber was nearly caught in May after a robbery of a Montclair bank. He tossed money into a storm drain when a pack of red dye exploded in a booby-trapped money bag he was carrying.

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