According to his statement to the Spanish police, Ausencio C. G.’s first hit was his most successful, netting 50,000 euros that he used to pay his employees. (Spanish police have not disclosed his full name because he is still awaiting trial.)
The booty from subsequent heists was earmarked for his suppliers, as well as for family expenses, including his daughter’s studies in London, according to the police.
While the typical bank robber is a Spanish-born male over the age of 35 who acts alone and strikes not far from home, according to Mr. Pérez Abellán, the Madrid criminology professor, a new wave of bandits is also emerging.
These are criminals drawn from among the millions of low-skilled workers who came here from Latin America, Eastern Europe and elsewhere before Spain’s long construction boom went bust.
“A kind of common market has arisen, formed by people from different countries who bring new criminal skills designed to increase the level of violence and the speed of the bank robbery,” said Mr. Pérez Abellán.
For example, a four-man crew of painters from South America turned to bank robbery in March, kidnapping a bank manager and his family near Barcelona and holding them overnight before forcing the manager to open the bank vault and hand over more than 150,000 euros, nearly $215,000.
The gang of painters, who had no criminal record in Spain, originally came from Brazil and Argentina.
They were caught last month, still dressed in their painters’ uniforms and carrying a paint bucket along with shotguns, shells and pistols in the back seat of their car as they tried one final robbery before heading back to South America with their loot.
Because they lack a criminal record, apprehending reported perpetrators like Ausencio C. G. or the South American painters is trickier, Mr. Trapero said.
In 2007, 87 percent of bank robberies were solved, compared with 72 percent last year. So far in 2009, just under half have resulted in an arrest.
But Mr. Trapero, an intensely focused 19-year veteran of the force, is patient as he tracks his prey.
“It often takes months or even years to solve some cases,” he said. “There are some very clever robbers out there who take care of almost every detail but they always slip up in the end.”