A tip from a “Washington’s Most Wanted” viewer led police to a man suspected of armed robberies at five Bellingham businesses, according to charges filed this week in Whatcom County.
Dennis Jeffery Ridley, 63, remains in Skagit County Jail on another felony charge of robbing a Burlington doughnut shop in November.
Ridley confessed to the Skagit crime but has denied he committed the five other robberies in Bellingham, according to charging papers filed late Thursday, July 30.
The affidavit outlines the case against Ridley:
— A man wearing a Groucho Marx mask walked into Westside Pizza, 4260 Cordata Parkway, on the night of Nov. 6, 2014. He yelled, “This is a robbery, get down!” and threatened three employees at gunpoint. The mustached man, who wore a stocking cap, heavy dark clothes and military boots, took two of the employees’ car keys along with money from the till. He left behind the keys as he fled on a bicycle.
— A man with a semiautomatic handgun entered Man Pies, 1215 Railroad Ave., through a back door around 8 p.m. Nov. 9. He ordered two employees to get on their knees and demanded their cellphones. He then ordered an employee to get him money from the till. He wore a red rain jacket, black gloves and “drab” khaki pants. He escaped through the back door. A police dog found gloves, pants and black shoes abandoned nearby, but no robber.
— A man on a bicycle rode up to I Wana Moka, a coffee stand at 3100 Old Fairhaven Parkway, at 5:51 p.m. Nov. 26. “Open the door now!” he shouted at the barista, who was getting ready to close up for the day. He aimed a gun at the woman and held a backpack open while she emptied out the till. He ordered her to give him her phone, to run across the street, and to call the cops.
— A man in sunglasses and a dark coat walked into Zoom Zoom Espresso, 845 Lincoln St., around 5 p.m. Nov. 28. He ordered a barista and a customer to get on the ground. He told the barista to get him money from the till, but there was no money in it. He demanded to know where the money was. She brought two bags of money from a safe and put them in the robber’s reusable Trader Joe’s grocery bag.
— A man in a black hoodie walked into Lafeen’s Donuts, 320 N. Burlington Blvd., around 1:30 p.m. Nov. 30. He held an employee at gunpoint as he demanded cash from the register. She handed it over, but when he moved toward a phone line she thought he would cut it off, so she charged him. She hit his head with a napkin holder and chased him outside. The chase wound back inside, and the robber dropped the gun, his sunglasses and — police believe — a pair of black socks he had on his hands. He picked the gun up again before fleeing. There was a lull of almost two months before the next robbery.
— A man with thick-rimmed glasses walked into the Whatcom Farmer’s Co-Op, 3125 Old Fairhaven Parkway, around 6 p.m. Jan. 18. He asked a question about some hardware he’d brought in, then went to the front of the store and told a cashier: “Show me the money!” The confused employee asked what he was asking, and the man demanded money. He moved closer to the register and flashed the handgun. He yanked the money out of the cashier’s hand and walked out to the parking lot.
All of the victims gave a similar description of the robber: a 5-foot-9 to 5-foot-11 middle-aged white man, often in dark clothes.
In December the Burlington robbery was featured on “Washington’s Most Wanted,” and one viewer called in to say the man looked like Dennis Jeffery Ridley, a white man in his early 60s who wore a silver ring on his middle finger, the viewer said. DNA tests — on the sunglasses left behind at Lafeen’s, and on the gloves left behind outside Man Pies — showed a match to Ridley, according to the charges.
Ridley, who had a history of robbery in California, had moved to the Golden State during the investigation, according to charging papers. Police found he’d been living with a couple on Chuckanut Drive at the time of the local robberies.
Bellingham Police Detective Dan Kelsh got a warrant to search bags of belongings Ridley left behind here. He found a trove of clothes that had been used in the robberies: a Groucho Marx mask from the Westside robbery, a red hooded jacket from the Man Pies robbery, a GAP baseball cap and a black jacket from the farmers co-op robbery.
As Ridley was being extradited to Skagit County, he met with two detectives at Boeing Field in King County. There he admitted to the Burlington robbery but denied the others, according to the charges.
He made his first appearance in a Skagit County courtroom in June.
According to the Skagit Valley Herald, when asked how he would plead to the charge, Ridley replied: “Guilty.” His lawyer stopped him and told the judge he would plead not guilty, but when the judge asked Ridley a second time, he replied: “Guilty.” The judge entered a not guilty plea on his behalf to protect his constitutional rights, the Skagit newpaper reported.
That case is still pending, and Ridley has yet to appear in a Whatcom County courtroom. The prosecutor, Dave McEachran, charged him with eight counts of robbery because some of the hold-ups had more than one victim.