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SoCal company's realistic masks used in crimes

December 9, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Criminals have been using extremely realistic masks to pull off robberies and the Southern California company that makes them has expressed regret that they have fallen into the wrong hands.SPFX Masks, a six-employee company, takes up just a few hundred square feet in a Van Nuys industrial building, but they turn out a huge number of different life-like masks.

"We do very realistic hair, age spots, the whole bit," said Rusty Slusser, the owner of SPFX Masks. "If you feel it, it has a feeling like fat tissue underneath there so when it moves, it moves like skin."

Slusser started making high-end masks seven years ago, targeting Hollywood productions, private investigators and people willing to drop anywhere from $600 to $1200 for handmade masks that come from sculpted forms.

But it turns out criminals are also big fans of the highly detailed masks. Surveillance pictures from Ohio show what appears to be an African American man robbing a bank earlier this year.

He struck a series of banks and a black man was actually arrested in connection with the robberies. But the robber turned out to be a white man wearing one of these masks.

"I saw the surveillance pictures and I knew right away it was the mask. I thought, 'Uh oh,'" said Slusser.

Slusser said the man claimed to be a film producer and wanted the mask and matching hands for a movie. He was arrested and pleaded guilty to six counts of robbery.

"We were in contact with law enforcement and tried to participate, help out anyway we could," said Slusser. "They caught the guy luckily before he could hurt somebody."

The so-called "Geezer Bandit" has been striking banks in Southern California, and though investigators originally suspected an elderly man was behind the hold-ups, now the FBI is looking into the possibility it's a younger man wearing one of Slusser's masks.

"We're very proud of the fact our masks look so real but not proud of the way they're being used," said Slusser.


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