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Cops say serial bank robber commits second round of crimes

By Karen Florin

Publication: theday.com

Published September 03. 2013 3:00PM   Updated September 03. 2013 11:00PM
Connecticut Department of Correction
Kenneth Buckingham

Two days after authorities removed a GPS monitoring bracelet from paroled bank robber Kenneth Buckingham, state police say the 50-year-old walked into the same Salem bank branch he robbed six years ago and handed a teller a plastic garbage bag.

"Give me the cash," he allegedly told the woman.

Wearing a baseball cap and large sunglasses to obscure his face, Buckingham left the bank with $3,404, according to state police. Later that day, he paid $800 for a 1997 Mercury Tracer station wagon.

The former Old Lyme resident had been released from prison Oct. 25, 2012, after serving time for four bank robberies committed in 2007. He had received a favorable plea deal after serving as a key witness in the cold case murder trial of George M. Leniart, but his 75-month sentence was to be followed by 13 years of special parole, a strict form of state supervision.

Buckingham lived with his sister in Manchester and wore a GPS monitoring device for about three months after his release, according to an arrest warrant affidavit in his court file. The monitoring bracelet was removed Jan. 15 when his parole status changed from "supervised" to "special parole," according to the court document.

Two days later, he allegedly walked into the Chelsea Groton Bank in the Salem Marketplace and began a crime spree that lasted until May, when his parole officer and others recognized Buckingham in bank surveillance photos and notified police. In addition to the Salem bank, Buckingham is accused of robbing the Liberty Bank in Haddam on March 1, the TD Bank in Durham on April 16 and the First Niagara bank in Westbrook on May 20.

He appeared in briefly in New London Superior Court Tuesday for the Salem case, nodding at prosecutor Paul J. Narducci, who had handled his previous cases. Public defender Bruce A. Sturman said that since the majority of the cases are in Middlesex County, all are likely to be heard in Superior Court in Middletown.

Buckingham is being held in lieu of a total of $950,000 at the Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center, the same Uncasville prison where he crossed paths with Leniart, a Montville sex offender, in 2007. Buckingham testified at Leniart's murder trial in 2010 that Leniart admitted to him that he had fatally strangled 15-year-old April Dawn Pennington in 1996. His testimony helped the state secure a conviction and a sentence of life without the possibility of release, even though Pennington's remains have never been found.

Confronted by authorities in May, Buckingham said, politely, that he would not be waiving his right to remain silent, according to the affidavit. He said he would cooperate only if his case was prosecuted in federal court, because he "couldn't do any more time in state prison." Asked if that was because he was a witness in two high-profile murder cases, Buckingham said that was "part of it," but he had "other reasons." In addition to the Leniart trial, Buckingham had also testified at the New Britain murder trial of Richard Read in 2007. Read is serving a 50-year sentence.

According to the affidavit, one of the people who called police to identify Buckingham from bank surveillance photographs was a victim of Buckingham's robbery in 2007 of the New Alliance Bank in Chester. She told the investigators she "could never forget his face."

Buckingham's parole officer, Raymond Belval, told the investigators that Buckingham had changed his appearance over the months, shaving his head and bulking up by lifting weights. While the first three robberies were unarmed, Buckingham allegedly wielded a "black handgun" in the Westbrook bank robbery and warned the teller he would return and shoot her if she put a dye pack in the bundle of cash. A dye pack had been included with the $3,414 he taken from the Haddam bank, according to the affidavit.

Buckingham had moved from his sister's home to Knights Inn in Old Saybrook in March and was preparing to relocate to the Morton House in Niantic prior to his arrest, according to the affidavit. He had told his parole officer he wanted to move back into the family's cottage on West End Drive in Old Lyme, but it was still damaged from Superstorm Sandy.

Buckingham had also said he wanted to revive the family business of delivering bread to restaurants, but that he had trouble finding clients, according to the affidavit. The investigators interviewed a bakery owner in Manchester who said he had offered Buckingham a job but had never heard back from him.

k.florin@theday.com

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