Man charged with 1st-degree murder for shooting bank teller and mother of 4 in back of head in robbery more than 25 years ago

 

 

Kevin Ray James (Ventura County Sheriff’s Department)

A 55-year-old man has been charged with fatally shooting a bank teller and mother of four in the back of the head during a bank robbery in Southern California more than 25 years ago.

Kevin Ray James was charged Monday with the first-degree murder of Monica Leech, 39, and two special allegations of murder while engaged in a robbery and use of a firearm, officials said in a news conference.

Ventura County District Attorney Erik Nasarenko called it a senseless, unprovoked and vicious murder. He said Leech grew up in Ventura County and came from a banking family. Her mom was in the banking industry for many years.

She had only been at the bank for a few months before her murder, he said.

“She liked needlepoint. She enjoyed taking walks in the morning,” he said. “She was a beloved wife, daughter, and mother. She helped to raise four children at the time of her murder.”

Ventura County Sheriff James Fryhoff described how the deadly heist went down on April 28, 1997.

Two men disguised as construction workers, wearing raincoats, hard hats, and pantyhose over their faces entered Western Financial Bank in Thousand Oaks, about 40 miles north of Los Angeles.

One of the bank robbers jumped over the counter and began demanding money. Leech was handcuffed, forced to her knees and shot.

“Monica was cooperative and not a threat to the bank robbers,” the sheriff said. “So investigators don’t understand why she had to be shot.”

The robbers drove off in an SUV with over $11,000 in cash.

Investigators from the Sheriff’s Major Crimes Bureau and the FBI worked on the case for many years. But there was not enough evidence then to bring the suspect to justice, and the case eventually went cold.

The case was reopened in March 2021, and authorities said DNA linked James to the murder.

Authorities arrested James, an unemployed former gang member, at his home in San Bernardino and transferred him to a jail facility in Ventura County, where he’s being held without bail.

The second man involved in the robbery has not been found. A reward is being offered for information leading to his arrest.

The current undersheriff was one of the first deputies to respond to the bank back then, the Sheriff said.

“When I talked to him about this case the other day, the first time he ever cried at work was when the family showed up asking for their mom,” Fryhoff said.

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