Justice comes 20 years later for Warrenton robber
Larry Joe Bobbs
It took 20 years for Larry Joe Bobbs to plead guilty to holding up Warrenton's Jo-Ann Fabrics store.
On Aug. 16, Bobbs, a serial robber with convictions in four states, admitted to robbery, four counts of abduction and the use of a firearm in the commission of a robbery.
Bobbs forestalled justice for two decades, not from his own criminal guile or poor detective work...but because his other crimes caught up to him first, said Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Russell Rabb.
“He's committed way more robberies than most anybody I've ever seen,” Rabb said.
To the best of anyone's ability to determine, Bobbs's criminal record started in 1965 with a conviction in Pittsburgh, Pa. for receiving stolen goods. It stretches to 15 convictions in total: eight in Maryland, four in Pennsylvania, two in Virginia and one in Georgia.
Eleven of those convictions were from robbery charges, according to circuit court documents. The authorities suspect he's done more. Bobbs may be connected to robberies in Winchester and Alexandria, Rabb said.
Bobbs once told a Maryland judge he committed 23 robberies, Rabb said.
“It would appear he's probably right,” he said.
Warrenton police obtained a bench warrant for Bobbs's arrest shortly after his Feb. 17, 1993 robbery of Jo-Ann Fabrics. But Bobbs's past caught up to him before town police could make good on the warrant, Rabb said.
Authorities arrested Bobbs in Anne Arundel County, Md., where he was convicted of several robberies and sentenced to 25 years in prison.
Bobbs got through 19 years before he was transferred to Powhatan Correctional Center near Richmond to serve more time for crimes in Prince William County.
“My guess is [Warrenton's arrest warrant] just got overlooked by other agencies when he was coming in and out of their jails,” Rabb said.
But when Bobbs re-entered Virginia last year, authorities realized they still had an active warrant against him.
Bobb's crimes tended to follow a pattern: he would enlist the help of two children to help him rob stores. They would scout the store. Then Bobbs would come in, threaten the employees with a pistol – the same pistol since at least the 90s – and then take money with the help of his juvenile accomplices.
Bobbs admitted that he spent the stolen money from at least one robbery on lottery tickets and crack cocaine, Rabb said.
Bobbs's 1993 robbery at Jo-Ann Fabrics followed the same pattern.
According to a proffer statement of accusation from the Office of the Commonwealth's Attorney, two teenage boys went into the store on Feb. 17, 1993 at 8:30 p.m. They asked a female part-time employee for grey fabric for a Civil War uniform.
The boys acted indecisive until one told the woman “you're being robbed.”
“Yeah, right,” she said back.
She looked up in time to see Bobbs enter and grab another woman who worked at the store.
Bobbs pointed his pistol at the first woman and forced her to hand over $1,170.10 in cash. He and the teens forced the two employees to the back of the store, as well as a third woman, a customer who had come to the Warrenton store for the first time ever.
Bobbs and the teens sat the three women in a back room and bound them with duct tape. They taped up the women's hands as though they were praying.
Meanwhile, another customer entered the Jo-Ann Fabrics. She came in long enough to see that there were no clerks in the store when Bobbs approached her from behind.
“You'll have to come with me,” Bobbs said. “We just finished robbing the store.”
The woman was terrified Bobbs was going to kill her.
“In her mind, she thought she was being taken to her execution and was to be shot in the back room,” according to the proffer statement. “She did not know if any of the others were alive and knew that she wanted to see her kids one more time.”
Bobbs and the two teens forced the newcomer to join the other three women, seated and bound in the back room.
After Bobbs and the teens left, the women freed themselves and called the police. During the investigation, Warrenton Detective Dwayne Nashwinter found out Bobbs had been arrested in Anne Arundel County, Md.
Nashwinter visited Bobbs and extracted a full confession from him. Bobbs told Nashwinter that Bobbs chose Warrenton as a target “because it had large letters on an atlas.”
He chose Jo-Ann Fabrics because he believed it would not be a very crowded store, and that stores in that franchise were “always good for about $1,000.”
He also admitted to stealing a lamp from the store. Bobbs threw the lamp out of the window of his vehicle on the way back to Maryland.
When Bobbs returned to Virginia in 2012, Warrenton Detective Timothy Carter interviewed Bobbs again. Bobbs told Carter that he couldn't remember much, because of the intervening years, but he did remember his interview with Nashwinter, and remembered having a gun with him when he robbed the store.
Bobbs was set for a jury trial in circuit court this week, but decided to plead guilty instead. He faces a sentencing hearing on Nov. 6, where he faces up to a life sentence for the robbery, 10 years for each of the four abductions and a mandatory four-year sentence for the use of a firearm in the commission of the robbery.
“This case was sort of like an onion,” Rabb said. “We kept peeling it back and finding more and more. The guy's kind of a mess, but that might be an understatement.”
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