Costumes for crime? ‘Hyper-realistic mask’ used in robbery

Dec. 09, 2010 | 8:32 a.m.

Cosplay, makeup and visual effects are topics here at Hero Complex, so today we bring you a bizarre crime story from the front page of the Los Angeles Times. Here’s an excerpt from the piece by Sharon Bernstein…

An SPFXMasks employee, left, sprays a layer of paint on a mask called "The Player." That model was used by a white man, right, in a string of robberies in Ohio. An innocent black man was held until the culprit was turned in. (Bob Chamberlin / Los Angeles Times; Gary Landers / Associated Press)

They’re not just for Halloween anymore. Expensive, realistic masks — the kind that are the hit of the costume party — are increasingly being used out of season, and not always for laughs.

A white bank robber in Ohio recently used a “hyper-realistic” mask manufactured by a small Van Nuys company to disguise himself as a black man, prompting police there to mistakenly arrest an African American man for the crimes. In October, a 20-year-old Chinese man who wanted asylum in Canada used one of the same company’s masks to transform himself into an elderly white man and slip past airport security in Hong Kong.

Authorities are even starting to think that the so-called Geezer Bandit, a Southern California bank robber believed for months to be an old man, might actually be a younger guy wearing one of the disguises made by SPFXMasks.

News coverage of the incidents has pumped up demand for the masks, which run from $600 to $1,200, according to company owner Rusty Slusser. But he says he’s not happy about it.

“We’re proud of the fact that our masks look real, but I’m not proud of the way they were used,” said Slusser, a 39-year-old former makeup artist. “We’re very embarrassed this has happened. We were shocked that this happened.”

Conrad Zdzierak, a 30-year-old Polish immigrant, used one of Slusser’s masks to disguise himself as a black man during a series of Ohio robberies last spring. The costume was so good that six of seven bank tellers wrongly identified an African American man as the culprit in a photo lineup, said Det. Keenan Riordan, who investigated the case for the Springdale, Ohio, Police Department.

“We showed the picture to his own mother, and she thought it was him,” Riordan said…

THERE’S MORE, READ THE REST

– Sharon Bernstein

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