Providence police capture man suspected in 9 armed robberies

(Photos: Steph Machado/WPRI-TV)

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Madeline Pagan was working at her West End convenience store on Tuesday morning when she says a man came in with his face covered by a bandana, brandishing a weapon and telling her to not to scream.

“He said to give him the money and he showed me the gun,” Pagan recalled. She owns Explosion Market on Dexter Street.

In surveillance video, Pagan can be seen calmly scooping cash from the register while the man holds onto her right arm. He then points to something behind her, and she hands him several packs of cigarettes. She said he threatened her employee.

“He saw him and he’s screaming at him, ‘don’t move…I’m gonna kill you,'” Pagan said.

Providence police allege the armed robber is Willie Rathbone, who’s suspected in at least eight other robberies in the city.

Rathbone was taken into custody on Wednesday, after police suspected him of robbing the Walgreens on North Main Street at gunpoint. Maj. David Lapatin said detectives identified him by his fingerprints; the 35-year-old with no known address has a lengthy criminal history and is a Level 2 sex offender.

“He was really on a rampage,” Lapatin said. “And we had to stop him.”

Police said Rathbone is currently charged with holding up six stores over the past week and a half, and is suspected in three more robberies in Providence. Cranston police are also investigating whether he robbed a store on Broad Street.

Lapatin said investigators tracked Rathbone to an apartment on Elmwood Avenue and apprehended him with the help of a SWAT team.

In addition to the Walgreen’s holdup, Rathbone is charged in the following armed robberies:

  • July 30: Shop and Go convenience store on Union Avenue
  • August 4: Tito Mini Market on Potters Avenue
  • August 6: Stop Market on Cranston Street
  • August 7: Shell gas station on Wickenden Street
  • August 8: Explosion Market on Dexter Street

Lapatin said he suspects the crimes could have been motivated by drug use.

“Eight or nine robberies in one week is pretty bold,” he said. “They’re not looking to get this money to go out to dinner or put it in their 401(k).”

Pagan said she was relieved to hear Rathbone had been captured.

“I’m so proud of the Providence Police Department and the detectives,” she said. “They did a good, good job.”