A man in disguise who used a knife or a screwdriver to rob the concession stand at Theatre Aspen on Tuesday night remained at-large Wednesday evening.
However, despite the fact that the man had not yet been caught, pictures released of him Wednesday morning led to numerous tips from the public, and police were following several leads to try and find the robber, Aspen Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn said.
“We made strong advances today,” Linn said Wednesday afternoon. “I’m optimistic we will break the case quickly.”
The bizarre-for-Aspen crime occurred about 9 p.m., and witnesses described the robber as a white male wearing a baseball cap, glasses, a flannel shirt, something covering his hands and a bandana over his face, Linn said.
He declined to say how much money was stolen, and he said no one was injured in the incident. Another source said the robber made off with $250.
“Employees of the concession stand were approached by a man wearing a mask and disguising his identity,” according to an APD news release. “The man demanded money from the cash register. The three employees complied with the demands.
“Officers canvassed the area but were unable to locate the suspect.”
The weapon used was “edged,” though there was some discrepancy over whether it was a knife or a screwdriver, Linn said.
Jed Bernstein, producing director of Theatre Aspen, said the robbery occurred about 10 minutes before intermission of the company’s production of “Guys and Dolls.” The man flashed the weapon, forced a concession stand employee to show him the money in the cash register and fled with $250.
“The first thing to say is that what happened with completely unexpected and scary for everybody,” Bernstein said. “Safety is the number one thing and we take that really seriously.”
The police’s news release linked the armed robbery to two purse snatchings that occurred in recent days in the downtown core.
The first of those happened about 8 p.m. July 3, when a man riding a bicycle grabbed a purse hanging from the back of a chair in the outdoor seating area of Kirby Ice House, 307 S. Mill St., according to the release.
A nearly identical crime occurred just before 8 p.m. Tuesday, when a male bicyclist snatched another purse from the back of a chair, this time at Casa Tua, 403 S. Galena St., and kept riding down the street, the release states.
Three surveillance video photos from Rubey Park accompanied the news release, which came out Wednesday morning. Linn said the man pictured was seen Tuesday at Rubey Park just before the Casa Tua purse snatching. The man generally fits the description of the Casa Tua robber, he said.
On Wednesday afternoon, Aspen police also released a video of the man taken Tuesday night at Rubey Park just before the Casa Tua purse snatching.
“Descriptions gathered from victims and witnesses are consistent enough to suggest (all three incidents) are associated,” according to the second APD news release.
Bernstein praised the three young people on duty at the concession stand and said they kept their heads, gave up the money and were able to continue on and serve beverages to the audience, which was mostly unaware of the robbery, during intermission.
“I’m proud of my staff at the concession stand,” Bernstein said. “They gave up the money and called police.
“As theater folks like to say, ‘The show must go on.’”
Bernstein was able to rule out one class of people as suspects, however.
“The reviews have been so positive (for “Guys and Dolls”) that I think we can be fairly certain it wasn’t a disgruntled audience member,” he said.
Bernstein and Linn emphasized that the event was unusual and that the Theatre Aspen tent and surrounding area near Rio Grande Park are safe, despite the fact that police had not yet caught the man.
“An armed robbery and a purse snatching?” Linn said. “We’ve never had that here before. It’s surprising.”
Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor also sought to reassure the community Wednesday.
“We understand these are unusual crimes to occur in Aspen and that members of our community will be concerned,” he said in a second news release. “These appear to be crimes of opportunity …”
The last armed robbery in Aspen occurred in May 2016, when a then-21-year-old local man used a hammer to rob a marijuana dispensary near City Market then fled across country in a stolen SUV.
Anyone who recognizes the man in the photos of the recent robberies can call Aspen Police at 970-920-5400 or text tips to 970-274-4128.