Broward County

'Brave' woman, 66, tackles would-be bank robber

A 66-year-old bank customer, courageous because she says she is dying of cancer, tackled a would-be robber Friday and restrained her until deputies arrived, the Broward Sheriff's Office said.

When deputies asked the customer why she intervened, she replied she "was dying of cancer, figured she had nothing to lose and didn't want to see her [the robbery suspect] get away with it," said sheriff's spokesman Mike Jachles.

Reached by telephone Friday afternoon, the customer, Helen Dunsford, told the Sun Sentinel: "The FBI has asked me not to talk to you. Let the facts be stated by the police department, and let it go."

Asked if she was OK following the altercation, Dunsford replied: "I'm fine. Thank you."

FBI Special Agent Michael Leverock urged citizens to avoid confronting robbers. The most they should do, he said, is serve as "good witnesses." Jachles echoed Leverock's advice, but said authorities considered the woman's actions "selfless and brave."

The robbery suspect was identified by the FBI as Renee Lee Green, 32. She was being held without bond in a Broward jail Friday afternoon. The charge against her wasn't available.

The robbery attempt occurred before noon at Bank of America, at 150 E. Prospect Road, when a woman put her hand inside her purse, ordered everyone to the ground and demanded money, officials said.

The woman had entered the bank accompanied by a man, but he soon exited the building, said Pat Kaveney, a customer who was standing in the service line at the time.

The woman approached the front of the line, demanded $10,000 and said she had a gun, Kaveney said.

That's when Dunsford sprang into action, Kaveney said.

Dunsford "just lost it," he said. "She ran up to her, grabbed her in a bearhug and slammed her to the floor. She said, 'I've got cancer. You could kill me if you want!'"

It's not the first time that Dunsford has made headlines.

She and her husband, Bill Dunsford, last year publicly protested the city of Fort Lauderdale's efforts to clean up their yard, which was strewn with 40 years' worth of belongings.

At the time, Helen Dunsford had threatened she was willing to die to protect her things. But on Jan. 25, 2010, she moved aside and watched for hours from the sidewalk as the city scooped up the stuff she'd piled in back of her home.

The robbery suspect, Green, has had prior run-ins with the law, state records show.

Miami Beach police arrested her on a panhandling charge in 2009, but the case was dropped, records show. Miami-Dade police arrested her on a petty larceny charge last year, resulting in her being ordered to stay away from a Miami Beach Whole Foods supermarket.

As Friday's robbery attempt was unfolding, the man who had entered the bank with the suspect returned and shouted that she was mentally ill, Kaveney said.

It was unclear whether that was the same man who deputies later placed in the back of a police cruiser. From the car, the man shouted to onlookers that the suspect was mentally ill, and that he had been trying to take her away.

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