published Sunday, June 16th, 2013

Every burglar's dream: Bank door left unlocked

  • photo
    First Tennessee bank
    Photo by First Tennessee bank

When Ruth Stewart got to the teller's desk at First Tennessee Bank, all she saw was a burgundy sweater draped over an empty chair. So she waited. And waited.

"Hello?" she said, standing in the bank branch at Brainerd and Germantown roads Saturday morning. "Is anybody here?"

Nothing.

Stewart, 64, was on her way to get her hair done when she stopped by the bank to cash a check. She walked through the front doors, and everything seemed normal. It was bright inside, the sun beaming through the windows. Nobody was waiting in line.

She had no idea that the bank was closed Saturday, or that she tripped a silent alarm that sent a signal to a security command center in Memphis.

But after calling out for an employee -- any employee -- Stewart noticed the room behind the teller's desk was dark.

She opened a door and peeked inside.

Nobody.

"Is everyone in the bathroom?" she wondered.

She walked to the manager's office.

Nobody there, either.

"I didn't know what to think at this point," she said. "I'm standing in a bank with nobody but me. And I need some money."

In her free time, Stewart likes to watch true crime shows like "Investigation Discovery" and "The First 48." On Saturday morning, she wondered.

Did someone rob this place? Was that person holding all the bankers and customers hostage? Was she, Ruth Stewart, the only one who could save them?

Stewart called 911 and told the operator the bank was open and empty. An officer arrived, hollered inside and searched the place, He told Stewart to stay outside -- no matter what, stay outside.

Eventually Stewart found a security phone number listed on a bank window. Even if she had not called, the security team in Memphis would have checked in with local police to make sure everything was OK, said Rod Varnell, a senior real estate manager for the bank.

Turns out, it was neither a robbery nor an alien abduction.

Varnell said security camera footage shows employees of the bank's cleaning service leaving through the back door at 3 a.m. Saturday. They forgot to secure the front.

Nothing much really could have happened if someone had come inside, Varnell said.

"All the money is locked up," he said. "Everybody's stuff is locked up. All you could do is grab a computer and run, and even that has a security key. There's not much you could get robbing a bank at night."

Soon after calling the security team, Stewart hopped in her car. She was 30 minutes late for her salon appointment.

Contact staff writer Tyler Jett at tjett@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6476.

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