IT could have come straight out of the realms of Sherlock Holmes – the Case of the False Moustache, writes crime reporter Claire Lewis.
Perhaps it was the thick, black moustache that can now be seen as the giveaway – for the moustache turned out to be false and the man was, in fact, a woman.
The truth only emerged seven years later after Alison Lee was convicted by revolutionary fingerprint technology.
After a cold case review, scientific advances led police to match a palm print she left on a £10 note and a fingerprint on the magazine of an imitation gun recovered at the scene of two attempted robberies on October 12, 2004.
It took a jury at Sheffield Crown Court just half an hour to decide the raider was a woman – and not a man.
Lee, aged 42, was convicted of two offences of attempted robbery and another two offences of possessing an imitation firearm during the hold-ups.
She denied all four charges but is now facing jail.
The court heard she tried to rob tills at the One Stop store in Kendray, Barnsley, and a few minutes later at the Co-op supermarket in nearby Hoyland but on each occasion fled empty-handed.
Witnesses gave various descriptions of the would-be robber.
But all of them believed it was a man.
One Stop assistant Andrea Holmes said the “male” lifted up his jacket top and pulled out a nine-inch long gun. “It looked like a real gun,” she said.
The would-be robber pointed the gun at her chest from a foot away. “I honestly thought he was going to shoot me,” she said.
Debbie Hattersley, at the Co-op, said: “The man never spoke to me.
“I didn’t known whether the gun I had seen was real but I assumed it was.”
She noticed the black moustache, which was “not particularly groomed or trimmed”, and he may have worn glasses.
The court heard that in 2004 the police did not have the technology to match Lee’s prints but a 2010 cold case review uncovered a match on a new database.
Lee had been arrested and fingerprinted in 2009 for an unrelated offence which was later dropped. Her palm print on the £10 note and a fingerprint from the gun magazine were matched.
Paul Reid, defending, asked her to explain how her prints came to be on the note and gun. She said: “I have got a few friends that have kids and come to my house and I go to theirs.”
Mr Reid asked her: “Did you put on any false moustache?” She replied: “No.”
He told the jury it was not uncommon for robbers to disguise themselves. But he added: “This isn’t a theatrical production.
“It’s not Judge John Deed, Silks or Law and Order UK. This is a serious business.”
Gordon Stables, prosecuting, said Lee was disguised to ‘throw people off the scent’.
But all the evidence pointed to her and she was wearing a ‘fake or false moustache’.
Lee, of Royston, Barnsley was said to be a recovering heroin addict at the time of the offences.
The judge Recorder Bernard Gateshill warned Lee: “You have been convicted of very serious offences.
“You will appreciate that it is virtually inevitable that a custodial sentence will be passed upon you.”
She will be sentenced at a later date.