The armed robbery of a Burger King moments after it opened early Wednesday in Maple Grove is among a string of similar holdups recently along Interstate 94 between St. Cloud and the Twin Cities, according to authorities.
The latest among the six holdups occurred shortly after 6:10 a.m. at the Burger King just off the Weaver Lake Road exit, police said.
A man with a handgun demanded money, then locked two workers in the cooler, said police Capt. Keith Terlinden. The suspect walked out and left in a dark Dodge Durango, possibly a 2005, the captain added.
Witnesses report that the man, white and in his 30s or 40s with an average build, had on gray gym shoes, a grayish Columbia jacket with a zippered shoulder, a black mask with a white spot, and distinctive-looking gloves.
Terlinden said law enforcement believes the man is also responsible for five other armed robberies in the past month or so along I-94. Two others involved Burger Kings, in Clearwater and Monticello, and occurred just hours apart on Sept. 19. The other crimes have occurred in Big Lake, St. Cloud and another in Monticello.
When not hitting Burger Kings, the captain said, the gunman is targeting small restaurants and retail outlets. An Oct. 5 robbery at the Game Stop store in Monticello may have been committed by the same suspect, according to the Wright County Sheriff's Office.
Wednesday's holdup is the first of the crimes to be captured on surveillance images. Police hope they can detect a license plate from the suspect's vehicle.
Authorities are linking the crimes to the same suspect based on how he carries out the holdups and on the similar clothing.
Terlinden said that tying a vehicle to the lone gunman "is a huge piece" of evidence that had not been connected to the five earlier holdups.
Anyone with information about the holdups is urged to call Maple Grove police at 763-494-6189 or the Wright County Sheriff's Office at 763-682-1162.