BELMONT, N.C. (AP) - Police arrested a man Saturday they say may be the ''rooftop robber,'' the polite thief who cuts holes in the roofs of fast-food restaurants, drops in, orders employees to give him money, then locks them in the cooler.
Jeffery Allen Manchester, 28, an Army soldier from Concord, Calif., was charged with the robbery of two McDonalds restaurants in Belmont and Gastonia early Saturday.
Belmont Sgt. D.D. Bryson told the Gaston Gazette that Manchester is wanted on numerous robbery charges in California.
Bryson said Manchester complimented police after they spotted him running near one of the restaurants and caught him. ''He said, 'You guys did a real good job today.' ''
Police believe one robber, dubbed ''Roofman,'' may be responsible for about 40 crimes, beginning in November 1998.
Most have occurred in Northern California, and a similar robbery occurred in Carson City in August 1999.
About half of Roofman's targets have been McDonald's restaurants, although he has also hit Burger Kings, Toys R Us, Blockbuster video, three groceries and a hardware store in communities scattered across Northern California and several other states.
''Roofman'' has exhibited one surprising trait.
''He is very nice. He's so polite,'' Mike Van Winkle, a spokesman for the California Department of Justice has said. ''He seems to be very careful of the welfare of the people he is victimizing. Often, before he locks people in the freezer, he tells them to go get their jackets.''
Several times he's even called from pay phones after robberies to let police know that people were shivering inside locked freezers.
Despite his cordial demeanor, police have worried about his violent side. Roofman always packs a semiautomatic handgun. A few times, he has fired shots, although none at people, as of last month.
The Gastonia McDonald's was robbed about 12:20 a.m. Saturday and the Belmont store about 4 1/2 hours later, police said.
Mirvat Fayad, a manager at the Belmont restaurant, said she arrived at 5 a.m. to help open the eatery. ''I just saw someone walk in with a gun. He told me to get on the floor, so I did,'' Fayad told the Gaston Gazette . ''He was really polite, he was apologizing. He didn't yell at us. He said, 'Would you please ma'am get on the floor, would you please ma'am get down.' ''
Armed with a .22-caliber rifle, Manchester herded five employees to the safe, where they gave him $6,774.61, according to arrest warrants. Then he moved them into the walk-in cooler.
''He just asked us if we wanted jackets, '' Fayad said. ''He told the general manager to get the jackets and she did.''
Police spotted Manchester running near the restaurant.
He is in Gaston County Jail under a $1 million secured bond.
''Roofman'' may have been in California as recently as a week ago. A maintenance worker spotted an unfinished hole on the roof of a Taco Bell in Auburn on May 13, said Placer County Sheriff's detective Edward Clark.