On 28 February 1997, LAPD officers responded to a robbery in progress at the North Hollywood Bank of America branch in Los Angeles, California. As the two heavily armed suspects left the bank they engaged in a violent shootout with police, leaving numerous officers wounded as they attempted to make their escape. The armed robbers were already responsible for several other banks robberies throughout Los Angeles which netted them over $1.5 million. The police were initially outmatched, their weapons having little effect against home-made body armour worn by the gunmen that was impenetrable to the standard police issue firearms. A SWAT team eventually arrived with sufficient firepower, and commandeered an armoured truck to extract wounded officers. In the aftermath of the 44 minutes of intense shooting, one gunman was shot dead and the other lay fatally wounded, whilst twenty police officers who attempted to stop two dangerous criminals were wounded in the line of duty.
At around 9:15am on 28 February 1997, two men driving a white 1987 Chevrolet Celebrity parked up outside the Bank of American branch 384 located at the intersection of Archwood Street and 6600 Laurel Canyon Boulevard in North Hollywood. The men, Emil Matasareanu and Larry Phillips Jr., were wearing bulletproof vests, body armour and ski-masks, and were both armed with an assortment of high calibre weapons. At 9:17am, they set alarms on their watches for eight minutes, the time-frame they estimated it would take police to respond and then exited the vehicle and began walking towards the bank. As they made their way inside, they were spotted by two LAPD officers, who immediately issued a call on their radio, "15-A-43, requesting assistance, we have a possible 211 in progress at the Bank of America".
Larry Phillips Jr. and Emil Matasareanu
The North Hollywood Shootout was the culmination in the criminal careers of two violent and calculating thieves. Larry Eugene Phillips Jr. was born Larry Eugene Warfel on 20 September 1970 to Barbara Allen and Daniel Ira Warfel. For the first sixteen years of his life he would live under the name Warfel, ostensibly because both his parents were on the run, and Barbara Allen and Daniel Warfel were actually Dorothy Clay and Larry Phillips Sr. Around 1974 his parents split and Clay remarried, moving her son to Denver where she undertook gainful employment. By 1980 the couple were legally divorced, however Larry Sr. would continue to visit his son somewhat sporadically over the next few years, but he would often impart his criminal knowledge on his young and impressionable son, regaling him with stories of his criminal exploits. In 1986, Clay and Larry Jr. moved to Los Angeles to seek a better life. The teen-aged Larry quit school in the 9th grade and was soon dating a young woman, Sharon Santos, and the two would eventually marry. The couple would have two children, however Larry left his wife and kids seven years later, virtually penniless.
At this stage in his life Phillips had begun to take an interest in muscle magazines and the body building circuit, and purchased a five year membership at the world famous Gold's Gym located at Rose Street in Venice Beach. Larry had no money to hire a personal trainer and did not even have a car, requiring him to ride the the bus for several hours to the gym. He soon began to work hard at increasing his strength, but came to realise he was not competition circuit material. By the early 1990's he let his membership lapse, however several months earlier he had met someone who he would form an unlikely friendship with.
Decebal Ștefan Emilian Mătăsăreanu, known as Emil, was born on 19 July 1968 in Timisoara in Western Romania, the only child of Valeria Nicolescu and Viorel Matasareanu. The matriarch of the Matasareanu family defected to the west in 1974, apparently unhappy with life under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. Two years later Viorel and 10-year-old Emil joined her in the United States and the family settled in Pasadena, where Emil's father found a job with an engineering company whilst his mother worked as a real estate salesperson. Emil attended High school where he became the subject of bullying from his peers. It was believed this behaviour turned him into a social recluse and he passed through school largely un-noticed. As he grew older he enjoyed a passion for motorcycles and developed considerable electronic skills, and was considered smart by his friends, possessing an IQ of 157.
By 1988, 22-year-old Emil had become a naturalised American citizen and was soon to gain a more deadly interest, this time with weapons. He was often seen by neighbours outside his house polishing his guns. It was around this time that he started his own business, retailing computer parts and offering computer hardware repairs and software consulting services. Although he tried to cover a broad range, he was forced to reduce his prices because he was in direct competition with Silicon Valley, located just 300 miles to the North of San Francisco. During 1989, Matasareanu was described by those who knew him as an overweight and often jovial figure, who purchased a membership and began to attend Gold's Gym, where he met Larry Phillips. Both men enjoyed similar interests, notably weightlifting and firearms and it would be a friendship that eventually developed into a deadly union.
According to those who knew him well, Larry often sought out people in need, with whom he could easily control and gain the upperhand. He saw Emil as someone he could break down and mould into someone of use to him. Not long after their first meeting, Clay bought Larry a black BWM and a computer. It is unknown what he used the computer for, but it was common ground with Emil and Larry had aspirations of setting himself up in the lucrative L.A. property market. Larry studied real estate books and was granted his provisional salesperson license on 3 November 1990. His exam was scheduled for 3 May 1992, but first he had to pass a background check. It was then that officials discovered a previous arrest dating back to 1989 when he shoplifted $400 worth of suits from a Sears store in Alhmabra and was sentenced to three days in jail and twelve months probation. His license was suspended indefinitely.
It was then that Phillips decided to put his real estate knowledge to good use in perpetrating property scams. He setup a shell company, Capital West Investments, and through forgery he began selling discounted second mortgages to real estate brokers. Using the pseudonym Dennis Hicks, Phillips setup a successful sting for $23,000 with broker Larry Newfield. Attempting a second sting for the sum of $65,000, Newfield became suspicious with how quickly Hicks wanted the deal completed and drove to the property to speak with the owner. When Newfield called Hicks number, Phillips answered and attempted unsuccessfully to explain why the owner wanted a second mortgage. Unconvinced, Newfield threatened to contact the police unless he got his original £23,000 returned. Phillips tried his best to strong-arm the broker telling him, "Listen, the people I work with are animals, they are going to hurt you bad", but Newfield hung-up and contacted the police. During the subsequent criminal conspiracy investigation, detectives were unable to link Capital West Investments to Larry Phillips and he had a lucky escape.
Unpeturbed, Phillips attempted another scam with his apparent accomplice, Frank Stilwell. Both men were arrested in Rancho Mirage by Detective Jim Carson of the Orange County Police Department. When the lawman swooped on the pair, Stilwell was holding a £25,000 cheque and Phillips had a concealed loaded 9mm pistol in his waistband. A search of his vehicle uncovered an ammo clip, and a copy of Horner Brickly's 'Master Manipulator', the true story of Ted Wolfram, the partner in a brokerage firm who stole $47 million over a ten year period and lived the high life that Phillips could only dream about. Placed under arrest, Phillips blamed the scam on his half-brother Dennis Franks who he claimed had been the masterminded. Orange County decided not to prosecute on concealed firearm charges, however there is a unsubstantiated story that Phillips was charged during a civil lawsuit which left him with a $14,000 debt to pay.
The Denver Property Scam (September 1992)
On 5 October 1992, Phillips began placing several advertisements in the local newspaper advertising properties to rent. He used the contact name 'Mark', and soon enough Cheryl Meyer called the number listed in relation to the advert in the Rocky Mountain News. She left a message and the next day 'Mark' returned her call and they arranged to meet to discuss available properties in his portfolio. He arranged to meet Meyer at 1708 South Bryant St, and retrieved the keys to the property from the lock-box. After a fast tour of the house, the prospective renter began to question why it appeared people were already living in the house and queried why there was a for sale sign outside in the front yard. 'Mark' assured her that the owner wished to rent the property and the current tenant would be moved out shortly. He promised to contact her later that day if she qualified to rent the property. Soon enough he called Meyer and told her the rent was approved and he would arrange to meet her the next day to sign the agreement and collect the deposit.
Meyer's husband wished to view the property for himself and drove to the house where he encountered the owner, and introduced himself as the new tenant. The owner said the property was for sale only and did not know who 'Mark' was. He gave the Meyer's the contact number for the property agent firm REMAX, who were authorised to sell the property on his behalf. When the couple contacted the agent they were told they had almost been the victims of a property scam, but were advised to keep their appointment with 'Mark' whilst the local police would be informed. A sting operation was setup and Detective Hogan of the Denver Police Department posed as Meyer's husband. Phillips quoted $600 for the rent and $400 as a damage deposit, requesting payment in cash. When he failed to arrive by at the arranged time, the operation was called off at 2:35pm, however 'Mark' soon contacted Mrs. Meyer telling her he would be there within 30 minutes. When he arrived Phillips met with Detective Hogan, who dressed in one of Mr. Meyer's mechanic shirts, and requested his most recent pay stub. When Mrs. Meyer went inside the house to retrieve it, Hogan handed over £1,000 in bait money to Phillips, who pocketed the cash and accepted the lease agreement.
At that point other officers emerged and placed Phillips under arrest. A quick search of his black Nissan 240SX uncovered a black leather Condotti briefcase which contained £2000 from other apparent property scam victims he had been to meet with that same morning. Back at the station Phillips continued to use the false name of 'Mark Wright', but once detectives found no trace of such a person and he was remanded to the county jail. The REMAX agent claimed she had never seen Phillips before and did not know how he came to know the lock-box combination. Other victims of his scam came forward, Mark Millard said he handed £1,000 to Phillips, whilst a realtor named Teresa Brandon contacted police to confirm that Phillips was the man she showed multiple properties around the Denver area. The black Nissan was traced to Dorothy Clay, who was interviewed by detectives but remained evasive in her answers. Phillips was questioned about Clay and eventually came clean about his identity.
Detectives suspected Phillips of committing a similar scam in the ski resort of Vail, Colorado, however nothing further came from this line of investigation. Phillips remained in custody whilst his lawyer attempted a reduction in his bail, which was set a $1,000,000. On 13 October 1992, Phillips appeared before Judge Campbell and his bail request was denied. A later request is granted and his bail is set at $10,000 and he is released. His wife Sharon Santos used their savings to secured his bail and this contributed to heightened tensions in the family home. After he was caught having an affair with a woman named Jeanette Frederico, he couple's relationship hit an all-time low and in November 1992, Phillips walked out the family home and never returned. He remained in the Denver area until March 1993. On 16 March he was tested for drug misuse as part of his probation, the results of which were negative and on 30 March he failed to show up in court for his sentencing. Much like his father had been previously, Larry Phillips Jr. was now a fugitive from the law.
The Glendale Arrest (23 October 1993)
Phillips and Matasareanu were now spending more time together, and appeared to making plans which would soon become apparent. On 20 October 1993, Colorado Sgt. Ian Grimes began following a red Thunderbird after it left a gas station on Colorado Blvd. After a short distance he pulled the car over, and noted the occupants. Phillips was sitting in the driving seat, and the heavyset Matasareanu, by this time weighing around 350lbs, was the passenger. The driver gave his name as Denis Franks, the name of Phillips step-brother and Grimes then asked him for his driver's license. Phillips replied he left it at home and when the officer asked him his address, Phillips hesitated. Matasareanu then told Grimes the car belonged to his mother, but failed to know the plates were from an airport rental company. Grimes then asked both men to step out of the vehicle, and when he patted down Phillips he found a Glock 17 with a 33 round extended magazine tucked into his waistband.
Both men then stopped communicating with Grimes and Matasareanu accidentally dropped his Colt .45 pistol under the passenger seat. The detective then covered both men until back-up arrived, and the suspects were placed under arrest whilst officers made a thorough search of the car. The contents were alarming and included; One Norinco MAK-90 wood stock semi-automatic rifle, One Polytech folding stock, semi-automatic rifle, one Springfield Armoury .45 pistol, along with assorted ammunition including; 1,649 rounds of 7.62 x 39mm ammo, most loaded into 30 round magazines, taped three together, three Chinese made seventy-five round drum magazines loaded with 7.62 x 39mm ammo, 967 rounds of 9mm JHP ammo and 357 rounds of .45 JHP ammo. There was also an assortment of other items, such as; two improvised explosive devices, six smoke bombs, two sets of National Armour Level III-A vests, one gas mask, two 200-channel, portable, programmable scanners with ear pieces, as well as; two spray cans of grey studio hair colour, sunglasses, gloves, wigs, skit-masks, stopwatch, $1,620 in cash and three different California automobile license plates.
Both men were taken to the Glendale police station and processed. Detectives believed they had stumbled upon two bank robbers before they were able to hit their target. Phillips and Matasareanu remained silent, but a quick check on Phillips fingerprints revealed his identity and criminal past. On 26 October, both men are charged. Phillips with conspiracy to commit robbery, grand theft auto, unlawful weapons activity, carrying a loaded concealed firearm and felony perjury, and Matasareanu with conspiracy to commit robbery, unlawful weapons activity and carrying a loaded firearm in a vehicle.
They are both held on $1,000,00 bond and a preliminary hearing took place on 22 November 1993 where they explained their disguises were in preparation for Halloween and the weapons were in the car because they were travelling to a shooting range in the Angeles National Forest, known as 'Kentucky'. Phillips pleaded 'no contest' to one count of felony false personation and one count of misdemeanour weapons possession, whilst Matasareanu pleaded guilty to one misdemeanour and one felony count of weapons possession. On 27 December 1993, they are sentenced, Phillips to 99 days in jail and 36 months probation and Matasareanu to 71 days in jail and the same amount of probation. Both were released because of time served, however they now had felony convictions on their records which precluded them from owning firearms. Denver failed to press ahead with the warrant for his arrest due to the October 1992 scams, preferring Glendale to pursue their case against him. His release from jail after 99 days was met with disappointment by the Denver authorities. Upon their release, most of the property, except the weaponry and explosives were returned to them.
The Winnetka Armoured Car Robbery (14 June 1995)
The following year, on 14 June 1995, two men held up a Brinks armoured truck at a busy intersection in Winnetka. The men parked their car behind a four foot high wall, concealing themselves and their vehicle from the crew of the Brinks delivery truck. At around 12:30pm, 52-year-old security guard Herman Cook returned to the vehicle after making a delivery to the bank, pulling a hand cart behind him. At that moment shots rang out as one of the robbers began firing from behind the wall of a parking lot at an Arco gas station adjacent to the truck. Cook made it to the north side of the truck where he collapsed, having been struck three times in the upper abdomen. His pistol was found later, containing all six unfired rounds. The first gunman ordered passers-by to turn away, shouting; "Get down, and don't look!", whilst the second larger gunman fired his weapon from behind the wall.
A witness later recalled, as one of the guards returned from the bank on Roscoe Boulevard near Winnetka Avenue, the first gunman vaulted the wall and ran up to the truck, carrying a high-powered rifle, and began firing at the driver, 53-year-old Felipe Cortez through the window. Cortez returned fire, managing to get off two shots through the pistol port in his door, one of which hit the gunman directly in the chest. The first gunman staggered but did not fall to the floor, indicating to police he was wearing a bulletproof vest under his jacket. The robber returned fire with his rifle, the bullets penetrating the armoured truck, and hitting Cortez in chest, neck and jaw, incapacitating him.
In the confusion, the first gunman was able to snatch a bag of money and ran back to the second gunman who provided covering fire from behind the wall. Both men then fled in a 1986 black or dark blue Chevrolet Cavalier. At first authorities believed an undetermined amount of money had been stolen, but soon this was set at $122,500. Officers who arrived on the scene of the robbery found both Brinks guards wounded close to the truck. There were numerous bullet holes that were visible in the truck's rear window, which was supposed to be bulletproof, whilst over two dozen shell casings were found at the scene. An unnamed investigator on the scene described the ammunition used as, "military style, full metal jacket rifle bullets".
Both guards were rushed to hospital, however 52-year-old Cook died afew hours later at Northridge Medical Center, whilst the other guard, 53-year-old Cortez from Pacoima, whose name was not released at the time, was in a serious condition at Holy Cross Medical Centre, with wounds to his chest, neck and face. Descriptions of the suspects varied, however it was reported that one of the robbers was wearing a dark jacket with "Security" written on across the back. According to witnesses, a gas station patron began yelling at the guards to stop firing, shouting, "He's security!, he's security!". However another witness shouted back, "Then why is he firing back?". The robbery was made easier because of the regularity of the delivery schedule.
The FBI and LAPD did not release many details of the robbery to the public, in an attempt to limit any potential copycat crimes. Witnesses described the first gunman as around 5ft 9" to 5ft 11", 150-170lbs and Hispanic, wearing a black jacket with the word 'SECURITY' written on the back, along with a black baseball cap turned backwards. This suspect was not wearing a mask and a composite sketch of this man was provided by witnesses. The second suspect was described as around 6ft 1" to 6ft 2", 290-300lbs, of an undetermined race due to wearing a black ski-mask with eye and mouth holes. He was also wearing a black shirt, pants and jacket which were possibly identical to the first suspect.
Although there is no evidence linking Phillips and Matasareanu with this robbery, it has generally been accepted they were responsible, mainly because of the use of high-powered rifles and also the somewhat similar description of the gunmen given by witnesses. If they did perpetrate this robbery, then it would be the one and only time they killed anyone in the commission of their crimes. It is unclear if Cook's murder was intentional, but the witness statements from the incident appear to confirm the first gunman was determined to neutralised Cook as a potential threat, killing him in the process. The LAPD and the FBI met on 15 June to determine if any other robberies had been undertaken with similar methods. Two days later the Bank of America issued a $125,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the two gunmen.
The Van Nuys Bank Robbery (02 May 1996)
Phillips and Matasareanu enjoyed a hiatus until the first half of 1996, then returned to work with a different plan. They undertook the first of their bank robberies at Van Nuys, Los Angeles, and it would be a big learning curve for both men. Shortly before 10:00am, on 2 May 1996, two gunmen walked in through the front doors of the Bank of America at 7255 Woodman Avenue, carrying an empty bag and each equipped with fully automatic weapons. Both men began to wave the illegally modified civilian model rifles in the air and Phillips shouted, "Everybody drop!, Don't Move!, Don't Move! I'll kill you!, Get on the fucking floor!". At that moment Matasareanu unleashed a barrage of gunfire, shooting through the armoured door between the teller stations. The high velocity rounds easily penetrated the 1 1/4 inch thick poly-carbonate steel, which shattered and began to fracture from the twenty-one 7.62 x 39,, steel cored bullets.
As customers and staff began to drop to the floor in sheer terror, one of the two security guards who was helping a disabled customer exit the bank just as the robbery began, was able to run clear of the doors and escape. Unbelievably, one customer attempted to enter the bank after the robbery started, despite hearing the loud gunfire. As Matasareanu kicked down the teller door, an elderly gentleman entered the bank, apparently looking for his wife. He walked passed the customers and staff lying motionless on the ground, and then past Phillips, practically ignoring him before he was gently motioned to the floor by the gunman. Matasareanu then began calling for the manager of the bank to identify themselves, whilst Phillips stood menacingly next to him. Eventually the manager stood up and Matasareanu roughly grabbed her as Phillips shoved a teller who also stood up back onto the floor.
Matasareanu moved the manager towards the vault whilst Phillips returned to the lobby area. Witnesses later recalled him walking around and kicking female customers purses out of their reach, one of whom would later report $900 missing. "All tellers get your keys and come to the vault!", shouted Matasareanu, the muzzle of his gun pressed into the ribs of the terrified manager. He then hearded all those tellers who obeyed towards the vault. "Hurry up bitch!" he told the manager, as she fumbled taking the gate key from her pocket. Once the gate was open, Matasareanu told them, "Go straight ahead", and the tellers entered the vault and were made to stand against the back wall. Their captor then barked more orders, "Give me all the large bills, open all the drawers, I know you just had a delivery, I know Brinks just came!".
In an attempt to stall the robbers, the manager began opening the vault drawers which contained the lower denomination bills and began placing them inside the bag. Matasareanu removed a bundle of $10 bills, looked at them and threw it on the floor. He screamed at the manager, "Don't give me junk money!, give me the large bills cabinet...". He demanded she open all the cabinets, shouting "Hurry Up!, move your ass!". Once all the cabinets were open Matasareanu began grabbing the larger denomination bundles and shoving them into the large black and red bag. Becoming aware that the police response time was nearing, Phillips grew impatient and entered the teller line and started to open the teller drawers, scooping cash into a small brown bag. He approached the vault door and called out to his partner, "Let's go!, hurry up!, Let's go!". Matasareanu responded with, "Okay, okay", and ordered the five staff members in the vault to drop to the floor.
Witnesses observed the two gunmen leave the building through the south doors and then running westbound down an alley towards a white car sat idle with no driver. No one saw them enter the car or saw which direction the car left the area, and seconds later those inside the bank heard the sirens of approaching police. When investigators questioned witnesses about the two men, they were able to get a rough description, however most inside the bank that day had obeyed the robbers demands and kept their eyes to the ground. Several statements indicated the gunmen were black males, however this might have been attributed to either stress and the fact both men wore black ski-masks with dark glasses to cover their eyes. Of the twenty eight statements taken by the FBI, three would describe a third gunman who participated in the robbery, however none of the bank employees recalled this, only customers.
It appeared the robbery had been well planned, as Phillips and Matasareanu knew what time the Brinks delivery would be made. Incidentally, that day was scheduled to be made at midday, however this was changed at short notice and the armoured truck made its drop-off at 8:30am instead. This meant they must have either conducted surveillance of the bank and learned that the delivery was being made earlier than thought, or they had an inside man in either Brinks of Bank of America to notify them of the change. The FBI investigated all staff members who were cleared and found to have no involvement. The entire robbery was undertaken in under eight minutes had been a success for Phillips and Matasareanu, who netted precisely $755,048, their biggest haul so far. They would go on to employ the same tactic and planning in their future crimes.
The Winnetka Bank Robbery (31 May 1996)
Later that same month, on 31 May, another bank in the San Fernando Valley area of Los Angeles was targeted by Phillips and Matasareanu. Given that they had just scored a large amount of money from their previous heist, it seemed strange they would go back to work so soon, especially given the FBI's continued investigation into their crimes. This time they conducted the same surveillance as they had done with their previous robbery, however they made a crucial mistake. Several days earlier, on 29 May, a collection was made by Brinks guards in what was believed by them to be delivery. Because of this, they were certain there would be roughly £2 million in cash waiting for them inside the bank, but instead there was significantly less. At 10:05am, Phillips and Matasareanu burst into the south entrance of the Bank of America branch at 20118 Roscoe Boulevard brandishing their high-powered rifles, firing several rounds and immediately taking control of the customers and bank staff.
The next few moments were witnessed by a Bank of America auditor who was behind the teller counter using a copier machine. A customer seated at the business banking desk turned and saw the two big, bulky and heavily armed men walk into the bank and cried out, "Oh no!". At that moment, one of the gunmen shouted, "This is a holdup!, everybody down... get down!", whilst the other shouted, "Get on the floor!, get down". Customers and bank staff all complied and soon everyone had dived to the floor, including the tellers behind the counter. The auditor dropped to the floor too alongside a teller, and both began frantically pressing the hold-up alarm buttons. But luck would be on Phillips and Matasareanu's side, because police we stretched pretty thin that morning.
They once again performed their tried and tested formula. Matasareanu moved towards the north end of the teller line and pointed his rifle at the bulletproof door, and unleashed a barrage of bullets. The gunfire ripped through the bank and scared the already terrified occupants who were now hostages. Fourteen rounds were pumped into the door and around the locking mechanism. At this point Phillips moved to the east side of the bank and kept his rifle trained on the subdued customers, telling everyone to "Get down!". Another twelve rounds breached the door and Matasareanu began firing more bullets into the internal teller door, with each round ripping through the polycarbonate reinforced sheeting. Some of the rounds fragmented and struck two nearby tellers, injuring them both. Matasareanu began shouting, "Where's the manager?"
A female Bank of America employee steadily rose to her feet and called out for the manager to come forward and bring her keys. The female manager then appeared and Matasareanu ordered to to, "get the other key". She hurriedly walked down the teller line and called out to the other key holder to come with her. Matasareanu then ordered both women to walk towards the vault, whilst his colleague remained overlooking the entrance doors and yelled "Hurry up!", after noticing a flurry of activity outside from curious onlookers. Matasareanu jammed the muzzle of his rifle into the ribs of the manager, encouraging her to open the door. As the door was finally opened, all three entered the vault and Matasareanu dragged a large black and blue case inside, demanding they fill it with money.
Matasareanu demanded more money, "I know you have more than $2 million", he told the manager. Her hands trembling with fear, she began to unlock the reserve teller boxes and empty the contents into the case. Matasareanu was not satisfied, "I want more money, I want the 100's", he told her, and she opened a second reserve teller box and added more money to the growing pile. "I want it all, I want more money!", he shouted. A third teller box was emptied, as the gunman issued threats of execution if more money was not forthcoming. At this point a large Berger cabinet was opened and more bundles of cash was dropped into the case. "There's more! You just had a shipment!", Matasareanu screamed as he began to get more and more impatient. The female manager then bravely spoke up, "This is it" she told the masked gunman. "I know you have more reserve", Matasareanu told her. He then fired a single round inside the vault, which must have sounded to those outside in the lobby as though he had made good on his promises of execution.
He began to usher the women out of the vault towards the reserve teller area. The manager walked over to the Cash on Wheels, a wheeled lock-box used to transport cash reserves, and unlocked it. Phillips grew more impatient and screamed from the other side of the bank, "Hurry up Bitch or i'll kill you!", he threatened. As she stuffed the last of the money into the case, it was almost overflowing with their haul. What the two gunmen did not realise was that their swag included 'bait bills', which had been included as a system of traceable bills which if stolen could be traced to where they were spent and hopefully who spent them. Phillips was still roaming the lobby area, switching between the entrance doors at the north and south sides, checking for police.
Security footage of the robbery seemed to indicate Phillips was having vision trouble with his ski-mask. He was seen tugging it down because it was obscuring his vision. At one point he appeared to lift it so far that it exposed the lower half of his face, something that was spotted by a witness. He then checked his watched and yelled to Matasareanu, "We have to get out of here!". They had been in the bank for approximately 7 minutes and the silent alarm had already summoned the LAPD. Matasareanu ordered everyone behind the teller line into the vault and the two men prepared their escape. Matasareanu began dragging the heavy case and exited the south teller door and joined Phillips in the lobby area from where they both headed towards the south entrance where their car, fitted with false plates, was waiting in the parking lot.
Phillips went outside first, his rifle raised as he surveyed the surroundings, checking for police. Outside numerous civilians who were aware that a robbery was in progress sat in their cars and saw the gunmen exit the bank. As they walked over to the Chevy, Phillips stood guard whilst Matasareanu placed the large case inside the trunk. He then climbed into the drivers seat, removing his jacket as he did so, exposing his tan bulletproof armour. As Phillips got into the vehicle, a customer from inside the bank ventured towards the south door and watched as they did so and noted the license plate number. Those inside the vault were told the robbers had left and were able to leave. As they left the parking lot, a civilian in a grey Ford F150 pick-up truck overheard a female customer in the parking being warned about a robbery in progress, and he decided to give chase.
As the white Chevy travelled south along Winnetka Avenue, Matasareanu began honking the horn to move other vehicles out of the way, whilst the Ford kept a trailing distance behind. They escaped towards the suburbs, passing through stop signs towards the intersection south of the bank and onto Lanark street. They eventually reached the intersection at Limerick Avenue and Armita Street. At this point the Ford driver was only two cars length away and saw that both men were still wearing their black ski-masks and carrying their weapons, which were clearly visible to any passerby. The Chevy ran another stop sign and turned right on Armita, and at this point the Ford driver backed off and came across a police cruiser to notify them of his pursuit. Phillips and Matasareanu were last seen heading south towards McNulty Avenue and soon disappeared from view.
Despite their intricate planning, they made a costly error when they miscalculated the amount held at the bank that day. However, they still came away with their biggest haul so far, approximately $794,200. Unbeknown to either, there were traceable 'bait bills' within this amount, which could lead back to them if they were to spend it. Although they wore ski-masks with dark glasses underneath, they were still easily identifiable as two Caucasian males because of Phillips trouble with his mask, and Matasareanu's gap between his sleeve and his watch, something that was observed by one of the tellers. But this alone was not enough to identify either of them, and although they were never definitively proven to have carried out this robbery, it had all the hallmarks of one of their signature bank heists. They had netted around $1.5 million from two robberies and because both men were heavily armoured and used high-powered weaponry, they were dubbed the 'High Incident Bandits' by investigators.
The North Hollywood Bank Robbery (28 February 1997)
After another long hiatus Phillips and Matasareanu decided, quite inexplicably, to plan another bank robbery, despite their large return from the two previous heists. They spent months preparing their raid on the Bank of America branch 384 in North Hollywood, and had numerous weapons including a semi-automatic HK-91 as well as several illegally converted weapons such as a fully automatic Bushmaster XM15 Dissipator, a fully automatic Norinco Type 56 S-1 and two Norinco Type 56 S rifles. Phillips would wear body armour equal to roughly 40kg of equipment, including a Type IIIA bulletproof vest and groin guard, a load bearing vest with multiple pouches to store ammunition along with several pieces of home-made armour which covered his forearms, thighs and shins, meaning he had decked out almost his entire body in bulletproof armour.
Unlike his fellow bank robber, Matasareanu opted to wear only a Type IIIA bulletproof vest, but decided to include a metal trauma plate to protect his vital organs. In previous robberies, they had made a note of how long it took police to respond to the scene, and came up with an estimated time of eight minutes before they had to leave the bank. To track the time they both had watches sewn onto the back of one glove each to monitor the response time. They also planned the destruction of the getaway car, by placing a jam jar filled with gasoline on the back seat so they could set it on fire to obliterate any evidence. As they pulled up outside the Bank of America branch, both Phillips and Matasareanu took the barbiturate phenobarbital, a drug prescribed to Matasareanu as a sedative, in order to calm their nerves. Armed with Norinco Type 56 S-1 rifles, they proceeded inside the bank.
As they walked into the lobby, Phllips and Matasareanu encountered a customer, 23-year-old Armen Iskaudaryan standing at the ATM machine as he deposited $85 and was waiting for his receipt. Noticing someone approaching him from behind he turned and came face to face with Phillips, who placed his hand on the man's shoulder and ushered him inside the bank telling him, "Ok motherfucker let's go". This incident was caught on the ATM surveillance camera. When the young man was forced onto the floor, the scuffle was witnessed by one of the two security guards, who radioed to his colleague in the parking lot telling him, "We are being robbed, get out of here and call the police." For some reason this message was never received, however the police were already on their way.
One customer waiting in the teller line, Anita Hernandez, recalled afterwards how she saw, "This huge monster, this guy in black, with a big ol' rifle pointed down". She was referring to Matasareanu as he strode forward and in an attempt to scare the approximately thirty customers and bank staff shouting, "Everyone down!, This is a fucking hold-up! Everyone down, motherfuckers!", whilst Phllips yelled, "This is a fucking hold up!, Everyone down Motherfuckers!". Both men fired into the ceiling to discourage anyone entertaining the idea of resisting or any would be heroes. One of the tellers behind the counter at window 12 saw the robbers enter and dropped below the counter, pressing the hold-up button as she did so.
Outside the bank, LAPD officers Martin Perello and Loren Farrell took up defensive positions and awaited back-up. Fearing for the safety of those inside the bank, Farrell radioed in to dispatch once again, "Laurel Canyon north of Kittridge, we have shots fired". As other officers and detectives arrived on the scene they were deployed to strategic locations around the bank, and officers from the nearby North Hollywood station were starting to mobilise.
Inside the bank customers and staff were scrambling to obey the gunmen's orders to lay down. One customer, 79-year-old Mildred Nolte was understandably slower than most and Matasareanu struck her across the face, knocking her glasses to floor. She would later recall, "I guess I didn't get down fast enough." Matasareanu then walked over to the door which led into the teller enclosure, which separated the customer from the teller, and was made from a 1 1/4 inch thick bullet resistant poly-carbonate. It was designed to stop pistol rounds upwards of a .44 calibre, but easily overcome by Matasareanu's high powered rifle.
As he squeezed the trigger, the rounds penetrated the locking mechanism and he gained entry to teller area and vault. Matasareanu then shouted, "Get the money or we kill you!". The assistant manager John Villigrana stepped forward and was frogmarched behind the teller line to get the second set of keys. Matasareanu struck him in the head with the stock of his weapon, and Villigrana shouted, "I'm doing what you want!". Outside the bank the second security guard was returning along with three would be customers, all oblivious to what was going on inside the building.
As they approached the south western doors, they heard Phillips shouting commands to the hostages to stay down. The four then retreated back and were met by police officers by the south lot and taken to safety. Five people who were in the safety deposit box room when the robbery began now came face to face with the hulking Matasareanu, who ordered them out screaming, "Move it, move it!", and fired off more rounds from his rifle to encourage them to move faster. At that moment, officers outside noticed someone appeared at the bank's ATM lobby, it was Phillips. He opened one of the north doors and peered outside, then walked out onto the sidewalk and looked around. From his vantage point Phillips would have only seen several police cruisers, and possibly only afew uniformed officers. He then turned and walked inside the bank.
Back inside the vault Villigrana was ordered by Matasareanu to place bundles of notes in the robbers money bag. The men expected there to be roughly $750,000 inside the vault, but due to a recent security measure instigated by Bank of America, the delivery schedule was changed and the vault contained significantly less money. Phillips continued to patrol the lobby, at one point striking a customer in the face who wasn't looking directly at the floor and then walked over to the security guard. He placed his boot on the guard's neck and pointed the muzzle of his gun at his him declaring, "If you move motherfucker, I will kill you. When I tell you, I want you to move all these people to the vault". The guard nodded and then Phillips walked off shouting, "Nobdoy look at me or I will kill you!".
Alone with Villagrana, Matasareanu was losing his patience within the vault. The bank had not received it's delivery of cash for the day and he knew the small denomination bills would not be enough. "Where's all of it?," he screamed, "I want you to open up all of it!". The assistant manager attempted to explain that the delivery had not yet arrived. The gunman refused to accept it and pointed his rifle into one of the cash boxes and opened fire. He then placed the muzzle of his weapon in Villagrana's face, in an attempt to intimidate him further. "More money or you die," he told him. Phillips continued to pace back and forth in the lobby, occasionally checking his stopwatch and shouting, "Stay down!, don't look at us!".
Outside there were around 9 officers and detectives taking up positions and many more on the way. Sgt. Larry "Dean" Haynes and officer Martin Whitfield were to the north of the bank, whilst Farrell and Parello covered the south. Officer Edward Bretlinger had arrived in his cruiser and took up a position to the northeast. Meanwhile rookie officer James Zboravan along with Officer Stuart Guy and detectives Tracey Angeles and John Krulac were positioned opposite the banks doorway to the west. Reinforcements were still on their way, and those present were aware that the gunmen inside the bank were armed with heavy firepower.
John Villagrana had emptied all of the cash available inside the vault, a total of approximately $303,305. When Matasareanu turned away, he slipped in three dye packs which would later go off inside the bag when the robbers got six feet away from the bank, ruining the money. Matasareanu dragged the nylon bag out of the vault and Phillips began yelling to a member of staff, "Open the door!, Open the fucking door!". The fearful employee quickly opened the undamaged door at the southern end of the teller line, allowing Matasareanu through. Phillips turned his attention to the security guard, "Move these people to the vault... NOW!", he demanded.
A female Bank of America employee acted on her own initiative, stood up and began herding the terrified customer into the vault. In the confusion several tellers were cut off from the rest of the hostages and remained in the lobby area. It was around 9:24am and the robbery had been going on for seven minutes and twenty two seconds. Whilst Matasareanu remained inside with the money bag, Phillips exited the bank at the north-east door from where he would confront the first responders.
The North Hollywood Shootout
Many officers outside the bank must have thought the robbers would see they were surrounded and soon give up. No one could have been prepared for what happened next. Phillips came menacingly from the northeast door and into the AMT lobby, peering out of the door. He swung his Norinco rifle up to shoulder level and surveyed the additional units who had taken up positions since he last checked the unfolding situation. As he raised his gun to the right and aimed it, depressing the trigger, the high velocity rounds began hitting police officer Haynes cruiser, shattering the windows and showering the bodywork. Haynes jumped for cover as over a dozen rounds hit his vehicle.
Noticing more movement to his left, Phillips re-positioned his rifle, aiming it at Whitfield's cruiser and emptied the remainder of his drum magazine into the car. The rounds struck the windshield and went through to the back window, hitting the police officer in the upper body. Other officers began to take cover. Another police cruiser crewed by officers Schram and Lantz was parked in the northeast bank parking lot. As the officers relocated across Archwood St, Phillips noticed them and opened up a barrage of gunfire. Lantz was hit as he made his way across the street, a bullet hitting him in the inside of his left knee.
Schram returned fire on Phillips, but his bullets seemed to have no effect. Reinforcements were taking up positions towards the south of the bank and several more were moving north and eastwards in an attempt to flank the gunman. Moment before Phillips left the bank, a Eurocopter A-Star 350 of the Los Angeles Air Support Divison, crewed by Charles "Chuck" Perrigey Jr and a reserve pilot training officer arrived at the scene. Looking up, Phillips noticed them and began firing into the air. Although his bullets missed, they pulled out to a safe altitude to survey the unfolding crime scene.
Phillips continued to fire at the officers and civilians taking cover, and most were pinned down due to the ferocity of the heavy weaponry used by the gunman. As he continued to target officers Schram and Lantz, Phillips failed to notice officer James Zboravan who was moving around the side of Hughes Market parking lot armed with an Ithaca Model 37 shotgun. As he got around behind Phillips, Zboravan aimed at his back and pulled the trigger, firing twice. Either Zboravan's aim was off or the range was too far, but only eight of the eighteen pellets hit Phillips in the back. Unbelievably, one pellet managed to circumvent Phillips armour and wound him in the buttocks area.
He stumbled, but soon regained his stance and turned to face officer Zboravan, who started to retreat towards a keyshack kiosk. Detective Krulac wryly commented to his fellow officers about where they were positioned, "You know, this makes lousy cover". He was soon to be proven right when Phillips opened fire on the kiosk, and the officers hidden behind it. The wooden structure was torn apart by the bullets, and the policemen, who were not wearing any bulletproof vests, soon dived for the asphalt. As officer Zboravan jumped to protect Detective Angeles, he was wounded.
Phillips then turned his attention northwards, where Sgt. Haynes, officer Whitfield and three civilians were hidden. Haynes had taken over from officer Farrell and was relaying a running commentary of the events to the LAPD dispatch at the Parker Centre. Phillips began firing at the vehicle these people were standing behind, the bullets tearing through the hood and atleast one struck Haynes in his left shoulder area. As he continued to fire, two of the civilians were also hit and they dropped to the ground. One woman attempted to escape the chaos, and a bullet hit her foot.
Officer Zboravan had been shot three times, and was bleeding heavily. Detective Krulac helped him to his feet and together they darted from car to car in an attempt to reach safety towards a nearby building. Phillips spotted them and pointed his weapon in their direction as they hid, the bullets tearing through the vehicle they were crouched behind and showering them with glass. Both men jumped into a nearby doorway to escape the onslaught. Officer Guy and Detective Angeles also used the same tactic of moving between cars for cover, however Phillips noticed the female detective and fired in her direction. At that moment she tripped and dropped her radio and pistol.
But Phillips then noticed Zboravan and Krulac again and switched to firing on their position. This allowed Guy and Angeles to scramble for cover. Phillips continued to fire on the officers, for what must have seemed like eternity, but was around 3 minutes from when he first left the bank and over 300 rounds had been fired at police. At approximately 9:27am, he stopped firing and re-entered the bank, no doubt to inform his colleague they were now facing a small army of police officers. In this brief respite, detective Krulac was able to get the injured officer Zboravan to the safety of a nearby dentistry office from where received medical attention from Dr. Jorge Montes.
The officers surrounding the bank were now aware they were seriously outgunned, and the 9mm sidearms were no match for the heavy weaponry they were facing. More officers began to arrived and take up positions in small groups. Co-ordination and command of these units was non-existant, until Lt. Nicholas Zingo, the North Hollywood Watch Commander arrived on the scene. Two and a half minutes after he returned inside the bank, Phillips discarded three empty ammunition drums and then re-emerged into the ATM lobby, dragging behind him the Trawell duffle bag Matasareanu had filled up with money. Matasareanu followed closely behind and they both stayed in the lobby area, firing their weapons.
They targeted another two officers, exchanging positions and causing their targets to retreat. Officer Guy was hit in the leg, the intensity of the round caused his trousers to light on fire and lifted him off his feet. Detective Angeles was also wounded and the cordon around the gunmen was beginning to retreat under the pressure. SWAT teams were on their way, but for now the police at the scene were severely outmatched. Anyone who reared their head to get a take on the situation were sprayed with bullets. Phillips and Matasareanu were about to head towards their waiting vehicle, advancing in the direction where officers Haynes and Whitfield were positioned.
Both men made a run for safety as the gunmen fired in their direction. Phillips had slung the money bag over his shoulder and was firing his Norinco at them. Matasareanu knelt on one knee and provided covering fire for his partner. Haynes and Whitfield both made a run for safety, reaching the trees lined to the west of Laurel Canyon Boulevard, and using them for cover. Officer Whitfield was wounded as a bullet hit his upper thigh, and he collapsed as the tree was hit by more bullets from the gunmen. At some point Sgt. Haynes was wounded for a second time as he tried to find shelter behind a tree.
Phillips and Matasareanu were now completely surrounded, but they held the advantage in their superior firepower. Their plan had now gone completely awry, and their successful getaway was now their top priority. Larry Phillips moved northwards, with the money bag still slung over his shoulder. By now the dye packs had detonated inside the money bag, ruining some but not all of their haul, as most were wrapped in plastic wrappers. Matasareanu remained in the ATM alcove, laying down suppressing fire. As Phillips arrived at the Chevrolet Celebrity, he dropped the bag by the passenger door and moved to the trunk where he retrieved another ammunition belt, similar to the one depleted around his waist.
He then spent the next 22 minutes in this location, firing at nearby officers. Both gunmen could have taken this opportunity to get inside the getaway car and escape the scene, but oddly they chose not to. Matasareanu moved from the ATM lobby, following the same path Phillips had taken, and was struck by a bullet fired from the left-hand direction, which hit him above the right eye. Badly wounded, he dropped to one knee momentarily, clutching his head with his gloved hand. It is believed he was hit again by a second bullet, this time in his leg. He then climbed inside the getaway car and remained there for the next twenty minutes.
Possibly unaware of his wounded partner, Phillips continued to lay down fire from the north-eastern corner. He was shot numerous times by police, and most of the bullets failed to penetrate his armour, but he was wounded at least three times. The Eurocopter A-Star 350 piloted by Chuck Perrigey was still overhead, and was eventually joined by no less than five media helicopters. On the ground, officers were closing in on Phillips, who continued to open fire on those officers surrounding the north-east corner. Officer's Harley and Bancroft began firing as he diverted his attention elsewhere. Around twenty seven shots were fired at Phillips by officer Brentlinger, but most had little effect.
He continued to play cat and mouse with the police, and at one point he motioned in Matasareanu's direction, as if beckoning his partner to support him. The wounded Matasareanu remained in the vehicle. Bancroft and Harley started to raise their heads and fire at Phillips, watching as the bullets hit his clothing, having little effect. Phillips returned fire at the two detectives, before standing up and moving towards the Chevrolet. At that point he noticed officer Brentlinger at the north end of the lot and let of about 40-50 rounds with his Norinco in quick succession.
Attempting to reach the scene was members of Los Angeles infamous Special Weapons and Tactics Unit, however they were stuck in the chaos of the backlogged traffic. Because of the threat to public safety, Phillips now became the main focus of Watch Commander Lt. Zingo's strategy. Officers made their way to a B&B gun store on Oxnard Street, where Phillips appeared to be making his way towards, and there they planned to retrieve weapons to take down the heavily armoured gunman.
Phillips remained for the moment by the Celebrity, firing his weapon at several officers, and wounding officer Brentlinger with shrapnel. He switched between these two locations for afew moments, before Bretlinger relocated his position because of the increasingly powerful rounds hitting his location. Another officer, Conrado Torrez was wounded and backed away. Phillips targeted several officers at a del Taco restaurant, and he was hit with return fire, one bullet hitting his steel trauma plate covering his chest. Winded, he bent down momentarily, as bullets whizzed behind him and hit the wall.
He dropped to one knee and began reloading the drum of his rifle, then stood back up and fired more rounds at the del Taco restaurant. Phillips turned around and encountered even more officers, including Officer Caprarelli and Valadares along with three other policemen. Phillip fired on them, wounding officer Valadares as the officers retreated to safety behind a garage. Other officers were now arming themselves at the B&B gunstore. Phillips made his way to the rear of the Chevrolet, and reloaded a fresh drum onto his Norinco before laying it down inside the trunk and removing a Heckler & Koch Model 91. He then stood at the driver side door and took shots at anyone he could see. He was wounded again from returning fire, but saved from serious injury due to his bodyarmour.
Despite the danger, media crew were moving in close to where the gunman was firing at police, hoping to get a better view of the unfolding shootout. At this time photographers Gene Blevins and Mike Meadows and a Telemundo52 crew were in the Valley plaza parking lot, not far from where Phillips was firing his weapon. They mistakenly believed he was a SWAT team member and filmed him for a total of eleven minutes, capturing much of the engagement at the north lot.
Instead of exiting the area at this stage, Phillips resumed his position and started firing again. Noticing a media helicopter hovering overhead, he started raking it with bullets, causing it to back-off. Some officers attempted to rescue their wounded colleagues from the firing line. Phillips was firing from both weapon, alternating between the Norinco rifle and Heckler and Koch. Inside the vehicle, Matasareanu had regained his composure from his head wound and overheard on the police scanner that SWAT teams had arrived at their location.
Four black and white SWAT team armoured trucks parked up at the curb of Victory Boulevard. Four officers, Gomez, Weireter, Massa and Anderson began taking up positions and commandeered a large armoured truck owned by Armoured Transport Inc. Matasareanu fired up the Chevrolet and reversed it out of its spot. The getaway car was ready for them to escape the scene, despite two flat tyres from incoming fire, but Phillips had other ideas. He decided to continue firing on police for a further twenty minutes, targeting the officers hidden at the del Taco restaurant again and Matasareanu was firing his weapon from the passenger seat.
Continuing to fire his rifle north along Laurel Canyon Boulevard, Phillips targeting numerous officers crouched at their positions. Returning police fire caused him to briefly return to the getaway car, and he was wounded a further three more times. One bullet struck his left hand, passing through the back of his thumb, causing him to drop his left hand from the rifle. He continued to fire the gun one-handed, until further bullets caused significant damage to the Norinco. Phillips was forced to swap to the Heckler & Koch and moved toward the trunk again to select another Norinco Type 56.
The SWAT team manoeuvred the armoured truck they commandeered and were on their way towards the wounded officer Whitfield and the civilians hiding close by. Phillips moved back towards the passenger side of the Chevrolet, and was hit by another bullet, this time hitting his left forearm and tearing flesh underneath his armour. His arm was now partially incapacitated, and he struggled with the Norinco, trying to better position it. Despite his wound he was soon standing upright again as Matasareanu pushed the passenger side door open and moved into the driver's seat. Phillips soon closed the door, intending for Matasareanu to drive out of the area whilst he walked alongside to provide covering fire.
As Matasareanu swung the car north towards the exit, Phillips walked slowly beside, his weapon at the ready. However, before they reached the exit, Phillips threw a drum magazine he was carrying onto the roof, and Matasareanu brought the car to a halt. Phillips had seen a target he wanted to neutralise and began firing at someone to the west. After firing three short bursts of no more than nine rounds, he retreated towards an Oldsmobile parked along the eastern boundary wall. Matasareanu began inching the getaway car forward, impatient to leave. Phillips continued to fire from his position towards multiple directions. He began to walk back towards the Chevrolet, but suffered another weapons malfunction and began rapidly moving his arm. Matasareanu edged the car out onto Archwood Street, and they were moving down North Hollywood.
Phillips turned east, then turned west back towards Haynes and Whitfield's cruiser located at the intersection of Laurel Canyon Boulevard. At this moment, Phillips was struck again, this time in his neck. The bullet managed to miss his bodyarmour and caused significant damage, but he seemed unperturbed. A second round hit in almost the exact same spot and again he appeared to shrug it off as a minor flesh wound but was in fact fatal. The bullet had severed his subclavian artery, before fracturing his shoulder blade and lodging in his back muscles.
It appeared Phillips gun jammed at this point, and Matasareanu lost sight of his fellow gunman who hid behind a trailer. He was attempting to release the stoppage in his Norinco, which caused the weapon to jam, known as a 'stovepipe', when a casing fails to eject properly and becomes hung up under the left side rail within the receiver. The only choice was for Phillips to rack the rifle in an attempt to loosen the casing. He tried three times, but he failed to release the stovepipe from the ejection port. His rifle was now completely useless as he tried in vain whilst crouched behind the trailer.
Officers began targeting Matasareanu as he drove the Chevrolet slowly so as not to lose sight of Phillips. Several rounds struck the car, all of which missed him as he dived for cover along the bench seat. As a result the car bounced off the curb at the corner of Archwood and Agnes and came to a halt. The two gunmen were now separated, and more officers were taking up positions and laying down fire. Phillips came under increasing pressure, being hit several times by officer Caprarelli's Beretta 92.
Still unable to clear his rifle, Phillips was now bleeding heavily from his wounds as he walked out from his cover. SWAT officers armed with Remington 700 series bolt action rifles were moving into position. As he walked back onto Archwood Street, he reached into his jacket and pulled out a stainless steel Beretta 92, a weapon almost identical to those used by most officers on the scene. Running on pure adrenaline, Phillips surveyed the area and the officers closing on his location. He started firing indiscriminately, and was hit by a bullet which impacted his right hand, causing him to fumble and drop the Beretta. Staggering back, he bent down and retrieved his sidearm and then swung it up underneath his chin and pulled the trigger.
As he dropped to his knees, collapsing onto his left side he came to rest on the sidewalk. The suicide of 26-year-old Lary Phillips Jr. was caught on tape by the circling media helicopters as bullets continued to whizz past, hitting the curb and ricocheting in all directions. Police approached cautiously towards the now lifeless body of the bank robber, and officers Flores and Eck rolled him onto his stomach and placed handcuffs on before removing his ski-mask. They realised he was dead, noticing a large wound on Phillips head. Several officers guarded his body whilst others converged on the remaining gunman.
Matasareanu continued to move slowly along Gentry Avenue and Ben Avenue at about 10 miles per hour, still believing Phillip would soon join him and oblivious as to his fate. With the trunk to the Chevy still open, and three tyres flat, Matasareanu continued to put some small distance between himself and the uniformed officers surrounding his location. He eventually reached the intersection at Agnes and Gentry and straight through the still flowing civilian traffic, causing several cars to halt. His plan was to acquire a new vehicle, and he spotted a GMC Astro recovery vehicle.
He pulled in-front of a red Ford Tempo, the driver of which immediately realised the situation and threw the car into reverse. Matasareanu then exited the Chevy through the passenger door, inexplicably waving at the Tempo to return. When this failed he raised his Norinco rifle and fired a single round at the fleeing driver. He then turned to face eastwards, back to where Phillips had last been. At that moment he may or may not have seen the lifeless body of his fellow bank robber. He then limped slowly around to the driver's side door of the Chevy and got inside. His movements were captured by the media helicopters overhead, whilst officers on the ground were converging on his location.
Once more he put the car into drive and moved slowly along Archwood St., but the vehicle was badly damaged. At this point he decided he must hijack another car, and pulling onto Radford he tried to block an oncoming vehicle with his own. Coming up to the Hinds intersection, he swung the Chevy a hard left and impacted with a green Sedan. Changing his mind, he the noticed a yellow 1962 Jeep Gladiator, driven by Bill Marr. SWAT officers were converging on his position, whilst others attempted to extract wounded officers, including officer Whitfield.
As he saw Matasareanu approach, Marr escaped his truck and ran to safety. The gunman transferred a Buschmaster XM15E2S from the trunk of the Chevy to the front seat of Marr's truck. He then fired a single round from his Norinco at a target westwards along Archwood. Matasareanu sat in the Jeep but was unable to workout how to operate it, not realising Marr had activated an electrical kill switch before he fled. At this point a SWAT team arrived not far from his position, and he exited the truck and began firing on them. Officer Anderson raised his rifle and hit Matasareanu in the centre mass of his chest with a double tap, hitting his steel trauma plate, which instantly winded the gunman.
The SWAT officers alternated in providing covering fire to keep Matasareanu under constant fire. In a bid to stop this dangerous criminal, the officers decided to target the most vulnerable parts of his body. They fire shots under the vehicle, striking at his unprotected legs. A volley of shots hit his kneecap and brought him to one knee, but he refused to surrender and continued to fire at officers. More shots hit his thigh caused him to twist awkardly, and he raised his rifle above the hood of the Chevy and fired off more shots. Hunkered down at the front of the Chevy he and more bullets hit their target. Almost out of ammunition for his MX15, and with no sidearm, Matasareanu started to return fire from under the Chevy. Officer Gomez saw an oppurtunity and fired at Matasareanu, hitting his foream with three, possibly four shots.
Matasareanu had finally given up and raised his hands in surrender. Unable to see his hands, officers continued to fire on him. With no more shots coming from his position, officer Gomez moved in cautuously and saw Matasareanu on the floor and ordered him to roll over. Kicking the target to roll over, officers Gomez and Massa trained the muzzles of their rifles on him and handcuffed him. At 10:01am, the North Hollywood Shootout was over, 44 minutes after it had begun. Matasareanu was placed under guard by detective James Vojtecky and Officer John Futrell, and there he remained for the next sixty-five minutes. Medical personnel were refused permission to enter the 'hot zone' area, and he eventually died from his wounds just after 11:00am.
The confrontation between Phillips and Matasareanu had been one of the most intense gun battles in the American criminal history. The two gunmen had fired a total of approximately 1,100 rounds at police, whilst officers had returned around 650 rounds to bring them down. Both gunmen lay dead and 12 police officers had been wounded in the line of duty, whilst numerous vehicles and property had been damaged or destroyed in their attempt to escape the scene. The actions of the LAPD in not allowing Matasareanu medical attention would result in a lawsuit brought about by his family, against both the police department and the City of Los Angeles for allowing his death to occur whilst in custody.
Written by Nucleus