Investigators with a variety of law enforcement agencies in multiple states believe they have identified a suspect known as the “AK-47 Bandit,” who was linked to armed bank robberies from North Bend, WA to California to Iowa over the past five years. The announcement was made today by officials with the FBI and the Chino Police Department, whose officer was shot and severely wounded following one of the robberies in 2012.
On June 19, 2017, Richard Lee Gathercole, 39, of Roundup, Montana, was pulled over by a Kansas State Trooper before fleeing in his vehicle during the attempted stop. During a high-speed pursuit, the suspect began firing at the Kansas State Trooper with an assault rifle. The suspect was able to flee the area before investigators believe he crashed his vehicle.
Investigators have determined that the suspect then stole a truck from a nearby farm before continuing north across the Nebraska border. The suspect was later successfully apprehended by the Dawson County Nebraska Sheriff’s Office and his crashed vehicle was recovered. The suspect is currently being held in Nebraska on suspicion of state violations pending further investigation.
Based on a variety of factors, to include the description of the suspect and evidence found, investigators suspect that Gathercole may be responsible for the series of six bank robberies linked to the AK-47 Bandit. These robberies occurred over three years in the states of California, Washington, Idaho, Nebraska and Iowa. The bank robberies attributed to the AK-47 series began in 2012 when the bank robber shot and wounded a police officer in Chino, California, following a bank robbery.
On June 24, 2017, a federal search warrant was served at Gathercole’s residence in Roundup, Montana, by members of the FBI; the Chino Police Department; the Musselshell County Sheriff’s Office; and the Rexburg, Idaho Police Department. Numerous Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were located at the residence and were removed and rendered safe by the Billings Police Department Bomb Squad. No threat to public safety remained following the search based on the presence of the IEDs. Investigators continue to probe the purpose of the IEDs and whether they were used in the commission of a crime/s.
During the search, investigators located several pieces of evidence they believe were used in the commission of the various bank robberies. In addition, Gathercole is known to have access to vehicles that match the description of the vehicles used to flee some of the robberies. Based on these and other factors, investigators believe that Gathercole is responsible for the bank robberies attributed to the AK-47 series.
The AK-47 Bandit series includes these robberies: February 29, 2012, in Chino (California Bank & Trust); March 12, 2012, in Vacaville, California (Bank of the West); July 6, 2012, in North Bend, Washington (Chase Bank); November 7, 2012, in Rexburg, Idaho (East Idaho Credit Union); and August 22, 2014, in Nebraska City, Nebraska (First Nebraska Bank). There was also an attempted robbery on March 9, 2012, in Sacramento, California, at the Tri-Cities Bank.
A summary of the bank robberies can be found below:
Chino Robbery and Attempted Murder of Officer
During a robbery that occurred on Wednesday, February 29, 2012, at the California Bank & Trust on 5455 Riverside Drive in Chino, California, the suspect was described by witnesses as a white male, 25-40 years old, with a stocky build. Following the armed bank robbery, a police officer patrolling the area came upon the bank robbery suspect who was fleeing the bank he had just robbed with the assault rifle. The suspect fired upon the officer and seriously wounded him. During and following the robbery, the suspect wore body armor over a dark-colored collared short-sleeved shirt and blue pants, as well as a ski mask covering his face. The suspect was seen leaving the scene in a vehicle described as a dark gray Nissan Maxima with four doors and tinted windows.
Prior to the bank robbery, a threat was called into the 911 dispatch center from a payphone in the general vicinity of the bank by a male caller. Investigators believe the suspect employed a diversionary tactic in an attempt to delay officers responding to the bank robbery.
Northern California Robbery and Attempt
On March 12, 2012, a bank robbery occurred at the Bank of the West on the 1000 block of Helen Power Drive in Vacaville, California. The same suspect was also linked to an attempted robbery three days prior on March 9, 2012, of the Tri Counties Bank on the 1700 block of Challenge Way in Sacramento, California. The suspect is believed to have used the above-described Nissan Maxima in both the Vacaville robbery and the Sacramento attempted robbery.
Washington State Robbery
On July 6, 2012, a similar takeover-style robbery occurred at the Chase Bank on Mt. Si Boulevard in North Bend, Washington. The suspect was armed with an AK-47 style rifle equipped with a drum magazine. He had a loud, deep voice with no obvious accent, and threatened to shoot the tellers if they did not hurry. The suspect carried the cash by hand as he did not bring a bag. A dirty, reddish-orange Jeep Patriot or Liberty was parked out front of the bank as a getaway vehicle. It may have had out-of-state license plates with a prominent blue stripe across the top.
On November 7, 2012, a robbery took place at the East Idaho Credit Union in Rexburg, Idaho. At approximately 4:30 p.m., the suspect entered the bank with what may have been an assault rifle and ordered the employees and customers into the vault. After obtaining the money, the suspect fled in a dark blue sedan with tinted windows and a red and blue license plate. He was last seen headed south on South Yellowstone Highway.
On the afternoon of August 22, 2014, a bank robbery took place at a First Nebraska Bank in Nebraska City, Nebraska. During the robbery, the suspect carried a duffel bag and an assault rifle with a drum magazine similar to the weapon seen in his earlier robberies. The suspect proceeded to remove cash from victim tellers’ drawers and directed employees to comply with his demands. The suspect fled the bank with the stolen cash.
A similar robbery occurred in Mason City, Iowa, and is the last known robbery linked to the AK-47 series. On the morning of July 28th 2015, a bank robbery occurred at the Heartland Community Credit Union in Mason City, Iowa. The suspect was armed with an AK-47-style rifle fitted with a large-capacity drum magazine, matching the M.O. of previous bank robberies that the AK-47 Bandit committed. During the Mason City robbery, the suspect used an improvised explosive device to threaten victim tellers.
Due to the various crimes alleged and jurisdictions involved at various levels of government, investigators continue to consult with prosecutors regarding applicable charges.
This investigation is being conducted by multiple law enforcement agencies. The investigation of the shooting at a Kansas State Trooper is being conducted by the Kansas Highway Patrol; Kansas Bureau of Investigation; the Lexington Police Department; and the Atwood Police Department.
The investigation of the AK-47 Bandit bank robbery series is being conducted by the Chino Police Department; the Rexburg Police Department; the Musselshell County Sheriff's Department in Montana; the Seattle Safe Streets Task Force; the King County Sheriff’s Office in Washington; the Vacaville Police Department; the Sacramento Police Department; the Nebraska City Police Department; the Greater Omaha Bank Robbery Task Force; as well as FBI Field Offices that cover each of the jurisdictions where robberies occurred (FBI Los Angeles; FBI Sacramento; FBI Seattle; FBI Omaha and FBI Salt Lake City).