This week we talk about two stories where heavy armor helped criminals cause extraordinary amounts of damage. First, we dive into 1997’s North Hollywood Shootout with bank robbers Larry Phillips Jr. and Emil Mătăsăreanu before learning of 2004’s Killdozer built and driven by Marvin Heemeyer.
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The North Hollywood Shootout was a confrontation between two heavily armed and armored bank robbers, Larry Phillips Jr (26) and Emil Mătăsăreanu (30), and the LAPD. Larry and Emil first met at a Gold’s Gym in Venice, CA in 1989. They both were interested in weightlifting, bodybuilding, and you guessed it, firearms. Before they met, Larry was a habitual offender, being responsible for several real estate scams and numerous counts of shoplifting. Emil was a qualified electrical engineer and ran a pretty unsuccessful PC repair business.
On July 20th 1993, the duo had robbed an armored car outside a bank in Littleton, CO. Then on October 29th, they were arrested in Glendale just outside LA for operating a stolen vehicle. Larry had surrendered with a concealed weapon. This led police to searching the vehicle where they found two semi-automatic rifles, two handguns and more than 1,600 rounds of AK-47 ammo along with another 1,200 rounds of 9mm, and .45 ammo, as well as radio scanners, smoke bombs, improvised explosive devices, body armor vests, and three different California license plates. They were initially charged with conspiracy to commit robbery and both served 100 days in jail and were placed on three years of probation. After they were released, most of this property was returned to them with the exception of the firearms and explosives.
On June 14th 1995, the two once again ambushed a brinks armored car in Winnetka, CA, killing one guard and seriously injuring another. In May 1996, they robbed two branches of Bank of America in the San Fernando Valley area, stealing around $1.5 million. The pair were given the name “The High Incident Bandits” by the investigators due to the weapons they had used in the three robberies prior to the North Hollywood Shootout incident.
The North Hollywood Shootout
The confrontation, now known as The North Hollywood Shootout, took place on February 28th 1997 at the Bank of America and resulted in the death of both robbers, and the injury of twelve police officers and eight civilians including numerous vehicles and properties that were damaged or destroyed by the nearly two thousand rounds of ammunition fired by the robbers and police. The two bank robbers wore homemade body armor and wielded AK-47 variants, M-16 style rifles equipped with one hundred round drum magazines, an HK91 rifle, all of which had been modified to be capable of select fire, as well as a 9mm pistol. They also allegedly filled a jam jar with gasoline and placed it in the getaway vehicle with the intention of setting the car and gear on fire to get rid of the evidence. Larry wore 40lbs of equipment including a type IIIA vest and groin guard as well as a load bearing vest with multiple ammo pouches and several pieces of homemade armor created from spare vests which covered his shins, thighs, and forearms. Emil only wore a IIIA vest but included metal ballistic plating. Additionally each man had a watch sewn onto the back of one glove to monitor their timing. They arrived at the bank driving a white 1987 Chevy Celebrity at 9:16am.
Each took phenobarbital, a sedative prescribed to Emil, to calm their nerves. Toxicology would later find that Larry also had Ephedrine, a central nervous system stimulant that is often used to prevent low blood pressure during anesthesia. It has also been used for narcolepsy, and obesity. He also had phenylpropanolamine, a synthetic agent used as a decongestant and appetite suppressant. While Emil had phenytoin, an anti-seizure medication, in his system. They synchronized their watch alarms for eight minutes, which was the time they had estimated for police response, before entering the building. Larry had used a radio scanner to monitor police response to other robberies to come up with this timeframe.
Once inside they ordered everyone to the ground and fired a few rounds into the ceiling before firing at the bullet resistant door that led to the bank tellers and the vault, this door was only designed to withstand small arms fire and broke open after a few shots from their rifles. They ordered the tellers to fill the bags with money from the safe and at this point they realized there was less money here than they had expected due to a change in the bank delivery schedule, Emil became angry at this and emptied seventy five rounds into the vault door, destroying the rest of the money, they were only able to obtain $303,305 and three dye packs which later exploded, ruining the money that they stole, rather than the $750,000 that they expected.
After this, Emil attempted to open the bank’s ATM, but due to policy changes, the branch manager no longer had access to the money inside. What Emil and Larry didn’t know was that two police officers who were on patrol saw them enter the bank in their ski masks and had called for backup which responded within minutes and surrounded the bank, leading to the start of The North Hollywood Shootout.
Everything Goes Sideways in The North Hollywood Shootout
At approximately 9:24am, Larry exited the bank through the north doorway. After noticing a police car about 200ft away, Larry opened fire, wounding seven officers and three civilians. He also shot at an LAPD helicopter that was surveying from above, forcing it to retreat to a safer distance. Larry briefly took cover inside the bank before reappearing through the north door, while Emil exited through the south door. At this time police officers didn’t carry rifles or armor and were only equipped with their standard uniform, shotguns, and small caliber handguns which they soon found out were unable to penetrate the robbers body armor, an officer was heard on the radio about 10- 15 minutes into the shootout, warning other officers that they “could not stop the getaway vehicle, they’ve got automatic weapons and there’s nothing that we have that can stop them”.
Upon realizing how badly they were outgunned, some of the officers took to nearby pawn shops and gun stores to grab whatever rifles and ammunition that they could to help them hold off the robbers until the swat team could arrive. Emil was shot several times in the bank parking lot before dropping his duffle bag of money and taking cover in a getaway car, Larry retrieved another rifle from the trunk and continued firing at officers while walking alongside the sedan, using it for cover. As Larry approached the passenger door he was hit in the shoulder and his rifle was struck in the receiver. After firing a few more shots with one arm he discarded this rifle and retrieved the other one before exiting the parking lot and retreating onto the street while Emil drove.
The North Hollywood Shootout Gunmen Split Up
At around 9:52am Emil and Larry split up, Larry took cover behind a truck and eventually his rifle had jammed so he switched to his pistol and continued firing at police until an officer shot him in the hand causing him to drop the gun, after picking it back up he realized that things weren’t going in their favor, Larry took his handgun and put it to his chin, as he fell an officer shot him in the torso, severing his spine. Officers continued to shoot Larry’s body several times while he was on the ground. The autopsy could not determine whether this is what killed him or if the officer had made the fatal shot. Members of the swat team had arrived on scene by this time and were equipped with higher caliber weapons but those still had little effect on the body armor, the swat team had also commandeered an armored car to evacuate those that were wounded.
Three blocks away, Emil’s vehicle was rendered inoperable due to two of the tires being shot out and the windshield being covered in bullet holes. At 9:56am, he attempted to carjack a pickup truck by shooting at the driver, who fled on foot. He quickly moved all of his weapons and ammo to the truck before realizing that the driver took the keys with him. A patrol car driven by two swat officers arrived and stopped on the opposite side of the jeep to where the original getaway car was stopped. Emil left the truck and took cover from police behind the original getaway vehicle and engaged in two-and-a-half minutes of almost uninterrupted gunfire. Emils body armor deflected two shots from one of the officers which briefly winded him before he continued firing. They were eventually able to shoot under the truck and hit Emil’s unprotected legs, he tried to surrender but was being very hostile and uncooperative. Ambulance personnel were following standard procedure and refusing to enter the “hot zone” as emil was still considered to be dangerous and because there were rumors of a third shooter still on the loose.
Some reports say Emil was lying on the ground with no weapons for about an hour before ambulances arrived and was groaning in pain and pleading for help, police radioed for an ambulance and EMTs but Emil kept loudly swearing repeatedly and goading the police to shoot him in the head but eventually died from trauma and blood loss before the EMTs were allowed to reach the scene about 70 minutes later. Reports show that emil was shot 29 times in the legs and larry was shot 11 times including the self-inflicted wound to the chin. Most of the incident, including the death of larry and the surrender of emil, was broadcast live by news helicopters. Over 300 officers from various forces had responded to this citywide alert.
By the time the North Hollywood Shootout had stopped, Larry and Emil had fired about 1,100 rounds, approximately one round every two seconds.
The Aftermath of The North Hollywood Shootout
On April 17th 1997, local police raided a house in anaheim that was traced to larry and emil. They seized incendiary AK-47 ammo, flak jackets, ballistic helmets, approximately $400,000 in stolen cash and various firearms. One firearm in particular, a short barreled AR-15 with a red dot sight, was later released from evidence for use by a law enforcement agency. Emil’s family would later sue two police officers and the city, claiming that they were indifferent to his wounds at the scene and let him die. The case was declared a mistrial in 2000 and later dismissed.
It was this shootout that made the LAPD realize that the small caliber handguns weren’t enough and eventually received six-hundred M-16 rifles from the pentagon. LAPD patrol cars now carry AR-15s and are equipped with bullet resistant kevlar plating in the doors. The LAPD also authorized its officers to carry slightly higher caliber handguns as sidearms. 18 officers received medals of valor and were invited to meet then president bill clinton. A film was also made about the incident in 2004 titled “44 minutes: The North Hollywood Shootout”
Marvin Heemeyer was a welder and muffler repair shop owner who lived in Grand Lake, CO about 16 miles from Granby, where he eventually moved to 10 years prior to the incident according to a neighbor. In 1992, Heemeyer had purchased 2 acres of land from the Resolution Trust Company, a federal agency that was organized to handle the assets of failed savings and loan institutions. He bought the land for $42,000 and was planning on building a muffler repair shop but eventually agreed to sell the land to the Docheff family to build a concrete plant.
The price they agreed on was $250,000 but Susan Docheff claimed that Heemeyer had changed his mind and increased the price to $375,000 and then later demanded a deal worth $1 million. Some people say this negotiation happened before a rezoning proposal was heard by the town council. In 2001 the zoning commission and the town’s trustees had approved the construction of the concrete plant. Heemeyer had appealed the decisions but was unsuccessful.
Before the re-zoning, Heemeyer had using this land to access his shop, but with the newly built factory his original path was blocked. On top of this he was fined $2,500 by the city for various violations such as “junk cars on the property and not being hooked up to the sewer line”. Heemeyer had no other choice but to petition the city with his neighbors and friends but this had no effect, his shop could not function without a sewer line and the cooperation of the town.
The Killdozer is Born
In early 2003, Marvin decided that he’d had enough, he began to convert his Komatsu bulldozer into what he referred to as the “MK Tank”. He outfitted it with armor plating covering the cabin, engine, and parts of the tracks. In certain places the armor was over 1 foot thick and had 5,000 psi quikrete concrete mix shoved between sheets of tool steel that he got from an auto dealer in denver to form this makeshift armor. Marvin had successfully created a small armored vehicle that could withstand small arms fire and was resistant to explosions.
For visibility he put two monitors inside the killdozer and hooked several cameras to them, the cameras were encased in 3-inch shields of clear bullet resistant plexiglass. He also fitted these cases with compressed-air nozzles to blow away any dust or debris that would otherwise obstruct the cameras. Also inside the killdozer were onboard fans and an air conditioner to keep marvin cool while driving.
He had cut out three gun-ports, for a .50 caliber rifle, a .308 semi-automatic rifle, and a .22lr rifle, all of which were fitted with one-half-inch thick steel plates. This killdozer was both a tank and a coffin. Heemeyer had no intention of leaving the cabin once he entered. Heemeyer used a shop crane to lower the steel and concrete sarcophagus onto the killdozer once he was inside, one investigator noted “once he tipped that lid shut, he knew he wasn’t getting out.”. It was estimated that it took heemeyer over a year and a half to complete this project.
The Killdozer’s Path of Destruction
On June 4th 2004, Marvin would enter the Killdozer, lower the armor hull onto it and head for the town of Granby. He started off by driving through the wall of his former business and the concrete plant before heading into town to demolish the town hall, the office of the local newspaper that wrote an article against him, the home of the former mayor in which the mayor’s widow resided, and a hardware store owned by another man that Heemeyer had named in a lawsuit, as well as several other buildings. It was noted that Heemeyer had leased his business to a trash company several months before the incident.
His rampage lasted two hours and seven minutes, he damaged thirteen buildings and knocked out natural gas service to the town hall and the concrete plant as well as damaging a truck and destroying part of a utility service center. Heemeyer and the Killdozer caused an estimated $7 million in damage to property.
According to the county commissioner, emergency dispatchers used the reverse 911 system to alert many residents and property owners about the ongoing rampage. Heemeyer fired fifteen bullets from the killdozer at power transformers and propane tanks. The sheriffs department stated that “had these tanks ruptured and exploded, anyone within one-half mile of the explosion could have been endangered”.
Attempts to Stop The Killdozer
Cody Docheff had attempted to stop marvin at the concrete plant by using a large scraper but Marvin fired several shots at him before pushing the scraper aside. He would later fire on two state patrol officers as well. The sheriffs department later noted that eleven of the thirteen buildings that Heemeyer destroyed, were occupied until just before they were destroyed.
One officer attempted to stop the killdozer by dropping a flash-bang down the exhaust pipe but this had no effect. Local and state patrol, including the S.W.A.T. team walked behind and beside the doze occasionally firing at it but due to the armor this had no effect. Attempts were made to disable the cameras by shooting them out but the officers bullets were not able to penetrate the plexiglass case. At one point an officer climbed on top of the dozer to try and find a way in, however he was forced to jump off to avoid being hit with rubble and debris.
At this point local authorities were running out of options in terms of firepower and they feared that Heemeyer would turn on civilians. Governer Bill Owens allegedly considered authorizing the national guard to use a hellfire missile from an Apache helicopter, or a two man team equipped with a javelin anti-tank missile. As late as 2011, Governor Owens’s staff denies considering this course of action, since then state patrol members revealed that the governor did in fact consider this as an option but decided against it due to collateral damage.
The Fatal Flaw of The Killdozer
That was quickly taken off the table when Heemeyer drove through the hardware store and fell into the basement and couldn’t get out. Various problems arose as he destroyed the hardware store. The radiator of the Killdozer had been damaged and the engine had failed and was leaking. Soon after, a member of the S.W.A.T. team that had been near the dozer reported hearing a single gun shot from inside the cabin.
It was later determined that Heemeyer took his own life with a .357 handgun. Police first attempted to use explosives to remove the steel plating but after three of those attempts had failed they resorted to cutting through the plates with an oxyacetylene torch. They were finally able to remove his body at 2am on June 5th.
On April 19th 2005 the town announced their plan to scrap the Killdozer by dispersing individual pieces to prevent people from taking souvenirs. Although no one was killed during the rampage, Marvin Heemeyer’s dozer has been given the name “Killdozer” after a 1944 short story of the same name by Theodore Sturgeon.
Heemeyer’s Audio Recordings
Along with the writings that Heemeyer had left on the wall of his shed, he recorded three audio tapes explaining why he did what he did. The tapes contained two separate recordings on each side for a total of six recordings. He mailed these to his brother in South Dakota shortly before entering the bulldozer. Heemeyers brother turned these tapes over to the FBI who in turn sent them to the grand county sheriffs department.
The tapes were released on August 31st 2004 and are about 2.5 hours long. The first recording was made on April 13th 2004 and the last was made just thirteen days before the rampage on May 22nd. In the first recording, Heemeyer stated that “god built me for this job” he also stated that it was gods plan that he not be married or have a family so that he could carry out this attack. He also stated that “i think god will bless me to get the machine done, to drive it, to do the stuff that i have to do.” he also said “god blessed me in advance for the task that i am about to undertake. It is my duty. God has asked me to do this. It’s a cross that i am going to carry and i’m carrying it in gods name.”
Investigators also found a list of targets which included the buildings he destroyed along with the local catholic church which he didn’t damage, and the names of several people who were against him in past disputes. Notes that were found stated that his primary motivation for the rampage was to stop the concrete factory from being built near his shop. “I was always willing to be reasonable until i had to be unreasonable,” he wrote. “Sometimes reasonable men must do unreasonable things”
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Researched by Kraken from The Squonk & The Hag