Winnetka, Los Angeles.
Nestled roughly centrally on the western side of the San Fernando Valley, Winnetka, built from a farming community in 1922, Winnetka appears at first glance to be achingly similar to many other areas of the metropolis.
Yet this community is often seen as a transitional area between urban and suburban, traffic is high volume, demographics are predictably mixed, and the whole neighborhood is served by eighteen bank branches, three of which are Bank of America.
It is to one of those branches, the branch opened in 1963 that stands at the intersection of Roscoe Boulevard and Winnetka Avenue, which we now turn.
The Bank of America branch in question is sited on the southeast lot of the above named intersection.
It shares that land parcel with an ARCO gas station.
Directly to the north lies another gas station.
Northeast of the bank a Mercedes repair shop and finally to the west an elementary school, although these two locations play no part in the events to follow.
The branch in question flanked on one side by the ARCO station is hemmed in on the other by what is now a hotel called Paradise Lodge, but in 1995 it was a Days Inn.
The Arco gas station and the bank lot are separated by an access alleyway that leads to a substantial rear parking lot. This access alley will become vitally important in the events of 14th June 1995 and how we understand the presented information.
This boundary line was divided in 1995 by a four foot high brick wall. That wall has since been removed and replaced by a chain link fence of similar height. One can only assume the removal was predicated by the events of the day in question.
The day in question dawned with the air temperatures in the mid 60's, a 12mph wind kicked up out of the east throughout the morning; it was a typical beautiful Californian day.
Cook had arrived at Brinks after the economic collapse of the early 1990's; originally an aerospace engineer he had accepted a job as a cash courier to provide for his family. He was cognizant of the risks involved with his new profession, having had conversations with colleagues about the risks of being robbed. Robbery was always one thing that could be on the menu, his own murder I cannot imagine he had ever envisioned.
What we can see of the subsequent investigation is extraordinarily limited.
As Cook's murder has never been officially solved then an open case file within the Robbery/Homicide Division probably still remains, albeit in inactive status (we cannot even get a case status from them). However, as it may be an open case that might explain why we have had extraordinary difficulty getting close to ANY pertinent documents and as such have had to do make do with a very lightweight FBI file.
Maybe a decade ago, some time around 2012-2013 we placed a number of FOIA requests with the FBI; one of those requests was for the file on the Cook robbery/murder.
What I received from them was thirty nine pages. That is all, thirty-nine.
Once we discarded some transcript cover pages we slimmed that number even further. Thirty five.
We, well I, wrote up the page for this event whilst under enormous self imposed time restraints in an effort to get content to the site so there was no gaps in the timeline. That was a mistake, because as such I don't believe we gave enough time or respect that this horrendous event deserves. Mea culpa.
About a year ago a picture surfaced that raised serious doubts about what we had written, as you shall soon see.
Let us dive into the very little that is publically available regarding this investigation.
At this busy intersection, midweek and just a hair after midday all that comes back in the FBI file is a single witness statement. One!
Despite it being known that there were multiple patrons at the Arco gas station not one of their statements is available. Maybe they are all contained within the RHD file.
The single witness statement came not from anybody within the bank, the hotel or the Arco station, but from 230ft away across Roscoe Boulevard at the Chevron gas station.
A forty-nine year old female witness from Northridge had parked her silver Buick at the pumps, facing east. (For ease of writing this she shall hereafter be referred to as Mrs. Buick)
As she started to pump gas she heard the muzzle report of a single round being fired, followed a split second later by consecutive shots. She turned to look in the direction of the gunfire, and the tableau unfolded before her.
The green arrow indicates the spot where the witness saw what was originally believed to be a black or dark blue Nissan facing away from her in the Arco forecourt. By the hood of the dark vehicle she would describe a 'very large black man leaning over the wall (gas station side), with a large rifle, possibly a shotgun'.
Witness recall is a hugely problematic issue in any investigation for a variety of reasons, especially when the incident is one of a high pressure variety. We found several parts of her recall to not fit with the logic of the situation, but this can be no fault of her own.
She describes him yelling 'GET DOWN!', to what she believed to be the Brinks guard.
Quite how she knew there was a Brinks truck at that location I do not know, as the truck would not have been evident as it was out of view from her sightline.
This gunman continued to fire at the Brinks truck, with twenty to thirty rounds of what was later believed to be .223 ammunition (although it must be noted that ammunition 'fact' was never later confirmed by any source), the rear doors of the truck were believed to have been struck six or seven times.
The first and second assumed mistakes in this statement come very close together, the first is minimal in its meaning, the second required much closer inspection.
She describes the suspect turning to the west and shouting over his shoulder to the Arco patrons (So there were customers there! Yet no witness statements!), but that would not be possible, the suspect in fact turned east to perform this action.
The second and more problematic hiccup in this statement was the following.
Here we have to pump the brakes to a complete stop.
The Brinks guard disappeared to the north side of the truck?!
This infers that Cook was then either on the south of the truck in the wide open parking lot, or worse, he was at the rear of the truck with his back to the Arco gas station, less than eight feet from the shooter.
Neither of these scenarios are likely to be real.
Cook never had chance to draw his sidearm to defend himself, his pistol was found still holstered and containing six unfired Federal +P rounds.
Had Cook exited the bank, heard shots, rotated around the truck, passing Cortez in the driver's seat (who never mentioned seeing his partner perform such an action), skirted the south side of the truck now heading east TOWARD the shooter then surely he would have drawn his sidearm to defend himself? In fact if this scenario was to be true then Cook would not have been defending himself but making moves to assault an assailant who was behind concealment and substantial cover. This scenario seems unworkable for varying reasons.
Why would you? A pistol vs. a rifle, no back up, no cover vs. an entrenched assailant. Why not return to the relative safety of the bank? But just because in the cold light of day that scenario appears to be a poor choice does not mean that it was impossible for it to happen, adrenaline does strange things to people. So whilst possible, we believe that it was not probable.
Could Cook have been at the rear of the truck, about to load the coal sacks through the rear doors when the shooter jack-n-the-box'd him from behind the gas station wall shooting him three times in the back, Cook then stumbles to the north side of the truck, seen on the way by Mrs. Buick, where he then collapsed.
Sounds plausible right? This would make sense of the fact as to why Cook never drew his weapon and to the witness seeing him move into and out of view of the service alleyway.
But again no, we do not believe this to be the case.
Scroll up and look at the picture of the rear of the truck, specifically the locking bars that run top to bottom of those doors. The locks are engaged, that means this door was never opened at this point in the timeline. Secondly, when detailing the ambush it has always been listed that Cook was struck three times in the chest and abdomen, not three times in the back. The distinction is massive and had it been an ambush from Cook's rear one would think that it would have been presented as such.
So what did Mrs. Buick see? For we believe it surely could not have been Herman Cook.
The choreography is incomplete at best, the witness statement is lacking in crucial questions as you shall see, and everything rests on recall under pressure from 230 feet away with a very limited sightline.
Let us approach what was seen by Mrs Buick in regards to suspects.
This suspect's height or weight never changes in all subsequent FBI documents.
Could it be a match for Matasareanu? Absolutely! Height and weight match perfectly. The alleged skin color though? Not so much. Height and weight is not a definitive indicator of guilt in a city of nine million people. This specific height and weight in the commission of a very unique crime starts to drain the pool substantially, but still is not definitive.
So IF, and it is a mighty large IF, suspect one was Matasareanu then suspect two must have been Phillips right? After all the only overt crimes we see them in they are always together. Must be right, right?
And this is where the last time I wrote this page I made a huge error of judgement. I jumped to a conclusion and ended up convincing myself of what I saw to make the evidence fit supposition. Not this time though.
Suspect two was initially described as a Hispanic male, 5'9 - 5'11, 150 - 170lbs. dark colored baseball cap worn backwards and dark clothing, including a calf length jacket with the word Security on the back. A calf length jacket in the middle of June? I understand that the jacket was probably used to conceal the firearm but still, a jacket of that description in the midday sun of LA in June! I can't understand how that didn't attract more attention.
The height and weight description remains almost constant through the varying FBI memos with the exception of one instance where 190lbs is listed.
Just from height and weight alone 5'11 and 190lbs could sure be a close match to Phillips, almost dead on in fact. Yet that one instance where the suspect miraculously gained between 20 and 40lbs is surely an outlier? Until we look at media articles.
Below is an excerpt from a substantial LA. Daily News article.
The question screams itself, begging to be answered.
How do we have local PD reporting 170-180 and FBI appearing to take the lead from a single witness over 200 feet away who gave 150-170? Between both sources we have a spread of 30lbs, which sounds inconsequential but at 150lbs there is no way this could be Phillips, yet at 180lbs (or 190 if you include the odd outlier in one of the FBI reports) this could very well be a match.
No other witnesses listed in the FBI file right? Back to media articles we go and almost instantly we can source an additional two witnesses.
Not so useful in regards to suspect descriptions, nothing to be gained. But if Mr Kerber gave a statement to the police or FBI why do we not see that replicated in the FBI file?
Danny Green was working at the Days Inn next door to the bank. It appears he had eyes on both suspects for a substantial amount of time.
He would have had a perfect vantage point to see all that unfolded. The windows that face the BoA parking lot are the bathroom windows of each hotel unit. A small sliding aperture, giving him excellent concealment from the gunmen below whilst affording him a grandstand view. I very much doubt the gunmen ever knew he was there and observing them.
Was his recall listed in the FBI file. Again, much like Leonard Kerber, that's a big fat 'nope!'
Interesting to note also that the FBI recovered the bank's CCTV photographs.
Whether they were activated or not is unknown, if they were maybe they showed nothing, or maybe they showed the assault against Cook. It is unknown as not a single picture has ever surfaced to the public domain.
So now comes the question? Could this have been our subjects?
The modus operandi at first appears to be a match right? An ultra violent run and gun. Yet there are things that upon closer inspection don't really match up. This is not to say that it excludes our subjects, but it certainly raises questions in the researcher's mind.
The plan for this job appears to always have been to 'drop the hopper'. This does not appear to have been an ambush and request to hand over the coal bags. This looks for all intents and purposes that as soon as Cook had unlocked the side door of the truck that the second suspect made his presence known, and when Cook turned to face his assailant he was gunned down. That's pretty brutal right? Downright cold blooded murder.
Flash forward to your knowledge of the May 1996 jobs and the now infamous robbery at North Hollywood in 1997.
Yes violence was used, yes they went in loud, and yes it was way over the top for what was required. But the level of violence was not that of instantaneously executing a bank guard or customer despite them obviously having the opportunity to do so. They retained the option of being able to escalate if the situation required. That option is conspicuous in its absence in this particular event; it was zero to 100 in an instant, the other jobs were zero to 90. I am sure you see what I am driving at here.
Yet the fact that the MO was slightly different from what came later still does not exclude our subjects. They showed levels of learning their trade in the later jobs, and this could have been a case of 'too much too soon' so they dialled it back a hair for the following jobs.
Within the FBI file was a very basic sketch of Bandit No.2.
With no other frame of reference I would convince myself that this had to have been Larry Phillips Jr.
As the years have passed and we have acquired various other photographs of Phillips from roughly around that era, this picture started to sit uncomfortably with me. Was it Larry? Really? Hmmm.
Then in mid 2022 Adrian sourced a copy of the original color sketch (this sketch was originally in the LAPD Robbery Homicide file, but that is not where he sourced it)
The getaway car also deserves mention here, for this also played a part in my belief.
The getaway car in Winnetka had originally been thought to be a dark colored Nissan, that was soon changed to be a blue or black Chevrolet Cavalier, a car very similar in size and shape to a Chevrolet Celebrity.
Phillips had purchased the infamous Celebrity seen in all following robberies in March 1995. Originally it had been blue, as can be seen in the following picture of the VIN plate with the original blue overspray from the factory.