Two jobs, $1.5 million dollars and not even close to being caught. The LAPD, the FBI, everyone who wanted a piece of them just had no idea who they were.
Even more titillating, the moniker given to them by the FBI's Bank Squad had been changed to something more racy, gone was the 'AK47 Bandits', now they were 'The High Incident Bandits' (although this name was almost definitely unknown to the duo).
Life was grand.
Money was plentiful. A veritable fleet of cars, clothes and expensive trinkets followed, along with new lodgings for both men. Phillips would have felt justified, a total of fourteen minutes 'work' had put him on course to being where he wanted to be. Financially solvent. The years of scrounging low rent criminal enterprises would have been on the way to becoming a hazy memory. Why hadn't he done this sooner? It all worked so well, he could now afford to do as he pleased.
Ego would have reigned, quietly, but reigned nonetheless for now he would be seen as a different man. Gone was the guy that didn't stand out in the crowd, now here was the guy with a Rolex on his arm driving a Jaguar one day, a Lincoln Town Car the next, and a Mercedes when the mood caught him. A pretty wife, a nice house in a respected neighbourhood, flash with the cash but not too flash you understand. A private delusion of grandeur, a public display of belonging to the upper middle class. Gone was the working class boy (if he had ever indeed been that) from the west side of Denver. Larry Eugene Phillips Jr had arrived in Los Angeles for real now, and he would soon be part of the quiet rich set. All it meant was a few more banks.
In his mind he had become what he always craved, at least partly. Yet he knew he had to be careful; splash too much cash too quickly and someone would notice and it wouldn't take long before awkward questions were being asked. So whilst the trappings of modest wealth were apparent he refrained from rolling through Beverley Hills in a Ferrari, some things were just a step too far. His fox like cunning and instincts for self preservation ruled his actions.
Then one day, somewhat out of the blue, plans changed or at least got put on hold for a while.
A hiatus was forced upon the duo, a hiatus that spawned an idea, an idea that would go so terribly wrong that it would end up costing both his and Emil's lives on a nondescript side road in North Hollywood some eight months later.
The catalyst for the idea came, unwittingly, from Matasareanu.
One night whilst taking his wife for a meal at a local Denny's fast food restaurant, Matasareanu suffered a seizure. A large one, and this time it required hospital.
The shoe that had hit him in the head two years previously during an argument in the Sinaloa household had caused trauma to his brain, a small blood clot had formed. That blood clot would be part and parcel of their downfall, in so many ways.
The pressure of the clot on his brain caused Emil to endure fade outs, occasionally to fit and as the pressure of the clot grew along with his extreme reluctance to abide by his medication to lessen the symptoms then so the fades and fits grew exponentionally.
That fateful July night saw Matasareanu taken to hospital for treatment, a treatment he was again reluctant to endure. It would require $45,000, a small surgical procedure, medication and his fades and fits should have started to see a decline.
The doctor would note that whilst highly intelligent his patient was extremely immature, detrimentally so when it came to this urgent matter of his health.
Valerie stayed at the hospital, claiming she was his aunt. Whether Cristina was ever present is unknown, the only person recorded as being seen by his bedside was his mother.
A $15,000 deposit on the surgery was paid and the operation went ahead, after anaesthesia two small holes approximately the size of a quarter each were drilled into the right and rear sides of his skull and the lesion was excised and the wound stitched. Would the clot damage be permanent? It was an unknown factor but with a continuing regime of Phenobarbital and Dilantin those fits and fades should have been easier to manage. Matasareanu, again, was reluctant in the use of this medication.
After several days post operative recovery he was released from hospital, allegedly to neglect paying the balance of his fees for the surgery.
The fits and fades didn't stop, and depression set in. A depression that may have been rooted in several areas. Allegedly his strained relationship with his wife, post operative depression and the very 'double edged sword' that the side effects of his medication were perceived to be worse that the ailment they were supposed to be managing, his curiously abandoned and failing business, and another darker, more violent reason cannot be ignored. Had Emil and Larry had something to do with Herman Cook's brutal murder the year previous? Were the cracks from this now only beginning to show? Whatever the reason, or multiplication of reasons, Matasareanu's decline into the abyss became headlong and unchecked.
Phillips, top of the world.
Matasareanu, bottom of a desolate pit.
The difference between the two men emotionally at that point could not have been more profound.
There was no way he could 'work', he needed time to recover physically and mentally.
Time that Phillips decided to use to upscale his own work gear. He had eight months.
The FBI had not forgotten them though, and whilst the duo stayed off the radar the FBI Bank Squad had laid on an expansive but ultimately futile operation in an attempt to snare them.
As part of a multi agency task force over 100 officers would stake out a series of banks that were deemed to be high risk targets that Phillips and Matasareanu might strike. Plain clothed officers littered the streets of the Valley, spending long hours in unmarked vehicles whilst tactical squads occupied the cramped confines of unmarked vans, waiting just waiting for the squawk that the men in black were close to hand.
Nothing stirred, no sign of the 'High Incident' boys.
By month's end it was decided that they had either made their money and departed or had been caught for unrelated crimes and were off the streets. With no sign of them and with operational costs mounting the task force was broken up and returned to its normal duties.
Phillips idea was not so different from the gameplan they had been using to remarkable success during both heists in May that year. Only now he decided to continue the escalatation of certain elements.
They both had bullet resistant vests, perfectly capable in their role, yet what would happen if one of them took a round in the leg? Bullet wounds are notoriously hard to explain to hospital staff and that explanation nearly always involves the presence of a police officer, not an ideal situation for a bank robber even if the cop doesn't know you are one. An idea formed, a suit of armour.
Not the 'knights of old' kind of suit of armour, not a perfectly stitched wetsuit type of armour either. Something modular, something to cover critical areas. Thighs, forearms, shins, genitals, that kind of stuff.
Phillips set out to do what he was good at, take an idea and refine it to the point of ultimate workability. He would have found out that cutting Aramid was a redundant idea, as soon as you cut through a seam the material loses a great deal of its tensile strength and its ability to repel projectiles.
Solution: Cut through the shoulder straps that hold both chest and back panels together thus not losing any strength in those two separate panels, use existing Velcro fixing points to wrap these panels around the areas requiring protection.
The plan, like the armour, was taking shape.
As 1996 drew to a close both men popped back up on the radar, for a little while at least; and their mindsets could not have been more markedly different.
Phillips visited with his father and step sisters in Denver around Thanksgiving, he arrived at their house in the 'communal' black Lincoln Town Car that he appeared to share with Matasareanu.
Phillips Sr would later remark about the brand new Nike runners and Rolex watch that his son had worn. This may give a clue into the last time Sr and Jr had seen each other face to face as Jr is known to have had that Rolex since late 1992.
There was another man travelling with Jr, it has always been presumed to have been Matasareanu, but that man stayed at the hotel and no introductions were made. The fact that no physical description about this second male was forthcoming from Sr leads one to wonder if he actually ever saw him or this person's presence was merely implied.
Jr took his father and step sisters out for dinner at a local steakhouse, and therein a conversation occurred that has been misinterpreted for years.
The conversation was recalled by Sr in the Rolling Stone article 'Sons and Robbers' by Peter Wilkinson.
Jr: Pop, I'm going to be moving out here.
Sr: What do you think you'll be doing around April?
Jr: You know, Pop, I might be dead by then, it's hard to say.
Sr: Man, don't talk like that, Christ Larry!
Jr: Seriously Pop.
Given the actions of Phillips Jr some ninety days later certain elements seized on this interaction and declared it, when aligned with Matasareanu's cry for help phone call to his mother, proof of a suicide pact; a concrete pillar of fact that these two never intended to walk away from that bank.
Phillips refusal to be taken alive was a big moment in the day of the robbery, not tactically for the outcome had already been decided when the pair were separated by the garbage truck; but insofar as the discussion it prompted later.
Thanksgiving conversation + Suicide + Matasareanu's distressed telephone call = Suicide pact.
Nothing, we believe, could be further from the truth.
There may have been elements of 'we shall never be taken alive' kind of bravado spoken between the pair but it is, in this author's opinion, unlikely that they designed the day to end with their deaths.
Jr's conversation with his father appears to be nothing more than his way of telling his father that he had plans for the future but may not be able to fulfil them due to the risk of what he had to do to realise those plans.
He knew he was operating in a high risk world, he had decided he would never allow himself to be taken alive, therefore the plans afoot to make his final 'withdrawal' from Bank of America did not come without significant risk. He accepted this and was trying to be as honest as he could with his father whilst not telling him what exactly it was he was planning. Exactly as his father had trained him to do all those years earlier.
In December 1996, Matasareanu rented a house in the hillside neighbourhood of Rowland Heights. It was not just any house, it was the largest and most expensive house on the street at the time.
The 2700sq ft 4 bedroom/3 bathroom property is sited on the side of a hill, it's rear yard overlooking the houses below. It truly was, and still is, a beautiful property.
In the bedrooms chosen for his sons he hung Winnie the Pooh curtains, yet in the garage below that bedroom he parked a vehicle that was later found to have what appeared to be bomb making equipment in the trunk. A bizarre contradiction that this author believes confirms the fact that his family were absent from that address.
There are unconfirmed reports that after the Denny's incident that his wife had taken their two young sons and moved out. Was this some form of grand gesture to win his estranged wife back? Was he attempting to show her that he was trying to break free from the lifestyle that he had shared with Phillips? Was North Hollywood to be his last job and then he was out?
Whatever the case Matasareanu's wife's name never appears on any documents we have found associated with that particular address.
Somewhere close to Christmas 1996 Matasareanu picked up the phone to his mother, it was a cry for help.
The relationship between Valerie and her son had been strained in the previous 18 months; she claimed she had not seen her son in nearly two years despite being identified as the woman at her son's bedside after his surgery. She also claimed to have never met Larry Phillips, despite him having visited her Pasadena address on several occasions, once even raising her ire when he laughed at her for caring for people for a living. She claims never to have met the man despite the 1995 gas station argument with her son when Phillips was present. Her declaration that Phillips was unknown to her speaks of distancing language, she wanted to downplay any connection to him. The connection for her son to Phillips was well established though.
Matasareanu picked the phone up to his mother, distraught, and allegedly used the words;
'Mama, I just want to die'
Given the actions of 28th February these seem like pretty damning words, and certainly enough for certain sections of the media and casual observers to say that this line from this phone call was definitive proof that Emil Matasareanu had a death wish, that he craved his end.
I say watch the video of the shootout and failed escape again, his actions were never anything more than evasive. If he had so craved death it would have been easy to find that day, yet time and time again he chose to try and find space for survival.
The 'I want to die' line was a cry for help, nothing more, nothing less. Emil's cry for help told Valerie her son and Larry were up to no good. She told Emil she would never question what he did in this world and would forgive him for anything unless he had taken a life, to which he replied he hadn't.
According to Valerie, Emil told her the life he was living was one of an animal and that he did not want his sons to be anywhere near him. Yet he seems to have stopped short of telling her exactly what he was involved in, or at least Valerie never admitted any knowledge of his criminal deeds.
As 1996 closes out we find our two subjects at the opposite ends of the emotional stability spectrum.
Phillips was making plans for his future, accepting of the fact that to implement those plans that he had to gamble with his life, a gamble whose odds he appeared to be fully cognisant of and had taken steps to improve those odds for himself.
Matasareanu would appear to have been an emotional wreck.
After the Thanksgiving trip back to Denver Phillips would drop completely off the radar, not surfacing again until that fateful day at the end of February.
Matasareanu would briefly make an appearance at the end of January. After that he too would go dark until the day of the robbery.