At 9:33am on Wednesday March 27th 1996 an incident occurred in the southwest end of the San Fernando Valley that has long been tenuously linked with being the handiwork of Phillips and Matasareanu.
A truly bizarre attempt to heist a moving 25,000lb Brinks armoured car ended up being nothing more than a spectacular failure which cost the bandits more money that they earned.
The only reason this event has been linked to the infamous duo is down to the sheer bravado the would be robbers exhibited in the commission of their crime. Yet this in no way proves involvement by Phillips and Matasareanu.
In fact the evidence would seem to point to the opposite.
As 9:33am ticked across the clock on that spring morning Brinks armoured van #68304 was heading northbound in the #1 lane of Fallbrook Avenue, Woodland Hills.
The driver was alone in the cab, two 'hoppers' or messengers were in the rear of the truck as they headed to their sixth stop of the scheduled forty one stops that day. They had just left their fifth stop at the Bank of America at 22822 Ventura Boulevard after delivering a package of paperwork.
The driver, whilst steering with both hands on the wheel, also held the radio mic in his right hand. At another nearby Bank of America branch a Brinks operative who was servicing an ATM machine had spotted a black male in his late 30's in the parking lot who he thought was acting suspiciously, after calling in his suspicions he remained in contact with #68304 which was the closest truck to his location (there were at least two others in the vicinity that day two but it is unknown if any contact was made with them).
As #683904 approached the intersection of Fallbrook and Berdon St. Jose Baca, one of the two hoppers seated in the rear of the vehicle heard four shots being fired, two series of two shots, semi auto fire but very closely patterned shots.
Early 1996, Phillips and Matasareanu had been in the early planning stages of what would become their two most successful scores of their bank-robbing careers. To measure police response time, they would need some essential pieces of equipment to aid them in this aspect of their upcoming takeover bank robberies: police radio scanners.
Shopkeepers on a busy stretch of East Colorado Boulevard in Pasadena recalled spotting the 'scary' duo frequenting the local RadioShack. Phillips, the stocky 5'10" 200 pound, and the lumbering 6'2" 300 pound Matasareanu would have undoubtedly stuck out like a sore thumb. They were described as 'strange' and something about the way they had carried themselves made the shopkeepers believe they were up to no good.
With Emil's background in electronics and ham radio experience, choosing the right scanner for the job would have been a walk in the park for him. He had been a familiar but unfriendly face to this particular RadioShack location, as some employees would remember feeling uncomfortable whilst he shopped there. Things would become more uncomfortable for them this time as Emil would bring a friend along with him: Larry Phillips.
The store manager remembered the pair and their 'odd' buying habits buying mostly scanners and other radio equipment, but specifically remembered Matasareanu and his confrontational attitude toward store employees. "You couldn't miss this guy" he recalled. It has been said that Emil's behavior changed depending on the social situation. Described as 'meek' in nature by individuals close to him but putting on the 'tough guy' act towards others when in Larry's presence. Whether this was done to impress his friend Larry cannot be said with absolute certainty, but it is a very likely thing to have happened according to some stories we've been told about their friendship.
They settled for a $270 200-channel RadioShack PRO-25 scanner with a HyperScan feature that allowed for 50-channel-per-second scanning. The enlarged 'Scan' and 'Manual' buttons would have made the operation of the scanner easier for anyone wearing gloves. It was not the most expensive handheld model they stocked, but one with enough practical features that would suit their needs.
After the May 2nd strike in Van Nuys Phillips went back to work drastically altering their gear.
He decided to move them away from semi automatic rifles to full automatic, after all if the brown stuff struck the oscillating instrument then 600 rounds a minute had to be better than 100 right? It was a crude yet understandable logic.
Subtle changes to being able to comfortably control his own rifle were also added in this three week period.
As can be seen in the following photograph during the Van Nuys robbery of May 2nd the Global trades 'Donkey Dong' foregrip was not present on his rifle, yet come May 31st it was.
There is no reference to full auto fire listed in any of the files pertaining to the Van Nuys job, yet there is when it comes to the Winnetka job. We believe that the conversion was therefore carried out at some point within this three week period.
The ATF have never released detailed information about the weapons used in the shootout, only to say they were all bought legally within the US and eventually found their way down to Phillips and Matasareanu. The problem with that is that they were both convicted felons, thus excluded from owning any type of firearm. How did they get them?
A gun show booth jockey who was 'a little lax' in form filling?
Or did one of Larry's many aliases come into play here?
During a later search of a house on Sherman St, Denver connected to Phillips receipts for two rifles were found, the vendor's and purchaser's names have never been made public. No arrests have ever been made public for straw purchasing either, as they were in the Columbine High School shooting case.
One can then only assume that an alternate identity was used to facilitate purchase.
When contacted about the issue of the crime weapons, the ATF stated they held no files whatsoever regarding them, none. Everything they had was apparently passed down to North Hollywood detectives as part of their investigation. I am not sure I believe that a Federal institution such as the ATF would not retain copies of these files from such a prominent crime, yet despite repeated prodding they have always came back with the same story.
To turn a semi auto AKM to a select fire firearm is not a particularly hard job, the correct tools, the correct knowledge, patience and a little dexterity and an unregistered Class III firearm is perfectly capable of being converted in a garage workshop within a matter of hours.
To convert a member of the AR15 family however, whilst still not impossible by any means, requires a greater amount of knowledge, skill and precision. There is another cheaper and easier route to conversion but we will not go into that here as it was not the method used to convert the Bushmaster rifle recovered at the scene.
Varying agencies, the LAPD, FBI, ATF all issued contradictory statements about the conversion of four of the five rifles used on 2/28/97. Some said there was no way these men could have done the job, some said that of course it was possible. Nobody seemed to agree.
Whilst the exact truth will forever remain a mystery it is our belief that certain articles of recovered property from the Phillips home in Anaheim Hills point us toward who really converted them.
Discovered in the garage of Phillips house in Anaheim Hills was a Ryobi drill press, a vertical pillar drill. Certainly a tool very capable of drilling an AKM or AR series receiver so it would be capable of accepting an autosear pin. This item stands out in the recovered evidence list as being unusual because there seems to be no other reason to have such an 'industrial' piece of equipment in a suburban garage. There was no evidence of Phillips having woodworking or metalworking as a hobby, no half built doll houses for his step daughter, no self built cabinets, no hand crafted garden furniture.
The other tools required for conversion are several small hand tools, nothing that would stand out as unusual in a regular tool chest.
Conclusive proof that Phillips and/or Matasareanu converted the rifles has never been able to be levied against them, the argument is moot though. The end product was that by the end of May 1996 they had access to at least two highly illegal fully automatic rifles. By year's end that number would jump to at least five, four of which would be used in the upcoming robbery.
If Phillips really was the armourer, and we can see no reason and have found no other evidence to the contrary, it must be remembered that he was doing this at his home address. A major slip up for any criminal as he was tainting his clean home address with his work tools; but this may be an often overlooked point which shows us exactly when the conversion process took place.
The Ludlow Street address did not become their 'safe house' until December 1996 when Matasareanu moved out and into the Rowland Heights property.
It stands to reason then that these weapons were converted at Phillips home address, and the only reason that they were converted at that location is for the lack of an alternative workspace. If they had been converted at the Ludlow property then the pillar drill would surely have been found there and not in Anaheim Hills.