Larry Eugene Phillips Jr, the bodybuilding, bank-robbing, 'master-of-disguise', with perceived rage issues toward figures of authority.
Accurate? Or easy-to-swallow characterization for the masses?
It is for sure what popular media would like us to believe, a simple and convenient appraisal of a man who if you spend some time digging turns out to be much like the rest of us; both a simple yet complex human being wrapped in a contradictory package, very much a product of his upbringing but like us all his choices were only ever his own. Those choices were not well made it would seem.
Larry Phillips Jr (known from this point on as just "Jr") was a kid who grew up within an extraordinarily dysfunctional family, one which seemed to give him little boundaries or behavioral checks, leading him, even encouraging him to develop into a person whose intelligence was used for deviancy.
Yet despite him having an unchecked destructive streak he was also a man who displayed some level of normalcy in his personal life.
So is it possible to understand this man? That is the biggest question.
Can we chart his physical path from birth to death? Yes, absolutely.
Can we also chart his psychological journey and the things that may have influenced him? To a degree, also yes.
In the years we have been digging through this case we have always been troubled by the very one dimensional pictures painted of both Phillips and Matasareanu, they had become shallow bit part players in their own story whose actions were justified by researchers simply as 'well that's who they were' with no further explanation of cultural, personal or environmental influences, and that seemed the easy way out for those researchers who had neither the time nor the connections to really see who the men behind the masks were. We wanted to know, obviously, where these men's lives had reached a tipping point for them that the only course of action for them was to be seen on national television banging it out with LAPD on city streets at 9:30 one Friday morning.
Something had taken them there, or rather a series of 'somethings'.
That was our task to find out.
Did we find out?
To a degree, yes.
'But not all?' I hear you ask?
Well, no. Much history and many secrets died with Larry Phillips, some died with his parents and grandparents, and some are locked away with various family members never again to see the light of day.
Some should be aired so we can better understand this man; some should rightfully remain lost to time.
So hopefully with the article that follows we can add in some missing pieces to their history, but this is a deep dive, and we are going to go way back in history so please, settle in for a long read.
The perception of Phillips as a secretive isolationist who only surfaced to cause mayhem definitely has some truth to it, but strangely it is the Phillips family background that has proven to be the easiest to research.
Once I started digging I found it was possible to trace the family back to the 1700's, but let us not go that far instead let us start around the turn of the 20th Century, with Jr's great grandfather.
Many years ago, after reading Peter Wilkinson's 'Sons & Robbers' article in Rolling Stone it struck me that Jr was not a carbon copy of his father, but more of an advancement of a theme. So the question had to be asked 'What was in Sr's history that made him act like he did? Was this a generational issue, and if so, why?'
The Phillips clan has always been perceived as being a western Denver, Colorado clan but this is only where a branch of them eventually chose to settle as we shall soon see. They originally came from Pottawattamie County, Iowa, over 500 miles to the east.
On April 2nd, 1925 nineteen year old Elva Arlene Pullen married twenty-four year old Earl Robert Phillips of 2121 Avenue F, Council Bluffs, Pottawattamie, Iowa.
That address does not exist today; the land parcel and those surrounding it were restructured sometime around 1956.
On September 24th 1926 a child, Reginald Eugene Phillips, was born to the young couple. The 1930 US Census lists the four year old Reginald Eugene Phillips living with his maternal grandparents, 46 year old Roy Pullen and 44 year old Grace Pullen (nee: Kimball), their five children and 66 year old lodger. Neither the twenty-four-year-old Elva, nor the twenty-nine-year-old Earl were listed at this address.
A year later and Elva's marriage to Earl had dissolved and by January 29th 1931 she remarried William Louis Porter in Avoca, Pottawattamie, Iowa.
She from this point onward would be known as Elva Arlene Pullen Porter, the only remaining trace of Earl was his son, Reginald.
Some time between the 1934 and 1935 Censuses Elva, William, Reginald and Wilma moved from Iowa to Colorado.
By 1939 Reginald was the oldest of four children.
Wilma Darlene Porter (Born: 1934, Iowa).
Donald Dean Porter (Born: 1936, Colorado).
Velma Grace Porter (Born: 1939, Colorado).
This is how the Phillips clan came to Colorado.
The 1940 Census had the family, including the 13 year old Reginald, living at 1175 South Federal Blvd, Arapahoe, Colorado (Now a fish market). The western side of Denver would become the stomping ground for the Phillips clan for many years to come.
Further research of Reginald's service jacket is ongoing and will be added as files are released to us.
In the intervening six years since the 1940 Census the family had moved to 6604 W. 38th Avenue, Wheatridge, that land parcel now houses a bar/bowling alley.
Speaking to an extended member of Phillips family they told me that Reginald had joined the United States Navy in 1942, when he was sixteen and demobbed in '46.
In 1948, June 27th, twenty-two-year-old Reginald would have a son, Larry Eugene Phillips to mother unknown.
Reginald remained off the radar until 21st March 1952 when he married Gloria Marie Clawson, in Englewood, Colorado.
Reginald also had another son, Tim Phillips, although it is unknown at this time who Tim's mother was; the same woman for Larry and Tim or Gloria Clawson. Enquires are ongoing.
Reginald's brother in law, Gloria's brother one Dale Clawson, was a well-known police officer in Englewood, Co. I wonder if he was ever bought in by Reginald to wag the finger at Larry Sr. when he got in trouble?
For Larry trouble never seemed to be very far distant.
Only a little is known of the remaining years of Reginald's life at this point, regrettably little is also known about his son's early years. He first pops up on the radar in 1965 as a sixteen-year-old at Aurora Central High School.
Colorado State Hospital was not your average hospital. It was a mental institution.
Built in 1879 on forty acres of donated land, when it originally opened it was designed to house just fourteen patients, twelve men and two women.
January 13th 1897 (yes 1897, calm down, light a cigarette, this is all relevant-ish), and one Joseph Clay enters this world.
In 1913 at age sixteen he went to work for Colorado Fuel & Iron Co during what was a very turbulent period for the company, dead centre of a labor war between the United Mine Workers of America, and the Rockefeller owned Colorado Fuel & Iron Co over pay and working conditions amongst other issues.
Strikes by the UNMWA led to 'officially unsanctioned' reprisals by a private security firm (whose methods were genuinely shocking, check out the story of The Ludlow Massacre if this part of the story at all interests you).
One escalation followed another and after ten solid days and nights of rioting the National Guard was called in to put the uprising down, when the dust eventually settled at least nineteen people lay dead.
Whether Joe Clay was a part of this piece of history is unknown, but it is sure that he would have known all about it.
Several years pass and on August 8th 1918 Joe signs up for military service, said service would terminate on March 15th 1919, a period of some 219 days. (Military records still pending).
Upon his return from service he once again picked up work with Colorado Fuel & Iron, but on April 20th 1920 for reasons unknown he left his employment and does not show up again on public records for another twenty years.
In 1940 at age forty three he shows up on a Denver census as living at 2137 Arapahoe St, and married to twenty three year old Erlinda Clay. The couple have three children: Virginia (b.1936), Rita (b.1937), and Dorothy (b.1938).
It is to Virginia, and more so Dorothy the story must now focus on.
Next to nothing is known about Virginia or Dorothy. Proof positive that in the days before electronic records that it was very much possible to stay off the radar. Nothing can be found of school, medical or criminal records. Nothing, and we have searched for years. Not a photo, not a school record, nothing. Not until 1968.
So why the story about Joe Clay's history? Well apart from background on this side of the family, for Joe will return to this story again shortly, I wanted it to show the disparity in tracing people's history. Some are easy to find, especially if they have served. And some? Some are truly ghosts, who walked through this world leaving very minimal evidence of their passing. Background checks and the traces people leave behind are very important, nay critical, to this story yet in some cases it's just not possible to dig anything up.
Back to the timeline.
1968 saw thirty year old Dorothy Clay spending time in the same Colorado State Hospital as Larry Eugene Phillips. It is unknown if they had known each other prior to being incarcerated at this location or if they had any contact within this vast estate of buildings.
Clay, or Dorothy Lopez as she was known (amongst a whole host of other aliases) had her own brushes with the law. Her FBI file lists her only known occupation as being prostitution. A story also exists that she had stabbed a corrections officer whilst incarcerated but alas since the closure of Colorado State Hospital her records are lost to time so this story remains unverified despite extensive searching. Could it have been the reason she was moved to CSH? Absolutely! Do we know it for a fact? Unfortunately not.
What we do know is that on the 10th January 1969 Dorothy gave birth to a son, Denis.
Denis's father is undocumented, Denis was told that his father was a doctor at the institution. Parentage aside, the infant Denis was smuggled out of CSH late one night and into the care of his aunt, Dorothy's eldest sister, Virginia.
Larry Eugene Phillips became Daniel Ira Warfel, and his travelling companion Dorothy Clay/Lopez became Barbara Allen (any attempts to track this name to a real individual have been met with a phonebook full of results and no starting point I'm afraid).
Together the thirty year old Clay and the twenty year old Phillips made it to Salt Lake City where they stayed quiet and off the radar, for six months at least.
On 27th October 1969 Phillips was stopped whilst walking by a Salt Lake patrol officer. He was invited to sit in the officer's cruiser whilst a check was run on him. Either in a moment of panic or foolhardy bravado he gave his real name so when the wants/warrants check came back that he was wanted back in Colorado he heaved the door of the cruiser open and took off running. All further efforts to apprehend failed to turn up the fugitive.
Eleven months after the near miss in Utah a young couple presented themselves to The California Hospital at 1414 South Hope St, Los Angeles and at 10:14pm on Sunday September 20th 1970 Larry Eugene Warfel came into the world.
Two interesting things to note from the birth certificate, first is that the ages of mother and father are listed as only two years apart when the reality was that Dorothy was ten years older than Phillips Sr.
Second is that Dorothy listed her name as Barbara Allen, nothing unusual there as pretty much the entirety of the information given to the registrar was false, but she then signed the form as Barbara Warfel.
Information from 1970 to 1974 is regrettably non-existent; a black hole in the research and unfortunately it would not be the last.
What we can infer is that something between Phillips Sr and Clay was not right for in 1974 Clay would have an extremely short lived marriage to one Brian Alton O'Neale.
This part of the story may be nothing more than a distraction, you should take from it whatever you wish, all that we know is that it could point us at a number of possible circumstances occurring in the timeline so we felt it must be included for clarity's sake.
Brian Alton O'Neal, born Neal Henry Reynolds in Maine 1941 had moved to the Woodland Hills area of Los Angeles in his youth and had spent most of his formative years there. In January 1969 he would marry for the first time and father a daughter. That marriage didn't last and on 28th May 1974 he married for the second time when he and Clay tied the knot.
The union would last but seven weeks before an entry for the pair turned up in the California Divorce Register in July, 1974.
Had this been a marriage in Vegas one could assume a drunken escapade, but this marriage having occurred in Los Angeles one can only assume it was a marriage of convenience or something was very wrong between the pair. Larry Eugene Warfel was three and a half years old.
O'Neale would meet an untimely end in 1988 when he was ambushed with a single shotgun blast to the face when approaching his house in Echo Park.
As RHD dug into his past the only constant they would uncover was that this man told no two people the same story of who he was. To varying friends and colleagues he had been a CIA operative, a sniper, a doctor, a psychiatrist, a karate expert, a neurosurgeon and a pilot. All of these claims remain unfounded, so it would appear O'Neale could have been very much a Walter Mitty type.
It is unknown if his murder was ever cleared, personally I can find no reference to a charge or conviction of anyone relating to this event.
Had Clay been duped by another slick talking conman and then realized some weeks later that the man she married was not all he seemed? All signs do appear to point toward the affirmative.
Back in 1974 after the 'O'Neale Incident' Clay, and Jr drop off the radar again and resurface two years later two days after Jr's sixth birthday at a small trailer park in Kiowa, a small town some fifty miles southeast of Denver. Larry Sr was still living in Los Angeles at this point.
September 22nd 1976 and Sr approached Ute Village and the mobile home his son and estranged wife are living in. Unbeknownst to him he had law enforcement eyes all over him at that moment and as this fractured family sat down to a post birthday dinner of chili seven law enforcement officers made entry to the trailer and detained Sr.
This part of the story bothered me for the longest time, it just didn't ring right. How exactly did the FBI know where and when they could scoop up the elusive Sr? We approached Kiowa Police Department, no responsive records. Phillips Sr (and Jr) FBI records make only passing comment to the event. There are no records of surveillance, in fact there is a dearth of information exactly where you would expect there to be some, UNLESS the information was deliberately left out to protect someone. We believe that someone was none other than Dorothy Clay. We believe the possibility exists that she had dimed out her ex, as he was at the time still up to some nefarious dealings, in an attempt to protect herself and her son.
The die was gradually being formed for his son and the subtle events of the next ten years spent around Denver would shape a young mind in the worst way.
Larry Sr in a 1997 interview would speak of that moment and say 'It really messed him up', Sr would go as far as to attribute that moment as to why Jr followed the route into criminality that he eventually did. Yet that was more than a little disingenuous on Sr's part, as his influence over the next few years would appear to have more of a negative influence that that arrest ever did.
As Larry grew, he had, like any kid, a small cadre of friends, although curiously enough not one of them has wanted to step forward and speak of their recollections of their friendship with him. Weird that eh?
Larry would attend school; we believe we have narrowed it down to the following school from clues offered by his ex-wife.
He attended just a single year of high school and dropped out at age 14 in the 9th grade.
As Jr tried to juggle school and a home life where his mother appeared to be the major bread winner working as both a truck driver and a janitor at a local hospital Jr found himself on occasion given into the care of his maternal grandfather, Joe.
What follows comes from a single source of information. It is completely unverified as all other players in the information that follows are now deceased. Unverified information is not usually something we would include, but on this occasion, we shall lay out for you, and you can choose whether you take on board its content.
In 2020 we conducted four telephone interviews with Larry's half-brother Denis Franks. Denis, a personable guy, was the first to admit that he had led a colorful past which quite often saw him on the wrong side of the law. He has his own side projects relating to many years of interactions with Larry Jr, apparently to be released soon.
The following paragraph is information taken from those interviews. Make of it what you will.
Dorothy would sometimes bring Jr to his grandfather's house, and she would then leave for the day with her sister Ginger (Virginia). Jr and Denis would be left with Joe and (as Denis described them) their uncles (said uncles could have been Virginia and Rita's boyfriends/husbands or they may have just been friends of Joe).
Allegedly the two youngsters were then subject to varying forms of abuse from the elder male occupants.
To their grandfather the boys were 'pinche gringos' or "fucking white boys", both having white fathers. Something apparently seen as derogatory to Joe and the unnamed uncles who had no qualms letting the boys know what they thought of their heritage.
So, in true bully style they were subjected to what became known as 'tests of manhood'. From being made to hold up paper plate targets whilst knives were thrown at them to standing against a fence whilst pool balls were thrown as close as possible to their heads. Flinch and as Denis would put it "You would get fucked up." Stand straight and risk injury, and maybe, just maybe you weren't so bad.
The way Denis told this story was that these were not isolated incidents, but a continuing pattern of abuse which would be taken forward by Jr himself and perpetuated in his later 'friendship' with Emil Matasareanu.
In those random visits Sr would take Jr to wrestling matches, shooting, video arcades, all the usual fare that an estranged father would think his son would like to do on a day out together. There was however a darker undertone to those meetings, and I for one struggle to believe it was deliberate.
Sr, who obviously cared for his son, and who was no stranger to the dark side of the law himself made a fatal flaw. What we believe boiled down to multiple attempts to impress on his son just how much of a badass he was, (sidebar: who didn't think their dad already was a badass when they were a kid?) he started to tell Jr about his exploits on the other side of the law.
Pause for a moment and ask yourself why any father would do something quite so destructive. To me this smacks of ego, of a man who wished his son to see him as some sort of anti-hero. Jr was hooked, here he was sitting here with a real life comic book hero, and it was his dad. Sr had what he wanted. A son that, for the moment, idolized him.
This destructive seed was planted early and planted deep, and we believe that it was this behavior from Sr coupled with Jr's prevalent mentality to overachieve and show no fear that became twisted and eventually created the 'monster' we all saw in North Hollywood years later.
Jr was fourteen, had dropped out of school. What direction was he to take in life? The answer it would seem lay on the silver screen. In October 1984 Arnold Schwarzenegger took to the big screen in 'The Terminator'. Schwarzenegger a pro bodybuilder who had swept to seven Mr Olympia titles in the 1970s had evolved from humble beginnings in Austria and had decided to pursue bodybuilding when he was fifteen. Larry, always a solidly built character, decided he was going to follow suit.
Phillips has been described to us as a bookworm by those close to him. If he was interested in a particular subject, he borrowed library books on the subject and read everything available to him. Bodybuilding was no different - he embraced the dedication needed for the art.
Larry continued to maintain a circle of friends and would through a friend called Larry Santos meet his sister, Sharon at an ice rink. Sharon would play a large part in the next phase of the story that takes us up to early 1993.
In 1986, for reasons unknown, Clay performed moved herself and her son back to Los Angeles; and with them went Sharon Santos, now Larry's girlfriend.
They would set up house in West Harriet Street, Altadena, nestled in the shadow of the Verdugo Mountains between Pasadena and Glendale.
Larry was not interested in returning to the educational system and instead continued to devote himself to bodybuilding.
A story exists that he trained at the world-famous Gold's Gym in Venice beach, of how he travelled two hours each way every day to train, so, we decided to explore that particular thread.
After several long calls with first the reception desk at the venue on Rose St and then their corporate headquarters no responsive records could be found. This alone does not mean it never happened, it just means that no records can be sourced at this moment. Is this likely a place that Larry visited and trained at?
Yes. It fits what we understand of his psychology perfectly. The Mecca of bodybuilding, full of memorabilia of those who had used the place and made it big, maybe with the occasional opportunity to glimpse one of those famous names in person. Absolutely this was right in Larry's wheelhouse.
But his 'home' gym? We were not convinced. It seems much more likely that he trained at Gold's but not necessarily the one on the beach, more likely the one in Pasadena which was once located at 39 South Altadena Drive. A distance of only seven miles over the thirty-seven to Rose Street.
In fact a curious piece of information came to light in 2020 that proved he did indeed use the Pasadena gym.
Time marched past, Larry's life was undergoing some changes though. In 1987 the truth of his name for some reason came to the fore. Had Sr told him his name was a lie during one of their visitations? We will never know, but we do know that in the December of that year Clay petitioned the County Court back in Adams County, Colorado for her son to be known under his rightful surname, Phillips.
Another revelation was dawning on Larry too, the realization that he was not going to be the next Schwarzenegger, Platz or Haney. He just did not have the genetics to become one of his idols that had stared back at him from the glossy pages of the stacks of bodybuilding magazines.
His dream of making millions from flexing died the death of exuberant and unchecked youth. Larry started to look around; he needed a plan, a plan to make money; for as far as we are aware he had not held a job since moving to Los Angeles. His mother bought him a computer, and then a black BMW.
Yet still he needed a plan, a direction, money.
If they had moved to Silicon Valley back in '86 he would have most likely picked up something to do with computers, something he held an interest in; but they had instead landed in LA, what was he to do?
For those who have never visited LA, check out some aerial footage online. LA from the air seems a vast and never-ending sprawl, and that sprawl is filled with over 1.5 million houses. Larry didn't know it but he was about to make a very large mistake.
He decided to get into the property market. The late 1980's was a feeding frenzy for property in the Southland, many people made their millions on the back of this boom but unbeknownst to the nineteen-year-old Larry that frenzy was about to hit a wall at 100 miles per hour.
For Larry 1989 was a year of pivotal changes, every single event that follows sent him farther and farther down the path to extreme poor life choices. Was he a product of nurture? Oh absolutely! Sr's deviant whispering surely played a large part. But was nature a part of his psychological make up? World events happening around him exerting such pressures that he chose criminality to overcome them. It is a question that must be asked, yet unfortunately cannot be definitively answered; therefore, we must conclude the possibility that this was a contributing factor is evident.
On August 24th 1989 the collapse of the Soviet Union began in Poland when Tadeusz Mazowiecki became, after much wrangling over the previous decade, the first non-communist Prime Minister in Eastern Europe. Unbeknownst to Larry Phillips some 6,000 miles away but the changing political winds in Europe would spell a hardship to those in North America.
Larry though, his eyes were not on the winds of change currently blowing through lands he had never visited. He was stuck in his books; he was determined to take the Real Estate test and make himself a cool few million. One day in early 1989, in what can only be described (with the benefit of obvious hindsight) as a monumentally stupid move he decided to shoplift himself a suit, or two, maybe three from the Sears store at 2500 West Commonwealth Avenue, Alhambra.
So here we are, all the way from 1897 through to 1989, through two family trees and here we are following Larry Eugene Phillips Jr through his second phase in Los Angeles.
Here we have a man who had an imperfect start to his life, a man who like many people was not cognizant of the external influences that would affect his life, a man that was on the cusp of making some horrendously poor choices.
There are many holes in this extended timeline, and there are many more in the short eight years remaining in his story. We shall attempt to cover them as best as we can.