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.
The driver, peppered with glass shards and shrapnel, suffering injuries to face, chest and abdomen rammed the armoured wagon up over the curb and across a vacant lot on the east side of Fallbrook. Keeping the wheel turned hard right he piloted the truck in a 270 degree course and bounced it back down to the asphalt of Berdon St. The Econoline had avoided the detour and fallen in behind. No more shots were fired.
The Brinks driver squared the block attempting shake off the pursuing van, their route took them via Berdon St (eastbound), Ponce Ave (southbound), Dolorossa Ave (westbound) and finally back out on to Fallbrook Avenue heading south toward the bank they had just left. The Econoline stayed in close attendance until the end of Berdon St, when the Brinks truck turned right on to Ponce Ave the Ford swung left and headed north.
The chase was over, the bandits had recognised that they had failed to incapacitate the driver and stopping a 25,000lb truck with a 3000lb van when the truck was in front of them was a futile task.
They cut their losses and ran.
The Brinks truck made it southbound on to Fallbrook Ave, heading back towards the bank it had just left. At the corner of Ostronic Drive the driver pulled over, staggered from his vehicle and collapsed in the gutter, shocked local residents gathered and when emergency services arrived on the scene the driver was transported to Columbia West Hills Medical Centre where he was treated for minor injuries (and what we could assume to be a healthy dose of shock). A hospital spokesman made a statement that he was in a stable condition and would be kept overnight for observation.
The Econoline did not travel much further in the opposite direction before its occupants abandoned it.
In a alleyway between Shoup and Capistrano they ditched the van, setting fire to it before they left.
Nobody saw the gunman and driver ditch the vehicle.
When LAFD Engine 84 had extinguished the burning Econoline, the only evidence that was found was the charred remains of a police scanner, a bullhorn and nearby a single spent rifle cartridge.
Later examination of the armoured vehicle would reveal not only shrapnel fragments but the steel core of what at the time was believed to be 5.56mm bullet, a single shell casing was recovered from the Fallbrook & Berdon intersection and one later found in the alleyway near the abandoned Econoline.
Back on the scene of the botched robbery one officer asked the question aloud whether the suspects may have gotten the idea for their heist from Michael Mann's 1995 film Heat, which featured a robbery completely dissimilar in its execution but the speed at which the van was abandoned and torched did bear some similarities.
The first 'Heat Connection' with Phillips and Matasareanu had been laid down. Yet nobody, has ever been able to prove their involvement with this crime.
This crime strikes me as particularly illogical on the part of the gunmen, they had to have planned this, it is not the sort of thing that is done (especially with the equipment that was carried) on the spur of the moment.
So given that this was a planned crime we have to ask the question: What did they hope to achieve? Entry to the armoured car seems to be the obvious answer.
So they shoot and incapacitate the driver. Then what?
The two hoppers are locked in the back of the truck, essentially in a large steel box, armed and waiting for the cops to arrive.
What hopes did the gunmen have of getting them to open the door?
Intimidation by gunfire?
What if they inadvertently incapacitated both messengers too? Then what?
Locked truck with no access? And three wounded or potentially dying guards, and cops barrelling toward them from every direction.
Is this the purpose that the bullhorn served? To shout at the messengers until they opened the door? Really?
Who plans a crime of this nature, and let's not forget this was an extremely serious one (Hobbs Act and attempted murder) and relies on the logic of persuasion to meet the end goal?
My guess would be a very inexperienced type of criminal.
Burning the van, and the timing of that act, was the only sensible criminal gesture this pair of hapless bandits made that day. They destroyed all evidence of who they were, but not of what they had done, they left small clues for police to follow but alas those clues were too small to be of any significance.
The ammunition was said to have 'believed to have been 5.56mm', surely a simple check of the headstamp on the three recovered casings would have said definitively and not left in the realm of 'well, we think it might be, but we are not sure'.
Why burn the scanner? Those things were not so cheap in the 1990's, what sense does it make to burn a scanner yet leave with a rifle? If you are going to go the theatrical whole hog and treat 'work gear' as disposable then why not discard the rifles too? The answer to that is simple, the rifles were not disposable. They were either legally owned by the bandits, or they were too costly to replace, or they did not have the contacts in place to be able to replace them.
So again the scanner stands out as being a vanity item, expensive but untraceable and conveniently disposable.
It is the mindset of the bandits that is important here, for in choosing what they deemed as 'must keep' and 'able to ditch' we move a little closer in being able to see if their mindsets matched our studied duo.
So was it Phillips and Matasareanu?
The short answer? Nobody will ever know.
The longer, and hopefully more reasoned, answer (please bear in mind this part is only this author's opinion).
There were five civilian witnesses to this incident, four at or nearby the scene of the shooting and a single one at the dump site.
Strangely all of those statements are missing from the FBI file relating to this crime, only the Brinks employees statements are present.
However we have managed to track down some newspaper articles where some of those witnesses also gave their accounts to reporters.
Only one saw the occupants in the Econline as it approached the intersection. They remember the driver as wearing a ski mask yet identified him as being a black male, and the shooter (who has no mention of him being masked) as also being a black male.
The homeowner who saw the two men walking away from the dump site identified both men as being black males.
Two separate witnesses at two different locations both seeing the same identifiers leads not to random chance or explainable doubt but to a solid basis for identification.
The Econoline. Surely this must hold some clues? Unfortunately not.
When the owner of the licence plates on the van was eventually tracked down, he agreed to meet with FBI agents in an informal setting.
A young man from South Central LA, he stated that he had never owned such a vehicle and that he had discarded his old driving licence the year previous (the implication here I believe is that if someone had managed to source that old driving licence that they could have sourced a second set of licence plates). The FBI took his statement and as no further investigation seems to have been apparent then it appears that he did not ring their bell as a person of continued interest. The van was for all intents and purposes a dead end.
This crime was not disorganised in the technical sense of the word. The perpetrators had a plan, it just wasn't a very good one. The logic behind it was far from sound.
If we compare that to what we know of Phillips and Matasareanu's later exploits we see a difference of night and day. Whilst our studied duo made some quite glaring errors in the commission of their crimes their plan remained fundamentally sound. Yet the plan to take this truck down was what? Shout at the trucks occupants until they opened the door?
It is hard for this author to believe that the same set of people that carried out the relatively disciplined choreography of a takeover bank job a mere five weeks later could also pull such a pig's ear of a job such as this.
So why include it on this website?
We have to remain loyal to our three guiding principles of investigation.
Is it possible?
Is it probable?
Is it actual?
Of course it is possible it may have been our duo.
Is it probable? After weighing the evidence that is for you to decide.
Is it actual? Unfortunately nobody will ever know.
So whilst there is room for doubt, and because this crime has been loosely attributed to Phillips and Matasareanu we felt it only fair that an honest appraisal be included on the site.
This case was deemed closed in 1998 due to no furtherance of evidence, one that will go forever unsolved.