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Suspected AK-47 bandit caught in LexingtonTell North Platte what you think
Courtesy Photo­Image
The suspect at the Nebraska City holdup, 2014.

The suspected “AK-47 Bandit,” wanted in connection with armed bank robberies in five states, has been caught in Lexington in Dawson County.

According to the FBI, Richard Lee Gathercole, 39, fled from a chase that began the day before near Atwood, Kan. and reached Lexington.

A sheriff's deputy saw him enter the Nebraskaland Truck Stop at the I-80 exit on Tuesday, June 20. Another deputy was called for backup and Gathercole was taken at gunpoint into custody without further trouble, Dawson County Sheriff Gary Reiber said.

In a detailed statement a week later on June 27, the FBI pointedly identified Gathercole as the suspected AK-47 Bandit, linked to armed bank robberies from California to Iowa from 2012-15.

At the conclusion of the first robbery in the AK-47 series, an officer was shot and severely wounded in Chino, Calif.

Robberies later occurred in California, Washington, Idaho, Nebraska and Iowa. Investigators have searched for the culprit since, and finally narrowed their search in recent days, FBI spokesman Huston Pullen said.

On Monday, June 19, Gathercole was pulled over by a Kansas State Trooper, but sped away during the attempted stop, the FBI said. He allegedly fired an assault rifle at the trooper during a high-speed chase. He got away, but investigators believe he crashed his vehicle, then stole a Ford pickup from a nearby farm in the vicinity of Atwood, Kan.

Gathercole continued north across the Nebraska border until he was successfully apprehended by Dawson County sheriff’s deputies.

His crashed vehicle was recovered in Kansas, Pullen said.

The suspect was taken to the Dawson County Jail on charges of possession of stolen property and possession of a stolen firearm, Reiber said.

On Saturday, June 24, a federal search warrant was served at Gathercole’s home in Roundup, Mont., where numerous Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) were found, Pullen said.

Also, investigators found evidence they believe was used in the commission of the bank robberies. The FBI said Gathercole is known to have access to vehicles that match the description of vehicles that were reported fleeing from some of the robberies.

Based on these and other factors, investigators believe Gathercole is responsible for the bank robberies attributed to the AK-47 series, Pullen said.

Due to the alleged crimes and jurisdictions involved at various levels of government, investigators continue to consult with prosecutors regarding the rest of the charges, Pullen said.


The AK-47 Bandit series of robberies:

• Feb. 29, 2012 in Chino (California Bank & Trust)

• March 12, 2012, in Vacaville, Calif. (Bank of the West)

• July 6, 2012 in North Bend, Wash. (Chase Bank)

• Nov. 7, 2012 in Rexburg, Idaho (East Idaho Credit Union)

• Aug. 22, 2014 in Nebraska City (First Nebraska Bank)

• July 28, 2015 in Mason City, Iowa (Heartland Community Credit Union).

There was also an attempted robbery on March 9, 2012, in Sacramento, Calif. at the Tri-Cities Bank, Pullen said.


A summary of the robberies:

Chino - Attempted murder of officer

During a robbery that occurred on Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012, at the California Bank & Trust on 5455 Riverside Drive in Chino, the suspect was described by witnesses as a white male, 25-40 years old, with a stocky build.

Following the armed robbery, a police officer patrolling the area came upon the bank robbery suspect who was fleeing the bank he had just robbed with the assault rifle. The suspect fired upon the officer and seriously wounded him. During and following the robbery, the suspect wore body armor over a dark-colored collared short-sleeved shirt and blue pants, as well as a ski mask covering his face.

The suspect was seen leaving in a vehicle described as a dark gray Nissan Maxima with four doors and tinted windows.

Prior to the bank robbery, a threat was called into the 911 dispatch center from a payphone in the general vicinity of the bank by a man. Investigators believe the suspect employed a diversionary tactic in an attempt to delay officers responding to the bank robbery.


Northern California

On March 12, 2012, a bank robbery occurred at the Bank of the West on the 1000 block of Helen Power Drive in Vacaville, Calif.

The same suspect was also linked to an attempted robbery three days prior on March 9, 2012, of the Tri Counties Bank on the 1700 block of Challenge Way in Sacramento, Calif.

The suspect is believed to have used the above-described Nissan Maxima in both the Vacaville robbery and the attempted robbery in Sacramento.


Washington State

On July 6, 2012, a similar takeover-style robbery occurred at the Chase Bank on Mt. Si Boulevard in North Bend, Wash.

The suspect was armed with an AK-47 style rifle equipped with a drum magazine. He had a loud, deep voice with no obvious accent, and threatened to shoot the tellers if they did not hurry.

The suspect carried the cash by hand, as he did not bring a bag. A dirty, reddish-orange Jeep Patriot or Liberty was parked out front of the bank as a getaway vehicle. It may have had out-of-state license plates with a prominent blue stripe across the top, the FBI said.



On Nov. 7, 2012, a robbery took place at the East Idaho Credit Union in Rexburg, Idaho. At approximately 4:30 p.m., the suspect entered the bank with what may have been an assault rifle and ordered the employees and customers into the vault.

After obtaining the money, the suspect fled in a dark blue sedan with tinted windows and a red and blue license plate. He was last seen headed south on South Yellowstone Highway.



On the afternoon of Aug. 22, 2014, a bank robbery took place at a First Nebraska Bank in Nebraska City.

During the robbery, the suspect carried a duffel bag and an assault rifle with a drum magazine similar to the weapon seen in his earlier robberies. The suspect proceeded to remove cash from victim tellers’ drawers and directed employees to comply with his demands. He fled the bank with the stolen cash.



A similar robbery occurred in Mason City, Iowa, and is the last known robbery linked to the AK-47 series.

On the morning of July 28, 2015, a bank robbery occurred at the Heartland Community Credit Union in Mason City, Iowa. The suspect was armed with an AK-47-style rifle fitted with a large-capacity drum magazine, matching the method of operations of previous bank robberies in the AK-47 series.

During the Mason City robbery, the suspect used an improvised explosive device to threaten tellers.



The investigation is being conducted by multiple law enforcement agencies, Pullen said.

The investigation of the shooting at a Kansas State Trooper is conducted by the Kansas Highway Patrol; the Kansas Bureau of Investigation; the Lexington, Neb. Police Department; and the Atwood Police Department.

The investigation of the AK-47 Bandit bank robbery series is being conducted by several law enforcement agencies -- the Chino Police Department; the Rexburg Police Department; the Musselshell County Sheriff's Department in Montana; the Seattle Safe Streets Task Force; the King County Sheriff’s Office in Washington; the Vacaville Police Department; the Sacramento Police Department; the Nebraska City Police Department; the Greater Omaha Bank Robbery Task Force; as well as FBI Field Offices covering each of the jurisdictions where robberies occurred (FBI Los Angeles; FBI Sacramento; FBI Seattle; FBI Omaha and FBI Salt Lake City).

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The North Platte Bulletin - Published 6/27/2017
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