The LA Shootout Was Like Something Straight Out of Heat

Mel Magazine goes inside an infamous 1997 bank robbery
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted May 29, 2022 2:35 PM CDT
The LA Shootout Was Like Something Straight Out of Heat
A map of the shootout.   (Wikimedia Commons)

When it comes to Los Angeles bank robbers, Larry Phillips and Emil Matasareanu were like no others. In a lengthy piece for Mel Magazine, Zaron Burnett III takes a look into the havoc wrought by the two weightlifters, friends who teamed up to start robbing banks in the mid-'90s. On its face, their heists were nothing new for LA, which suffered 17,106 bank robberies between 1985 and 1995. That was also when "takeover" robberies—those in which armed perpetrators take over the bank's lobby while demanding money—began to proliferate. Phillips and Matasareanu ended up being behind one of the most intense ones, a February 28, 1997, heist at a Bank of America branch that Burnett writes "inspir[ed] the first step toward the militarization of police."

They two typically dressed as if for war, "armed with modified assault rifles ... outfitted in body armor from head-to-toe, their faces shrouded by balaclava-style ski masks. Even their eyes were covered by sunglasses." And, strikingly, they would take their time. Unlike most bank robberies, which were over in two minutes, Phillips and Matasareanu took three or four times that long. "It was as if they had all the time in the world and nothing to fear," Burnett writes. In this last heist, they were high on phenobarbital and took 15 minutes, emerging with just over $300,000—and into the presence of waiting cops. "It was like the movie Heat, bullets spraying everywhere," one of the officers on the scene would say. The outgunned LAPD officers ended up raiding a nearby gun shop that provided them with semi-automatic weapons. Over the course of 44 minutes, an estimated 2,000 rounds were fired, and both men ended up dead. (Read the wild story in full here.)

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