A man pleaded guilty last week after taking a first date on a stick-up, CNN reported. The woman who picked him up for a date became an unwitting getaway driver when he nonchalantly asked her to stop by the bank. How do bank robbers pick their targets and tools?
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, CNN broke the story of one of the worst first dates ever publicized. According to their article, Christopher Castillo met his unnamed date online prior to their first date in December 2016. She offered to drive during their in-person date and didn’t think twice when he asked her to stop by the bank. When he came back wearing sunglasses and a hat, holding $1,000 cash, everything changed.
“His accidental accomplice obeyed at first, but once she spotted flashing sirens from North Attleboro Police cruisers on their tail, she immediately pulled over and walked away from the car,” the article said. She wasn’t charged in connection with the robbery, though the incident begs the question: How do bank robbers decide which banks to rob and which methods to use in their heists?
Picking a Target
How do bank robbers choose one bank over another to rob? One particular bank robbery in the 1970s made the papers for its massive loss—at the time, the largest in history—and the bank’s notoriety.
“The United California Bank of Laguna Niguel, California, was part of a very affluent neighborhood,” said Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray, Professor of Biology at Mount St. Joseph University. “The bank sat adjacent to a retirement community for the rich and famous in an area known for lavish homes, upscale hotels, beautiful beaches, and exclusive golf courses.”
An area like Laguna Niguel clearly had a lot of money flowing through it on a daily basis. If that weren’t enough to put it on robbers’ radars, it also carried a reputation in the public that raised eyebrows.
“During his presidency, Richard Nixon was rumored to be one of the bank’s high-powered patrons, along with other local elites,” Dr. Murray said. “The bank was recognized as a secure place to keep cash, especially among people who didn’t want the IRS or anyone else to know about it.”
To the criminally-minded, the United California Bank seemed likely to be full of money and with a questionable reputation. On March 24, 1972, a crew of bank robbers relieved it of between $8 and $12 million in cash, stocks, bonds, and jewelry.
Tools of the Trade
When employees of the United California Bank opened the vault for business on that fateful morning, they found a picked-over and well-emptied mess inside, thanks to a hole blown in its 18-inch concrete ceiling. Aside from the sitting cash itself, the robbers broke into “about 500 of the vault’s double-key, armor-plated safe deposit boxes,” according to Dr. Murray.
“Police found burglary tools in the vault, too, including a customized sledgehammer, specially designed with a homemade key-type device on its end to help open the deposit boxes,” she said. “Investigators even found milk cartons filled with water, which they figured were used to cool down power drills. A single cotton work glove was also found in the vault.”
One of the most obvious tools in a bank robbery is the getaway car, although in this case, it helped lead to the robbers’ arrest. Police traced phone records from the thieves’ hotel room to a residence of a man who said they had left the car in his garage.
“FBI agents found an Oldsmobile Super 88 in the garage; it was purchased in California, and it was, no doubt, the getaway vehicle,” Dr. Murray said. “The seats were covered in a layer of concrete dust, there were burglary tools in the trunk, and they found the mate to the cotton glove that had been discovered in the bank vault.”
As for the tools they’d bought? Dr. Murray listed a ladder; empty sandbags; several hand tools, including an acetylene torch; and a police scanner. All had been chosen after lengthy stakeouts that took painstaking attention to detail.
Despite having all the necessary items to break into the vault and 500 of its safety deposit boxes, the gang who robbed United California Bank in 1972 didn’t cover up their tracks well enough to escape arrest. The mastermind, Amil Dinsio, was convicted and sentenced to 10 years in prison.
In the burglary world, the “first-date stick-up” was embarrassingly simple compared to the multi-faceted, three-night endeavor made by Dinsio and his men. However, most people who had a lousy Valentine’s Day likely paled in comparison to that of Christopher Castillo’s unknowing getaway driver.
Dr. Elizabeth A. Murray contributed to this article. Dr. Murray is a forensic anthropologist and also Professor of Biology at the College of Mount St. Joseph. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from the College of Mount St. Joseph and her master’s degree in anthropology and Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Studies in Human Biology from the University of Cincinnati.