LINCOLN, Neb. — Richard Gathercole, alleged to be the "AK-47 bandit” who robbed a Nebraska bank in 2014, was set to enter a plea Tuesday but instead asked for a different court-appointed attorney and more time to prepare for trial.
The "AK-47 Bandit" is also believed to have entered the Iowa Heartland Credit Union on South Monroe Avenue in Mason City on July 28, 2015, armed with an AK-47 rifle with a high-capacity magazine.
Employees at the credit union were ordered into a vault, and an "improvised explosive device" was left behind.
The robber allegedly brought in a device with smokeless powder, metal pieces and a fuse, which he told bank tellers was a “pressure bomb,” according to court documents. The robber fled in a black Toyota Camry.
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The device was deemed safe and there were no injuries.
FBI Special Agent Andrew R. Ubbelohde alleged in an affidavit that Gathercole stole $126,000 from the Mason City credit union.
Mason City police seek credit union robber
MASON CITY | Two Mason City police officers creeping toward Iowa Heartland Credit Union interrupted what had been an unremarkable workday for Heidi Hockenson on Tuesday.
Hockenson, at her desk at a nearby business, and a colleague watched as the officers slowly approached the credit union.
Then things got interesting.
“We didn’t think anything of it at first,” Hockenson said. “And then we saw the guns.”
One of the Mason City police officers was armed with a rifle. The other was reaching for a handgun in his holster, Hockenson said.
The officers were investigating an armed robbery at the credit union, 1602 S. Monroe Ave.
Police say a 20- to 30-year-old, 6-foot-1 white man brandished a gun while robbing the credit union about 10 a.m. Tuesday.
No arrests had been made as of Wednesday morning.
Police would not say what kind of gun the man showed credit union employees.
“A firearm was brandished,” Mason City Police Lt. Rich Jensen said during a press conference on Tuesday. “I’m not going to talk about what was said during the robbery, for obvious reasons, but a firearm was brandished and money was turned over to the robber.”
He wouldn't say how much money the man took.
No one was hurt.
The state fire marshal's office was called in to investigate an item the man left at the scene, said Mason City Police Lt. Rich Jensen.
He would not say what the item was or if the man made any threats when he was in the bank.
A police dog sniffed around the exterior of the building. Officers also closed an approximately two-block stretch of South Monroe while experts investigated the item left behind.
Police and other non-fire investigators left the credit union while the item was examined.
The robber was last seen wearing a black ski mask and gloves in a dark, four-door vehicle with no front license plate, police say.
An "attempt to locate" message broadcast on the police scanner said the man was armed with a SKS assault rifle with a drum magazine.
Officers at the scene would not confirm if this was the type of weapon.
Investigators originally believed the robber was driving a late-model black Dodge Charger. They later determined that information to be incorrect and changed the vehicle description to a more generic dark, four-door vehicle with no front license plate.
The suspect should be considered armed and should not be approached, but the community does not need to be afraid, police said.
The last bank robbery in Mason City was at First Citizens National Bank in 2012.
"I think it’s a localized incident," Jensen, the police lieutenant, said of Tuesday's event. "Obviously, bank robberies in our area don’t happen very often, so I wouldn’t worry about visiting your local credit union or bank."
Calls to Iowa Heartland went to an answering machine late Tuesday morning.
The community is asked to contact law enforcement with any information regarding the incident.
Agents from the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation were also at the credit union.
— Reporters Ashley Miller and Arian Schuessler contributed to this report.
[Updated] Serial bank robber suspected in Mason City credit union heist
MASON CITY | A man who robbed a Mason City credit union armed with an AK-47 is believed to be a serial bank robber suspected of six heists in five states, police said Wednesday.
The man, dubbed the AK-47 Bandit, shot and severely wounded a California police officer during a robbery in 2012. There is a $100,000 reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction.
Police say the man who entered Iowa Heartland Credit Union, 1602 S. Monroe Ave., Tuesday wearing a black ski mask and gloves carried the serial bank robber's weapon of choice, an AK-47 rifle, outfitted with a high-capacity magazine.
The Mason City incident matches the description of incidents already linked to the AK-47 Bandit, said Mason City Police Lt. Rich Jensen.
"Consistent M.O., if you will," he said. "The weapon. Appearance of the robber. Appears that they acted alone."
Employees were ordered into the vault and an "improvised explosive device" was left behind. Police say they were notified of the crime several minutes after the robber left the credit union.
The device was "rendered safe" by the Iowa Fire Marshal's Office, police said.
Officials won't say what the device contained or how much money was taken. No one was hurt.
The AK-47 Bandit is suspected of six robberies in five states: California, Washington state, Idaho, Nebraska and now Iowa.
He's also suspected in an attempted robbery at a bank in Sacramento in 2012.
Information about the Mason City robbery was relayed to the intelligence division of the Iowa Department of Public Safety. The California agency and Mason City police were in contact within 90 minutes of Tuesday's incident.
Chino, California, police have been investigating the case since the man now dubbed the AK-47 Bandit shot and severely wounded a Chino police officer in a bank heist on Feb. 29, 2012.
The officer was shot while interrupting a carjacking as the suspect fled. The officer survived.
"Our officer barely survived that encounter," said Chino Police Lt. Andrew Bjelland, who was in Mason City on Wednesday. "We're very fearful if he's not caught that another officer that stumbles upon him may not be as fortunate."
The robber was last seen in Mason City driving a 2007-2009 black or dark-colored Toyota Camry LE. The license plate was obscured.
He is described as a 5-foot-9-inch to 6-foot-tall white man in his 20s to 40s with a medium build. He may have blue eyes.
The suspect is considered armed and dangerous.
Anyone with information the incident can contact local police or call CrimeStoppers at 800-383-0088.
Mason City Bank Robbery Press Conference
Wanted by the FBI -The AK-47 Bandit
Wanted: AK-47 Bandit
U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl Zwart denied the motion for a new attorney after a closed-door meeting with Gathercole and his current attorney, Jon Braaten.
Gathercole now is set for trial March 25 on a six-count indictment in connection with the robbery of $90,000 at First Nebraska Bank and his arrest in Dawson County in 2017.
The 40-year-old from Roundup, Montana, was arrested June 19, 2017, at a gas station near Lexington following an earlier shootout with a Kansas Highway patrolman, a high-speed chase and a carjacking.
In the indictment, Gathercole was accused of being in a stolen pickup and in possession of an improvised explosive device with six containers and two homemade detonators with handwritten labels the day he was arrested.
He also was accused of the holdup, one in a series of bank robberies and attempted robberies across five states that law enforcement believe to have been committed by the suspect dubbed the AK-47 bandit because of the rifle he brandished when he went in the banks.
- Globe Gazette reporter Courtney Fiorini contributed to this report.