Bombs found in Montana home linked to bank robberies
HELENA, Mont. (AP) — Federal agents found homemade bombs in the Montana home of a man they suspect is the “AK-47 Bandit,” who is wanted for a string of bank robberies and is accused of shooting at a Kansas state trooper, according to authorities and court documents filed Monday.
FBI agents were tipped off when Richard Gathercole, 39, called his mother from a Nebraska jail following his arrest in the attempted shooting of the trooper who was trying to pull him over on Interstate 70 last week, according to a search warrant application to a federal judge. The trooper wasn’t injured.
According to a transcript of the call, Gathercole told his mother, who is unnamed, to “get all the guns out” of the house. The woman agrees, then says, “Um, this is recorded. You know that.”
FBI agents, along with officers from Chino, California; Rexburg, Idaho; and Montana’s Musselshell County searched Gathercole’s home in the town of Roundup, about 50 miles north of Billings, on Saturday, according to officials with the Musselshell County Sheriff’s Office. Inside, they found “numerous” improvised explosive devices that were removed by a bomb squad, the officials said in a statement.
FBI Los Angeles spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said the search was connected to a bank robbery investigation.
“Multiple departments are investigating whether evidence found during the search in Montana may be linked to a series of bank robberies currently under investigation in California and other states,” she said.
FBI officials have been looking for years for the man they call the “AK-47 Bandit,” wanted for bank robberies in Chino, Rexburg and others in California, Washington state and Nebraska dating back to 2012. He typically wore a balaclava mask and carried an AK-47 rifle with a drum magazine during the robberies, according to FBI officials.
The robber shot and wounded an officer in Chino while trying to escape one robbery, according to FBI officials.
The application to search Gathercole’s home by FBI Special Agent Andrew Ubbelohde details one bank robbery by the “AK-47 Bandit” that FBI officials said was carried out by Gathercole: A 2014 Nebraska City, Nebraska, robbery in which $90,258 was stolen.
The application also accuses Gathercole of stealing $126,000 from a bank in Mason City, Iowa, in 2015. During that incident, the robber pulled out an explosive device that contained powder, metal pieces and a fuse, according to Ubbelohde.
A similar explosive was removed from the trunk of the car Gathercole was driving when authorities say he fired on the Kansas trooper with an AK-47 rifle. It is not clear if the homemade bombs taken from his Montana home were of the same type.
The search warrant application does not describe the other “AK-47 Bandit” robberies.
One of those may occurred at a bank in Vacaville, California, in 2012.
“We haven’t confirmed that he’s our AK-47 bandit,” said Vacaville police Lt. Matt Lydon. “But we’re certainly looking at that possibility.”
Gathercole is being held on charges of theft and possession of stolen firearms. It was not immediately clear if he had an attorney.
He was arrested last Tuesday at a gas station in Lexington, Nebraska. He had stolen a truck and guns as he was trying to get away from the Kansas trooper, according to the search warrant application.
Gathercole has a court hearing in Nebraska on July 6, according to the transcript of his phone call with his mother.
Federal charges have not been filed, Eimiller said.
Gathercole also was named as a resident of San Jacinto, California, after his arrest in Nebraska. The discrepancy could not be immediately resolved.
AP writer Don Thompson in Sacramento, California, contributed to this report.