November 7, 2012, is a day Rexburg Police Department investigators have thought about often. Not because it was a warm November day, reaching 63 degrees, but because a robber dressed in a bullet-proof vest, mask, gloves and holding an AK-47 rifle with a drum magazine stole cash from East Idaho Credit Union and put the employees and customers into the vault. Since that day investigators have worked hard to track the man the FBI would dub the AK-47 Bandit. Now, they believe they have their man, Richard Lee Gathercole, 39, of Roundup, Montana.
Gathercole is linked to six robberies or attempted robberies:
- Chino, California - Feb. 29, 2012 - robbery and shooting (an officer was shot)
- Sacramento, California - March 9, 2012 - attempted robbery
- Vacaville, California - March 12, 2012 - robbery
- North Bend, Washington - July 6, 2012 - bank robbery
- Rexburg, Idaho - November 7, 2012 - robbery
- Nebraska City, Nebraska - August 22, 2014 - robbery
- Mason City, Iowa - July 28, 2015 - robbery
Each robbery the suspect had a similar description: a white man, 25-40 years old, stocky build, light colored eyes, wearing body army, black gloves and an AK-47 assault rifle with a drum magazine.
Nobody was thinking about the AK-47 Bandit when a man a Kansas City State Trooper was trying to stop started shooting at the trooper on June 20. According to Rexburg Police Lieutenant Ron Ball, the suspect started shooting out of his car, then stopped and continued to shoot. When the trooper shot back, the suspect got back in the car and got away. Officers later found that car crashed into a ditch. The trooper was uninjured.
Soon after the shooting, somebody stole a truck from a farmer at gunpoint. A deputy with the Dawson County Sheriff's Office later saw that pickup and the man who matched the description of the man involved in the shootout with the trooper pull into a convenience store in Lexington, Nebraska. Once another deputy arrived, they arrested Gathercole without incident. Right now he's charged with possession of stolen property and possession of a stolen firearm.
Lt. Ball says Gathercole immediately asked for a lawyer, so police have not questioned him yet. But when officers went through the car they say he ditched, they found an AK-47 with a drum magazine, a bullet-proof vest, a mask, and gloves. Lt. Ball believes Gathercole was going to do another robbery. The gun set off red flags and within two days Rexburg PD was notified of the arrest.
"Oh, we were ecstatic," said Lt. Ball. "We were walking around high-fiving each other. This is a big deal to us."
East Idaho Credit Union employees are watching this case too. They aren't commenting on the case while the suspect is going through the court system, but Cindy High, COO of East Idaho Credit Union, says their employees are actively trained what to do during a robbery. She says the employees that day in 2012 did what they were trained to do.
On June 24, two Rexburg police investigators were in Roundup, Montana, with other investigators and a search warrant. According to foxnews.com, during a phone call with his mother from jail, Gathercole asked his mother to clear his home of guns. She agreed but asked him if he knew the call was being recorded. Lt. Ball says the mother is cooperating with investigators.
During the search of the home, Lt. Ball says investigators found explosive devices and items associated with the six robberies, including a green mesh vest with the word Sheriff on it. The FBI evidence collection team now has those items. The Billings Bomb Squad removed the homemade bombs and detonated them safely.
Lt. Ball says he believes this case will be tried federally. Whether Rexburg will end up prosecuting Gathercole is unclear at this point. Lt. Ball says with this arrest, there are no more active robbery cases in Rexburg.
"I hope it lets people know that if any of our banks get robbed, we'll pursue however long as it takes," Lt. Ball said.