Sunday, May 11, 2014

Remembering Madison Park's other bank robber

Hollywood Bandit's 1990s spree ends in suicide

Last month's unlikely robbery of the Madison Park Wells Fargo Bank branch was not---as several long-time neighborhood residents have pointed out---unprecedented. Though the cross-dressing aspect of last month's holdup certainly was a novel element, a much-earlier stick up was also perpetrated by a disguised robber targeting the same bank branch, back in the days when it was part of First Interstate Bank.

The infamous perpetrator was Scott Scurlock, dubbed the "Hollywood Bandit" by the press because of his many different disguises. Though the son of a Baptist minister, Scurlock spurned the ways of the Lord, turning to crime early in life. By the time he was a student at the Evergreen State College in the late 1970s he was manufacturing crystal meth, using chemicals stolen from the college. Later, operating from a farm in Olympia, he established himself as a major source of supply for drug dealers in the Pacific Northwest, according to a HistoryLink essay.

By the 1990s, however, Scurlock apparently decided that the drug business was just too risky, so he hit upon the idea of bank robbery as a lucrative method of financing his lifestyle. For some reason he determined that Madison Park was a likely starting point for his new criminal venture, and his immediate success here in 1992 led to a four-and-a-half-year, fifteen-robbery crime spree that was to ultimately net Scurlock more than $2 million.

But it ended badly.

Just why the 35-year-old targeted a Madison Park bank branch for his first heist has never been adequately explained. In her book about Scurlock's criminal run, The End of the Dream: The Golden Boy Who Never Grew Up, crime author Ann Rule writes, "It was actually rather a stupid plan, full of pitfalls, a script that might have worked in a movie but had little basis in reality."  As she notes, Madison Park was a good distance from a freeway and a difficult neighborhood from which to make a quick getaway. Nevertheless, Scurlock chose the neighborhood's Seafirst (now Bank of America) branch as his initial target; and having enlisted a longtime buddy and the buddy's girlfriend as accomplices, he drove with them to Madison Park, arriving here just before noon on Thursday, June 25, 1992.

The robbery went off without a hitch. Wearing a makeup and a fake nose, Scurlock and his somewhat reluctant friend, Mark Biggins (wearing a Ronald Reagan mask), entered the Seafirst branch, Scurlock yelling, "This is a hold-up. Don't anybody move."  As reported by Rule, Scurlock, after leaping onto the teller counter, jumped behind the line of tellers and began scooping cash our of the teller drawers.  Biggins, meanwhile, brandished a gun, telling employees and customers to lie down on the floor.  Since Biggins' girlfriend, Traci, had dropped the two off at the heist, they needed to commandeer a getaway car (Scurlock was concerned about using his own van in the robbery since it could have been traced to him).  They were fortunate in having seen a bank customer drive into the parking lot as they were approaching the bank, so once the cash was in hand, Scurlock requested that the man turn over his keys to the two robbers, which of course he did.

They drove the man's blue Cadillac to the pre-arranged meeting point where Traci was supposed to be, but she wasn't there.  So, abandoning the Cadillac in an alley, Scurlock and Biggins made a run for it.  Rule's narrative continues, "They had talked of a backup meeting spot, and they leapt over a fence onto the golf course of the extremely posh, gated Broadmoor community.  Golfers saw them coming--two men in masks carrying a bag of money--and they stopped, open-mouthed in mid-swing. Incredibly, nobody tried to stop them."

While still inside Broadmoor, apparently, the two were able to remove their disguises and then meet up with Traci at the back-up rendezvous point. The three raced off in Scurlock's van, pursued by no one, $19,971 richer.

William Scott Scurlock

And so Scurlock's bank-robbing career began.  With Biggins and his girlfriend declining to do another heist, Scurlock amazingly decided that since the first robbery had gone so well he'd hit the same branch again.  On his own this time, he returned to the Madison Park Seafirst branch just two months later, on August 20, 1992, and again successfully robbed the place, taking home $8,125 for his efforts.  Security cameras failed to activate in time, the witnesses were fuzzy about the description of the robber, and the tellers hadn't been unable to slip any marked bills or dye-packs into the stolen loot. Scurlock was emboldened.

Over the next three months, Scurlock and accomplices robbed four more banks, including the Seafirst branch in Hawthorne Hills (now a veterinary clinic, located across the street from Metropolitan Market). His take for the year: $302,890.

Scurlock was to rob the Hawthorne Hills Seafirst two more times (as Rule notes, "he had  aways found gratifying sacks of money there.") He also robbed the West Seattle and Wedgwood branches of U.S. Bank, as well as the Wedgwood branch of First Interstate Bank (now Wells Fargo), as well as two banks in Portland.  

In 1994 he decided to return to his sentimental favorite, Madison Park, with another attempt at the Seafirst branch.  According to Rule, Scurlock was superstitious, thinking that because he had been successful at the Hawthorne Hills Seafirst three times, the Madison Park Seafirst just might yield big bucks on the third try: "The Madison Park area attracted Seattle's young movers and shakers...There was money in Madison Park.  You could almost smell it in the air." On Friday, January 20, 1995, Scurlock and a sidekick, Steve Meyers, descended upon the Seafirst branch and hauled away a cool $252,466.  As always, Scurlock got away clean.

Madison Park was to be hit a fourth time by Scurlock.  On May 22, 1996, the neighborhood's First Interstate branch was the target, Scurlock and company escaping with $114,979.  When leaving, Scurlock reportedly told the customers and employees, "Stay there in the middle. Don't push any alarms.  Don't watch me leave, and I won't be back to bother you. If you do, I will have to come back and hurt you."

By this time the police were becoming understandably frustrated. The "Hollywood Bandit" had successfully robbed fourteen bank branches over a four-year period, and because of his various disguises his identity still was not known. Beginning in August 1996, the Seattle Police began staking out banks in Madison Park and other likely neighborhoods (including Wedgwood), hoping to catch "Hollywood" in the act.  As it happened, however, Scurlock finally had some bad luck totally unrelated to these stakeouts.  On November 27, 1996 he and two accomplices successfully robbed the Seafirst branch in Lake CIty, hauling away over $1 million.  A bank customer disobeyed Scurlock's orders, however, and followed the robbers as they walked to their van. He then called 9-1-1 with a description of the vehicle and the direction in which the van was heading.  Police were on the tail quickly and a shootout ensued. Two of the robbers were wounded and apprehended, but Scurlock got away (through without the money).

A six-block area of Lake City was cordoned off and a manhunt began that continued into the next day, Thanksgiving.  Scurlock was eventually located when two brothers who were visiting their mother's house became suspicious that a camper stored on her property might be inhabited (the door was locked from the inside and the shades drawn, which was not typical). Peering though a small, shadeless window they saw someone in the camper and called police. Police attempted to contact the occupant and then fired pepper spray through a louvered window of the camper. But when they attempted to enter it, there was a gunshot from inside, so the police emptied over 30 rounds into the camper.

After further unsuccessful attempts to contact the fugitive, police fired a tear gas shell into the camper, followed by a second cannister twenty minutes later. When they finally entered the camper they found Scurlock dead. Next to the body was a 9-mm Glock pistol and an empty shell casing. One of Scurlock's accomplices, recovering from his wounds, fingered Scurlock as the "Hollywood Bandit."  It was the first time the police had the suspect's name. According to the HistoryLink essay, when police raided Scurlock's Olympia farm, "They discovered a cache of weapons, which included handguns, a silencer, several rifles, two sawed-off shotguns, and a large store of ammunition. The agents also seized over $20,000 in cash, passports, airline tickets, police frequency scanners, and portable two-way radios. Hidden under the floor in the barn, they found a secret room where Scurlock applied his makeup, stored his disguises, and counted the loot."

For Scurlock, who died at age 41, it had been quite a run.  Fifteen robberies and an estimated  $2.3 million in stolen loot over four and a half years.  As far as we're aware it would be more than 17 years before anyone again successfully robbed a bank in Madison Park.  But that incident also didn't end well.

[Photos from Ann Rule's The End of the Dream, other than the bottom photo, courtesy of the Seattle Times via]

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