This is the story of the trenchcoat robbers, one of the most successful bank robbery teams in all history. In the 1970s, William Kirkpatrick was often followed by the KC Police Intelligence Unit because he was a well-known booster or shoplifter connected to the Mob. I remember we once got information from a small town in Illinois where he had been caught by a random patrol car as he was trying to steal a car. He was on foot and the cops found he was dressed in black, had a pistol in a shoulder holster, and was carrying a mask in his pocket. We never figured out what he was doing at that time. We will learn later that he was stealing a car to use in a bank robbery.
During the 1970s-1980s Kirkpatrick was well known for stealing record albums and fencing them with a Kansas City mob guy named Tiger Cardarella. Tiger had Tiger’s Records and it was the most popular record store in KC because he had all the newest releases and they were always discounted to about 75% of the sticker price.
One time an ATF agent and myself noticed his car, a large 1975 Thunderbird was parked at a Ford dealership. We had heard he had special air shocks so when he filled his truck with record albums, the car would not sink to an unnatural level. So, we approached the service manager and asked for his help. He gave us the keys and we checked the trunk and found it filled to the brim with record albums and looking underneath, we saw the air shocks. Over the next few years, our friend Billie Kirkpatrick will graduate from boosting trips to a more dangerous yet more lucrative criminal activity. Bank Robbery! William Kirkpatrick was kind of a good old boy who grew up around mob members and other professional criminals in northeast Kansas City.
Ray Bowman became the second man in the Trenchcoat Robbers team. During these years, he met another record booster named Ray Bowman. Both Kirkpatrick and Bowman sold all their record albums to a Kansas City mafia member named Tiger Cardarella. Tiger gave these men and a whole stable of other boosters shopping lists of record albums, tennis rackets, watches, leather coats, and other goods he would buy. Tiger had a famous record store named Tiger’s Records. Every booster in the city wanted to get Ray Bowman as a partner because he was very close-mouthed, He maintained good practices and procedures like he always scoped out the record stores and looked for the lazy and indifferent clerks before he boosted. Ray Bowman and William Kirkpatrick had known each other for many years and they started working together. During this time, Ray Bowman lived a big-spending fast lifestyle. He spent all his money on cocaine for club girls, rented limos, owned a Corvette, dressed in expensive clothes, and splurged on thousand-dollar dinners with his friends. A girlfriend at the time remembered that he was very antigovernment and was a survivalist. He purchased guns and ammo that he kept in a special locked room in his house. These guys made boosting outfits consisting of oversize pants and shirts with special pockets and long trench coats with booster sleeves or hidden pockets in the lining where they would conceal the albums.
After a series of successful bank robberies, this team perfected their disguises by always wearing trenchcoats. The FBI codenamed them the Trenchcoat Robbers. In 1997, they made a big score. In January both men met in suburban Tacoma Washington. They checked into a local hotel, ate out in the best restaurants, and even attended a piano concert. They staked out the Seafirst bank of Lakeland Washington. For one month they surveilled the bank and its activities. They figured out they always had a large amount of cash when it was payday at a nearby Army base. They noticed this bank took in excess cash from other branches and cash from an Indian casino.
On Feb 10, 1997, Kirkpatrick used a Jeep master key he had made to steal a nice new Jeep Grand Cherokee. When they got to the bank, they slipped a lock on the side door and entered the lobby to find a few employees. Both men wore the trenchcoats plus an FBI hat, sunglasses, gloves, and Kirkpatrick had an earpiece attached to a police scanner. They unloaded several carts filled with cash into duffle bags. They left the women tied to the carts with zip ties and they exited the bank with 350 pounds of cash. This is how much 4 and ½ million dollars must weigh. FBI Agents flooded into the city. They checked every motel and hotel. They found the abandoned Jeep Commander and it was wiped clean. No fingerprints at the robbery and disguises prevented the cameras from helping. Immediately after the robbery, the cops and FBI agents did roadblocks on I-5 to no avail. The bandits had already escaped south to Portland and were in a motel. They split the money in half, and each made their own way back home.
In Kansas City Ray Bowman forgot to keep his storage locker rent paid and the locker manager entered his unit. He found guns, anti-government literature, disguises, and other suspicious items. he called the ATF and a tap was placed on his home phone. They heard suspicious calls to a rural Minnesota home. William Kirkpatrick and his wife lived in the Minnesota cabin they had specially built on the shores of Lake Superior. Kirkpatrick had a dispute over a payment to a local contractor and that led to trouble. Kirkpatrick paid the contractor thousands in cash. After the dispute, the contractor called the IRS. After the IRS agent visited them at home where Kirkpatrick was living under an alias, he panicked. He had stashed his loot from the Lakeland Washington robbery in a Las Vegas bank deposit box. He drove to Las Vegas, retrieved his cash, and started driving back to Minnesota. A state trooper stopped him in Nebraska and the trooper became suspicious of his story. Looking for narcotics or drug money, the trooper searched the car and found over two million dollars with some of the bank wrappers. The trooper also found four guns and various disguises. When his wife responded to the courthouse in Lincoln, Nebraska, agents arrested her for conspiracy. She broke down and implicated Ray Bowman. Agents arrested him and served search warrants at his house. They found more evidence linking the pair to the Seafirst robbery like the license number to the janitor’s car, wigs, fake beards and mustaches, blank car keys.
Show Notes by Gary Jenkins
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