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In September 1997 one of the largest cash robberies in U.S. history went down in Los Angeles, California. The thieves made off with $18.9 million in cash and evaded capture for years. Their eventual demise? A rookie mistake.

Episode Transcript

When criminals pull off risky armored truck heists that net them millions of dollars in a single take, that’s the easy part, at least according to FBI agents we’ve consulted for this show.

It’s a shocking notion because most of us probably imagine the hard part is planning the robbery. Coordinating when and how to hold up an armored truck that’s usually driving smack dab in the middle of busy streets.

But in reality, the most difficult part of these kinds of robberies is living with the cash immediately after the fact.

FBI experts say when you steal millions of dollars you can’t spend it all at once or just go put it in your bank account without raising red flags.

More often than not, the money becomes a burden if it’s all in one place. So, most perpetrators hide it in various places.

But stashing it here and there presents another problem, you have to go back and forth to retrieve the cash without anyone around you noticing because if you’re caught with it, it’s goodbye to your sweet life of flying under authorities’ radar.

The FBI says figuring out what to do with millions of dollars you’re not used to having is a lot harder than people imagine. Where to put the money and what to do with it becomes exponentially more challenging when a crew of people are involved in a robbery and each of them takes a different approach to how they spend or hide their cut.

Today’s episode takes us to Southern California in the 1990s, where one man plotted out the perfect crime but a small mistake by a member of his crew, who couldn’t figure out how to live with piles of cash, caused the entire scheme to unravel.

This is Armored… the untold stories of murder, mayhem, and million-dollar heists.

Friday September 12th, 1997 was a normal day for people working inside the headquarters of Dunbar Armored Corporation in downtown Los Angeles. The single-story building on Mateo Street near the city’s art and fashion districts acted as a major West Coast depot for Dunbar couriers ferrying cash to and from thousands of businesses.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the depot was regularly used to store cash coming and going from ATMs throughout the greater LA area.

We’re talking about millions-of-dollars-worth of cold hard cash in and out of this place every day.

In that same Times article, it was reported that the building was staffed with several employees and guards at all times and housed a sophisticated security system that included multiple video cameras. In addition to all the technology monitoring the building’s safety behind the scenes, the facility also had a mannequin dressed up as a security guard positioned just inside the front glass doors. The dummy was meant to act as a deterrent for anyone thinking about robbing the place, but unfortunately, the uniformed scarecrow wasn’t able to deter ALL troublemakers.

Just after midnight on Friday, which technically would have made it early morning Saturday, September 13th, Dunbar employees who were working the overnight shift inside the building took their scheduled break. While they were eating and hanging out in the depot’s cafeteria, five masked men wearing black ski masks and dark clothing ambushed them.

The LA Times reported the attackers were armed with several semi-automatic pistols and at least one shotgun.

The masked men quickly subdued the staff and forced them to the ground one at a time. They used duct tape to bind the employees’ hands and feet which prevented them from escaping to warn two vault guards still working in the building. According to multiple news outlets, at the time Dunbar required two armed guards be stationed at the depot’s vault 24 hours a day. Even if other people in the building took breaks, the personnel working in these positions could not leave their post for any reason unless they were relieved.

Within seconds of tying up the employees in the cafeteria the group of masked men stormed the vault room and at gunpoint quickly overtook the two guards stationed inside. Just like they’d done with the other hostages, the robbers subdued those guards with duct tape and forced them to lie face down.

After that, the suspects had free range in the Dunbar facility which according to news reports was housing tens of millions of dollars in cash on that particular weekend.

The LA Times reported that the hostages inside the building watched the bandits use bolt cutters to break padlocks on cages inside the vault that held stacks of money…then one-by-one the thieves removed bags of cash from the vault and carried them into the facility’s loading dock. None of the workers reported ever seeing the type of vehicle the thieves were driving.

In no time the robbers wrapped up their heist and took off onto the dark streets of downtown Los Angeles.

According to an episode of FBI Files on this case, not long after the bandits raided the depot, a guard inside was able to free himself from his duct tape bindings and call 911. The Los Angeles Police Department along with regional FBI agents responded to the scene.

The first thing investigators did was interview all of the employees who’d been working at the time of the robbery. They needed to learn every detail they could about the five men who’d seemed to effortlessly infiltrate the secure building and execute a multi-million-dollar robbery. What they learned was that five men in total had entered the building with guns…but while they were inside, witnesses heard a diesel engine truck backing into one of the garage bays. The FBI logically concluded that the sixth person was the getaway driver and they were dealing with a robbery crew of probably half a dozen armed men.

News reports state that none of the hostages were physically harmed during the heist…but at least one source we found did say a woman was injured. It didn’t say how though. The fact that few hostages were harmed indicated to authorities that the robbers had not wanted to hurt anyone while carrying out the crime. If the group’s intention was to rob at all costs, they would have just come in guns blazing and killed the workers then taken the cash.

When Dunbar officials arrived on scene and inventoried the vault, they reported that a total of $18.9 million was removed during the heist. When you factor in inflation at roughly three percent, that amount is equivalent to being worth nearly $32 million in today’s dollars.

Months after the crime, both the FBI and LAPD said the robbery qualified as one of the largest cash robberies in the U.S. and the largest in Los Angeles history.

In the immediate aftermath of the heist, the authorities did not release the exact figure amount of how much had been stolen to the media. FBI press releases in 1997 only states that the culprits had stolen “more than a million dollars.”

Multiple Newspapers later reported that the FBI wanted to understate the importance of the robbery as a way to keep the thieves off-guard, and possibly leave them open to making mistakes. The feds didn’t want to blast news outlets and publications with all the details and scare the robbers into going underground. Investigators wanted the group to spend some of the money they’d stolen or at least try to launder it.

A multi-agency task force called “Operation Dunrob” was established to work the case and as soon as detectives started investigating and interviewing building staff they realized the thieves seemed to have intimate knowledge of the facility AND according to the two guards who’d been tied up in the vault, the robbery crew also knew which money bags contained $20 and $100 non-sequential bills. The guards who’d survived the heist told authorities that most of the money that had been taken would be hard for police to track because a lot of the bills were non-sequential and destined for ATMs in the Los Angeles area.

On top of that bad news, FBI agents were unable to get physical descriptions of the assailants. The robbers had worn dark masks and clothing that covered most of their bodies. The workers who’d been held inside had been unable to see their faces or observe any identifying marks or tattoos. The only thing the witnesses could tell authorities was that they thought four of the suspects were African American and one might have been Hispanic.

Investigators turned to video surveillance tapes and the top-notch security system in the building for more clues, but that too was a dead end. The Lompoc Record reported that during the robbery, the thieves smashed all of the cameras in the hallways and vault and removed the video tapes from three machines that recorded footage during the window of time the heist happened.

This detail made FBI profilers very suspicious that the robbery was committed by men who worked at the facility or had once worked for the company. They wanted to keep an open mind, but at every turn and with every new piece of information they were learning, the job was looking more and more like the work of inside men.

News reports state that the only physical evidence left behind at the depot was a small piece of plastic on the floor of the facility’s loading dock and a side door that appeared to have pry marks on it.

The damaged door struck investigators as odd because none of the workers who’d been inside reported hearing any kind of forced entry attempts and no alarms had gone off before the four thieves ambushed the employees in the cafeteria. FBI agents felt confident that the thieves had entered the building covertly and unhindered and had inside knowledge of the facility’s security measures. It made no sense that they would have had to pry open a side door.

As far as the shard of plastic agents found in the loading dock, when they examined it they determined it was a piece of thick plastic that appeared to belong to a taillight for a vehicle. It was so small and damaged though that it was impossible for authorities to deduce much else about it.

When they compared it to the taillights and headlights on all of the armored trucks that frequently made stops at the depot, the plastic wasn’t a match to those vans or trucks. So, agents knew it hadn’t come from a vehicle owned by the Dunbar company or any of its subcontractors.

Investigators sent the plastic shard to the FBI’s forensics lab in Washington D.C. for testing and when the results came back, the report stated the plastic was consistent with the type of material used in the taillight lenses for 14-foot U-Haul brand trucks.

That finding gave investigators a better idea of how the culprits had hauled away their bags of stolen cash. It made sense that they’d likely piled the money into the back of a rented Uhaul. According to an episode of The FBI Files, the only problem was, there were 83 Uhaul rental stores in the greater LA area. There was no guarantee that the thieves were even still in possession of the truck the plastic lense belonged to.

The FBI was forced to track down every single Uhaul retailer in the Los Angeles area and subpoena documents that would prove which 14-foot trucks had been rented at the time of the robbery or in the months before. After that, they had the to narrow down which ones were 14 feet long and sporting a busted tail light. It was a needle in a haystack for sure, but the feds threw a lot of resources at the task.

While they worked, Dunbar Armored and their insurer posted a $250,000 reward for information and the FBI publicly announced that the agency believed the robbery was an inside job.

The question was, who were the faceless men who’d known their way around the Dunbar building so well?

Investigators were about to get their biggest clue yet…and learn at least one name that would break the case wide open…

The LA Times reported that in the days after the Dunbar robbery in downtown Los Angeles a female employee who’d been held hostage came forward and said she’d remembered something…something about one of the robbers.

She said that while lying on the floor bound with duct tape she’d overheard the voice of one of the men whom she believed was the ringleader or at least the guy ordering everyone else around. She told authorities that this guy’s voice sounded super familiar. She couldn’t put her finger on who exactly it was…just that the man’s voice was one she’d heard before in the halls of the building.

She said immediately after the robbery she’d been so distraught and shaken up that she didn’t recognize the voice but after a few days of thinking about it, she’d realized it was more than likely the voice of a current or former employee. She said a few days of rest and recuperation prepared her to come forward and report the information.

With this tip in hand, investigators asked the woman to look at a stack of pictures of men who were current employees of Dunbar or had recently stopped working for the company.

According to The FBI Files TV show, the female employee rifled through a few pictures and ended up identifying a man who’d recently been an armored truck driver for the facility, but when police tracked that guy down a few days later he was in New Orleans, Louisiana…1,900 miles away from the crime scene and he had a rock-solid alibi. He was cleared as a suspect.

FBI investigators were back to square one and began trying to figure out who would have had access to the building. In particular, they wanted to take a hard look at any employees who were not scheduled to work on the night of the robbery.

A name that came to the top of the list was a man who’d lost his job the day before the robbery… 28-year-old Allen Pace III.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Allen had been working as a security officer for the depot for a year and a half. His job required him to patrol the halls as well as maintain the building’s security system. Most of his responsibilities had been maintenance, replacing fire extinguishers, and general security.

Reports are slim as to why he was fired on September 11th, 1997 but some publications say the reason was “undisclosed”, while others like the LA Times reported he was canned for tampering with Dunbar vehicles, whatever the real truth was, Allen being the most-recent employee fired by Dunbar leading up to the day of the robbery made him a prime suspect for FBI investigators.

According to FBI Files, something else interesting investigators dug up about Allen was the fact that his girlfriend at the time also worked for Dunbar Armored. Her job required her to work with the security footage machines near the vault room of the building. Agents determined that four weeks prior to the robbery she had been fired as well.

Unfortunately, the feds were unable to find any hard evidence that pointed towards Allen or his girlfriend being involved.

To them, he looked really good for the crime…not just because they thought he could have been disgruntled about him and his girlfriend losing their jobs…but because he had THE most intricate knowledge of the facility’s layout. He knew where every entrance and exit was and more importantly, where the video cassette storage room was.

Allen was someone who would have known everything that the feds believed the robbers would have needed to know in order to pull off the heist. He also would have been someone who’d walked the halls and spoken a lot with employees.

Agents working the case remembered the female hostage who’d come forward to report that she’d recognized the voice of the ringleader of the robbery crew. News reports don’t say for sure whether or not this woman ever positively ID’d Allen’s voice, and I’m not even sure how something like that would hold up as evidence but whatever the final straw was, authorities brought Allen in for questioning.

They were disappointed to learn though that he had a solid alibi for the night of the robbery that dozens of witnesses backed up.

According to Allen, on the night of the crime, he was seen by his girlfriend, several friends, and acquaintances at a house party in Long Beach, California…nearly 30 miles away from the Dunbar armored truck depot.

When agents interviewed people who were at that party, they all said Allen was there and they accounted for his whereabouts the entire night. The most critical interviews that sured up Allen’s alibi came from his childhood friends, Erik Boyd, Eugene Lamar Hill Jr. Freddie McCrary Jr., Terry Brown Sr., and Thomas Johnson.

For months, investigators stayed focused on these men and the FBI grew more and more suspicious that Allen and his close friends could have all been in cahoots together. Something about their tight-knit relationships and infallible alibis the night of the crime weighed on case agents’ minds.

It all seemed too perfect.

The feds realized they just needed to go heads down and figure out how the crew had pulled it off.

The case dragged on though with little movement or progress for two years.

All the FBI had as far as a case was a broken Uhaul taillight and paper-thin suspicions about Allen and his friends. Something else that hurt their case was the fact that none of the men they believed were involved appeared to have spent any money. None of them were living lifestyles outside of their means….you know, doing and buying things that indicated they’d suddenly become rich as kings. The men all carried on normal lives with their wives, girlfriends, and families.

Without substantial leads to follow, case agents with the FBI were left to wait and watch the men intently.

They had no idea that their diligent surveillance efforts would NOT be the thing that was about to break the case.

One of their suspects slipping up during a simple monetary transaction would prove to be the spark that investigators had been waiting for to burn their suspects’ whole scheme to the ground.

In September 1999, two years after the robbery, Eugene Lamar Hill Jr. walked into a real estate broker’s office in Los Angeles and inquired about buying a home. According to the LA Times, the broker was an acquaintance of his and after some negotiating, the two men decided to close the deal. Eugene indicated he wanted to pay cash for the house and handed his friend a roll of money right then and there.

The broker was sort of taken aback that Eugene was so ready to invest, but was definitely down to execute the purchase. After Eugene left, the broker just happened to study the cash more closely and realized it was bound in original currency straps. The broker thought that was highly unusual considering most stacks of cash people brought in did not have original bands still on them. The roll of money and the way it was packaged indicated to the broker that it had come directly from a financial institution or armored courier company. To protect himself from inadvertently getting into legal troubles the broker called LAPD and reported the cash.

LAPD officers who worked on the Operation Dunrob task force with the FBI immediately jumped into action because they’d been trying to catch a break in the robbery case for literally two years. This was what they’d been waiting for.

Before bringing Eugene in for questioning, agents researched a little more into his background. They realized he’d actually rented a 14-foot U-Haul the day before the 1997 robbery at the Dunbar depot.

When agents went back and checked all of the Uhaul retailer’s rental records for that particular vehicle for the time around the robbery, they saw it had been returned the day after the heist, which fit the narrow window of time the FBI suspected the robbery crew would have needed to transport the money.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the FBI arrested Eugene on suspicion of possessing stolen currency. When they searched his house they located additional stacks of bills that were known to have been inside the Dunbar vault.

Not long after being arrested, Eugene confessed to his involvement in the Dunbar robbery and identified his co-conspirators as Allen, Erik, Freddie., Terry., and Thomas. Eugene told agents that he had been the getaway driver and the shard of plastic they’d found in the Dunbar garage had broken off the truck he’d been driving.

But he didn’t stop there. Eugene offered up names of other people who’d helped the group launder money over the past two years.

According to an article in the California Bar Journal, a Las Vegas-based attorney named David Matsumoto and his office manager, Joaquin Bin, were both involved in laundering money for the robbery suspects.

David was a licensed immigration attorney who did most of his work in LA and Joaquin was his close confidant.

Aided by Eugene’s testimony, investigators learned that together David and Joaquin had accepted $2 million from the robbers. Court documents state that David deposited that money into a client trust account and wrote checks out to the robbers in the form of W-2 wages and investment capital for businesses that they’d set up. David and Joaquin also made real estate and vehicle purchases on the suspects’ behalf.

The California Bar Journal reported that David and Joaquin were eventually arrested and charged with 71 counts of money laundering and tax fraud. David gave up his license to practice law and eventually pleaded guilty in September 2001. He and Joaquin were sentenced to 27 and 30 months in federal prison.

The FBI quietly arrested the rest of Eugene’s co-conspirators over a period of a few months in the summer of 2000.

The government pegged Allen Pace as the ringleader of the scheme. Allen refuted those claims and maintained his innocence.

During interviews with the authorities, Allen claimed that the other men in the group had set him up as a patsy. The L.A. Times reported that he alleged one of the other men had a vendetta against him because he was quote—“messing (around) with his wife.”—end quote.

Investigators didn’t buy Allen’s story though. After two years of watching his every move and all of the testimony from Eugene Hill, the feds wholeheartedly believed that Allen had orchestrated the entire thing. His prior employment with the Dunbar Armored company and his detailed knowledge of the facility’s security and floorplans made him capable of pulling off the job and wrangling others to follow his every direction.

Each of the five suspects were charged with conspiracy to commit robbery, use of a gun during a violent crime, and interfering with interstate commerce. They each faced up to 45 years in prison.

By the time Allen’s trial rolled around in 2001, four of his co-defendants had agreed behind the scene to cooperate with authorities and testify against Allen. The only other defendant who opted for a jury trial was Erik Boyd.

In exchange for less time in prison, Eugene, Freddie, Terry, and Thomas agreed to turn state’s evidence against Allen and Erik and it proved critical. The defendant’s family members also sold them out.

The LA Times reported that during Erik’s trial his father testified against his son and said that not long after the robbery Erik came to him and asked him to launder $177,000 he got in a drug deal through the family’s charter bus business. According to court records, Erik’s dad did as his son asked because he wanted to protect him. Not long after laundering the money though Erik’s dad said his son confessed that the cash had actually come from his cut of the Dunbar armored depot robbery. Not a drug deal. So, Erik had made his own father complicit in federal crimes and during his trial he paid for it.

Erik was convicted and sentenced to 17 years in prison.

A few months later Allen was also found guilty. He was sentenced to 24 years in prison.

According to the federal bureau of prisons, Allen served out his sentence and was released on October 1st, 2020 at the age of 52. Erik was released on June 16th, 2015 at the age of 50.

The other men involved in the robbery took plea deals and each received sentences of 8 to 10 years in prison.

As it remains on paper, the infamous robbery of the Dunbar Armored facility in September of 1997 was 100 percent orchestrated by Allen Pace III. During his trial, evidence came to light that proved he’d spent years planning the heist.

While he’d worked for the company, he compiled pictures of the building’s layout and walked the floor plan hundreds of times. He even knew the specific angles and timing that the facility’s security cameras panned.

While working at Dunbar, Allen had put together a list of the guards’ schedules and knew to the minute when certain activities took place.

His co-conspirators said in their confessions that Allen had sort of misled them into participating in the robbery. They said he had not told them the extent of what they’d be getting involved in.

They claimed that Allen had lured them in with the promise of easy money but they had no idea they would become accomplices in a heist worth nearly $20 million. They said they had no idea they’d become fugitives.

Court documents state that a few hours before the robbery Allen and his five accomplices met up at the house party in Long Beach…but the party was always intended to be a cover.

The group wanted drunk party guests to be their alibi so they could slip out and drive the half-hour trek to the Dunbar facility and rob it.

It’s reported that around midnight the group left the party briefly, put on black outfits and entered the Dunbar building. Allen provided a supervisor’s stolen key. The other men said that it was Allen’s idea to leave pry marks on the building’s side door to fabricate signs of forced entry and throw investigators off the scent.

The men said at Allen’s direction and outfitted with firearms and walkie-talkie headsets they stayed in constant communication and deftly subdued all of the employees and made an easy entrance into the vault.

All in all, it took the six men a half hour to load the $18.9 million dollars into the U-Haul. After driving off they’d changed back into their party clothes at one of the men’s apartments and returned to the Long Beach house.

Each man admitted to sitting on their share of the cash for six months after the heist, never spending it. They said Allen had given them specific instructions NOT to spend it or try to launder it because the police were initially going to look at him.

Part of the government’s case at trial was laying out how Allen had created a variety of companies and businesses to serve as legitimate means for him to funnel stolen money through. According to the Lompoc Record, Allen roped in two of his other childhood friends to head up a shell company called XXXtreme Entertainment. That business quote — “conducted after-hours parties, set up comedy shows, rented jet skis, and provided inflatable jumping booths for children’s parties.”—end quote.

All of the robbers set up similar shell corporations and reportedly spent hundreds of thousands of dollars during a trip to Las Vegas as a way to burn through some of the excess cash leftover from the robbery.

The government was also able to successfully show that all six men invested in real estate after the robbery, which proved to be the most effective and low-key laundering strategy they used.

According to the LA Times, the men created straw buyers to acquire at least ten different homes during public auctions of foreclosed properties. They then rented out those homes to tenants or lived in them with their families posing as tenants.

In addition to their prison sentences, the culprits were made jointly responsible for paying back restitution on the millions of dollars they’d stolen. To this day, whether or not they’ve ever fully restored their debts to the Dunbar company or the federal government is unknown.

The Baltimore Sun reported in 2018 that the Brink’s company acquired Dunbar Armored for $520 million. The report states that for 95 years Dunbar was an independent cash transport service but it could not rival its competitors and ultimately had to sell out.

So, who knows if Dunbar ever got what it was owed.

According to the FBI, despite all of the men being caught, most of the money they stole remains unaccounted for.

According to the L.A. Times, approximately $5 million was tracked down by authorities before Allen and Erik’s trials. However, at that time, nearly $14 million remained unaccounted for, and it remains in the wind even all these decades later.

In 2001, federal investigators and prosecutors said that they believed a good chunk of the cash was spent in Las Vegas on the men’s casino trip…but they could never be sure. Even for the highest roller in the world, spending 14 million in one Vegas trip seems like a lot…but who am I to speculate.

Many former task force members of “Operation Dunrob” have long said that they suspected several other conspirators were involved in the crime…but there was no way to prove it.

If these nameless and faceless robbers still exist, perhaps they know where the missing millions are…

Perhaps Allen Pace and his associates were playing a long game. Maybe they figured out how to launder the rest of the money undetected and maybe…just maybe…they were able to pull off the perfect robbery.

Armored is an audiochuck original.

Hosted by Jake Brennan.

Research and writing by Micheal Whelan with writing assistance from executive producer Delia D’Ambra.

Editing by Eric Aaron.

So what do you think Chuck, do you approve? *howl*