Larry Eugene Phillips Jr; the body building, bank robbing, master of disguise.
That is what popular media would have us believe, and like any good story it is grounded in truth and perpetuated and expanded upon by public perception.
Yet who exactly was this man?
The picture above is the one we most commonly associate with Phillips Jr; it is after all the most widely circulated picture from a very small pool of available pictures of this man.
We see the angled pose of his head, indicating impatience, the slightly upturned chin which suggests arrogance and above all the face devoid of expression topped by the seemingly empty eyes. This picture, this momentary snapshot in time, would seem to show us a man who would have no problem committing the crimes to come over the next three and a half years, and that is the point I am trying to make here; when we view this picture we build a mental perception of who this man was and with that we start to build our own version of the 'monster'.
This picture holds no significant value as to determining who exactly Jr was and what was brewing inside of him. Yet the question still remains; who was this man?
Where did he come from?
What had led him to North Hollywood on that fateful day in 1997?
To understand Larry we must understand his background, his upbringing and whatever we can find about his formative years, so whilst what follows may seem to point away from Larry and toward other people the truth of it is that it was the actions of others that influenced him to a certain degree and placed him on that ill fated path of destruction.
Larry entered this world on 20th September 1970 at The California Hospital 1401 South Grand Avenue; a son to one Barbara Allen and Daniel Ira Warfel. They gave their address as 1332
S. Bond St, Los Angeles. There was no such address, the closest match comes up with Bond St which is now part of the Staples Centre parking lot. South Bond didn't exist. The first lie.
Daniel listed his occupation as a truck driver from Colorado and Barbara said she came from Utah.
All the information except for their home states was a lie. Names, occupations, address, everything; it was all fake.
So Larry Eugene Phillips Jr entered this world at 10:14pm on that Sunday night as Larry Eugene Warfel, a name he would live under for the next seventeen years.
Ms Allen and Mr Warfel Sr were in fact Dorothy Clay and Larry Eugene Phillips Sr, and they were on the run from the law.
Sr saw out just three months back at the reformatory before being transferred to Colorado State Hospital on June 1st 1968.
Colorado State Hospital was not your standard hospital, it was a mental institution. Built in 1879 on 40 acres of donated land; when it opened it was to house just fourteen patients
twelve male and two female. By the 1960s the hospital was servicing the whole of the state and had grown to over 5100 acres complete with its own farms which helped sustain the
institution's nearly six thousand patients.
The reasons behind Sr's move from Buena Vista to the psychiatric hospital are unfortunately lost, his FBI file has been mostly destroyed having passed the statute of limitations for record keeping and any medical records from the hospital have either gone the same route or are unable to be sourced. Was his change of location a matter of segregation for personal safety or to protect others? Had psychological issues demanded the move or had Sr faked symptoms in order to facilitate what was to come next?
Within the 5,800 patients of Colorado State Hospital Sr was soon lost in a system that forgot his name, and on or around the 18th April 1969 after being at the hospital for a little over ten months he effected his escape. His method of escape has never been released for public knowledge, although there is a large network of underground tunnels beneath the hospital complex which could have afforded him the means of egress. Three days later an escape warrant was issued by the District Court in Pueblo County, Co in the name of Larry Eugene Phillips.
Two months later US Commissioner Howard E Erickson issued a further warrant for 'Unlawful flight to avoid confinement'
The case was now in the hands of the FBI.
Sr fled first into Denver to pick up his girlfriend, Dorothy Lopez then headed west to Salt Lake City, Utah. He was not travelling under his own name though; first they moved with him using the name Charles Dawn and later he would use the name of an old school acquaintance, Daniel Ira Warfel. When later asked why he had used that particular name he would say that he knew the guy was' a mama's boy, a guy who wouldn't be in trouble', his logic was that by using the name of this law abiding citizen he could assume a safe second identity. And it worked, for seven years.
Lopez, soon to be Larry Jr's mother, is somewhat of a shadowy figure. Very little is known of her, and even less is contained within the FBI's file on Phillips Sr.
Lopez, nine years Phillips senior, is described as being of Mexican descent, brown hair and brown eyes and sporting two small tattoos. She was known by a stunning array of aliases including: Dorothy Clay (her maiden name), Dorothy Maestas, Frances Ellen Garcia, Dorothy Steffeno, Barbara Allen and lastly Dorothy Phillips. Her only listed occupation is that of prostitution. A story exists that she had served jail time of her own and had stabbed a fellow inmate whilst on the inside; this remains, at this point, just an unverifiable story as all attempts to track any prison records of hers has yielded negative results.
Lopez (later to revert to the name Clay) would remain a reclusive and under-investigated source of information about not only Phillips Sr but also the younger years of her son, Larry Jr.
Larry Sr and Lopez made their way to Salt Lake City, Utah and whilst there they both made a large mistake. Individually they had both contacted members of their families letting them
know, at the very least, what city they were in. Both families informed the FBI.
On Monday 27th October 1969 Phillips Sr, only five months after his escape, was walking down the street when he was approached by a Salt Lake City police officer and invited to sit in the back of his patrol car whilst the officer ran a NCIC check on him.
Phillips, either in a moment of panic or pure bravado must have used his real name; when the 'Wants/Warrants' check came back positive Phillips leapt from the back of the cruiser and took off. All efforts to track him down failed.
One thing is for sure though, he knew their cover in that city was thin, and it is presumed that in the space of a few days he initiated the move to California.
From this date the story goes dark until Jr's arrival at The California Hospital on 20th September 1970; nothing is known of Sr and Lopez's movements within the intervening eleven months.
So Larry Eugene Phillips Jr came into this world born under the alias Larry Warfel, to parents who already knew the wrong side of the law. This may leave you asking questions about what
this lengthy parental history has to do with Jr.
It all sets the scene for his upbringing. Larry Sr was already self conditioned into an anti-establishment mentality; whether his initial arrest was the result of a drunken prank or the acting out of a deeper seated anti social personality disorder will never be known, but what we can glean from it is that it set him on a destructive cycle all whilst trying to raise a family. A cycle that would become all too familiar. Luckily for Sr he would arrest (pun unintentional) that destructive cycle some years later after another rather bizarre criminal enterprise but the damage had already been done. He could not see law enforcement as any kind of positive entity, something he alluded to in a much later interview. They had become the enemy and it was this mindset that he cultivated in his young son some years later.
The timeline between 27th October 1969 and 22nd September 1976 is very sparse; the Warfel family had dropped completely off the radar. No further contact was reported between
them and their respective families.
Whilst very little is known about the family's movements between 1970 and September 1976 one small thing crops up that gives us further insight into their history. Clay, an elusive character at best, has been found to have had a very short lived marriage to a Brian Alton O'Neale in 1974. This marriage would then indicate that Phillips Sr was already off the scene from this time and may well point to minimal contact with his son during the two years from '74 thro '76. As is the case with many who move to Los Angeles in search of a different life Brian Alton O'Neale was not who he claimed to be, he had reinvented himself.
Born Neale Henry Reynolds in 1941 in Maine he moved with his mother at an early age to California and appears to have spent most of his life around the Woodland Hills area. In January 1969 he married for the first time and had one daughter. On 28th May 1974 O'Neale married Dorothy Clay in Los Angeles, yet the union would be extremely brief, lasting only seven weeks before divorce proceedings became official in July.
Had the marriage taken place in Las Vegas one could understand if this was a product of some drunken escapade but with it having taken place in Los Angeles we believe this goes to show that this was either a marriage of convenience or something was very very wrong between the couple.
Larry Eugene Phillips Jr was three and a half years old.
The story of this odd piece of history does not quite end with the divorce though.
O'Neale by all accounts was an outgoing friendly and personable character yet his charm may have masked something unsettling in his life. Every person that knew him tells a different story of the O'Neal they knew and the stories he told them of himself. Some knew him as a doctor (which he wasn't), some as a psychiatrist (which he wasn't); his own business associate later recalled that he had told her that he was a karate expert, had been a pilot, a sniper and had also been in the CIA's employ. Pretty fanciful and not one of these claims has ever been substantiated.
Even his own girlfriend of the previous four years believed him to be a medical professional.
O'Neale's Walter Mitty antics came to a sudden and violent end at approximately 4am on the morning of September 18th 1988 outside his apartment on North Burlington Avenue, Echo Park.
As O'Neale approached his apartment an unidentified assassin stepped forward and at a distance of between ten and twenty feet fired a single shot with a shotgun into O'Neale's face, killing him.
The shotgun was dropped near O'Neale's body as were two 'Oriental style' knives. The police believed the killer had waited in ambush for O'Neale for a substantial period of time.
Whatever the reason for O'Neale's slaying it most definitely had an air of personal vengeance about it. As far as we can ascertain the killing has never been solved.
The FBI had not given up their search though; they remained invested in capturing Phillips Sr, and despite his ex who was well known to law enforcement getting married and having her name in a public register the FBI appear to have only searched for the couple via driving licence applications.
On 25th November 1974 in Carson City, Nevada somebody made an application for a drivers licence under the name Larry Eugene Phillips. By the 4th December the FBI had the original application in their laboratory, it was run for prints. They didn't match. The FBI was back to square one, hunting a ghost.
We press fast forward on the timeline now and skip to 22nd September 1976, two days past Jr's sixth birthday. Lopez (now using the name Dorothy Clay) and Jr were living in a small
town called Kiowa, forty miles south-east of Denver. Exactly when they had left the Los Angeles area and headed back toward home turf is unknown, neither is the reason why Phillips Sr
was not living with them.
Sr had visited the Kiowa home to belatedly celebrate his son's birthday when as they settled down to a supper of chilli seven FBI agents entered the home and placed Sr in handcuffs, in front of his shocked son.
Interestingly there is neither mention of local law enforcement being involved with the arrest nor any mention of how exactly the FBI just happened to chance on that exact property at that exact time when Sr was present. There are no surveillance logs, no mention whatsoever of a tip anonymous or otherwise, no mention of suspicions from local law enforcement that their small town may be harbouring a wanted fugitive. Nothing. The one conclusion that can only be made is that Sr was given up by someone very close to him whose name was kept out of the record. Clay. Had Clay turned a corner in her life and was looking out for the best interests of her son, didn't want the disruptive and criminal behaviour of her estranged common law husband poisoning her young child's mind. Clay and Jr were back in Colorado; Sr is known to have still been residing in the LA area.
So could she have tried one desperate last ditch effort to remove this man from her son's life? It is certainly possibly although the actual truth is unfortunately lost to the sands of time now.
When Sr was processed before his brief incarceration in Denver Jail he was well documented, in addition to the 3/4" scar on his right knee he was now also sporting some new additions.
A 1/2" scar underside of jaw, 1" scar underside of left forearm, a 2" scar underside of left forearm and a 1" stab wound scar, right side of torso below rib cage.
In his seven years between documentation he had collected some battle trophies. Were the scars on the underside of his left forearm an indication of self harm, either deliberate or manufactured to get him sent to the State Hospital? Were the scars pointing toward a history of violence within his short time already spent in the prison system? Or were the healed wounds, including the stab wound some pointer toward a violent and abusive relationship between himself and Clay?
The answers, again, will never be known.
Sr took his arrest calmly, openly admitted his identity and was promptly locked up in Denver's Central Jail. Cruel irony that fourteen years later his son would hear the same jail doors slam behind him too. When Sr's day in court came it was found that the original 'flight to avoid confinement warrant' had expired that June. Sr was released, promptly rearrested and returned to Buena Vista to serve the rest of his sentence.
After Larry Jr's death in North Hollywood Larry Sr granted what was to become a very exclusive interview, one of only three on record that we can find, to Peter Wilkinson of Rolling Stone magazine.
The article holds some very important clues on Jr's mentality, and of Sr and his role in his son's eventual demise too.
Sr appeared to take great pride that his son had followed in his errant footsteps, not only followed but also surpassed in terms of criminality, often under his father's moral tutelage.
'I told him "If you are doing something wrong then don't tell anyone"'
When asked about the Kiowa arrest and the potential psychological impact on his son all Larry Sr could muster was 'It really messed him up'. As a six year old child it could be imagined that it was a rather traumatic experience seeing his father taken away in handcuffs, the influence that was to follow in later years after Sr and Clay divorced would be far more destructive. The ego of a father would prove to be the gateway to destruction for his child.
Clay and Sr finally divorced in 1980. Sr went back to LA, Clay took honest work as a maintenance engineer in a Denver hospital. Clay never denied Sr visitation to his son and from the
ages of 10 to 16 he would see him sporadically, and it was in those visits that we believe the 'monster' was truly created.
Sr's visits, like most estranged fathers, were centred around fun father and son bonding experiences, bowling, fishing, hunting, sporting events and most importantly bodybuilding; something Larry Jr took to with great fervour and which would play a major part in the story of his remaining years.
In 1986, Clay decided to seek a better life for her and Larry Jr and she upped and moved them to Los Angeles. Larry was busy, he has quit school in the 9th grade and was dating a young
lady, later to become his first wife, Sharon Santos. He would leave her high and dry seven years later virtually penniless and with their two children, but for the moment he had a plan.
A devotee to the muscle magazines and body building circuit he went all out and purchased a five year membership at the world famous Gold's Gym at Rose St, Venice Beach. It was the Mecca of the bodybuilding universe and Larry saw it as the gateway to him making it big.
He had no money to hire a personal trainer, he did not even possess a car at that point, his trips from Pasadena to the gym on the beachfront took a couple of hours each way by bus. He was dirt poor and he knew it; he had big, if not slightly unrealistic, plans to change all that.
At first glance the heavily overweight and often jovial Emil Matasareanu seemed an odd foil for the ripped and stoic Larry Phillips but that was Phillips forte. He purposely sought out
people with a need, people with whom he could maintain the upper hand, control and manipulate to his will.
Dennis Franks, Larry's half brother, spoke years later of Larry's consummate skill in taking people, breaking them down and building them back up in a mould that was of use to him. Emil
was to be no different, yet he would follow Larry further than anybody else, maybe because his need was greater than anybody else Larry had yet encountered.
Larry's budding friendship was furthered by two new items in his life, a black BMW and a computer, both purchased for him by Clay. It is not known what Larry used the computer for but it was common ground with Emil who had been dabbling with computers for years. Larry though had greater aspirations than swapping out hard drives or programming DOS software, he had his eyes on the extremely lucrative LA property market.
Larry studied real estate books determined to make his break into the boom market, and on 3rd November 1990 he was issued his salespersons licence, with caveats. He had to pass the exam by 3rd May 1992 and pass the background checks; trouble was brewing behind the scenes but for the moment Larry was blissfully happy, he thought he had made it to his big break.
30th January 1991 rolled around and Larry's licence was suspended indefinitely. His past had come back to bite him.
When the California Department of Real Estate processed his background check his fingerprints had betrayed him and an undisclosed arrest invalidated his application.
In 1989 at a Sears store in Alhambra Larry had shoplifted $400 worth of suits, popular culture would have us believe he stole these to look the part in the property selling world, yet this
was a full year before he had even gained his provisional licence. I find it hard to believe that man of his wiles would not have envisaged being able to gain $400 in twelve months and
had felt the need to shoplift the items there and then. This comes across as more of an opportunistic and poorly planned crime which earned him three days in jail and twelve months of
uneventful probation; which was ultimately to be the final nail in his view of any chance of a normal working life.
Larry was apoplectic, from a bizarre viewpoint he felt that 'these people' had taken away his livelihood, somehow deprived him, persecuted him; and he swore to get even. At no point is there any record of him accepting that his previous actions had impacted his lifestyle.
Larry's address history during this period is a little hazy, but it is believed he was living with Santos and their first child at his mother's house at 23 West Harriet St, Altadena.
Santos walked carefully around Larry, there was never any recorded acts of domestic violence between the couple but when interviewed six years later she said 'I didn't want to push him too hard, I was afraid he would get even more upset'.
Money trickled into the household, yet wherever Larry was sourcing it from he wasn't telling, when Santos asked him he would just tell her 'Don't worry, mind the baby'. Something told
her not to pick at him over this.
Larry had figured if he couldn't be in the real estate business legitimately then he was going to put the knowledge he had gained to good use and be in the business in another way. Like his father before him his choices were about to blow up in his face.
In an empty property he set up a shell company, Capital West Investments, and through some skilled forgery he set about selling phony discounted second mortgages to real estate brokers.