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A quick warning. Some of the series includes descriptions of graphic violence. Put your name on the side of a mountain in southern California, a bleeding man crawls from the scraggly brush. A helicopter hovers above where I'm tape recording the conversation. Right. He nodded his head. You realizing you have a bullet in your back, you realize that there's a possibility that you may die. With that in mind, if you want to tell me anything about what happened.
An officer cuts the man and a detective immediately flips on a tape recorder. Did you get in a shootout with the cops at a bank in Norco? There was security Pacific Bank. How many of you were there? Five. What were their names?
Bill, Ronnie, George and George Smith is the first suspect from the bank robbery that the police have been able to capture and question. He's been shot multiple times. And my leg. Three rounds in your leg. Yes, I did. And where did you get the three rounds in your life that the detective is walking George down the hill to a helicopter?
We're going to do what we can, George. The helicopter can't land here, and we've got quite a ways to walk before we can get you to where you are going to be picked up.
And there's a danger George could pass out before he gives a full confession.
George, what's your name? What's that smell? All right, George, where are you from? George That's Wyoming for questions.
It's May 10th, 1980, the day after one of the most intense standoffs that Southern California law enforcement has ever seen. And it all began with George Smith and four other men who tried to pull off a bank robbery in Norco, California. But things would quickly go sideways.
You know that an officer has been killed. So I'm telling you now an officer has been killed and you'll be taken into custody in San Bernardino County for the murder of one officer. Did you see them going, officer? And finally, answers in this canyon area. One, two, three, four, testing, one, two, three, four, the same day police would question a second suspect, a man in a blue hoodie and Blackfield Boots named Chris Havant.
I don't know one thing that's different. Well, there's no place like to be here without even asking for a lawyer.
They get straight into the details. The getaway car they used, the weapons they bought, the bombs they made, even the drugs they consumed before the robbery, which struck a lot of drank a lot of booze.
But don't worry, I can handle it.
And I know how much I want to something stupid enough to know anything about it, you know, being as stupid as finding it right now in these tapes, you can hear that the robbers are still processing what they just did, like when a detective asked Chris Harvin if they had practiced the robbery ahead of time.
You guys rehearsed, rehearsed. We're pretty sure there is no rehearsals. I mean, you guys want to play a bunch of professionals. From what I understand, there was a fire slur.
He tells the homicide detective smoothly. It was a botched job from the word go.
Everything that we would have expected to go along. You know, everything that I said was the wrong our life.
I'm Anthony yesterday, and from Elías Studios and Futuro Studios, this is Norco 80, a series about one of the most violent bank robberies in US history. In this series, we look at what happened that day in May of 1980 and what would happen after all the gun smoke cleared away. It's a story that brings up a lot of questions, questions, but still feel present today around access to guns, the purpose of law enforcement and the seductiveness of survivalism.
And we're going to look at how the shock of the Norco bank robbery spread from a sheriff's department in southern California to police all across the country and pushed police to demand bigger, more powerful weapons. And how that contributed to the kind of policing we're still grappling with today. But above all, we're going to tell the story of how five disaffected young men made a plan that went spectacularly wrong. The officer wasn't supposed to happen. Have no, I have.
The year of the bank robbery, 1980 was an anxious time, there was a lot going on, violent crime was on the rise and like today, the economy was taking a nosedive. An unpopular president was finishing out his first and last term.
In 1976, candidate Carter promised to lead America to great new heights. In three and a half years, millions of American workers find themselves out of work, and confidence in presidential leadership has fallen to the lowest levels in our nation's history.
Today, climate change and a global pandemic are the existential crisis we live with. But back then it was the Cold War.
Nuclear weapons were a potential world ending threat.
And in a nation primed for an apocalypse, religious groups preaching the end times were attracting followers, the Bible says in the twinkling of an eye.
Millions of people will suddenly disappear because the rapture will come and Christ will return as we close out on 2020.
A trying year, to say the very least. It's interesting to look back at another time when people felt like the world was ending, when, like today, there was so much uncertainty in the air. And all of these things, all of this tension would come to a head during the Norco bank robbery of May 9th, 1980. We'll be right back. Norco, 80, is supported by sales. Small businesses need a steady partner in today's changing world.
Salesforce gives you sales, service and marketing all on one secure platform accessible from anywhere so you can connect your team's share information and automate processes. And best of all, they're here to help at any time with service, support or proactive tips to help you grow, form deeper connections with your customers. Starting now, try it for free at Salesforce.com SMB. Chapter one, The Robbery. Do you remember me? No, actually, OK, I'm going to tape recorded conversation again.
Once the helicopter arrived at the hospital, George Smith was hooked up to an IV and a detective continued to question him.
How did you get the van? I didn't get it.
But man, Billy and he walked the detective through the day of the robbery before the men would even get to the bank. They needed to hijack a car. The detective asked them how they would do that. How did they do that?
We can now go back to do they kidnapped. You know who the man George says they had to kidnap a man.
It was 1980, but Gary Hackle husband was holding on to the kitschy style of the 1970s was just your typical 70s Dodge van with a shag carpet on the floor, a bench seat all the way around with with a closet on the driver's side.
The storage closet was especially helpful. Gary used the van for his canning business. I was canning dehydrated food. I had a greenhouse with a thousand tomato plants going. At the time. Business was booming. Some weeks it brought in as much as a million dollars.
So Gary was feeling optimistic on a bright, sunny day in May as he drove across the Inland Empire to pick up some supplies, know that day had more things happen, that where all the stars lined up for my benefit and all the stars lined up to work against me.
The Inland Empire is a sprawling region the size of West Virginia, stretching all the way from the border of Los Angeles to as far as Arizona. Up until the 1950s, it was known mainly for its orange and lemon trees.
Among California crops, citrus occupies one of the kings.
But in the 1980s it became a destination suburb for families and small businesses like Gary's more space at an affordable price. Around 11, 30 that day, Gary made what he thought would be a quick stop at a shopping mall in California, and I really got to go to the restroom.
And as they pull into the parking lot, there's a low rider and there are three guys in there and they're glaring at me.
I was 35 years old and I thought I was quite a little rooster at the time. You know, I'd coached wrestling and wrestled a little in college. And I you know, I probably had a little inflated opinion of how bad I was. But, you know, I'm glaring back at him. I pulled around to park and as I went to the back of the trailer, I was going to a huge padlock. Gary decides to lock up the van just in case I went to the back of the van.
There's no windows in the back. This low rider pulls up to the side of the van. I didn't hear him. And I turn around and boom, three doors are open. Three men in military fatigues jump out. And then I thought, well, the parking lot is full of people. I thought, well, I'm going to be OK if I'm calm and I don't agitate these people, I'll be OK. That was wrong.
Next thing Gary knows, one of the men is on top of him. He's cracking my head with the gun and he has reinforced nylon tape. Almost impossible to break this stuff. And he tapes me from the wrists up to my elbows and my ankles to my knees. He puts a sack over my head.
A second man jumps into Gary's van. I don't know why I said this, but I should take my glasses and put them in the glove compartment.
And then a third man starts to hack of the shelves inside the van closet with a knife, their nails sticking out and splinters of wood. And he says, get in the closet, it's a foot wide. And I said, well, I can't fit in there. Puts the gun in practically in my mouth. And it's surprising how small an area you can fit in when you have no options.
The van takes off with Gary crammed into the back closet. As I'm in there, my shoulders under pressure, my testicles are getting smashed. Remember, I stopped by to pee and you know, I've got to go to the bathroom. I'm getting cut up in there from the nails and broken stuff. I want to sack off my head in there. I can see out the back window, I can smell the dairy farms. I'm trying to keep track of the turns so I can figure out where we're going.
Pretty soon I give up. I'm I'm lost where we are.
The van pulls into what Gary thinks is a construction site or he sees two or three more people in the same military fatigues as his kidnappers.
I'm very I guess in some ways innocent person. But it was the first time I'd really smelled marijuana. One of them was was on that. I remember the smell and they started throwing things into the van. I could hear like nylon bags and so on, and I could feel the weight of the van go down under the weight. Then I hear the cracking of reflections from my ear. It was a semiautomatic rifle. Actions as they are loading it up my shoulder is under such immense pain, I think it's out of the socket.
My arms and legs have gone numb from the tape. You know, I've got to pee so bad. I'm afraid if I wet my pants, that's all it'll take to have them go off on me. All of a sudden we bounced off a curb and went across the street. And, you know, it's to go, go, go, and I can hear a kid scream as the door opens, I didn't know at that point it was it was the bank.
We'll be right back. We are excited, Elías Studios, California Love is a best podcast of 20-20 by Apple podcast and Spotify.
What you find the hidden secret is like, Oh, this is here. Oh, you have an oasis, join Walter Thompson Hernandez for a transcendent journey, experience California, love wherever you get your podcasts. We're back in the 1980s, the greater Los Angeles area was known as the bank robbery capital of the world. Across the country, bank robberies had gone up more than 50 percent from 1975 to 1980. And according to an FBI investigator, up to a third of bank robberies happened in Los Angeles.
And there was an easy explanation for this.
More and more and more cars, the California freeway system, it was ubiquitous.
California's population had boomed with the advent of car culture. And while freeways made for a much speedier commute, they also allowed for a much quicker getaway. If you were a robber and some of these bank robbers were so prolific, they even got their own nicknames, like the Yankee bandit who was known for wearing a Yankee cap during his heists. One time he robbed six banks in just four hours. And yet, while bank robberies were commonplace, most of them were kind of uneventful.
A man dressed in a suit or an unassuming outfit would politely tell a bank teller that he had a gun in his pocket and the teller would hand over a few thousand dollars. But the bank robbery that George Smith would carry out was different. It didn't happen in L.A. It happened in Norco, a small town in the Inland Empire, about an hour east of Los Angeles. And in 1980, the town didn't even have a freeway running through it. In fact, local residents had their own unique way of getting around narcos, a horse community.
People came together and rode their horses.
Sharon Dickens worked at the local security Pacific Bank, located on the main drag of Norco, a place with more horse trails than sidewalks.
I don't remember there being crime. And during that time, everybody knew everybody. And Sharon actually knew George Smith. George Smith was one of our clients, was one of our customers. I knew him from the bank. He had real thick, curly hair and he wore glasses. If I had seen him walk through the door at the bank in his street clothes by himself, I probably would have said, Hi, George.
Back in the hospital the day after the bank robbery, George would take the detective through what happened at the bank.
Just summarize how you guys planned for planned. I hit it on a Friday.
George had purposely picked to hit the bank on a Friday payday. Sharon Dickens was working that day at the bank. This Friday was not a typical Friday. In fact, we all talked about how how strange it was. It was three thirty in the afternoon. Normally the branch on a Friday would be jam packed and it was not.
Sharon remembers. It was casual Friday at the Security Pacific Bank. The tellers wore Levi's and t shirts.
We were all on the teller line as we were expecting the crowd to come on Friday and we heard this tremendous noise.
What it was, was the four of them hitting both of those double doors. At one time, George was the timekeeper. Get a timer in his hand. Such two minutes. One hundred and twenty seconds. That's how long he figured they had to get in, get the money and get out before the cops would arrive. And it was like time stood still for a minute. Nobody, nobody move. Nobody said anything until the command was given to hit the floor.
Sharon dropped to the ground. We could still see the robbers.
That's when the suspects took their positions. One jumped up on the counter right in front of me. One stayed by the door.
He stood at the door and called out the time. Yes, I did. Sharon didn't recognize George. They had army or military fatigues on. They had ponchos, ski masks, camouflage pants, boots and big guns.
If you guys have any machine guns, they are. They are fifty.
Yeah, I did attempt to push my silent alarm, but the suspect who was on the counter in front of me said if any if any F and alarms go off the F and bullets are going to fly. So I'm like, uh, I going to be no hero. Then he yelled to get up and that's when he threw the bag down in front of me and gave the command to everybody to empty their money into the bag.
Thirty seconds left that one minute and thirty seconds. I said time. Thirty seconds. They needed to be out in half a minute. One of the robbers dragged the branch manager to the back vault at that time, I heard one of the suspects yelling, time, time.
What did you say?
We're taking too much time. So then I said to the suspect on the counter, You want this? He said, yes, I want it. So he took the bag from me and then he looked at me and he goes, I want you.
I want you on the floor. So I sat down and he said, No, I want you face down. And that is the only time that I thought this this man is going to kill me because he said it a couple of times, I want you face down on the floor. And the only thing I could think of at that time was my three girls being without a mother. Within two minutes, I said time again, and now then you guys all left the bank, is that correct?
Yes, we did.
And then they exited. George and the others had made it out money in hand in two minutes, just like George had planned. No one was hurt. No one had died. This could have been like so many of the other bank robberies at the time.
Al Qaeda made it a 30 second concert attended by George tells the detective, I should have made it a minute and 30 seconds instead of two minutes. I fucked up. The cops had already arrived for the hammer there they are shooting ahead. Next time on Earth, Lady Cop would pull into the parking lot at the exact second that they come out. And that's when the gunfire erupted. Officer had clear the air. Eleven ninety nine.
Norco, 80, is written and produced by me, Antonia Sabbahi, though, and by Sofia Alisa Karr, the show is a production of L.A. studios in collaboration with Futuro Studios. Leo is the executive producer for L.A. Studios. Marlon Bishop is the executive producer for Futuro Studios. Joaquin Cotlar is our associate producer. Juan Miguel Ramirez is our production assistant. Maria Aleksa Cavnar is our intern editing by Audrey Quinn, fact checking by Amy Tardiff, engineering by Stephanie LaBeau and original music by Zach Robinson.
Special thanks to James Kirkland, Teresa Maroota Wages and Kurt Roth Shriller. Our website is designed by Andy Cheatwood and the digital and marketing teams at Elliott Studios. The marketing team of L.A. studios created our branding thanks to the team at Elias Studios, including Kristen Hayford, Taylor Kaufman and Kristen Muller.
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