Richard L. Gathercole, 41, formerly of Roundup, Mont. was sentenced Wednesday to 35 years in prison for bank robbery, brandishing a firearm and carjacking.
In addition to his prison term, Gathercole will serve 5 years on federal supervised release and pay restitution of $392,392.06 to numerous victims after he gets out.
U.S. Attorney Joe Kelly said Gathercole was one of the most wanted bank robbers in the nation when his criminal career ended in a string of violent crimes in western Nebraska and northern Kansas in June 2017.
He was finally arrested in Lexington after carjacking a farmer in Kansas, Kelly said.
Gathercole was known as the “AK Bandit,” because he was armed with an AK-47 assault-style rifle at each of his bank robberies, security cameras showed. Early in his crime spree, he hit several banks in California and was thought to be from that part of the country.
In a particularly violent bank robbery in California, he shot a Chino Police officer. The bullet hit the officer’s artery and the officer had to drive himself to the hospital. He never returned to work due to a shattered femur, Kelly said.
Gathercole used maximum threats of violence to control bank employees. On top of brandishing the AK-47 style weapon, he often used tactics such as shutting them in the bank vault, threatening to kill them, and sometimes he would take an explosive device with him, causing fear that the bomb could go off inside the bank, Kelly said. He did so at a bank robbery in Iowa in 2015.
Gathercole robbed a bank in Nebraska City in 2014, and during that robbery, forced the employees into the vault and threatened to harm them if they did not wait a certain period of time before calling police.
In addition to the bank robberies in California, Nebraska, and Iowa in 2014 and 2015, Gathercole previously robbed banks with his assault rifle in Washington and Idaho in 2012. He would sometimes wear a bullet proof vest that was marked “Sheriff” or “Police.”
Kelly said a bullet proof vest with “Sheriff” on it was recovered from his home in Montana after he was arrested.
In June 2017, Gathercole left Montana and traveled through Nebraska into Kansas, where a Highway Patrolman noticed several irregularities with Gathercole’s vehicle, and he committed an unspecified traffic violation, Kelly said. The patrolman tried to stop the vehicle, but Gathercole led troopers on a high-speed pursuit while repeatedly firing a weapon at them, Kelly said.
Due to the danger of the pursuit, troopers extended the space between themselves and Gathercole, and eventually lost sight of his car.
Gathercole ditched his vehicle after the shootout and began walking. A farmer in a pickup offered him a ride outside of Atwood, Kan. Gathercole got in and pointed a gun at the farmer and forced him to drive toward the Nebraska state line.
Eventually, the driver was able to escape and Gathercole drove on in the vehicle.
When stopping for gas in Lexington, deputy sheriffs identified the pickup from the carjacking report and apprehended him as he left the gas station.
This case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation along with law enforcement agencies in Nebraska, Kansas, Washington, Iowa, California, Idaho and Montana.
Senior U.S. District Judge Richard G. Kopf handed down the sentence in Lincoln, Kelly said.