The Trenchcoat Bank Robbers

The Trenchcoat Bank Robbers were a pair of bank robbers named William A. Kirkpatrick and Ray A. Bowman. The two had been meticulously robbing banks all over the US starting with a 1982 robbery in Annapolis, MO.  Their heists included pulling off the largest bank robbery in U.S. history. On February 10th, 1997 they robbed Seafirst Bank near Tacoma, Washington. Incredibly successful, the robbery netted the duo $4,461,681. Together, they hauled the cash out in bags that weighed 355 pounds.  By the time they were captured, they had become the most prolific bank robbers in US history. Having robbed 28 banks and made off with over $8 million in cash between 1982 and 1997. 

Careful Planning, Separate Lives

They were careful and meticulous. Together, they would spend months planning a heist.  They always traveled for a heist, never robbing banks close to home.  They wore trench coats, wigs, glasses, and other disguises to avoid detection.  Hence, how they received the nickname “The Trenchcoat Bank Robbers”. Then, once the robbery was completed, the two would part ways and return to their perspective homes.

They resided in different states to avoid being connected to one another.  Bowman would return home to Kansas City, MO while William Kirkpatrick headed north- to the tiny town of Hovland, Minnesota on Lake Superior’s North Shore. 

Hovland: The Beginning of the End

It was a cash exchange in Hovland in 1996 that finally put the Trenchcoat Bank Robbers on the FBI radar. Kirkpatrick had given his girlfriend, a Myra Penney, $188,000 cash to pay for a newly constructed log cabin. Myra would pass the cash to the builder in paper bags to pay for his services. It was the builder, a man named Michael Senty, who found this amount of cash to be suspicious and reported the payment to the IRS after having an argument with Penney. After not being able to verify income for either Penney or Kirkpatrick, who had assumed the alias Donald Wilson, the IRS alerted the FBI. From there, the heat was on.

Though that was the initial tipping point, a few other mistakes were made by the pair along the way. Around the same time that Senty was making his report to the IRS, a mini-storage owner was contacting the authorities after finding a cache of firearms in a storage unit in Missouri. This unit belonged to Bowman, who had failed to make his storage payments.

The Speeding Ticket

Kirkpatrick had also started using mini-storage units to hide cash and weapons. He was suspicious that the feds were onto him, so he had gone down to Las Vegas to empty one of the storage units where he’d stashed the majority of his windfall from the Seafirst Bank robbery. While on his way back to Minnesota, he was pulled over in Nebraska for going 7 mph over the speed limit. He gave the officer a fake ID, and the officer thought he was acting suspiciously. As a result of Kirkpatrick’s odd behavior, the officer searched his car. During the search, he found guns, a ski mask and other disguises… and $1.8 million cash. Kirkpatrick was arrested. However, the arresting officer had no clue he had just arrested one of the notorious Trenchcoat Bank Robbers.

After figuring out where Kirkpatrick lived, the FBI was able to connect Bowman and Kirkpatrick together, but not because of the previously mentioned mistakes.  Nope. The duo were ultimately linked due to a picture of Bowman’s family on the fridge in the Kirkpatrick cabin in Hovland. 

Federal Inditement

In 1998, about a year after the Seafirst Bank robbery, the Trenchcoat Bank Robbers were indited by a federal grand jury.

After being urged by Penney to admit to his crimes, Kirkpatrick plead guilty to three bank robberies and received a 15-year, 8-month sentence.  Ultimately, he was only charged with three as the statute of limitations had run out on other robberies the FBI had connected him to. Kirkpatrick has since served his sentence and has been released. 

Meanwhile, Bowman continued to deny his connection to the Trenchcoat Bank Robbers and took his case to court.  He was found guilty of four bank robberies and was given a 24-year, 6-month sentence.  I could not find confirmation as to whether Bowman was still in prison or if he, too, has been released.

The two were featured in a 1992 episode of Unsolved Mysteries.

If this article was of interest to you, check out our article covering Organized Crime on the North Shore.

Listen to the Trenchcoat Robber’s story on the Organized Crime episode of Exploring the North Shore:

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