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Police Locate the Widow of Slain Robber

Investigation: The woman, found in Colorado, is held there on an unrelated charge. LAPD officials question her but say she is not a suspect in the heist.

April 18, 1997|BETH SHUSTER LOUIS SAHAGUN and MATT LAIT | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

Los Angeles police investigating the North Hollywood bank holdup that led to the deaths of two robbers in a spectacular gun battle have for weeks been concentrating on tracking down two leads: the vanished widow of one of the robbers and more than $1 million in missing loot.

On Thursday, they announced finding her and some of the cash--along with yet another arsenal of military-style weapons--but revealed few details.

The woman, Jeanette Theresa Federico, was located in Colorado, a source said. He would not say how.

Federico, widow of Larry Eugene Phillips Jr., was questioned but not arrested by LAPD detectives, police said. "She was relatively cooperative," said Cmdr. Tim McBride, the LAPD's chief spokesman. "It was a good exchange of information with investigators."

The source said that Federico, who was believed to have been in Los Angeles on the day of the robbery, is not a suspect in the case.

McBride said police still believe the two men acted without help. "We still only have two suspects," McBride said.

Late Thursday, Federico was arrested by Thornton, Colo., police on a child-custody offense warrant issued in Santa Fe, N.M., said Thornton Police Officer Matt Barnes. A child with her was taken into protective custody, Barnes said.

Barnes said LAPD detectives talked to Federico at the Thornton police station Thursday afternoon about "money from robberies." She was staying with a friend in Thornton, which is about 20 miles north of Denver, he said.

She was being held in the Adams County Jail in Brighton, Colo., awaiting extradition to New Mexico, he said.

Police believe that before they were killed Feb. 28, Phillips and Emil Matasareanu were responsible for five other bank heists, two of which could have netted them between $1.3 million and $1.7 million. But since their investigation began, police had been unable to locate the proceeds from those robberies.

In an update on their investigation released Thursday, however, police said a portion of the money believed to have been taken in those robberies has been recovered, along with a number of weapons.

Police would not disclose the amount recovered or reveal where the money and guns were found. The warrants under which they were seized remained under court-ordered seal.

"We have some cash and we're looking for more," McBride said.

In their searches, police uncovered a cache of weapons, including an AK-47, a fully automatic Commando AR-15, rifle parts belonging to AK-47s and AR-15s, two 9-millimeter handguns and a .38-caliber Smith and Wesson handgun.

Investigators also found about 2,000 rounds of ammunition, several AK-47 100-round magazines loaded with armor-piercing bullets, do-it-yourself hand grenade kits and U.S. Army-style helmets with face shields, police said.

The robbers were dressed in body armor when they attempted to rob the Bank of America branch on Laurel Canyon Boulevard on Feb. 28, and police bullets were later found lodged in their vests.

In previous searches of Matasareanu's residences, police have uncovered other weapons, ammunition and survivalist-type manuals. Police have said they believe the men were self-taught.

The bloody gunfight, televised live by news helicopters circling overhead, left 11 officers and six civilians injured.

Los Angeles police detectives were tight-lipped about their investigation Thursday, saying a civil-rights lawsuit filed last week on behalf of Matasareanu's children prevents them from discussing the case. An autopsy report released last week disclosed that Matasareanu bled to death after suffering gunshot wounds to his thigh.

In the lawsuit, attorney Stephen Yagman alleges that four other people participated in the robbery. One, the lawsuit says, was arrested, and three others escaped.

With the finding of Federico, the case is continuing to wind down, police said, adding that they will continue pursuing the money trail if they receive leads to follow.

But the interview in Colorado was key to determining whether the department completes its criminal investigation, a source said. After releasing her photograph to local television stations and newspapers last month, detectives were preparing to tape an "America's Most Wanted" television show to solicit tips nationwide in their search for Federico.

Police had said a Jaguar automobile, believed purchased by Phillips, also remained missing. Detectives would not say Thursday whether the car was recovered when Federico was located.

The two robbers are believed to have killed an armored-car guard in an attack outside a Bank of America branch in the San Fernando Valley two years ago, robbed two banks last year, attempted to take over an armored car last year, and ambushed an armored-car guard outside a Denver bank in 1993.

Shuster and Lait reported from the Los Angeles area, and Sahagun from Denver.

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