‘How To Rob A Bank’ Explained: How Did Scott Become The Notorious Hollywood Bank Robber?


The new true-crime documentary film on Netflix, How to Rob a Bank, presents a set of unexpected events from the 1990s that gripped the attention of the law and the masses very firm. A single man had made a habit of walking into various banks all over Seattle, wearing prosthetic makeup that completely hid his identity, and robbing thousands of dollars by holding the people inside hostage. How to Rob a Bank covers both the police investigation that followed the robberies as well as an insight into the lives of the perpetrators, making the documentary film quite an interesting watch.

What were the Hollywood bank robberies?

Throughout the entire year of 1992, the American city of Seattle, in Washington, encountered a number of strange and unique bank robberies—six, to be precise. As stated by the experts in the Netflix documentary film How to Rob a Bank, armed robberies in banks were not really an uncommon affair in Seattle at the time. After having been a relatively quiet city with only two major businesses, Seattle experienced a huge boom with Microsoft and then all the IT companies that followed, including Jeff Bezos’ Amazon. Within just a few years, the city had a number of tech companies set up, with a lot of business being conducted on a daily basis. This naturally led to numerous private banks being opened in the area, and soon, there was a rise in crime rates as well, particularly cases of bank robberies.

In most instances, these robberies would be carried out in typical and regular fashion, with one or multiple men entering the building wearing masks and hiding their identities and then threatening the tellers with guns or some other weapons. However, in the case of the robberies in question, there was just one perpetrator most of the time, and he would wear prosthetic makeup to conceal his identity. This meant that his face, or rather a certain face, was always visible to the crowd, although it was a fake one, and his identity was always hidden. The man would enter the bank very calmly, walk up to the teller, and then pull out a gun to announce that he was indeed a robber. A very composed and confident attitude, along with extremely daring antics, became characteristics of this particular thief.

Most bank looters avoided the same establishment they had already attacked and even fled the area for months, if not years, in fear of getting caught by the police. But this prosthetic-using robber was very different, for he developed a knack for attacking the same bank branch multiple times in quick succession. His fearless nature was most highlighted by the fact that he often entered a bank to loot it by simply walking past wanted posters of himself, suggesting that he never actually worried about the police catching him. Because of the extremely dramatic nature of his acts and the superior quality of the prosthetic makeup that he used, the police and FBI forces gave the nickname “Hollywood” to this unusual thief. Thus, whenever the man struck a bank again, the authorities called it a Hollywood robbery, and very soon, a full-fledged investigation to find and catch him was launched.

Who was Scott Scurlock?

Netflix’s How to Rob a Bank documentary film does not spend too much time before revealing the perpetrator behind the Hollywood bank robberies, as his personality is also a point of focus in the work. Scott Scurlock was the main brain behind the grand robberies, but he was not always of such a violent nature. As his elder sister Suzanne says in the film, Scott was a very bright and intelligent kid in his childhood days, and the family believed that he would surely grow up to have a great career in life. But from this very young age, he was also very addicted to adventures and daring activities, meaning anything that would give him an adrenaline rush. The documentary also features Scott’s childhood friend, Steven Harper, who reveals how the two best friends would go on adventures during their teenage years that often involved unlawful acts like breaking into showrooms and shops. But, as Steven clarifies, the boys had no intention of stealing anything from there, and the only reason for breaking locks was to explore the places.

Scott’s first serious unlawful act came when he was in his late teenage years, when he stole a car together with his friends, and this alarmed the Scurlock family members to some extent. Nonetheless, the family could never ultimately intervene and stop his more serious crimes later on in life, even though they stayed in contact throughout the time. Scott’s father was extremely loving towards him, but neither he nor any of the other family members found out what exactly was going on in his mind. As an adult man, an experience that seemed to change Scott’s perspective on life was him moving away from a well-populated area of the town into a tree house that he built with the help of his friends in the middle of a forest. This did not make him a recluse right away, though, as many of his friends visited him at the place during this time, but living alone in a treehouse did give him a lot of time alone with his thoughts.

Based on the explanation given by Suzanne Scurlock, Scott gradually developed a keen interest in unlawful and criminal acts during his developing years. Whatever skill he picked up or learned would eventually be used in a wayward manner, and this highlighted a criminal tendency that was growing in him. The best example of this nature was perhaps the fact that Scott used his brilliant understanding of chemistry during college to start making batches of methamphetamine all by himself. He did not have any desire to make money from a drug trade, though, and used the meth he made only for his own recreation and distributed it among friends. Scott was academically adequate as well, but he did not ultimately complete his education, for he simply did not want to. Pursuing academics and then building a career like any other person was not the aspiration of Scott Scurlock, and so he left everything and settled in his solitary treehouse.

How Did Scott Become The Notorious Hollywood Bank Robber?

As his close friend and associate Steve Meyers states, Scott apparently always had a knack for robbing banks, and he had supposedly claimed it to be a childhood dream. Therefore, when a college friend named Mark Biggins also showed some interest in planning such a heist, the two young men went about their first bank robbery mission. This first job did not involve the prosthetic makeup which later became characteristic of Scott Scurlock’s heists, and it was also not as well planned as the later ones. Biggins speaks of how they were very close to messing up the whole act a number of times, especially when their getaway did not go smoothly at all. Although the two succeeded in escaping without repercussions, the amount that they had managed to steal from the cash teller was extremely low. Both out of fear of the law and also because of the terribly low amount stolen, Biggins decided to quit life as a burglar after the very first experience.

Gradually, Scott got hold of a new associate and partner in Steve Meyers, who was the younger brother of a dear friend, Kevin. It was together with Steve that he conducted numerous heists, and in his very early days into the career, he adopted the characteristic technique that would make him famous. Scott had started his profession as a bank robber after having watched and thoroughly enjoyed the 1991 crime action film Point Break, which was about a group of bank looters. This source of inspiration also gave him the idea of using prosthetic masks and makeup to hide his identity, which was also something that the characters in the film did. Thus, his masks made him even more notorious and also earned him the nickname “Hollywood” among the members of the police force and the FBI.

Over a span of four years, Scott managed to loot at least nineteen banks, successfully stealing over two million dollars in the process. After learning that the cash tellers had considerably fewer amounts at their disposal, he directly attacked the vaults, threatening the bank workers with his gun to open up the vault and let him access it. The most probable reason behind these robberies was the mere fact that Scott Scurlock was interested in conducting such heists and gradually grew addicted to the thrills of it after the first few times. He did use the money that he was stealing for himself, but this was clearly not the primary motive, considering the fact that he was intelligent enough to be in various other lawful careers.

Moreover, Scott had a penchant for becoming a Robin Hood figure, and he wholeheartedly believed that he was stealing from the rich only to give to the poor. His friends and acquaintances state that there were numerous instances in which he gave money to others without any hesitation and helped them with their struggles in life. While the people mostly asked Scott to lend him some money, he would never ask to be paid back, and so he was essentially donating a lot to the community. The time during which Scott had grown up was marked by growing dissent among youngsters and a section of the population against the government and its capitalist stance. Foreign wars were protested against, and people did not like the fact that big corporations were so easily taking over the powers of the common masses. Scott Scurlock was undoubtedly a product of this very time, and incidentally, some even perceived him as a common man’s hero during the 1990s for stealing from the banks that were supporting the giant tech corporations.

What ultimately happened to Scott Scurlock?

Despite whatever little support he received from sections of the common people, Scott was already being hunted by the FBI, and he, too, was realizing that his exploits would not continue for long. Scott seemingly developed some mental struggles as well, and based on what he wrote in his personal records and what he told his sister as well, he was unable to control the urge to commit illegal acts. Whether Scott suffered from any psychological disorders like multiple personality disorder could never be tested, despite him stating that he felt like the persona of the confident bank robber, which he put on along with the prosthetic makeup, was taking over the rest of his mind. His desperation also increased during this time, and he wanted to end his career as the notorious bank robber by conducting heists at three different banks on the same day, one after another.

Meanwhile, the FBI team investigating the robberies had already prepared for another large-scale attack to be launched at some bank in Seattle and accordingly put trackers inside random bundles of notes in the vaults of as many banks as possible. They were prepared to quickly respond to any alarm that would go off in any bank in the area, and many of the staff were also trained for such a situation. Finally, on November 27, 1996, Scott and his associates, now including both Steve Meyers and Mark Biggins, raided the Seafirst Bank’s Lake City branch to loot it and succeeded in doing so as well, even though the alarms were triggered. Because of the extreme pressure from the authorities, the men had already canceled their prior plan of looting three banks consecutively, and they focused on this only one. Although they managed to get rid of the trackers hidden in the piles of notes, the FBI agents found their track and ultimately pursued the van they were using for their getaway.

Scott had already prepared for a showdown with the police by keeping a rifle and a shotgun ready, although he claimed that the weapons would only be used to disable a police car’s engine in a chase. When the FBI agents finally started firing, Meyers and Biggins were both injured, and they were arrested by the authorities. Scott managed to run, and he took shelter inside a shed in the locality. When the police finally found him, Scott Scurlock took his own life by shooting himself. It was apparently always his plan to take his own life in case of any confrontation with the police, for he simply wanted to avoid imprisonment at all costs. Thus ended the tale of a notorious bank robber who impressed the world with his theatrics, while his two associates, Meyers and Biggins, were both sentenced to 21 years and three months in prison for being involved in the crimes. 

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Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya Sur Roy
Sourya keeps an avid interest in all sorts of films, history, sports, videogames and everything related to New Media. Holding a Master of Arts degree in Film Studies, he is currently working as a teacher of Film Studies at a private school and also remotely as a Research Assistant and Translator on a postdoctoral project at UdK Berlin.

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