'I Robbed 30 Banks in a Year'

Back in 1990, I was hired at Boeing as a technical designer at the age of 21. I married AnnMarie a couple of years later and we immediately started a family and built a beautiful home. Life was great. During that time I was completely clean and sober, I was promoted into an engineering position and started travelling internationally; I couldn't have asked for a better life.

I can't say for sure that I had a specific injury that caused my back pain, but I believe it began when I was playing roller hockey with some guys from work. In 2003, I took a fall where I landed on my lower back and had to go to the Emergency Room.

Eventually an MRI showed that I had ruptured a disc in my lower back. I saw a specialist and they recommended surgery, but after the surgery, the disc re-ruptured; I couldn't get out of bed in the morning if I was having a flare up. I ended up being prescribed Oxycontin in 2005.

Initially it was a low dose. But within a year I was up to the maximum amount they could prescribe. Your body builds up a tolerance and it quickly becomes a problem. I would start running out of my medication and withdrawals were intolerable.

In the early years it wasn't causing me problems as long as I did not run out. But as my tolerance went up I had to find a second doctor who would write me illegal prescriptions and I was then taking six 80 mg of pills a day. I would run out of those before I could refill so I began to buy pills on the street for $40 or $50 each. I was burning through all kinds of money.

Within a couple of years of taking the drug, I ran into a guy who was also being prescribed Oxycontin. I remember he said to me: "Man, did you know you can shave off the time release coating on these pills with your fingernail?" It gave you pure oxycodone. You could crush it up and snort it like cocaine or break it up into chunks and smoke it on foil. That might sound crazy, but it was pretty common. I started doing that, which allowed my tolerance to build even more and my addiction continued to spiral out of control.

Bank Robber Tony Hathaway and Family
Tony Hathaway with his then wife AnnMarie and their two children in the '90s. Hathaway's addiction to Oxycontin began in the early 2000s. Tony Hathaway

In late 2010, Purdue Pharma changed the formula of Oxycontin. The new pills were useless to people like me; you couldn't crush them or remove the time release coating. Many people using Oxycontin switched to heroin.

I remember the day I first used heroin. It was early 2011, and by then it was virtually impossible to get hold of the original Oxycontin pills. My son was in his bedroom with a friend—he had also become addicted to Oxycontin—and they were smoking heroin. I was so sick with my addiction by this point, I would have done anything to feel better. I tried it and within five or ten minutes I felt 100 percent better. But in June of 2011, my son and I had been arrested for a failed bank robbery that we had tried to carry out and I had lost my job at Boeing—things were really going downhill.

By 2013, my son was incarcerated and I was living with my mom who was disabled. She only had her social security income, so we were struggling big time. Obviously my addiction made things significantly worse.

Robbing a bank was something I had thought about for quite some time. I was so deep into my addiction that I was not thinking rationally. A rational person would get a job, but my addiction was so bad it would have been impossible for me to work. At this point, it wasn't about getting high at all. That was years in the past. It was just about not going through the withdrawals.

I spent some time planning the robbery. I knew bank tellers were trained to comply with robbers and I knew I could get in and out of there within a minute. I also knew if I was careful not to show my face, leave any fingerprints or DNA and avoid video cameras with my vehicles, it would be easy.

I had been staking out several banks trying to figure out my first target and it all came together on February 5, 2013, but I was terrified; I was going through extreme withdrawals.

At the beginning I was using a grey knit cap. I would walk in with it up on my head, look down to avoid cameras and pull the beanie down over my face so I could still see out through the mesh. I would meet the teller, tell them to give me money and take it and on the way out I would pull the beanie up. Anyone on the outside would just think I was walking out like a regular customer. Within minutes of robbing that first bank, I was driving down the freeway with around $2,300, calling my dealers.

When I first started I had this idea that I was going to go in there and get $50,000. I didn't go into it thinking that I was going to rob banks 30 different times in the next year. I thought that I would hit one or two banks and get enough money to make sure that my mom was OK and get away to a treatment facility, because I was in such bad shape.

I learned very quickly that to get in and out quickly and get money from a teller, I was only going to get a couple of thousand dollars. One time I got $700 and another time close to $6,500 but the average was around $2,500. It wasn't a life changing amount of money, it just replaced my salary. It's not like you see on TV when you go in and hit a vault.

Most of the robberies I did were successful. I never used a weapon and rarely implied I had one, and I never came close to getting caught. But probably three or four months into robbing banks, I remember one where I almost got caught. I had spent the day close to a Bank of America location to make sure there were no customers inside. It was getting late in the day and I had borrowed someone's car so I decided to go in 10 minutes before it closed. There were a dozen customers and there was security glass in front of the tellers which I generally avoided. I walked up with my mask on and the teller just laughed at me. I'll never forget it. She shook her head, laughed and said she wasn't giving me any money. I had to leave, but a guy started trying to follow me in his van, so I took off running. Luckily for me, I was able to run through some shrubs to where I had parked and drive away without getting caught. But the Everett Police Department was very close to this bank, it was a terrifying situation.

It's important to say that I was doing this not just to support my addiction but also to provide for my family; to help pay rent and bills and help my kids out, even though they didn't know what I was doing. In mid-2013, my mom and I had won around $7,000 at the local casino, providing me the opportunity to take a short break from robbing banks. But otherwise, it became routine, every day I was out looking for a new location to get more money, to get well and pay bills. It just became harder over time.

Bank Robber Tony Hathaway
Tony Hathaway robbed 30 banks in the Seattle, Washington area over the course of a year. Law enforcement agencies shared images like this one in an effort to track him down. Courtesy FBI

Many of them I had already hit two or three times, so I was running out of banks to rob. I had to be able to see if there were customers inside and easily get in and out. As time went on, a lot of the banks started getting security guards, so I had to start going further away from my home into areas I wasn't so familiar with.

I was always trying to throw off law enforcement so I was changing my outfit almost every time. And I would throw everything away afterwards—shoes, clothes, gloves—and I used different vehicles as often as I could. I would borrow vehicles from people all the time, it was easy because I knew so many people who were addicts and I'd offer them $100. They had no idea what I was actually doing. It wasn't until the 29th robbery that I made a mistake.

I had seen many news stories in local papers and on TV and I knew that I was on Washington's Most Wanted list. But the authorities had nothing, all they were showing was a guy in a mask and calling me Cyborg Bandit or the Elephant Man Bandit because of the way the masks I was wearing looked. That could be anybody. I never felt pressure that they were close to catching me, until the day I got caught.

On my 29th robbery I used my sister's van, it was missing a side mirror and had a big sticker in the window. The bank was in a supermarket and someone had followed me out and got a description of the van. Within a few days, the police department had seen the van in my driveway. Instantly I was under surveillance.

On February 11, 2014, the day of the 30th robbery, I knew I was being followed and I still made the decision to go through with it. I was just in such terrible shape. This addiction was killing me. I had become a shell of myself, an empty hopeless person.

I get emotional thinking back to that time. I never lived a normal day and I was incredibly depressed. I was so sick with my addiction that I didn't know how to ask for help or get help. I just wanted to feel better and I felt so hopeless, helpless, lost and sick.

I knew that law enforcement were following me all day that day and I was trying to lose them. By the time I went into the bank, right before closing, I actually thought that maybe I had lost them.

At that point, my attitude was: if I get caught, I get caught. In my mind at the time, there were no other options. The only way I was going to get "better" was to go into a bank and get some money. Now, I know it's a blessing I was caught on that day because I didn't have much left in me.

Bank Robber Tony Hathaway
Tony Hathway was released from prison on November 12, 2019. He is now 52 years old. Tony Hathaway

I went through withdrawal in King County jail in downtown Seattle and I spent five days in solitary confinement in a suicide smock, hallucinating and talking to the walls. I was up for four or five days because of the anxiety. I was sick as can be: my stomach was in knots and I was throwing up. It was terrible and then it slowly started getting a bit better.

There is nothing fun about prison. I was down for a total of six years and I spent the first two years in that downtown Seattle jail waiting for trial and the other four years in Monroe Correctional Complex.

I was incarcerated for six years because my nine year sentence was reduced for good behavior, and on November 12, 2019, I was released from prison. As I got closer to my release date I started making a lot of plans. Especially at my age— I'm 52 now—I knew I had to figure out what a career looked like and how I was going to provide for myself and my family.

Of course, I'm happy to be a free man again but within a couple of months of being released, we get hit with COVID-19. It's been difficult. I have thoughts about businesses I want to get into, and perhaps getting back into the engineering field. Then the pandemic happened, so it's complicated. But I'm optimistic. I feel like I'm on a good path.

I'm coming up to 8 years clean from heroin addiction and I hope that when I get back on my feet I have an opportunity to make amends to some of the people I hurt. I knew what I was doing was wrong, obviously, but I also found ways to justify it, like telling myself I wasn't hurting anyone or breaking into someone's home.

At the time I just felt like banks get robbed all the time and the tellers were trained for it. I wasn't aggressive and I thought they were used to it. I felt like I wasn't even scaring them. I feel differently about that now. I have had the opportunity to read some of the feedback from some of the tellers and I feel terrible. I was surprised by how much it affected them and how scared they were.

I would never want to glamorize robbery, I wish I had chosen a different path. I owned up to what I did, I served my time and I deserved it. My story is really about addiction. I don't feel that Purdue Pharma is being held accountable, they are in bankruptcy but the owners are not being held criminally liable. It makes me angry. I just want people to be aware that there are a lot of people who have been touched by the opioid epidemic.

If you don't know someone who has been affected by opioid addiction, or any drug addiction, it's important to take a step back. Don't be judgemental, show a little compassion, and don't think you're above it. Addicts come from all different walks of life. It's about the most humbling experience of my life and it can happen to anybody.

Tony Hathaway lives in Seattle, Washington. Hooked, a nine part Apple TV+ original podcast exploring Tony's story is available to download now on Apple Podcasts.

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.