At the age of 70, with his white hair and bushy mustache, Randy Adair was a familiar face in California’s Rancho Santa Margarita. The grandpa was popular among the harbor’s deep-sea fishermen. He would pose there for photos, holding 30-pound yellowtails with a proud smile on his face. He was a former football coach at Dana Hills High School and would appear in court to vouch for the boys who found themselves in trouble. He was the perfect character witness, after all, having been a detective in the LAPD for two decades.
That’s why it came as a shock to everyone when, in 2015, Adair rammed his red Dodge SUV into a strip mall a mere two miles away from his home. Why would he do such a thing? Well, you see, Randy Adair is a cop-turned-robber. And if you know the full story, you might understand why…
No Cameras, No Customers, No Problem
On that summer day in 2015, Adair parked his SUV, put on a Panama hat, and walked across the mall parking lot. He was examining the rooftops of the KFC drive-thru and the Bowl of Heaven in particular. He was pleased to see that there were no security cameras, and so he headed toward the First Citizens Bank. After he opened the door to the bank and checked to make sure there were no customers, he walked up to the bank teller.
He showed her a note that read, ‘‘Relax, be calm.” The teller saw the revolver in the old man’s belt and emptied her register with shaky hands. It was not the first time Randy Adair robbed a bank; it wasn’t even the first time he robbed this specific branch.
When Cops Become Robbers
Between March and July of 2015, the retired detective pulled off five bank heists – all of them in broad daylight and with not much more than a hat as a disguise. Adair had more than just a gun under his belt – he had two decades of experience in crime and punishment. In a world of cops and robbers, it’s not every day that the cop becomes the robber.
Yet, here is Adair, the former do-gooder who essentially broke bad. He knew what he was doing. He knew to hit the branches that didn’t have bulletproof “bandit barriers” to protect employees. He also knew to avoid the dye packs that bank tellers sometimes slip into the bills they give to robbers.
They Called Him the Snowbird Bandit
Since he knew the ins and outs from the other side of the law, he was able to leave very few clues. The FBI nicknamed him the Snowbird Bandit, inspired by the old folks who migrate to warmer climates for the winter. There was a time there when Adair seemed unstoppable, but all “good” things come to an end (to borrow a relevant phrase).
Adair was finally arrested on July 22, 2015, near his home. It was the day after his last robbery. There were, of course, many questions about Adair and his retirement hobby. But the main question wasn’t how a 70-year-old retired and decorated detective could rob a bank, but why…
He Was Interested in the Truth
Adair pleaded guilty and was ultimately sentenced to seven years in prison. Jeff Maysh, a journalist from L.A. Mag, sent him a letter asking for an interview. Adair wrote back, in capitals, that if Maysh was “interested in the truth,” then he could arrange a meeting.
In 2017, Maysh drove to FCI Terminal Island in San Pedro, a grim federal prison in which big names like Al Capone and Charles Manson were once prisoners. There, in the glass-enclosed visitor’s room, sat the Snowbird Bandit, waiting for his interviewer. He was wearing a beige uniform and eyeglasses that were held together by green tape.
“Zip. Bam. Boom. In. Gone.”
“Ask what you wanna ask, and I’ll try and answer,” he yelled at Maysh as he sat down. But Adair wasn’t mad – he just couldn’t hear well since his hearing aid was broken. Maysh learned that Adair’s robbery method was speed. The cop-turned-robber-turned-prisoner’s words were, to be exact, “Zip. Bam. Boom. In. Gone.”
But the Snowbird’s downfall wasn’t as swift. The forces that led to his fall from grace had been slowly saturating for decades. Randolph Adair was born in 1944, the son of a rodeo-riding dairy farmer who grew up in Artesia. His taste for detective work was planted during his police-science classes in junior college.
After Serving in Vietnam, He Joined the LAPD
It happened to be the only schoolwork that Adair was ever interested in. In 1965, in the midst of the Vietnam War, Adair was drafted and assigned to the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command in Panama. By the time he got back, he had enrolled in the LAPD Academy.
Six months later, in June of 1968, the 23-year-old cop clocked into his shift that started his police radio announcing a shooting at the Ambassador Hotel. Adair and his partner drove their 1965 Plymouth toward the scene of the crime. There, they saw the victim, shot three times at close range.
The Time He Arrested Robert Kennedy’s Shooter
The shooting happened during a campaign rally, and the victim was none other than Senator Robert Kennedy. “We got to the pantry, and you could see that Kennedy was down on the floor,” Adair recalled to Maysh in their prison interview as a guard stared at them from across the room.
“He’s lying face up, and I saw fluid, you know, from the head injury — brain matter looks kinda like snot, you know?” He then recalled arresting the shooter, Sirhan Sirhan, at the scene. He handcuffed the “little bitty guy” and took him out the back way.
A Station Wagon With Two “Fan Belt Inspectors”
After taking the shooter to the station, Adair was back in his police car. He then saw a station wagon speed through a stoplight, so Adair switched on his red lights and started the chase. It looked like a government car with “two fan belt inspectors in the front,” which is a mocking old cop term for FBI agents. In the back of that car was Kennedy’s wife, Ethel, and the astronaut John Glenn.
They were apparently lost, so Adair led them to the Central Receiving Hospital. Adair walked into the hospital and into a small treatment room to find Kennedy “on the gurney” with “nobody around him.” Adair said he figured the senator was “graveyard dead.”
When Randy Met Susan
1968 proved to be an eventful year for Adair for another big reason: It was when he met his future wife, Susan Hackworth. Maysh noted that the only time Adair smiled in that visitor’s room was when he spoke about his wife.
She was a striking, blond Italian who worked in data processing for (of all places) a bank. She worked at the Bank of America and lived in the apartment next to Adair and his academy buddies. One night, she knocked on their door to borrow some ice trays for a party. “So, we had to listen against the wall all night long while the music’s going on,” Adair admitted.
The Life of a Cop’s Wife
The “giggling” girls never brought the ice trays back. Still, Adair wanted her attention, so he started grilled steaks outside the apartments on another night, waiting for her to walk past. Eventually, he asked her out to dinner. By September 1968, the two were married.
According to Adair, Susan knew that LAPD marriages weren’t ones that lasted and that the life of a cop’s wife was full of worrying and sleepless nights. “The only thing I won’t agree to is having you work Vice,” she told him in the beginning. “I think you can give me that much. Because Vice is so horrible.”
He Was Promoted to Catching Bank Robbers
Adair wasn’t in Vice; instead, he was promoted to detective in the Metropolitan Division, which was an elite mobile crime-fighting unit of the LAPD. One of its primary missions was catching bank robbers. And, as Adair pointed out, there were a lot back then.
“At one time, I was involved in seven bank robbery arrests,” Adair told Maysh. His first was on March 24, 1969, when a silent alarm inside Mid City’s United California Bank signaled a robbery in progress. As the thief was leaving the bank with the cash and a loaded revolver in hand, Adair and company arrived.
The Robberies Continued and the Arrests Mounted
The thief then ran back into the bank, and the police found him in a second-floor restroom, where Robert Lee White threw his arms up and surrendered. White eventually confessed to being the Wilshire Bandit, who had robbed nine banks in the area. White was also the Blue Blazer Bandit of Fort Worth, Texas.
Adair’s career was moving onwards and upwards as the robberies continued and the arrests mounted. He earned praise from his superiors for his “initiative, alertness, and imagination.” Adair was proud to wear the badge and enjoyed the perks, too. Half-price chili burgers at Tommy’s? Free cigarettes at Sam’s Corner Liquor Store? Hell, yes.
The Turning Point in His Life
If Adair hit a turning point in his life – one that started to direct him in the direction of robbing banks in his retirement – it was probably around this time. Gambling and booze became a staple of his life, as did the health problems that he himself traces back to a night in January of 1971.
On that winter night, Adair was cruising through Westlake in an unmarked car and spotted smoke coming from a basement fire in a rundown apartment building. There was no sign of the fire department, so Adair ran into the building. “The place started really filling up with smoke bad,” he said.
The Cost of Bravery
“They had paint and loads of cables covered in grease and oil. Highly toxic fumes.” He could hardly breathe or see anything as he was carrying residents (either too drunk or disabled to move) to safety. Adair recalled saving 25 to 30 people that night.
For his bravery, he received a “Class A” commendation, but with it came a cost. “We didn’t know about smoke inhalation,” Adair professed, referring to the long-term damage he suffered as a result. Adair admitted that his way to move on was by squirting water onto his face and going about his business.
Days later, in his riot gear at an anti-war march, he collapsed.
Time off Duty Led to the Bottle
The doctor diagnosed Adair with bronchial pneumonia and ordered him to take time off. During his time off with nothing to do, he started to drink all day, every day. Once he returned to duty, he slowed it down, but he was still nonetheless addicted.
“I started sneak drinking,” he stated. “I wouldn’t drink on the job. I didn’t go out and party with the guys. I wasn’t a bar drinker.” Aside from the battle with booze, Adair had another strain on his life. His son Andrew, born in 1971, had hearing loss and speech problems and needed frequent medical visits. It was also a struggle to get his son the appropriate education.
The Homicides Took a Toll on Him
Adair decided to join AA and was sober by the time his daughter Kateri was born in 1975. By the time he was promoted to homicide detective at the Rampart Division (the same division involved in the corruption scandal in the late ‘90s), he had moved his family from Walnut to Dana Point.
The way he saw it, he wanted to get his family as far away from the madness of the city as possible. Still, he had to deal with the madness as it was his duty. And the homicides took a toll on him.
The Case That Changed Him Forever
Adair had to deal with some famous head cases, like 1979’s “Freeway Killer” William George Bonin and “Night Stalker” Richard Ramirez. The worst memory for Adair was the case of Johanna Nevarez, a little girl who went missing one summer near MacArthur Park in Westlake – a four-year-old they eventually found lifeless.
It was the girl’s autopsy report that led Adair to grow distant at home, as his wife would later tell Maysh in another interview. “He couldn’t sleep,” Susan told him. “He’d wake up in the middle of the night, and he’d be standing in the hallway, staring at Kateri.”
The Longest Drive of His Life
The killer, Manuel Gomez Gonzalez, was a 31-year-old drifter who fled to Mexico. He was caught, though, and Adair had to go pick him up. “The return trip sitting next to this suspect was one of the longest drives I’ve ever experienced,” Adair stated.
Adair confessed that his desire at that point was for Gonzalez to escape so he could “kill him in a heartbeat.” He didn’t escape, though, and Adair was left with a need for justice. His internal struggles also involved repeated bouts of pneumonia and bronchitis. His career was simply wearing him thin.
It Was Only a Matter of Time
Susan’s health began to decline as well, so Adair put work aside to care for her. Then, in 1980, “for no reason in the world other than stupidity,” he took a sip of his preferred poison. And just like that, his relapse began.
Susan lives in a small home in Rancho Santa Margarita with her grown-up daughter Kateri and her husband Matt Fogleman and their two young kids. It’s a home with lots of shouting. “When you grow up with a deaf brother,” Kateri explained, “you forget you’re shouting all the time.”
All Their Stories Started the Same Way
As his wife and daughter told Maysh stories about Adair, the journalist noticed that many of them began with, “he had been drinking.” Susan described her husband as a “sad drunk,” recalling how he called her from Santa Monica once to tell her that he was holding a loaded gun.
He told her, “I’m ending it because I can’t handle it anymore, things are too horrible,” but Susan was able to talk him out of it. She told him: “There’s too many people that love you. We can handle anything as long as we’re together.
In 1991, Their Lives Started to Unravel
Susan reminded him that he had children and a wife who loved him very, very much. When he fell silent, Susan told him she hoped he would be home soon. And he was. Adair retired from the LAPD in 1988 at the age of 53. Equipped with a PI license, he started working as an insurance investigator.
A few years later, in 1991, Susan was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, and everything started to fall apart. “They had her on all kinds of medication,” he explained. He was left with all the housework – the washing, cleaning and chauffeuring her around. According to his daughter, he was “beyond depressed.”
The IRS Was Chasing Them Down and Out of Their Home
The couple had money troubles, too, thanks to all their medical expenses. Adair’s police pension just wasn’t enough, so they had to unload their house in a short sale. Back then, the housing market was abysmal, and they ended up walking away with nothing.
The IRS started chasing them down for $60,000. It got so bad that marshals came to evict the family from the rental home they had moved into. To make ends meet, Adair started working construction, but at the end of the day, he would resort to the comfort of the bottle.
He Saved His Marriage, But…
He was intoxicated at his son’s first varsity football game. Susan was in a 12-step group for families of alcoholics, and when her husband got a DUI, she had had enough. Soon, Adair found himself sleeping in an abandoned car at the beach.
By the end of 1996, Adair returned to AA and got sober again. Sobriety ultimately saved his marriage, but it did little to improve his financial situation. I think by this point, we can start to see how all signs started pointing to robbing banks.
But he wasn’t there just yet…
Desperate Times Call for Desperate Measures
It’s hard to make a living off of bank robberies. The risks are grave, and the awards are pretty small. According to the last figure released by the FBI, $7,500 is the average robbery payout. In other words, it’s not what we see in Hollywood movies.
The FBI also note that about a fifth of robbers get caught, and many of them are shot in the process. Randy Adair’s choice to rob banks seems to defy logic on the one hand, but his desperation for financial stability was clear as day. Desperate times call for desperate measures, don’t they?
Money Was Only Part of the Package
Adair blamed his financial troubles, but his family pointed to his despair as well. He was, after all, in poor health, as was Susan. Then, there was their frayed marriage due to his struggles with addiction. Money was only part of the package.
Not to mention his knack for gambling. Adair liked to bet on horse racing, and one time in 2009 in a casino, he put $20 into a slot machine and watched all three symbols align: ding, ding, ding! He was $50,000 richer. It helped pay some bills, for sure, but it only fueled an ever-deeper dependence on gambling.
His Daughter Says It’s Brain Damage
If you ask his daughter Kateri, as Maysh did, she would tell you that she suspects brain damage as a factor in her father’s downward spiral. She attributes it to his nine-hour surgery in 2010, at age 65, after he suffered an aneurysm.
He suffered another blow two years later when he developed a serious bacterial infection. In fact, they gave him a five percent chance to live. In 2013, he somehow survived five heart attacks. Kateri’s father-in-law, a pastor, performed last rites on at least one occasion. There was a period when Kateri put her parents up in a small spare bedroom in her own house.
As Rent Went Up, So Did the Betting
Eventually, their daughter found her parents a studio apartment with enough room for two recliners and a bed, and that’s about it. The rent, however, kept increasing. Sooner than later, Adair had to give up on PI work, and he could no longer do construction.
All he had was his pension as income, and his gambling losses were increasing. “I started playing video slot machines on the iPad,” he told Maysh. “It only cost five or ten bucks to buy a million points or something like that.” Now, he was losing $20, $40, and $60 at a time.
He Became the Crisis
Susan felt the absence of her husband. “I was missing that key component that I could lean on to get through another crisis because he was the crisis,” she said. By 2014, Adair was back in the hospital, this time with stomach pain. Doctors learned that he had only one working kidney, and it was blocked.
Bypass surgery left him with a huge hernia, and he lost the use of his legs temporarily. Susan’s health was sliding, too, as she was starting to lose her teeth. “Nine root canals, over and above my dental insurance,” Adair claimed. “At 900 bucks a pop, I was being just completely wiped out and drained.”
Down the Rabbit Hole
When Adair collapsed in an armchair at his daughter’s house in 2014, he begged the paramedics, “Just let me die.” He would find solace at a bar called Sammy’s in nearby Lake Forest. But he didn’t go there to drink – he sat with dozens of other seniors under 30 giant TV screens for off-track betting.
He fell down the rabbit hole of betting with money he didn’t have in hopes of winning back what he’d already lost. In February 2015, he asked his daughter’s husband to loan him money for rent. After Matt checked with his wife, Kateri confronted her father, urging him to get help.
Was This the Moment That Set Him Off?
Adair reacted by threatening her with his life: “If you don’t loan me the money, I’ll have to blow my brains out.” It worked; he got the $2,000. Days later, Kateri saw her father pick up the Panama hat she bought for a cruise funded by Matt’s parents.
The fact that his in-laws were paying for a vacation sent a wave of insecurity through him. Even in his stupor, he still had an ego to save. Kateri still wonders if that was the moment that sent her father to rob banks.
He Wasn’t Too Reflective
Adair thought he had everything covered. “I knew inside the bank they were gonna have some fairly poor, grainy pictures,” he told Maysh during their visit. That didn’t turn out to be the case, though. As Maysh noted in his report, Adair wasn’t too reflective. “Clearly, the man’s mind wasn’t healthy,” he wrote.
Adair wasn’t remembering dates correctly and got the name of his favorite bar wrong during his account. When it came to his first robbery, Adair said he thought to himself, “I’m just gonna go and make a withdrawal, you know, without an account.”
The First Note of His First Robbery
He was mainly concerned with paying bills and financing his betting habit. He said that his mind “wasn’t working real well then,” which is why he figured that if the bank thought he had a weapon, they wouldn’t look at him.
His first heist was on Friday, March 20, at 1:45 p.m. at the California Bank & Trust in Dana Point. Adair walked in wearing sunglasses, a blue baseball cap, with a Smith & Wesson revolver in his waistband. He then gave the first teller the first note of his first robbery.
No Screams, No Bells, No Whistles
Moments later, he left the bank with $1,731 in cash, walking as fast as he could to his SUV. His license plate frames read “KMA-367,” which is the call sign of the LAPD radio transmitter. He recalled the whole thing being so quiet – no screams, no bells, no whistles.
Then, an alert chimed on the phone of FBI Special Agent Chris Gicking, a 51-year-old who worked on over 500 bank robberies. Gicking got the photos minutes after and drove straight to the bank. Even he was surprised at the Snowbird Bandit’s age.
“Everybody Robs Banks”
Gicking says he always tells people: “Everybody robs banks — young, old, fat, short, green, purple, male, female… But this guy, you know, pretty unusual.” For a while there, Adair hid in plain sight, blending into the retirement community.
But the gambling continued, and about two months later, he needed more cash. On May 22, 2015, at 1:31 p.m., he walked into his own town’s First Citizens Bank wearing a baseball cap and a windbreaker, with his Smith & Wesson sticking out of his waistband. This time he walked away with $1,190. The first thing he did? Drive to Pick Up Stix and buy Chinese noodles.
On to His Third Robbery
He brought the food to Kateri and Matt’s, handed it to them, and shuffled off. “It was those little things,” Kateri told Maysh that described her father’s declining mental state. “He was missing.” For Kateri’s 40th birthday, she invited her father, but he refused to come, telling her it “isn’t a good time. That’s a lot of stress on me and your mom.”
The party was canceled. The real reason was that Adair was worried that her guests might recognize him from the wanted posters circulating on Facebook. Still, he kept going. On June 11, 2015, Adair walked into a Wells Fargo Bank and committed his third robbery, taking only $944.
When His Face Made It on the News
At a park close by, he tossed his baseball cap and shirt into the garbage bin. Up to that point, his basic disguise was enough to pass off as any old white guy on camera. But that third bank’s cameras were higher resolution, giving the FBI much clearer photos of the Snowbird Bandit to send to the news.
To Adair’s luck, it was the same week you-know-who announced that he was running for president. “The only thing I can say is not enough people saw the article,” stated Gicking. About a month after his third robbery, Adair walked into a U.S. Bank in Ladera Ranch.
His Biggest Haul Yet
This time he borrowed his daughter’s Panama hat and a pair of his wife’s reading glasses. As he sped away from that fourth robbery, he saw flashing red lights zooming past him. Yet again, he got away with the robbery. And it was his largest yet: $3,600.
But the money slipped through his fingers too easily. He told himself, “I’ll get over this hump. It’s over, it’s done, nobody will ever know.” But you know how the story goes…
For Adair, “robbery was the quick, fast way to solve the problem.”
His Fifth and Final Robbery
On July 21, 2015, he hit the First Citizens Bank – in the plaza with the KFC — for a second time because it was “so easy.” That day, he brought home $1,658. The next morning, Kateri’s husband Matt woke up early and settled into his favorite armchair, opening The Orange County Register’s app on his smartphone.
There it was: a headline about a bank robbery with clear security images. He was staring at his father-in-law’s face. “Oooh, gosh, this can’t be right,” he said aloud at that moment. He then leapt upstairs to wake up his wife.
“We Might Have a Problem.”
“I think you might know who this is.” He showed her his phone. “We might have a problem.” They turned on the TV, and there was the Snowbird Bandit on pretty much every channel. Matt handed his wife a towel so she could scream into it without the kids hearing.
Kateri said she went through a series of emotions. “I’m thinking the whole world’s gonna know. It won’t take long for people to recognize him,” she recalled. She called her brother Andrew, but he could barely understand her. She had to enter her soundproof garage (where Matt plays guitar) to yell into the phone: “Dad’s robbed five f***ing banks!”
A Lose-Lose Situation
The couple drove to Adair’s apartment, where they found Susan alone. She didn’t believe them, even after looking at the crystal-clear photo of her husband. “It’s him, Mom,” Kateri repeated. “It’s him. It’s him.” That’s when they called the police.
“We have to do the right thing,” Kateri said as she dialed the local police station. Meanwhile, Adair was at the bar Sammy’s, fixed on the races and clutching a small slip of paper in his hands. Adair was tracking his horses, Venetian Mask and Whiskey Wild, as they lagged behind the winning horse. Deflated, Adair put his losing ticket into his bag, where his revolver and police badge sat.
Kateri Refused to Make the Call
As he was suffering his losses, his wife, daughter, and son-in-law were in an interview room at the police station. Gicking laid down the three security-camera photographs on the table. Kateri broke down and confessed, “Yes, it’s him.” Her father was “not in his right mind,” she claimed.
Gicking explained that they needed to bring Adair in safely and asked, “Are you comfortable with calling and saying you’re having car trouble?” Kateri refused. She stepped out into the parking lot with Matt for some fresh air but passed out instead. Once she came round, paramedics were loading her into an ambulance.
So, Her Mother Did It
If she wouldn’t bring her father in, who would? Her mother then said, “I know how to do it… I know how to work this man. I’ve been with him for 48 years. We’ll be married 49 years this year.” She then called her husband on her cell phone. “I wanna go home. It’s been a long day,” she told him.
She asked him to pick her up at BJ’s restaurant, next door to the police station. She put down the phone and stared at Gicking. “You guys are clueless. There’s a reason they call you fan belt inspectors,” she told him. “Got him in a heartbeat.”
Just after 5 p.m., Randy Adair parked in a disabled spot (no less) at the BJ’s restaurant. Mere yards away, Gicking summoned the Orange County Bank Robbery Apprehension Team. As soon as Adair stepped out of his SUV, four undercover officers grabbed him.
In his car, they found $1,120 in betting slips and his gun. “I’m supposed to meet my wife there,” Adair protested. When Gicking sat down opposite him at the station, he slid the security photos across the table. The Snowbird took one look at them and said simply, “I’m cooked.”
71 Years of Goodness…
“I’m here because of what I did,” Adair, prisoner 693954-112, told Maysh that day. “My family turned me in.” At the prison, the ex-cop is an outcast. The White Supremacist group blacklisted him from the TV room, and he avoids the addiction meetings out of fear of sharing personal information about his family.
Since he brought a gun into the banks, he is officially a “violent felon,” which means he can’t ever earn time off for good behavior. He summed up his life in one sentence: “71 years of goodness and four months of idiot.”
A Husband, Father, and Policeman
Kateri is furious that her father – a man in his condition – could even be convicted of anything. As for Susan, she’s sticking by him. “I don’t know that person I saw on the news,” she told the judge. “It deeply saddens me to see what is to come of this man I have loved and felt such pride for as a husband, father, and policeman.”
Meanwhile, Adair limps slowly to his cell. He has to strap on a face mask attached to a medical device that pumps air into his lungs, as he never recovered from that Westlake fire. He’s scheduled to be released in August 2021.