Partners in Crime | Reader's Digest

Partners in Crime

This new Bonnie and Clyde robbed $500,000 from a half-dozen banks, then lived the highlife on the lam.

By Max Alexander from Reader's Digest | August 2004

For winter recreation, it doesn’t get much better than Mt. Bachelor, with its 3,365-foot vertical drop and 350 annual inches of snow. The Oregon ski resort has it all when you throw in some kick-off-your-shoes nightlife; the area’s Upper Castle Keep Lounge warns, "Choose one of our other facilities if you can’t handle too much fun!"

But too much fun wasn’t a problem for good-looking Brent Wilson "Wil" Hicks and his athletic girlfriend, Alex Santini. The couple pulled into nearby Bend in December 1998, anticipating a fast-paced season of snowboarding and partying. An Internet stock trader, Hicks could work anywhere that had a high-speed connection for his laptop. After renting a two-month condo, paying $1,800 cash for ski passes and joining the local Gold’s Gym, Hicks and Santini settled into a daily routine of a little work, and a lot of play.

At night in the Lounge, the couple made friends with Carey Black, a cocktail waitress, who didn’t know that Hicks, whose real name was Craig Pritchert, was in fact a career criminal and a wanted man. At age 37, he’d already done time for bank robbery. Santini was Nova Guthrie, a 25-year-old college grad with no criminal record but a taste for high living. Over 16 months from 1997 to 1999, authorities now say, Craig, often with Nova’s help, pulled off precision, armed "takedown" heists in banks from Oregon to Texas, netting as much as half a million dollars. The robberies earned them comparisons to Bonnie and Clyde, the bank-robbing lovers who eluded cops for four years before perishing in a rain of police bullets in 1934.

Shortly after arriving in Bend, Craig and Nova began checking out the Klamath First Federal Bank. It was the kind of bank Craig liked: in a small town without a lot of cops and across from a busy shopping center, where a getaway car could blend in quickly. Best of all, it was open until six on Fridays—after dark during winter.

On a Friday in late February, Nova was behind the wheel of a silver Subaru that pulled into the parking lot of the Timbers Bar & Grill, just down the street from the bank. It was just before six, and as darkness settled in, authorities allege that Craig donned a latex mask-and-wig likeness of a bearded old man. He grabbed a walkie-talkie and a white canvas bag, zipped up his ski parka and headed for the bank. Nova stayed in the car with the other walkie-talkie and a police scanner. Her job was to listen for the words "211 in progress"—cop code for a bank robbery—then alert Craig.

But Craig didn’t give the bank’s three employees time to trip silent police alarms. He burst in wielding a semiautomatic handgun and ordered manager Bill Olsen to lock the door. "At first I thought it was a joke," says Olsen, "but he got my attention when he cocked the gun and threatened to blow my head off." This was not the Craig who charmed waitresses and swapped stock tips at the bar. "Every other word was an obscenity," Olsen recalls. "He knew how to terrorize."

Craig told the operations officer, Rhonda Dent, to draw the shade over the drive-up window and open the vault. As Dent filled a bank bag, Craig ordered Olsen and teller Laurie Morin to their knees, and bound their hands and ankles with plastic flex ties. When Dent couldn’t cram any more bills into the bank bag, Craig whipped out another and demanded she fill that one too. Then he tied up Dent, grabbed both bags and bolted out a side door. It was over almost as soon as it began.

Back in their condo, Craig and Nova counted $120,000 in cash. It was a stunning haul, but their day’s work wasn’t done. Craig lit the wood stove and tossed in the mask, the remaining flex ties and his ski jacket. On Saturday, he got rid of the radios. On Sunday, in what seemed an amazingly generous gesture, the couple gave Carey Black, their friendly cocktail waitress, the title to their silver Subaru. Then they disappeared in a BMW.

Even before he met Nova, Craig had been eluding cops, and baffling those close to him, for years. Raised in a middle-class, Catholic family in Scottsdale, Arizona, Craig stood out from the crowd—and not just because he was handsome and gregarious. He was a gifted outfielder and switch-hitter at Coronado High School; the team won the state baseball championship in his senior year. There he met his future wife, Laurie, a pretty blond cheerleader and the homecoming queen. "He said all the right things," recalls Laurie. "You felt like he knew so much."

After graduating, Craig played in a summer league with future batting champ Mark McGwire; at Arizona State University in 1982 (a year after he and Laurie married), he landed on a dream team with Barry Bonds and other soon-to-be major-leaguers. With Craig on track to be a high draft pick for the majors, he and Laurie settled down to raise a family, ultimately having three kids.

But Craig couldn’t keep his eye on the ball, so to speak. Frustrated with sitting on the bench as Bonds and other heavyweights took the field, he dropped out of ASU after one year. He could have transferred to another Division I school or simply cooled his heels, waiting for Bonds to move on. "He had no patience," says Laurie.

Beneath Craig’s charismatic exterior was a controlling, manipulative person who craved danger. Unbeknownst to his wife, he had been living a life of petty crime and deception for years. "He gets off on it," says Laurie. "I found out that in high school he was stealing tires off cars at fancy dealerships, and then selling them at a swap meet the next day."