Just after sunrise on August 9, 2012, in the Houston suburb of Katy, Scott Catt, a 50-year-old structural engineer, was awakened by his alarm clock in the apartment he shared with his 20-year-old son, Hayden, and his 18-year-old daughter, Abby.
Scott took a shower, dried off, got dressed, and walked into the living room. Abby and Hayden were waiting for him on the couch.
“OK, kids,” Scott said. “You ready?”
Abby and Hayden nodded. The family headed out the door and walked toward Abby’s 1999 green Volkswagen Jetta. Scott was big, six foot four and 240 pounds, and he squeezed himself into the passenger seat. Hayden, six-two and 200 pounds, crammed into the backseat.
Abby started the car, and five minutes later, she pulled into a shopping center and parked about 50 yards from a Comerica Bank.
Scott grabbed a black garbage bag from the floorboard and took out two pairs of white painter’s coveralls, two painter’s masks, two pairs of latex gloves, and two Airsoft pistols (which look like real guns but shoot plastic pellets). He and Hayden put on their disguises in the Jetta. Scott clipped a walkie-talkie to his coveralls and handed another to Abby.
It was 9:30. They sat for the next 30 minutes, until Scott said it was time to make their move. Abby dropped them off a few stores from the bank and drove to the alley behind it. Minutes later, her dad’s voice crackled through her walkie-talkie.
“We’re going in,” he said.
Robbing a bank is the most traditional of crimes. It’s a simple act with an immediate payoff. All sorts of criminals have tried it. “If you’re in law enforcement long enough, you’ll eventually come across bank robbers of every shape and size,” said Troy Nehls, sheriff of Fort Bend County, which includes part of the Katy area. “But I’m not sure there has ever been a bank-robbing family.”
The Catts were as unlikely a set of robbers as one could imagine. They had no pressing financial issues and no obvious personal problems. Scott, a widower, worked for an energy company. Abby was a salesclerk at Victoria’s Secret, and Hayden was hoping to be a hotel concierge.
Around their apartment complex, the Catts were regarded as “regular, everyday people,” one of their neighbors said. Yet when it came to robbing banks, said Nehls, “they were very bold, very daring, and very risky. They’re lucky they didn’t get caught up in a shoot-out.”
The Catts pulled off two robberies: the first being the Comerica heist and the second being the robbery of a credit union, two months later. They were getting ready for a third when they were arrested in November 2012.
Reporters tried to find out why a father and his two children would turn to bank robbery, but the Catts weren’t talking. Then, late last year, the three agreed to plea deals, and they consented to let me interview them.
I was allowed to speak to only one Catt at a time. Abby was the first to be escorted to the visiting room. She sat on a chair, ducked her head, and said after a silence, “Sometimes I feel so embarrassed about what’s happened that I just want to disappear.”
Hayden came next. “Every night I stare at the ceiling, and I ask myself, ‘What were we thinking?’ ” he said.
Then Scott walked in. He gave me a firm handshake, sat down, and pushed his fingertips together. “All I can tell you is that I thought it would help us as a family,” he said. He took a breath and blew it out. “I did it for the family,” he said. “I swear to you, I would rob banks only for my family.”
The story begins in McMinnville, Oregon, southwest of Portland, where Scott was born and raised. His father was a loan officer at First Federal Savings and Loan. At McMinnville High School, Scott played football and fell in love with Beth Worral, a star of the swim team. They married after graduation. After Beth had Hayden and Abby, the Catts built a house in Dundee—“our dream house,” Scott told me. But in 1995, Beth was diagnosed with breast cancer, and she died two years later. Hayden was five, and Abby was two.
At that point, Scott told me, “life sort of came to a halt.” He began drinking heavily. He had a brief second marriage. He went to rehab. He fell behind on house payments, and the family moved in with Scott’s mother. He went through a couple of jobs. His car was repossessed.
Between 2000 and 2002, he began thinking about how to make extra money. He remembered one day his father had come home and said First Federal had been robbed. When Scott asked why no one had stopped the thief, his father replied that the tellers were trained to comply with robbers—because the money was insured, the bank would get it back.
One morning, after dropping off the kids at school, Scott drove to a branch of his dad’s old bank. He strode in wearing a ball cap, black sweats, a white painter’s mask, and sunglasses. He was carrying a trash bag and an antique pistol—unloaded. He went up to a window, demanded the teller’s money, and ordered her not to add bait bills or dye packs. She dumped around $2,500 into his bag. Scott walked back to his truck, drove around for a while to see if he was being followed, and went home.
A couple of days later, the local paper published a grainy black-and-white frame from a video showing the robber. “My mother said the man looked a little like me, and I just laughed,” Scott said. “And that was it.”
Scott did his next heist a year later after falling behind on bills, and he got $1,500 from another small bank. Then he landed a full-time job with an engineering company, earning $25 an hour. Still, once a year he’d pull off a robbery, hauling in between $5,000 and $10,000. (Authorities believe that he robbed at least five banks in Oregon.) “I didn’t feel like a criminal,” he told me. “I didn’t load my pistol. I knew I wasn’t going to shoot anybody. And I kept telling myself that whatever money I got was insured, so who was really being hurt?”
Meanwhile, Scott was a devoted single father. He cooked dinner for his kids almost every night and took them on vacations. When they got interested in competitive swimming, Scott drove them to practice every day.
Abby and Hayden never once suspected that their father had a secret life. “He’d be up and gone to work by 4:30 or 5 in the morning,” Hayden said. “He didn’t make great money, but we always appreciated how hard he worked to keep us afloat.”
“Dad was a great motivator,” Abby told me. “At the beginning of each [swim] season, he pushed me to work hard and set goals. He told me I could be somebody. The night before every swim meet, he would cook us pork chops, noodles, applesauce, and a protein shake. I loved it.”
One time, Hayden qualified for the state meet, and there was talk about a college scholarship. But by the age of 17, he said, he was drinking too much and quit swimming. Abby lost interest in the sport when she was 15. She started running with what she called “the drinking, partying crowd,” and she ended up in an alternative school. After graduation, Hayden found work as a hotel bellman and as a weekend tour guide, and he was still drinking too much. And Scott was again falling behind financially. By 2010, it was time for another robbery.
Scott knew that if he had accomplices, he could get cash from several tellers’ drawers and perhaps even get to the bank’s vault. But there was no one he could trust to stay quiet— except his children. Maybe he should talk to them about joining him.
He rationalized the idea. As long as they did what he said, they wouldn’t get caught. And he would use the money to start a small business they could run. “They were floundering,” he told me. “I could see the despair in Hayden, and I thought he could use—I don’t know—some inspiration, some excitement. Same with Abby. All I can tell you is that I thought doing it would give us all a little boost in our lives—that it would help us as a family.”
He approached his son. “We were sitting at the kitchen table,” Hayden recalled. “He said he had something important to tell me. He said he had a second job as a part-time bank robber. The way he looked at me, I knew he wasn’t kidding.”
Scott said he would be the “muscle,” leading the way in and scaring the employees and customers, and Hayden would be the “bag man,” ordering tellers to put money into his bag. They’d wear disguises, go to the bank early in the morning before there were many customers, and be out within three minutes. Scott told his son they could easily grab $40,000 or more.
On the morning of the robbery, Hayden was scared. Scott did the robbery by himself, getting a few thousand dollars, and came home before lunch. “He did it so quickly and so easily that it planted a seed,” Hayden told me. “I thought, My dad really does know what he’s doing.”
Then Scott was laid off. By January 2012, he’d found work in Houston and relocated there. Abby moved in with her grandmother in Oregon, and Hayden went to Hawaii and got a job at a hotel. It seemed like a new era. Scott’s job paid well, and he hoped he’d quit thinking about banks. But there were just so many in Texas.
By March, Scott had persuaded Abby to move to Texas. She landed a job at Victoria’s Secret. (She proudly announced on her Facebook page that she was a Victoria’s Secret “Pink Girl.”) A few months later, Hayden joined them, and it wasn’t long before he began talking to his father about a bank robbery. He wanted money for college.
Scott picked out a nearby Comerica. He began walking past it in the mornings with the family’s yellow Lab, Bella, to see when it got busy, and he had his son go in to learn the layout of the lobby. But they needed a getaway driver—and there was only one person who came to mind.
Hayden went into Abby’s room. “I need to tell you something,” he said. “Dad’s a bank robber; I’m going to become one, too, and we want you to join us.”
The next day, Scott talked to Abby, promising her that all she’d have to do was drop them off, wait for them to return, and drive home at a normal speed. She agreed to participate. “This was something I felt like I had to do, to protect them, to make sure they got out of the bank and didn’t get shot or something,” she told me. “I didn’t want to let Dad down.”
In the apartment, Hayden and Scott practiced bursting into a bank and yelling at everyone to get their hands up. They scheduled the robbery for August 9, when Abby had a day off from Victoria’s Secret. The night before, Scott had the kids steal license plates from a car at another complex and put them over the Jetta’s plates.
The robbery went off as planned. Outside, Abby gave them time updates over the walkie-talkie. At the three-minute mark, Scott and Hayden ordered the manager to unlock the back door, and they jumped into the Jetta. Abby drove to another neighborhood, and Hayden and Scott threw their disguises, pistols, stolen plates, and gloves into a Dumpster. In their apartment, they stared wide-eyed at the money, close to $70,000—a stunning haul from a little branch bank.
They heard sirens and decided to go out. Scott took a ride on his motorcycle, Hayden went shopping, and Abby got a manicure. That night Abby was still nervous—“I kept looking at the door, waiting for the police to walk in,” she said—but Hayden was overjoyed. “I felt exhilaration, the most intense high I’ve ever experienced,” he said. “It changed my life. I’ll be truthful about that.”
Scott paid off his bills. He bought a second motorcycle and a $17,000 Tahoe for Hayden and a $12,600 Ford Focus for Abby (the Jetta had engine trouble). He and the kids split the remainder, but by late September, all the money was spent.
He and Hayden decided to rob the First Community Credit Union. Because there was a construction crew working nearby, Scott sent Hayden and Abby to Home Depot to buy two orange safety vests for disguises. Hayden also went to a costume shop to buy a fake mustache.
On October 1, Abby took the day off from work and drove Hayden and Scott to the credit union. The men entered at about 1:50. Their size and guns terrified everyone, and they were in and out so fast that no one got a good look at them. As Abby drove them home, police cars came screaming from the opposite direction. Not one officer gave her a second look. All they heard over the radio was that two tall men had committed a robbery.
The Catts got $29,953, a decent sum. A few days later, Abby told her father she couldn’t handle the stress. She wanted to take her cut and move into her own place. Scott promised her an apartment but begged her to remain their wheelman. He had decided to quit his job and make a living as a full-time bank robber, and Hayden would join him.
“The greed had snowballed,” recalled Hayden. “I had become consumed with money: spending it, getting more. It was all I thought about, like an addiction.”
On November 8, Abby drove them to another bank, but there was too much foot traffic, so they called it off. The next morning, as Scott and Hayden prepared to try again, the police came knocking.
While studying video of the credit union robbery, veteran detective Jeff Martin had noticed that the safety vests worn by the robbers weren’t tattered or dirty at all. He could even see creases from where they’d been folded. He found that Home Depot sold that style of vest and got a subpoena to review purchases at area Home Depots. Just before the robbery, two vests had been purchased in Katy with a debit card belonging to Scott Catt. Security footage showed a young man and a blond teenage girl buying them. After doing a check on Scott, Martin learned he had two children, Hayden and Abby, whose photos matched the customers.
Martin deduced that Scott and Hayden were the robbers, and Abby was the one whom tellers heard counting time over a walkie-talkie. His case was bolstered by video of Abby applying for an account at the credit union a few days before. (Scott had sent her to scope the layout.) He had the Catts arrested and placed in separate interrogation rooms.
Martin decided to first talk to Scott. He assumed that he would declare his innocence, claiming a case of mistaken identity. But Scott confessed all, even talking about his Oregon robberies, which Martin knew nothing about. The detective was dumbfounded, and he was equally dumbfounded when Hayden and Abby confessed.
Although the getaway driver in a bank robbery is liable under Texas law for the same punishment as the bank robbers, the police and prosecutors felt sympathy for Abby and gave her a mild five-year sentence. (She’ll be eligible for parole in seven months.) Hayden received a ten-year sentence (his parole will come up in about four years), but Scott was hit with a 24-year sentence.
When I talked to Scott, he’d lost 70 pounds since his arrest, which he attributed mostly to “a lot of remorse” for what he’d done to his children. “When I look back on what I did, what led to this place, I would have been better off—we all would have been better off—if I had gone on welfare and been a stay-at-home dad.”
Abby and Hayden didn’t seem to know what to think of their father. “He should have been protecting me, instead of the other way around, having me protect him,” Abby said. A few minutes later, she mentioned that she had run into her father a day or so earlier in the infirmary. “He told me he loved me, to be strong, and to be patient. And then he said he was so sorry. I broke down and started crying. I mean, like I’ve said, he is my dad.”
Abby plans to become a nurse when she’s released. Hayden wants to get a degree in advertising, architecture, or engineering—“that’s right, engineering, like my dad,” he said, smiling.
Scott told me his one hope is that his kids will visit him after they’re free. He’ll be 62 when he’s eligible for parole. “If I get out, I want to have a homecoming dinner that night, me and the kids,” he said. “We’ll go to a good restaurant, tell stories about the old days.” He paused. “About the days when we were a family.”
Texas Monthly (June 2014), Copyright © 2014 by Texas Monthly, www.texasmonthly.com.