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The Case of the Bank-Robbing Prostitutes: How a Team of L.A. Hookers Became the "Starlet Bandits" 

Thursday, Jul 25 2013
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"I did want to leave prostitution behind," she writes, "so I guess you could say that's one of the driving forces that caused me to turn to a more aggressive form of income."

There would later be a dispute over whether the prostitutes were criminals or victims of exploitation. The arguments mirror the debate over how the justice system should treat prostitution itself.

Kilgo's lawyer, Kim Savo, argues that her youth was a factor (she was 19 at the time). She also was addicted to drugs.

click to flip through (3) ILLUSTRATION BY NOAH PATRICK PFARR
  • ILLUSTRATION BY NOAH PATRICK PFARR
   
 

"She was vulnerable," Savo says. "I think she was manipulated and taken advantage of in committing [bank robbery], the same way she was taken advantage of in prostitution. I don't see it as significantly different."

Kilgo, however, says St. John did not manipulate her.

"He never forced anyone to do what they did. He just gave the idea and help set the plan in motion," she writes. "What we did, we did of our own free will. ... I asked to do what I did."

St. John says that he and Kilgo agreed together to rob the bank. They also decided to protect themselves by persuading Mallory Mnichowski to be the one to go inside.

Mnichowski had been working as a prostitute in L.A. but returned home to the Midwest after becoming pregnant. She was reluctant to rob banks, but St. John and Kilgo talked her into it, agreeing to split her travel costs to bring her back.

Mnichowski's lawyer, too, would argue that she had been duped. Tests showed she had "an extremely low level of ability," he argues, and that she was "generally lacking in the ability to make good decisions."

For all the work they put into bringing Mnichowski back to town, St. John believed the robbery would not work. When Mnichowski walked out of the Bank of America with nearly $6,000, the spree began.

Two days later, Mnichowski went to the Bank of America in Hollywood. She came up empty there, but an hour later she robbed the Chase bank in Mission Hills — taking nearly $7,000.

Emboldened, Kilgo decided it was her turn. Two days later, she robbed a Bank of America in Palmdale and then returned to the Chase in Mission Hills.

This was imprudent. Tellers might well have been on the lookout for a woman in sunglasses talking on her cellphone, and might have rung the alarm before she even got the counter. But they were not being careful.

"She got hooked on doing that — the high, I guess," St. John says. He was frustrated because the cops would have Kilgo's photo, which meant she could no longer advertise on Craigslist: "I can't put you online if you're running into a bank."

As a precaution, St. John also pulled the reality TV footage off of MySpace.

Kilgo traveled to Las Vegas, where she did a bank robbery on her own. She then returned to L.A. and did two more with St. John. At that point, the FBI alerted the media.

"Right now she seems to be unstoppable," KTLA's Chris Wolfe reported on the evening news, "apparently hitting eight banks in the last 10 days in Southern California."

The FBI still believed there was only one robber. She usually was seen talking on a glittery cellphone. She carried a large handbag. She was white.

But some witnesses gave different descriptions. Some said she was 5 feet 3 inches with freckles and red hair. Others said she was 5 feet 7 inches and blond.

"It looks like she's gained some weight," Laura Eimiller, the FBI spokeswoman, said in the KTLA report. "However, she's still wearing the same large sunglasses."

Asked if the bandit was dangerous, Eimiller said, "Of course. Anyone who's willing to rob a bank is clearly desperate."

When Kilgo saw the news reports, she was excited.

"I'm a TV star," she told St. John.

"Hold on," he told her. "This ain't the same thing."

When Kilgo bragged about the robberies, prostitutes started to come to St. John, asking if they could do one.

"Now we're the bank robbers," he says. "I already know when this shit hits the fan, it's on me. ... I'm supposed to have this shit popping, and now everybody wants to rob a bank."

Stephen May is the FBI agent in Los Angeles who specializes in bank robberies. He's the one who dubbed the robbers "the Starlet Bandit." Thinking up nicknames is part of his job.

As the spree went on, it became obvious from the photos that several women were involved. But the disguises were similar and the notes were in the same handwriting. The robbers were returning to the same banks they had robbed before. Most of the banks were in areas known for prostitution, like Sepulveda Boulevard in Mission Hills.

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