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Tuesday, August 11, 1998 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Three More Arrested In Olympia Bank Heist -- Girls From `Felony Flats' Caught In California

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

ABERDEEN - A dozen or more lived there at once, in near squalor, sharing a dilapidated, two-story house in the part of the town known as "Felony Flats." Most of them were teenage girls - high-school dropouts or runaways.

Five of them are now suspects in the July 31 robbery of the Anchor Savings Bank in West Olympia.

Three girls, two 15, one 14, were arrested yesterday near the Northern California town of Vacaville, while on their way to the house of a relative of one of the girls, said Lt. Tor Bjornstad of the Olympia police. The girls, carrying sleeping bags, got there by bus, Bjornstad said.

Two women, ages 33 and 20, were arrested Friday at their workplace in nearby Westport and appeared yesterday in a Thurston County court, where a judge set bail at $500,000 each. None of the five has been charged. All of them, at one time, were residents at the home at 708 E. First St.

An eviction notice is posted on the door of the blue Victorian house, near downtown Aberdeen. The tenant named in the notice is the 33-year-old woman arrested Friday.

Neighbors say the woman appeared to care for most of the girls she took in. One of the girls arrested yesterday was the woman's daughter, neighbors said.

Susan Begley, who lives two doors down, bought an armoire from the 33-year-old. "I thought she was nice," said Begley. "She seemed to have a big heart, taking in all those kids. They had a few little parties, but they weren't loud. Most of the kids I saw living there were clean and dressed nice.

"I visited them once and they were working hard trying to make the place look nice. They were stripping nine layers of paint off the kitchen cupboards."

The woman recently opened a teen dance club called "Ivory Vibrations" on Wishkah Street, downtown Aberdeen's main strip, neighbors said. The club quickly closed.

"She said she opened the club to keep teens off the streets," said a neighbor, Jeani Sero.

Hangouts for teenagers are few in Aberdeen, save for the bus terminal, the YMCA and Alfie's, a game parlor that is often closed.

"Kids usually hang around their houses," said Megan Carr, 20, who grew up in Aberdeen. "High-school sports are what a lot of us do. There's nothing to do in the summer, so it can get pretty boring here."

One of the University of Washington football team's best tight ends, Mark Bruener, came from Aberdeen. So did the late rock star Kurt Cobain, whose tormented childhood was the genesis for much of the music he wrote as leader of the band Nirvana.

The Northwest gothic themes articulated by grunge music and the television series "Twin Peaks" seem well-suited for the often cloud-covered, logging town of Aberdeen. Altitude determines the class line. Above "Felony Flats" is the place locals call "Snob Hill," the perch for the town's upper class.

Located near Ivory Vibrations is the Grays Harbor Youth Opportunities Mall, a resource center for pregnant teens, teens on drugs, or high-school dropouts without jobs.

"There are a lot of kids into drugs and drinking because there's nothing to do here," said Sero's brother, Daniel Sero. "Those people who lived in the house were all kids with little direction in life. They needed someone to tell them what to do. They needed a place to go."

Garbage was stacked waist-high on the back porch of the house. An empty crib stood in one of the bedrooms among piles of clothes.

The roof, walls and ceilings suffered from obvious neglect. In places, studs were exposed. Unlocked doors led to unfinished staircases and bare floorboards.

While five of the former tenants are in jail, no one seems to know what happened to the rest of the occupants.

Olympia police said the robbers bragged about the heist before and after the fact, leaving behind a wealth of tips and clues. One of them was a videotape of the movie "Set It Off," about four women who rob several banks.

"Associates of theirs were told by them that the movie was inspiring them," said Olympia Police Detective Russ Gies. "Associates of theirs were with them as they watched the movie. And we have reports from their associates that they watched the movie numerous times in the past two weeks."

The women in the film are portrayed sympathetically, rather than as villains. The four fictional friends, who work together as janitors, reluctantly resort to crime after they are wronged by the system. One is unjustly fired from her job; another loses her child to Child Protective Services because she was discovered taking the young boy to work; another watches her innocent brother accidentally killed by police. Three of the four women are shot dead by police; the last successfully escapes to Mexico with the money.

The real-life bank robbers also concocted plans to flee to Mexico after the heist, police said.

Dressed in hooded sweat shirts, dark stocking caps and bandannas, the robbers stormed the bank and ordered customers and employees to the floor. Two robbers waving handguns circled the room while the other two vaulted the counter and grabbed an undisclosed amount of cash. A fifth person stood lookout just outside the door.

The robbers fled, dumping their clothes and guns in the woods and catching a public bus to Aberdeen.

Bjornstad said he didn't know who was the ringleader, but confirmed that police believe the 33-year-old woman in custody was the lookout who waited outside the bank while the other four carried out the heist. The other robbers handed the money to the lookout as they left the bank, he added. No money has been recovered, Bjornstad said.

Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.

Copyright (c) 1998 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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