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tv   Dateline Extra  MSNBC  November 29, 2020 8:00pm-10:00pm PST

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they said this is a c4 explosive. we're going to strap it to you. >> terror. >> a guy is driving to the bank right now and he has a bomb strapped to his chest. >> robbery. >> he said to me we want $4.2 million in cash. >> families taken hostage, told to commit a crime or else. >> they're going to keep some in the wife while he goes and robs the bank. >> striking again. >> she looks up and here's a guy with an assault rifle.
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>> and again. >> for every minute that he was late, his wife was going to lose a finger. >> a high-stakes stalemate. a high speed car chase. >> he just hit a third vehicle. >> how did the gunman know everything about their victims? their secret weapon could turn everyone into a potential target. >> they would find people on social media. be careful what you put out for the world to see. it's a mouse click away. it's a beautiful september day in the western mountains of north carolina. a beautiful stretch of interstate. north carolina state highway
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patrol is running radar, and you see a ford edge blow right by. it started off as a routine traffic stop, but it was anything but routine. all of a sudden you see the suv pull over. you see the passenger's side door open briefly and then shut and then take off again. and hear the sirens, you hear the unmistakable roar of the engine. you see the vehicle swerve into the big truck. he takes off its driver's side mirror. it goes flying off and you see these ominous brake lights go on. then you see him ram the side. >> he's just hitting a third vehicle. our story begins in 2015 with 46-year-old matt yussman, a
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chief financial officer of a credit union in central connecticut. >> i've been playing hockey for 30-something years. i play every week, sometimes twice a week, all summer long, all winter long. >> money management pays his bills, but hockey fuels his passion. he's the goalie for a team called the trash pandas. >> the elite played on sunday night. how did you do that night? >> we won our game, which is a good thing. but it was a late night game. >> matt's glow from that game ended when he got home. he pulled into his garage in his west bristol house about midnight. he didn't know two men were watching. >> i would just get out of the garage door, get out, take all my equipment out. because i'm a goalie, i have a large bag. >> matt's mother valerie, a retired nurse, was inside the home they shared watching the academy awards. matt moved his mom into the house after his dad, her husband of 40 years, had passed away. >> it was the night of the oscars and they didn't finish until -- it was just about
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midnight or a few minutes after, and it was right after that when i heard the garage door open. >> as i'm walking back to the car to pull it in, i see somebody come running down my driveway yelling, get on the ground, and i see he's pointing a gun at me. he tells me to kneel on the garage floor. as i'm kneeling there, he walks up behind me and sticks the gun right behind the back of my ear, presses it against my head and says, lie face first on the ground. >> you heard him arrive home, right? >> right, and i was waiting for him to come into the house. he wasn't coming in. >> as i'm being zip-tied, i look up and i see another guy running down the driveway. >> matt said the gunman was covered head to toe in dark clothing and ski goggles. based on matt's recollection, we created these images of these men. >> could you make out their faces? >> they had no distinguishing things that i could see. >> did you even know what race they were. >> everything was covered. >> the only features he could
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make out, one was a tall, slender guy, the other heavyset. >> i got up to go out to the garage, and when i went out there, i saw matt lying face down in the garage and there were two masked gunmen over him holding guns on him. one of the gunmen swung around with his gun and pointed at me, and said, come down into the garage here. kneel beside your son. >> so this is all going bad very quickly. >> yeah, this is going bad very quickly. >> i went down and knelt beside my son and said, please don't hurt us, please don't hurt us. we will do whatever you want. >> mother and son quickly realized they were the victims of a home invasion. neighbors couldn't see what was happening because their ranch house is set far back from the road on an isolated cul-de-sac. >> i guess you're thinking this is going to play out hopefully in the garage and we'll get past this. >> that was my whole thing, was, you know what, take what you need, leave me, go, and i thought that was going to be the end of it. >> but it moves into the house. >> but it moves into the house.
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>> inside matt was led to a couch. >> they immediately put a small knit hat over my head and duct taped the hat to my head so i couldn't see anything. >> why didn't they just grab some valuables and leave? he could never have guessed what their villainous plan for him really was. coming up, this was much more than just a home invasion. the gunmen say they have a problem, and matt yussman is the solution. >> we owe some very bad people a lot of money, and you're going to get it for us. >> how much money? >> $4.2 million in cash. >> and that was nothing compared to what matt heard next. >> they said, this is a c4 explosive. we're going to make an explosive device and strap it to you. >> and matt's mom was in danger, too. >> we're going to put a bomb under her bed, and if you deviate from the plan, we're going to detonate both of the
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two armed masked men were holding matt yussman and his mother hostage in their connecticut home. matt's mom was brought into her bedroom where they turned up the volume on her tv. she says she was instructed to lie down on the bed and stay there. then she was left alone, but she could hear something alarming going on in the other room.
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that's where matt was seated on a couch, his hands zip-tied, his eyes covered with a blindfold. >> i tried to listen to what they were saying to matthew. they were putting on some headphones on him, i heard them say that. >> and then they put earphones on, and i'm just getting static and static. and i don't know what's going on. all of a sudden i get a voice that sounds very synthesized, electronic, and the very first thing they said to me was, this is not a robbery. this is not a typical home invasion. >> by using a device like ththis, the kidnappers were able to disguise their voices. >> this just gave me the creeps there, because that sounds very similar to what they did. >> then they outlined their complex, big plan, explaining why mom and son were being held captive. >> we're looking for a large sum of money. we owe some very bad people a lot of money, and you're going
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to get it for us. >> how much money? >> it was very specific. they said to me, we want $4.2 million in cash. >> and there was something else that was unusually specific. the kidnappers knew intimate details about matt's life. >> they knew where i work, what i did, that i had my who are mo the house. >> matt, the chief financial officer of a credit union was told the next morning he would go to one of his branches and take $4.2 million out of the vault. matt said a credit union would never have that much money on hand, but still, he could get them something. >> this is where i lied for the first time and said, i can get you guys a million dollars. they said, oh, a million dollars. >> hours passed. matt said he sat on that couch tied up and blindfolded, wondering what was going to happen next. >> it had to be 3:00 in the morning. they get me up and say, we're
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going for a ride. that was the second time i got really scared, because now i'm like, they're taking me away from the house. >> that's a line out of a bad movie, they're taking you for a ride, right? >> yeah. >> they went into matt's mom's room carrying heavy duty duct tape. they told her she was staying behind. >> they wrapped my feet with duct tape to the bottom of my bed, and they said it was just a precaution so i wouldn't go anyplace while they went away. and i said, i will stay wherever you put me. i didn't dare try to get out of the bindings because i thought if they should come back and i'm trying to get out and only got halfway or something, i didn't want them to shoot me or to take it out on my son in any way. is to i just stayed there in the bed and i cried and i prayed. you know, i just didn't want them to hurt my son. >> matt says he found himself in the backseat of one of the two vehicles he owns. >> they had actually put a pillow in the backseat of the
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car. don't know why, but they told me to stick my face into the pillow and not to move. we then proceed out my driveway and we drove for maybe 15 minutes. we parked and i heard gravely or just crackling snow like we had gone off side of the road, and i was like, wow, what's going to happen here? are they taking me out in the woods? are they going to put a bullet in my head? >> one of them got out of the suv. matt says he heard another car start up. suddenly there was movement in his vehicle and they were back on the road. he was relieved to eventually find himself back home. then, according to matt, the kidnappers asked him an odd question. >> sat me on the couch and asked me if i wanted to take a shower. >> a shower? >> a shower. >> after all this? >> after all that. and the only thing i could think
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of was after playing hockey, usually i shower at home, i don't shower at the rink, so i'm thinking they must think that i smell or they just want me cleaned up. so i said, sure, i'll take a shower. >> a shower? after terrorizing him for three hours, how strange. what was going on? and then matt's story took another bizarre turn. he says he was led into the kitchen where something was waiting for him on a table. >> they said, do you know what this is, and i said no. they said, this is c4 explosive. we're going to make an explosive device and we're going to strap it to you because we don't trust you that you're going to do what krur to you're told. >> c4, an explosive used by the military or terrorists. it can be detonated remotely. >> they took off my sweater and they were putting something around my stomach. even with the new blindfold, i had managed to move so i could see, so i was looking straight
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down and could see a little plastic baggie with clay and some wires. >> hearing what was happening in the other room, matt's mom began to cry. >> and then i could hear them unwrapping duct tape, lots and lots, i could hear that unwrapping, and that must have been when they were strapping it around him. and i began to cry harder and really panicked, because as you're laying there, i'm thinking, they're putting a bomb on him. >> matt was left alone, a bomb tightly wrapped around his waist. his anxiety was building as each minute seemed the last before eternity. it was just before daylight. matt's mom says one of the men came back into her room and said something unexpected. >> one fellow came in and said to me, i don't want you to get alarmed, but we're going to be using the vacuum. and i thought, what?
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they come in and i could hear them vacuuming out my living room, and then they came in the bedroom and were vacuuming all around the bed and things. >> six hours into their ordeal, the sun was soon to rise. the two assailants told matt his workday was beginning and he would soon be leaving to rob his own credit union. and to ensure his cooperation, they advised him they were leaving an insurance policy in his mom's bedroom. >> they said, we're not taking any chances. we're going to put a bomb under her bed, and if you deviate from the plan, we're going to detonate both of your bombs. >> matt says that plan included the threat to detonate his or his mom's bomb by cell phone at any time they wanted. at 10:00 a.m., they would text him the location of where to drop off the money. and to make sure he stayed on time, they also attached a timer to his bomb that would automatically explode at 11:00 a.m. that was less than three hours
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away. >> at some point they came over to me and said, it's time. they bring me to my car. at this point they take the blindfold off me, they cut the zip ties off me. >> so rob the bank, we'll meet you at the dropoff place. >> rob the bank, we'll meet you at the dropoff place. coming up. >> i did exactly what they told me. i called my boss. this is my life. don't go playing it. don't call the police. >> but his boss does. >> when i saw the police cars across the street, that's when panic crept in. >> our story is just getting started. when "a villainous plan" continues. a villainous plan" continues. suv in 1935,
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it was 8:30 a.m., eight and a half hours since the start of executive matt yussman's nightmare. he was on his way to one of his branch's credit union, claiming they had strapped a bomb to his belly and laid another one under the bed where his mom lay bound. >> i'm driving to the credit union, and now for the first time i start to think, how is this going to play out? what's going to happen? >> wait a second, are you meant to drive yourself?
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>> yeah, they actually wanted me to drive my own car. >> how were they going to control you? >> i figured they were just going to follow me around and watch me the whole time. >> two bombs, he said, that could be detonated by the touch of a cell phone. oh, and by the way, a timer on his device that would go off at the stroke of 11:00 a.m. >> i call my boss, and i said, my mother and i are victims of a home invasion. i'm currently sitting in my car right now strapped to an explosive device, and i'm coming to the credit union to empty the vault. you need to evacuate the branch. >> are you using any code words? >> basically the first thing he said to me, is this a test, because we do testing of our security plans and stuff, and i said, no, this is not a test, this is real. this is my life, don't play with it. and don't call the police. i don't know what's going to happen, to be honest. we didn't have a plan for this. >> matt's boss ignored his plea of no cops.
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>> 911, what's your emergency? >> i just received a call a few minutes ago from one of our vp's, and he's instructed me to vacant one of our branches because he's going to come and rob it. >> that 911 call eventually led here to bristol, connecticut where the headquarters was located. >> the phone rang at the main desk of the police department, and they said a bank robbery is going on now, and a man is headed to the bank with a bomb strapped to his chest. >> you didn't know if it was a joke or not? >> we had to treat it like it was not a joke. >> what did they tell you? >> they gave us a plate on the car. y it was a red car. >> they had the model of the car matt was driving and the plate
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of the car he was driving. >> i get to the credit union and i don't see anything. there were no cars. i thought, fantastic. as i turn the corner to the front of the branch, that's when pure panic sets in. now i see all the police cars. there are s.w.a.t. guys pointing guns. now i think to myself, this is it, because these guys are following me and they'll just push a button. >> and you're a living bomb. >> and i'm a living bomb. i thought, this is bad. this is the worst thing that can happen. >> matt told his boss not to call the police, and now there they were. he now had 2 hours and 15 minutes until that bomb would explode. matt eased into a parking spot. >> i rolled down my window, and they're all screaming, get out of the car, get out of the car. >> he gets out of the car, we get out of our cars, and there was like a good 15 seconds of silence. him looking at us and us looking
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at him and trying to figure out what was going on. >> mccarsky's partner drew his gun aiming straight at matt. >> i said, i'm wearing an explosive device. they're like, show us. i lifted up my shirt and showed them what i was wearing. >> i'm like, holy cow, i can't believe this is real. >> you were persuaded it was real, right? >> 100%. >> the sergeant told matt to get back in his car, and then he and his partner respectfully stayed about 100 feet away. jim ortwell was bristol's new chief of police, overseeing 175 officers in this connecticut city. word of this extraordinary crime immediately rose up the ranks, and the chief, along with his command staff, rushed to the credit union. what do you do to secure the area? >> immediate response. pretty much all available personnel were sent to the area. we cleared buildings in the area, we put schools in
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lockdown. >> they closed off the surrounding streets and shut down a major thoroughfare. s.w.a.t. teams and heavy equipment rolled in, and the state's bomb squad was called to get the device off of matt. >> shutting down an interstate is not a small decision. calling in other agencies to assist is not a small decision. all those decisions had to be made and they were made very being vevery, very quickly. >> back at the credit union parking lot, sergeant mccarsky, a member of the negotiation team, became the point man to communicate with man. they yelled his cell number to yussman and they talked to the people. >> we're trained to keep them talking, calm them down. whatever the scenario is, if it's a hostage, we need to talk to them to keep them calm. if it's a suspect who is agitated rk agitated, we're trained to bring them down off that agitated
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state. >> what was matt's demeanor when he's got a bomb on him? >> even keeled for the situation. >> at least for now. police were traveling in from different parts of the state, but precious time was melting away. then at 10:00 a.m., the kidnappers started texting. they wanted their money. one hour to go before the bomb was supposed to explode. coming up -- >> i told the police, what do you want me to tell them? >> matt needed answers and he didn't have much time to get them. >> your mind starts to think about weird things like, am i going to know it when it goes off? what do you feel? >> when "a villainous plan" continues. villainous plan" continues. ♪ you're all, you're all i need ♪ ♪ you're all, you're all i need ♪
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hello, i'm dara brown. here's what's happening. president-elect joe biden will likely need a walking boot after he slipped while playing with his dog. he will receive his first briefing on monday. and biden is naming an all-woman team, starting with a woman who worked under president obama. now back to "dateline." it was now close to 10:00
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a.m., almost 90 minutes since matt first drove into the parking lot of the credit union. >> you're just sitting in the car and you're strapped to an explosive device. >> an explosive device due to go off in about an hour. >> i'm like, are my employees watching this? i'm like, i don't want anybody seeing me blow up. this is not what i want to be doing. so that next hour was just awful. >> the pressure was becoming unbearable. >> now i'm starting to cry. >> and you're waiting for the bomb squad. >> and i'm waiting for the bomb squad. >> as the state police bomb squad headed to the scene from different parts of connecticut, sergeant david mccarsky was talking to matt by cell phone from his car. >> my big thing was just trying to keep him calm and keep him talking, assuring him that we had help on the way, and, you know, we were going to get through it. >> he is my one and only contact -- my only person that i'm talking to. he tried to keep me from losing it a couple times, you know.
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i started crying in the car. i don't think i can handle the stress, and he actually reached out, really tried to help. he knew the situation i was in was about as stressful as you can get. >> terrified as he was, matt was still able to tell the police about his mom's dire situation. nine miles from the credit union parking lot, the yussman house in bristol, connecticut was eerily quiet. matt's mom was convinced the kidnappers were gone, but to where she didn't know. she decided to work herself free from her bed. >> it took me a while to get out because they had wrapped that duct tape around and around. >> she had no idea that the authorities were descending on her home in force. >> as i got myself out of the restraints, i could see right out into our driveway, and when i looked out there, it was full of police. when i opened the door to holler out, one of the policemen with a big rifle pointed right at me
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and he said, walk up to the driveway. >> matt's mom was unharmed, at least physically. emotionally she was alarmed as she talked to the police. >> and they said, lift up your shirt, and i thought, what are they doing? apparently they thought maybe i had a bomb on myself, so i lifted up my shirt, they checked me out, okay, and they put me in a police car. >> back in the credit union parking lot, matt was told his mom was okay. he was not. precious minutes were ticking by. >> meanwhile you've been told there is a timer. >> right, i've been told -- >> which is going to go kaboom at 11:00. >> 11:00, and the original plan was that i would be done at 10:00. >> the kidnappers told matt they would text him at 10:00 a.m. with an address where he was to drop off the million dollars taken from his credit union. the text, he said, would be on
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his mother's cell phone which they took from her. >> at 10:00 a.m., i got a text. i said to police, what do you want me to tell them? >> i told matt, we're going to roll with it. we're going to tell him you're still working hard to get the money they need. we just need to buy a little bit of time. >> matt texted, it is a little more than i anticipated. moving as fast as i can. the kidnappers texted back, that is good. >> in fact, he never made it into the bank at all. >> he never made it into the bank. >> he has no money at all. >> zero. >> this is all to keep him on the line. >> 40 minutes before the device on matt was due to explode, the kidnappers texted again with an address where the money was to be dropped, a nearby cemetary. matt should leave the money at the flagpole. at the same time cops were able to trace where the texts were
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coming from near that cemetary. they raced over but found no one. >> whoever was in that specific area was no longer in the area. we probably missed them by a few minutes. >> that only upped the ante for matt. tick tock. >> i was like, i don't see the bomb squad. where is is the bomb squad? >> terrible thoughts raced through matt's mind. he recalled the shocking story of the police delivery guy in erie, pennsylvania who said he was kidnapped and had a bomb wrapped around his neck. >> i knew he was forced to try to rob a bank, that it didn't go well, that he was actually killed during all this. >> matt thought about the end of his life. >> your mind starts to play the tricks and you start to think about weird things like, am i going to know it when it goes off? do you hear the noise first, do you feel a flash first, what are you going to feel? >> for matt the excruciating wait continued as the clock counted down to 11:00 a.m.
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>> i'm just sitting there. there are no more texts from the criminals. they stopped, they expect me to be at that dropoff point. we're getting closer. it's 10:45. it's 10:50. i am now in full panic mode. coming up, tick tock. >> 10:58, 10:59. it's just like the movies. the guy is wearing the big suit and he walks up to me and they're examining it. >> and it didn't look good. >> you saw multiple wires running through the tape and around that organic material. >> when "a villainous plan" continues. s plan" continues.
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as federal, state and local officers surrounded the area a
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armor, matt was worried. >> i said, where is the bomb squad? it's getting close to 11:00. this thing is supposed to go off. >> that was the first time i responded to an individual who had a device actually attached to their body. >> connecticut state police trooper mark avery, now retired, was on the bomb squad. avery's team assembled a bomb robot, thinking they could use it to inspect the device and maybe defuse it from a safe distance. the bomb squad didn't know what they had walked into. >> we didn't know if this individual was a suspect or a victim. >> unbeknownst to matt, a sniper team was surrounding his car, targeting him. >> he has an explosive on him, and if he didn't follow instructions, or in the event he
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walked out of the perimeter to us or personnel, deadly force would have to be utilized. because this is similar to an individual holding a knife or another type of weapon. >> getting the sniper teams in place, deploying the robot and figuring out a safe approach all a ate up more of the clock. it was two minutes to 11:00. i sat there and watched that clock. i had my cell phone there and it went 10:58, 10:59. and i'm thinking, this is it. >> tick tock. >> absolutely. he's looking at his watch, i'm looking at my phone, and it's ticking closer to 11:00. >> to be honest, i didn't pray, i just sat there and counted down and waited. when that phone hit 11:00, my heart stopped and i just sat there. >> there was no explosion. >> and i looked around and nothing happened. >> after 11:00 passed, there was
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definitely a sigh of relief by everybody there. the last thing we wanted was for anything to happen to matt. >> and i'm like, why am i not dead? finally, it was about 11:05 or 1 11:06 when i said, maybe they lied to me. maybe there was no timer. >> nobody but the kidnappers knew what was wrapped around matt. after about ten minutes, the bomb squad ordered matt out of his car. >> we could see there was something attached to his torso, but we could not get a good visual on it. >> avery and his partner abandoned their bomb robot plan because they could get a better sense of the device with a naked eye from the safety of an armored vehicle. they drew alongside matt. >> at that time he slowly lifted his shirt up and exposed the device to us. it was completely wrapped around his body with like a heavy-duty gorilla tape, and you could not see anything else other than the large mass in front of his torso. >> then avery made his move, volunteering to remove the device by himself.
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he suited up and approached matt. this photo was taken at that moment. it had been 11 hours since matt and his mother said they were first kidnapped. now here he was, on his knees without a coat. it was 9 degrees out. >> and it's just like the movies. the guy is wearing the big suit, and he walks up to me and they're examining it. >> the cops decided to x-ray matt's torso right there in the lot. using a portable x-ray machine, it took just one minute to create an image. >> we saw multiple wires running through the tape and around that organic material. at that point we couldn't determine, is it actual c4 or some type of explosive, or is it just a chunk of clay to simulate a hoax device? >> they're looking at it and coming up with a plan of what they're going to do. finally the guy says, you know, we're going to take this off you. >> so i went down with a couple
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cutting tools, had him remain on his knees facing away from me, lifted his shirt up and slowly started cutting the tape up his back. >> as if matt hadn't already gone through enough this day, another sticky problem came up. >> extremely hairy. this was gorilla tape, and it was wrapped around his entire torso. so while removing it, we were causing quite a bit of pain because it was removing all the hair from his torso. >> we finally get the bomb off me, and it goes down to my feet, and he goes, kick it away and run with me behind the truck. well, i go to kick the bomb away and it gets stuck to my shoe, and i start to run and i start dragging the bomb with me, and the bomb squad guy starts screaming at me, you're dragging the bomb, you're dragging the bomb. i'm like, oh, my god, oh, my god. >> i'm sorry i'm laughing, but this is a funny thing. stuck on your shoe like a piece of toilet paper?
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>> exactly. at the time i wasn't laughing, but looking back now, that was one of the more comical moments of the whole ordeal. >> avery says it didn't happen quite like that. he thinks matt's memory may be affected by his emotional trauma. >> we did not tell him to run and it was not stuck to him. >> but at last matt's ordeal was over. or so he thought. >> as i get to the first s.w.a.t. guy, i tap him on the shoulder and i'm like, thank you. and they immediately grabbed both my hands and put me in handcuffs and throw my hands behind my back. and i'm like, i don't understand what's going on here. coming up -- >> they're like, we're doing this for your own safety. i'm like, my own safety, you're the ones with the guns. >> but police had reason to be suspicious, specially after what they heard about matt from his relatives. investigators turn up the heat and matt starts to sweat. >> i know i'm in trouble. i know that i'm needing an
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attorney and that this is not going to go well for me. >> when "a villainous plan" continues. plan" continues. fighters. with secret, keep it fresh every day. secret. with priceline, you can get up to 60% off amazing hotels. and when you get a big deal... ...you feel like a big deal. ♪
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to ask, shop, discover the latest on xfinity mobile. matt yussman was finally free of the device that had been taped to him, but was shocked to find himself now confined in handcuffs. the local station nbc connecticut caught the moment he was led into an ambulance. >> and i'm like, what are you doing? i'm like, i'm the victim.
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are you arresting me? they're like, no, we're doing this for your own safety. i'm like, my own safety, you're the ones with the guns. and they're like, we're going to take you to the hospital. >> at the hospital investigators had matt checked out. they took these photos. matt's waist reddened raw from where the bomb squad pulled off the duct tape. and they took pictures of the device itself. it turned out after the massive bottom scare and all the white-knuckled fear, the supposed bomb was a fake. nothing more than modelling clay with wires running through it that connected to nothing. there was no timer that counted down to 11:00 a.m. and there was no kind of explosive device under the bed of his mom valerie. so they would have some explaining to do. right now at bristol police station, detectives were questioning valerie and were learning some strange details about the kidnappers' m.o.
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>> what did they learn to bind your hands? >> they didn't. they left my hands free. >> your feet were tied to the bed. but your hands were free? >> my hands were free, yeah. >> why would real kidnappers leave her hands free? and another weird detail. according to valerie, the kidnappers behaved like gentlemen. >> they tried not to do anything that was bad. he kind of soothed me and said, don't worry, we're not going to hurt you. he brought me a soda. i had cookies on the counter and he brought them to me so i wouldn't go hungry. he was being very nice to me. >> investigators took valerie's clothes as evidence. as she offered more strange details, the criminals cleaned her home. >> they said, i'm going to vacuum the floors. i said, what, you do housekeeping, too? i thought it was funny. >> she said they even called her
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ma'am. >> what's the deal, these guys are calling you ma'am, giving you cookies and juice and now they're vacuuming your house? but they're still terrorizing. >> yeah, i thought this was bizarre. >> investigators would hear more bizarre details when they brought we have a ton of questi for you. >> reporter: what was up with that nighttime shower he took while the kidnappers were in his home? >> did you find that odd? >> yes, i did actually. i don't know why they would do -- >> it was their idea? >> yeah. >> reporter: as for that strange nighttime drive the kidnappers took matt on, he didn't have a convincing explanation. >> do you know which way you went? >> they kept making turns. >> reporter: and why did kidnappers speak to matt using a digitally altered voice? >> you know, like when they do it on tv, they change some guy's voice and something very similar to that. >> definitely not human, yep? >> definitely not human, yep. >> reporter: former new britain police chief jim wardwell was
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getting reports on what was being said in those interview rooms. i can see how your guys are concerned. these talking about these wacko unorthodox home invaders who do strange things. >> the investigators were not ruling out any possibility. mr. yussman was kelling a version of events that by a lot of accounts would make people pause and say, really? >> reporter: so much of matt's story didn't add up. as he sat in the police interview room, the atmosphere turned chilly. the detective's questions suddenly had sharp edges. >> finally there's no issues? >> yeah. >> as far as it goes for you? >> well, yeah. >> reporter: what matt didn't know was that morning right after his credit union boss called the police, investigators started to dig into his life, reached out to people he knew well, found out stuff. >> when we talked to your broth and nephew, and one of the first things they mentioned was that you're a big gambler. they said you -- you owe -- you owe money, that you gamble all
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the time. >> that's completely false. i don't gamble a ton. >> this was the troubling picture coming together for police, a guy with possible money problems, kidnappers who were friendly to his mom, who then let him drive himself to rob his own credit union with a bomb that turned out to be a fake, and no trace of any criminals themselves. they figured he had to be somehow involved. >> there's just too many things. you -- you have the -- the ability and the access to do it, okay? so that's why i think you're an unwilling participant in this thing, that somebody forced you into this. >> reporter: if the kidnappers did disguise their face and voices, that didn't help matt. >> there's only one reason they do that, and that's that they know you, okay? >> reporter: had matt gotten himself tangled in a scheme to get rich that had spun out of control? >> this is your opportunity to put it all on the table, and if there's something else -- if there's something else going on, we can help you. if someone's trying --
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>> i am -- >> to leverage or play hardball with you. >> there is nothing. i can say unequivocally that i have nothing indirectly, directly to do with this. >> reporter: but as detectives pressed matt to fess up, his answers didn't satisfy them. >> i'm just going to put the cards on the table. i don't have time to play games with you. it's the implication that you're somehow involved in this, not as a victim, okay? by that, we mean it's some sort of inside job. >> reporter: investigators seemed so convinced matt wasn't being straight with them, they wondered if his mom was somehow part of the scheme. >> have you lied to us at all while you've been in here? >> no. >> you can't told us any untruths. >> not that i know of. >> in order to protect matthew? >> no. >> if there's something else going on, now is the time to tell us. >> reporter: police were undeferred. they took matt's dna. >> so open wide. this is going to be a little
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uncomfortable. >> reporter: then they asked him to sit for a polygraph, warning him. >> it's going to be bad for you if you fail a polygraph. >> i don't see any reason why i would fail a polygraph. >> reporter: oh, it would turn out to be bad, very bad for matt. >> it's all under investigation. very, very fluid. >> reporter: new britain's then police chief held a news conference to calm his nervous community. the city was on edge after being partially shut down when matt yussman showed up at his credit union strapped with an explosive. the bomb turned out to be a fake. >> certainly we're considering all possibilities, whether or not he was coerced, doing something against his will or a suspect. >> could your guys even determine whether the story was true at that point? >> could not. you could not determine exactly what the facts were. >> but you're not finding any corroborating evidence in his vehicle or at his home? >> there's no corroborating evidence other than his mom. >> reporter: no evidence to support matt's story. investigators searched his house and car with a fine-toothed comb looking for fingerprints or dna
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from the kidnappers but found nothing. what's more, matt did take a polygraph test and failed part of it. results indicated he wasn't telling the truth when asked if he had any involvement in the scheme. >> i know i'm in trouble. i know that i'm needing an attorney and that this is not going to go well for me. >> reporter: matt was right. in the following days, authorities got search warrants for his home. they collected computers and phones, subpoenaed his bank records, and started digging into his finances. then matt was placed on paid leave from his job. you're investigated not only by the authorities. >> i'm actually now getting investigated by my own credit union to make sure that they can clear me. >> reporter: but what no one knew is that this unbelievable tale unreeling in connecticut was only on chapter one. while matt tried to save his reputation, investigators in another part of the country were about to uncover a whole series of similar crimes, crimes that
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would span three states involving high-speed chases and even more victims. this is where the story takes a turn south, to tennessee. it was april 28th, 2015, two months after the connecticut home invasion. an assistant u.s. attorney happened to be in the middle of the great smoky mountains national park when he got an urgent message. >> hey, please call the fbi when you get cell reception. i got something about a kidnapping. >> reporter: that man was david lewin. he learned that earlier that day a guy named mark zeigler was on his way to work as the ceo of the y-12 credit union in a suburb of knoxville. as he was pulling out of his garage, he noticed a garbage can was knocked over. >> so he puts his car in park, gets out of the car, goes to fix the garbage can, at which time he is accosted by two masked men wearing dark clothing, ski masks with guns drawn. >> reporter: as an assistant u.s. attorney, lewin was
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assigned to help the fbi investigate the zeiglers' story from that first day. he knew nothing about the connecticut case, but the descriptions of the two suspects were similar. one slender and tall, the other stockier. >> the first guy with the gun had a big sunburst tattoo on his neck that the mask was pulled up so that was exposed. >> distinctive. >> distinctive. then another person came through who appeared to be a black male with a black bandanna and sunglasses but a black, bald head, again with guns drawn. >> reporter: the assailants force zeigler back into his house. his wife and teenage son were inside. all three frightened family members were handcuffed and placed in the living room. mark zeigler was then given a three-page note. it contained chilling details on what was about to happen. he was going to rob his own credit union. coming up -- >> he is too empty the vault of
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$3.4 million. for every minute that he was late, his wife was going to lose a finger. >> and later, a high-stakes stalemate. >> the employee refuses to open the vault. >> reporter: and a high-speed c car chase that could crack the case when "a villainous plan" continues. - [announcer] welcome to intelligent indoor grilling with the ninja foodi smart xl grill. just pick your protein, select your doneness, and let the grill monitor your food. it also turns into an air fryer.
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>> reporter: returning to our story, an executive says he was kidnapped by gunmen and ordered to rob his own credit union. >> they said this is c4 explosive. we're going to strap it to you. >> reporter: the bomb was fake. was his story fake too? >> it's going to be bad for you if you fail the polygraph. >> reporter: but it was about to be deja vu all over again. more kidnappings. >> she said they're going to kill me. they're going to kill my child. >> reporter: more bank robberies. >> he is to empty the vault of any and all gold bullion. >> reporter: a dramatic roadside arrest. and a mystery is solved. but first, some dots would need connecting. >> reporter: 800 miles from matt yussman in new britain, connecticut, unsuspecting authorities near knoxville, tennessee, had no idea they were about to be a part of the same story. only that they were dealing with an unfolding crime of their own.
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mark zeigler was ceo of the y-12 federal credit union. two armed assailants were holding mark's wife and son hostage in their home and ordered mark to rob his employee. assistant u.s. attorney david lewin was helping the fbi investigation. >> he is to empty the fault of $3.4 million as well as any and all gold bullion. >> reporter: the ceo was given a strict deadline. he had 55 minutes to get the cash and gold. if he failed, the consequences would be devastating. >> for every minute that mr. zeigler was late, his wife was going to lose a finger and when she ran out of fingers, their adult daughter, brittany, who lived in texas at the time, they have people watching brittany in texas. >> they had eyes on the daughter. >> they had eyes on the daughter, and they were going to chop her up and mail her to the family if mr. zeigler failed to
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comply. >> how do they have so much knowledge about this family? >> we don't know. >> but they're getting their facts right? >> they're getting their facts right. >> reporter: mick know sarah was the lead investigator for the fbi. he said what happened next took an even more bizarre turn. >> the tall slender guy, white male, went outside. a few minutes later, a white female comes in through the back door. >> a female? >> a female. so now you've got three assailants? >> three. the white female comes in and says something about that he told me to come in and get milk for the baby. >> for the baby? >> for the baby. >> so now you've got four players here. one of them is an infant apparently. >> an infant that needs milk. >> is this a gang, or what's going on, do you think in. >> obviously we're dealing with a crew. >> reporter: zeigler arrived at his credit union as captured on security cameras. he went to the vault and started loading cash into a black bag given to him by the kidnappers, and he slipped one of the
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employees this note. >> 911. what is your emergency? >> my ceo sent me a note that says home invasion, call police. >> reporter: zeigler filled the black bag with over $200,000 in cash. then he got in his car and headed towards the parking lot exit where an arriving police officer stopped him. the criminals were listening in to everything through a cell phone in zeigler's pocket. >> mark zeigler is telling them through the phone that the police are here. they're approaching me. what do you want me to do? and what he heard through the phone was two words. abort, abort. and then the phone went dead. >> reporter: in the meantime, the kidnappers blindfolded zeigler's wife and son and loaded them into the family suv. they drove to a parking lot and dumped the vehicle with zeigler's wife and son still inside. eventually the two freed themselves and found someone to
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call police. so in the end, the family got out alive and the bank robbers got no money from it. >> no money but they escaped. >> they escaped. >> yes. >> tell me about the emotional component of this crime, david. the father, the teenage boy, the wife. >> well, you have the sanctity of your home being invaded by two masked men with guns. you are being bound with duct tape and with handcuffs, and mark zeigler and his wife knowing that these perpetrators knew a lot of personal information. so it wasn't just a physical assault of the guns and the bindings. it was communicating to them, we know a lot about you. >> reporter: the zeiglers provided a detailed description of the suspects, which authorities used to create this sketch of the black male and this one of the female suspect who came in the house looking for milk. now, i'm sure the crime scene techs processed the house and the vehicles within an inch. did they get lucky?
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did they find anything? >> we found nothing. it was clean. >> fingerprints? fibers? >> no fingerprints. no dna. nothing was left behind. >> reporter: nothing to stop the next attack. and there would be a next one. coming up, a young couple and their baby barricaded behind locked doors. >> a pry bar is now being used on the master bedroom door. >> where she's huddling with her husband and child? >> and child. >> and an intense standoff. >> the bank employee refuses to open the vault. she says, they're going to kill me. they're going to kill my child. >> when "a villainous plan" continues.
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>> reporter: connecticut, july 2015. for five months, matt yussman remained under a heavy cloud of suspicion. by that time he'd read about the tennessee credit union ceo held hostage and told to rob his own
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vault. yussman told investigators in connecticut it must be the same guys who kidnapped him and his mother. >> i found this to be very odd that another credit union executive was forced to try to rob his credit union. it's the same people. there's no way that this is a coincidence. they told me it was just coincidence, copycat doing this. >> reporter: matt had been allowed to return to his job, but he was still under investigation. the fbi had taken over his case from the local police, and according to matt, there were serious doubts about his innocence. >> i was told there wasn't 95% chance i was guilty. there was a 100% chance i was guilty. and i said, i'm in trouble. >> reporter: back in tennessee that same month, it would be another family's turn to be traumatized. a young couple was beginning their day, the harriss. tanner, abigail, and their 5-month-old son. >> he and abigail were just in this cute little love phase. they had the new baby, and they were very happy.
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>> reporter: jamie satterfield covered this story for t"the knoxville news-sentinel". >> she remembers having this really goofy grin on her face, and she leaves the baby with tanner, and she goes down the steps. she's going to take a quick jog, and frankly she said she might come back and get a little flirty with her husband. so that's why she had the goofy grin on her face. so she gets down to the bottom of the steps, opens the door, and then boom. >> as soon as she opened the garage, she saw two masked men, ski masks, dark clothing, with guns. she immediately slams the door shut. >> reporter: using a crowbar, one of the assailants ripped open the door. >> he's now in the kitchen of the house. >> abigail ran upstairs. she's trying to warn her husband. >> they then chase her up the stairs. she runs down the hallway to the master bedroom. she slams the master bedroom
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door shut. >> reporter: then her husband locked the door. >> they immediately hear that door frame starting to crack because the pry bar is now being used on the master bedroom door. >> where she's huddling with her husband and child. >> and child. >> how absolutely horrifying. >> there's only one place left to go. they go into the master bathroom. >> they get all way back to the -- the farthest point they can get away. tanner is trying to hold the door, and the baby is crying. at this point it's just chaos. >> that's the last doorway. >> yes. >> reporter: the two invaders forced themselves into the bathroom. then one drew a gun and delivered a refrain the other families had also heard. >> you're going to rob your bank today for us. >> reporter: tanner, as you may have guessed, worked at a local bank as a loan officer. he was handcuffed and both he and his wife eventually were blindfolded. the attackers then loaded the entire family in the harriss'
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car, including their 5-month-old son. the attackers knew where tanner worked and drove there with the family. >> they're going to keep the son and the wife while he goes in and robs the bank. >> this is a child in arms. this is a baby. does this make this a special case? >> you're definitely ramping up when you're starting to talk about a defenseless infant. >> reporter: tanner went into the vault as seen from this bank surveillance camera and loaded a black bag with cash. he then went out to the bank's parking lot to the car where the kidnappers were holding his family. >> you see the car stop and the passenger side door open. you see tanner harris hand over a very large bag, but you can see a very brief struggle. >> reporter: tanner demanded that the kidnappers let his wife and child go before he would turn over the cash. >> at which time the bag is yanked, door is shut. car speeds out of the parking lot, and an image of a husband and father left in that parking
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lot by himself, watching the car speed away. >> two armed desperados have taken his family. >> yes. >> reporter: the kidnappers eventually left abigail and her son in their own vehicle while they took off in a getaway car. they had escaped once again. but this time they netted $195,000 for their efforts. so nick yin this case you belie have two middle aged white males as the bank robbers. it's not three. >> not three. >> there's not a woman. >> no woman, no black male, no tattoo reported. >> so after you had two of these things, how was it playing as atory? how was knoxville hearing about it? >> i can't say that people were universally frightened. i think the greater harm initially was people were suspicious off these families. that's what i heard. i have cop friends who were suspicious. we as journalists were kind of suspicious. really? they kidnapped you, but then they let you go? you know, it just sounds unbelievable. >> reporter: unbelievable maybe.
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but it would happen again, this time in northern tennessee. three months after the harris case, a young mother was starting her day and struggling to get her toddler son secured in her car. >> he wants candy for breakfast, and he is throwing a fit. so she's quite distracted anyway when all of a sudden, you know, she feels movement. >> reporter: brooke lyons didn't have time to think. in an instant, she and her 3-year-old son were under attack. >> and she looks up, and here's a guy with an assault rifle pointed at her. >> reporter: two male attackers forced brooke into the car with her son. that's right. they headed here, this credit union in elizabethton where she worked as a $9 an hour teller. >> the people knew where brooke worked. they knew how to get to her bank without being told. >> reporter: jeff blanton is a special agent for the fbi. he investigated brooke's case and says she was instructed to go inside and get $350,000 or else. >> she's been told by these two
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guys if the police are called, if she doesn't do what she's instructed, then there's going to be a shoot-out, that she and her child will be in the middle of it. >> reporter: a frantic brooke entered the credit union, screamed that she needed the vault opened and the bags loaded with money because her 3-year-old son was being held hostage outside. that's when brooke's day got even worse. >> she finds her boss in the bank and says, two men have carson with guns. i need to get into the vault. her boss refuses to open the vault. >> who of us can be judgmental in that kind of circumstance but -- >> right. >> masked gunmen have her child outside the door. >> brooke lyons' response was singular. she pointed at her and said, you just killed us. >> reporter: the credit union security cameras caught the excruciating moments brooke was desperately running around looking for help. >> all she can think about is
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her son. she runs out of the bank, opens the passenger side back door of her car, throws the bag in there, drapes herself over carson, begs them not to shoot her and tells them to drive because the cops are being called as they speak. >> reporter: surprisingly, the criminals eventually let both of them go, leaving them in her car while they took off in another vehicle. they didn't get any money. two bizarre robbery stories had the knoxville rumor mill buzzes about inside jobs. but now there were three. people were wondering who would be next. fbi investigators were frustrated. they had no solid leads. by that time, they'd already released sketches of the suspects from the attack on the zeigler family, hoping that might advance the case. no one would have guessed that the big break in the investigation would happen when this assistant restaurant manager took his fiancee's little red car for a drive on the highway.
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coming up -- >> once he hit me, i knew at this point this guy's running. >> reporter: a high-speed car chase reveals a subtle clue. >> he's just hit a third vehicle. >> reporter: and a sharp -eyed investigator takes notice. >> it struck me that those people had discipline. they had purpose. >> reporter: when "a villainous plan" continues. when the food you love doesn't love you back, stay smooth and fight heartburn fast with tums smoothies. ♪ tum tum-tum tum tums
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narrator: upgrade your protectin this holiday season...
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hello. i'm dara brown. here's what's happening. president trump is planning to visit georgia next saturday to campaign for republican senate
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candidates. locked in a critical runoff race. the elections will determine which party controls the senate. and millions of americans are heading home, traveling back from thanksgiving amid surging coronavirus case numbers. health experts fear that we are now headed into the worst phase of the pandemic with the u.s. now topping 13 million cases total. now back to "dateline." it was surreal. it was like, you're not going to believe what happened. >> this is adam russo. no, he isn't a bank execute or a teller, not victim of the violent bank robbing gang terrorizing east tennessee. back in september 2015, more than a month before brooke lyons' ordeal, adam was an assistant restaurant manager on his way to a job interview. driving west on i-40 in north carolina in a car he borrowed from his fiancee. >> what kind of car did she have by the way?
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>> it's a 2005 ford focus. >> a little car? >> yeah, a little car, you know. it gets you where you need to go. >> reporter: if you tried telling adam he was on his way to becoming perhaps the most crucial player in a case that had befuddled an army of investigators, he'd have thought you crazy. but that was exactly what was about to happen. >> i remember looking in my rearview mirror and i could see, you know, a couple of cop cars, their sirens, and a black suv. i thought that guy must have been going too quick and he's getting pulled over. >> i'm attempting to take over a vehicle. >> reporter: this is the dash cam video from one of the police cars, and you may recognize it. it's that same dramatic high-speed chase footage we showed you at the beginning of our story. >> i looked back, and they were still following this guy. that's when i kind of knew something was a little off. why is this guy not pulling
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over? >> reporter: instead the driver pulled up to adam's little red car in the right hand lane. >> all of a sudden this black suv is on my tail. he's making these swerving gestures, you know, kind of like swipes, like, you know, in this type of motion. all i know is i remember putting two hands on the wheel. he hit me. >> reporter: adam, freeze frame that moment. what the heck is going on in. >> right. once he hit me, i knew at this point this guy is running, you know. obviously it was like you're not going to just hit me and keep going with two cops on you unless something's going on. >> reporter: adam then watched in horror as the black suv hit another car with such force. >> he's just hitting a third vehicle. >> reporter: it spun out of control and crashed into the barrier. >> i was like, you know, what's about to happen next, you know? am i about to be caught in a shoot-out in the middle of the
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interstate? >> then the doors open and here come two guys, huh? >> yeah. >> reporter: adam saw the driver and a passenger leap out of the car carrying black bags. >> two guys started sprinting. >> stop! >> crossed the concrete barrier like an olympic track runner, you know, and sprinting through the wooded area. >> attention all cars, jump and run. jump and run i-40. >> reporter: north carolina troopers decided not to give the men chase, not until reinforcements could arrive. adam called his fiancee. >> i was like, babe, you don't believe what just happened. she's like, no way. are you serious? like she couldn't believe it. sounds like a movie scene. >> reporter: and that should have been it. a crazy tale maybe to tell the grandkids at thanksgivings hence. but that's where this story took a left turn into the twilight zone. adam's fiancee called her dad, brian o'hare. >> so i received a call from my oldest daughter, who told me basically you're not going to believe what happened with adam. and immediately i thought there
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was a problem en route to his job interview. my future son-in-law has messed up a job interview. >> let me put you on pause and back you up. an interesting biographical detail because you're not only adam's prospective father-in-law. what else are you? >> i'm a special agent in the fbi. >> reporter: his years of experience told agent o'hare that some things he heard about that chase were rather strange, like the way the driver tried to ram adam's car from behind. o'hare recognized that as a police tactic called a p.i.t. maneuver. >> it's a police intervention technique. >> what's the goal? that would end the hot pursuit and you'd get away? >> the goal is to get that engine to shut down and then get a hold of the driver and make your arrest. if you're a criminal and you spin vehicles around, you can wreak havoc on the pursuing law enforcement officials. >> stop! >> reporter: and there was something unusual about the way those men fled. >> i had no clue as to why they
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felt it so important to grab those bags or why they would choose to cross an oncoming interstate to make that getaway. it just didn't make any sense. >> reporter: it confounded the north carolina troopers too, and despite searching the area, authorities never did find the two men. agent o'hare didn't think much more about it until a little more than a month later when he was assigned to help on a case up in elizabethton. as luck would have it, the brooke lyons' case. >> you've had a bank robbery, a woman at gunpoint abducted, told to held up her own bank. what little details stuck in your mind? >> it was very well organized. >> reporter: and that jogged agent o'hare's memory back to that high-speed car chase back on i-40. it had, he thought, a similar sophistication. >> it struck me that those people had discipline. they had purpose. >> reporter: both cases also involved two suspects and black bags. >> i thought that it's not a guarantee that they're one and the same, but i wasn't aware of anyone else who would fit the
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bill. >> so you're not pulling this out of a computer. your gut is telling you something's going on here. >> it was some experience and some instinct that led me to believe that the two episodes could be connected. >> reporter: what started as a hunch was about to break this case wide open. coming up, an abandoned gps with a roadmap of a crime spree. >> it looked that they were casing the bank. >> leading to another high-speed chase with a slightly different ending. >> get down now! >> when "a villainous plan" continues. allstate has almost as many ways to save as there are cars.
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start driving down the cost of insurance. ♪ >> reporter: a sophisticated bank robbing crew was on the loose in east tennessee. they'd already terrorized at least three unsuspecting families. >> we had no clue who was responsible for this. >> agent, how bad are these guys? >> i would consider these two individuals some of the most dangerous criminals to walk in east tennessee. they were equipped to do a lot of damage, and i feared that if this had gone on, that an officer would have walked into the middle of one of these bank robberies or a kidnapped individual would have thought back in a way that resulted in their death.
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>> speculation this is headed towards fatalities or shoot-out. >> the potential is always there. you don't kidnap and extort bank employees without the reality of a potential death. >> reporter: tips were coming in, and investigators chased down every lead but turned up nothing. by late october 2015, all the fbi was left with was that hunch agent o'hare had that a bizarre highway chase miles away in north carolina had something to do with the tennessee bank robberies. he shared his inkling with agent jeff blanton. >> i remember agent o'hare telling me, hey, not for nothing, but this happened. it might be something. it might not. so at this point it was really the only last remaining stone that we needed to go turn to see if there was anything to it. >> reporter: so they took a close look at what happened in north carolina. agent blanton and agent nocera learned that whole crazy car chase started with a routine traffic stop for speeding, and they wanted to take a look at
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the dash cam video of the suspects fleeing the crash. >> the descriptions were similar. you had two white males, one tall and athletic and one a little bit thicker and stockier, and the black bags stuck out because both the zeiglers and the harriss had described these individuals when they came into their house, that they had black bags. >> your first pass, what did you think? >> i knew we had bad guys. i thought we may have something here, enough to continue the investigation. at this point i did not know if it was our bank robbers or if it wasn't. >> reporter: turns out investigators had gone through the suspects' black banged up suv and they found a gps device. so it could be a gold mine of information. >> it can be. >> tell me where you've been. >> it can. >> reporter: an fbi special agent searched the device and found something intriguing. one of the locations marked on the gps was a credit union near knoxville. >> it looked that this was set
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up that they were casing the bank and looking for escape routes and the like away from that bank. i talked to jeff, and i said, it may not be our bank robbers, but they're somebody's bank robbers. >> reporter: another gps route led to a luxury rental home in maggie valley. a beautiful north carolina tourist destination near the smoky mountains. investigators reached out to the property manager, melissa plass. >> the fbi basically stated that they just had some concerns and needed to know who was staying in the home. >> reporter: melissa told the agents that about five months earlier, she'd received an inquiry. two men, a writer named rod bradford, and his assistant were looking for a place to stay while they worked on their book. melissa showed them around. they were in the market for something secluded with a garage. >> we traveled around the area, looked at a couple of homes, and they chose one. >> reporter: the men were staying in a home aptly named southern comfort. it was a month-to-month rental,
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and they paid in cash. melissa said they were some of her best tenants. >> these guys treated me with utmost respect. they were very kind. on an occasion, they actually brought me a potted plant and a thank-you card for, you know, being such hospitable rental company, i guess. >> reporter: they hardly seemed like gun wielding kidnappers. agent blanton ran down the name of that author, ron bradford. did the name check out? >> no. no, the name did not check out. >> reporter: for blanton, the clincher came when he talked to the property manager about the renters' car. >> i asked her if she had ever seen ron in a black lexus suv because i know one of the robberies in knoxville, there was a black suv that was burned after the robbery. she said, yes, they had a black suv, a lexus, earlier in the summer, but that she hadn't seen them in it in several months. >> did you think i gotcha? i'm on you now in. >> at this point i'm convinced
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this was our bank robbery crew, yes. >> reporter: it was time for a good old-fashioned stakeout. agent blanton assembled a team to keep tabs on the two men. did you see them coming and going? >> we did. we saw them coming and going. we were not able to identify who they are, but we're able to see them. >> reporter: investigators learned the men were not alone. >> the surveillance team was able to ascertain there was a female at the cabin. >> do you know who she was? >> we did not know who she was. >> reporter: remember the zeigler home invasion. there was that woman who came in the house and asked for milk for her baby. could this be her? authorities waited patiently for an opportunity to take the suspects down. two weeks after they started their surveillance, they finally got their chance. assistant u.s. attorney david lewin. >> the day before thanksgiving, law enforcement sees them get into a silver nissan pathfinder with stolen maryland license plates. the decision was made to stop the vehicle. >> reporter: it was another
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high-speed chase, sirens blaring. the suv weaved around traffic, then suddenly slowed down. >> we see the suv pull over. we see the passenger side door open. we see a person get out of the vehicle holding a black bag, and then the suv takes off. >> get on the ground! get down now! don't you move! put your hands up! do not move! >> reporter: bun doone down, on go. but the man on the ground, he wasn't behaving like a criminal caught in the act. he was behaving like a victim. >> he immediately says, i'm not involved. i don't know what's going on. i don't know who this guy is. i'm hitchhiking. i was just trying to get a ride. >> reporter: did the cops get the wrong guy? they'd have to sort that out later. there was still a man on the loose barreling down the highway. coming up, there's more than one way to catch a crook. >> the driver jumps out and takes off on foot. the red pickup truck pins him
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under the rear wheel. >> runs him over? >> runs him over. >> you can't make this stuff up. >> you can't. >> and later, a suspect gives up a chilling clue. >> his fist is opened up, and there's a crumpled piece of paper. >> when "avillenous plan" continues. ♪ ♪ the expertise that helps keep hospitals clean, is helping keep businesses clean too. look for the ecolab science certified seal. stand up to moderate to severe rheumatoid arthritis. and take. it. on... ...with rinvoq. rinvoq a once-daily pill... ...can dramatically improve symptoms... rinvoq helps tame pain, stiffness, swelling. and for some... rinvoq can even significantly
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>> reporter: north carolina state troopers were back on the tail of the suv after its passenger bolted out to the side of the interstate. but as the suv fled, the driver made a serious error. he cut off a red pickup truck. >> the red pickup truck didn't like that. >> reporter: road rage exploded. the driver of the red pickup took off in hot pursuit of the suv, leap frogging the state troopers. >> the police are now following the red pickup truck, who's following the silver pathfinder. >> so the lead position is mr. road rage. why did you cut me off?
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>> right. >> reporter: with the trooper and the pickup driver still giving chase, the suv left the interstate, drove to a construction site, and went right into a ditch. >> the driver jumps out and takes off on foot. the red pickup truck pins him under the rear wheel of the -- >> runs him over? >> runs him over. >> you can't make this stuff up. >> you can't. >> that's the end of the chase. >> that's the end of the chase. the police pull up. they take the driver into custody. >> reporter: the driver of the suv was banged up with a broken collarbone, broken ribs, and burns. both he and the passenger who rolled out of the suv were taken to a local jail. but who were they? investigators learned the driver was brian witham, a guy with a rap sheet dating back to when he was in his 20s with convictions for armed robbery. >> he gave the impression that he was the guy who would sit there and talk to you and if given the chance he would kill you and think nothing of it. >> reporter: agent nocera tried to get answers from witham, but his suspect was mum.
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>> witham comes in and says right away he's not going to rat. >> reporter: the passenger who claimed to be a hitchhiker says his name was michael benanti. he was initially charged with felony possession of a stolen car. here in an interview room, he ranted about his arrest. >> there should be no arrest here. there's no nothing. i didn't do nothing. >> reporter: and bragged to the guard that he was a big deal executive. >> i'm the ceo of a [ bleep ] company. this stupid little arrest is going to destroy me. >> reporter: investigators learned that benanti in fact founded a company and was even profiled in "the wall street journal" in 2014. his company was called prisoner assistant, and it managed finances for inmates in prison. turns out benanti had a lot of experience in that area. >> he has multiple felony convictions to include attempted murder of a police officer,
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robbery, theft of property, and most importantly, a federal conviction of conspiracy to commit bank robbery. >> what did you make of this business that he had? >> benanti was actually stealing from that business. part of the reason the banks were being robbed was so that he could repay some of the monies that he owed to inmates that he was stealing from. >> reporter: of course he wasn't some random hitchhiker who happened to get into witham's car as he originally told police. the two were in cahoots, and they had a long history together. they'd met in the late '90s at a prison in pennsylvania and devised a plan to escape, but the attempt failed. then both of them were sent to the supermax prison in colorado. in prison, benanti paced about while he called his sister asking desperately that she bail him out. >> danielle, i'm sorry to give you this call. i love you. i'm in prison. >> reporter: then fbi agent blanton arrived to interview him. agent, first impressions?
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who did you see? >> well, he was extremely arrogant. >> reporter: pompous as well, blanton said. >> he is the smartest person in the room no matter what room he's in. he was very proud that he was a graduate of supermax and that he had been in supermax prison. benanti was proud of his credentials at being a criminal. >> reporter: by now they were sure they had the right guys, in part because of something that happened when benanti was arrested. >> benanti is white knuckling something in his hand, clenched fist. his fist is opened up, and there's a crumpled piece of paper. >> reporter: the feds took a look at it. that crumpled paper had details, names and numbers that sent a chill down their spines. >> three names handwritten. bank executives in greenville and spar and spartanburg, south carolina, their titles, their bank locations. >> reporter: prosecutor lewin
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believed these were the next victims. so with a search warrant in hand, fbi agents and lewin spent thanksgiving day and black friday of 2015 in the smoky mountains at a house called southern comfort. there they found evidence of a sophisticated criminal enterprise and evidence that would finally reveal who that mystery woman was, the woman who wanted milk for her baby. so, agents, who is this? coming up, the answer. >> they spent roughly $1,500 apiece, we later found out, to purchase these masks. >> they were sowing in deception and red herrings. >> reporter: and a warning. >> be careful what you put out for the world to see. the minute you hit post or hit send, you have no guarantee who's going to be able to access that. >> that baby picture is out there. >> the baby picture is out there. >> when "a villainous plan" continues. flavors indoors
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>> reporter: it was thanksgiving day 2015 in a house in the mountains of north carolina. but there was no family gathering inside. just fbi agents and a prosecutor. they were searching for evidence to tie michael benanti and brian witham to that string of kidnappings and bank robberies in eastern tennessee. >> when we originally walked in, the amount of evidence and items that were in the house was staggering. >> reporter: including weapons,
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electronic devices, cameras, fake law enforcement i.d.s, fake tattoos, and massive amounts of photos. among them, this picture of b benanti and witham, plus an inadvertent selfie. benanti's face seen in a car side mirror. when the agents told brian witham what they had, he went from mum to spilling everything that he knew to the feds. >> he laid out the entire scheme, his role in the scheme. >> reporter: it was a chilling criminal enterprise that involved learning every detail about their intended victims' lives. step by step they gathered intelligence. first they identified the bank. >> they would go to that bank. they would look on its social media page and hopefully get names and pictures of the people they thought would be worthy targets. >> reporter: then they stalked the bank employees online. >> they could find them on linkedin. they could find them on facebook. >> victims would rise and fall on their target list depending on the quantity and quality of
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social media evidence that they put out there for the world to see. >> reporter: for example, in the harris case, they saw pictures of the couple's newborn baby on facebook. >> with the harrises, they were planning on doing that one earlier, but they noticed that ms. harris had given birth, and they pushed the date back. >> reporter: and facebook also revealed that the zeiglers had an adult daughter that lived in texas. >> this enabled them to say we've got people surveilling your child in texas. >> reporter: once their victims were picked out, the spying turned up close and personal. witham would surveil them at home, hiding in their yards, watching and documenting their every move. >> commando style. gopro cameras would be set up around the house. brian witham would camo up and put himself up in a tree, sometimes right next to the play sets of these families with the children in the backyard and watch quietly, making notes of when lights go off, when they come on, when people go to the
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kitchen table, when they go out to get the paper. >> reporter: the duo would then take all the information they'd gathered, reams and reams of personal details, surveillance photos, maps, and compile them into a victim packet. agents found over a dozen of these packets or dossiers in a black briefcase in the house. >> we have numerous packages that have names, address, children, grandchildren. >> without revealing it, i'm seeing spartanburg, which is south carolina. >> that's correct. >> clayton, georgia. >> georgia. >> future business. >> yes, sir. >> reporter: future victims, which included some of the names and addresses on that crumpled piece of paper that benanti had clutched in his hand. >> and we found thousands upon thousands of photographs on sd cards of some of these houses, locations, people. >> reporter: the dossiers weren't just of future targets. the agents also found one of a target they already knew very well, brooke lyons.
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what's the quality of their surveillance work? >> these targeting packs they have are of the quality i could use for a hit. >> or execute a search warrant or anything else. >> reporter: in talking to witham, the agents learned why they never found any physical evidence, no dna, fingerprints, or fibers. he and benanti made sure not to leave a trace behind. >> witham even shaved his body to try to eliminate as much dna as possible. >> reporter: while he was up in a tree all night doing surveillance, he brought a jug along with him. >> he relieves himself in the jugs so that he doesn't break surveillance and so that he doesn't leave any dna behind. >> reporter: but now even with the two men in custody, the feds still didn't know how many others were involved. who was the african-american man and the woman the zeiglers described? was there anyone else involved? >> three, four, five, six people. are we looking for two? what are the races?
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what are the genders that we're looking for? >> reporter: brian witham gave them the answer. they'd bought masks. so, agents, who is this? >> that's the white female from the zeigler robbery in april of 2015. >> the one who said the baby needs some milk? >> yes. >> reporter: remember, the fbi had released a sketch of her to the public. it was eerily close. so what's actually happened here? >> brian witham had a fake tattoo on his neck, walked outside, put that mask on, and then came in and acted like a female coming in, looking for milk for the baby. >> reporter: as for the african-american man, he was a mask as well. benanti's dna was found on it. >> pretty good masks. >> yes. they spent roughly $1,500 a piece, we later found out, to purchase these masks. >> they were sowing in deception and red herrings and things designed to confuse the victims. >> the gender switch, the racial switch. >> all of that because the victims then are going to report all of that to the police, and the police will then be looking
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for a black man, a woman with long brown hair. >> reporter: and it worked. witham also told the agents that he and benanti didn't strike just in tennessee. >> he lays out a crime spree up and down the eastern seaboard that began in the summer of 2014. >> reporter: he told them about a heist the two of them pulled off in 2014 in a small pennsylvania town. and sure enough, there was a tall, slender man and a heavyset guy. they held the tellers at gup gunpoint and made off with $156,000. >> sure enough, we go up and we learn that that bank robbery was still unsolved. >> reporter: then witham told them about another job. it was in connecticut, and that's when the fbi finally connected the tennessee cases to matthew yussman. and the poor victim had been regarded as a suspect, and he lived under the stigma of that until witham gave up his story, didn't he? >> right.
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>> yes. the investigators up there were looking at other leads and running things down. they were striking out the same as we were down here. >> reporter: of course matt yussman didn't know any of this yet. he was still very much under suspicion. in fact, he'd just appeared before a grand jury. >> it didn't go well. it was very obvious that they were going to recommend an indictment. >> reporter: that was november. then on december 1st, matt thought his worst fear had come true. his boss said the fbi was coming to his office. >> and i tell him that i'm not going to allow them to arrest me right in front of all of my staff. >> reporter: the meeting was about an arrest all right, but it wasn't matt's. >> he said, we've apprehended two individuals down in north carolina. we have overwhelming evidence that connects them to your case. you are now no longer a suspect. you are now completely exonerated. and i just stared at him and said, thank you.
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and he goes, you know, a lot of police work went into this, and we did our job, and we got the guys, you know, and we don't have to -- we won't be bothering you anymore. >> reporter: matt and his mom had been telling the truth all along. you get word from the fbi that they've got two bank robbers in custody. >> yes. yes. i was so relieved because the whole time, the months that had gone by, you always had in the back of your mind -- or i did -- would they come back? would they want to finish the job. until they were caught, you know, you're very leery of this. >> the overwhelming emotion -- i actually broke down and cried in the office because all the emotions just came out that i'd been bottling up for nine months because i was trying to show that i -- i was truly innocent. >> reporter: and as he learned more about his kidnappers' m.o., some of the strange details about his story made sense. for instance, remember how his
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mom said the kidnappers used her vacuum to clean up? that's because they didn't want to leave any evidence behind. and matt learned his captors found him on his credit union's website. then they saw his picture and learned where he lived on facebook. the criminals began their watch. you were surveilled? >> yeah, i was surveilled. to this day, i still can't handle that i had people surveilling me and i didn't notice. if i had just paid more attention, would i have stopped this? >> reporter: in 2017, benanti was convicted on 23 counts, including armed bank extortion and kidnapping. he's now serving four consecutive life sentences plus 155 years. brian witham, who struck a deal, was sentenced to 30 years. so what's the lesson for people here? >> be careful what you put out for the world to see. the minute you hit post or hit send, you have no guarantee who's going to be able to access that at some point. >> that baby picture is out there. >> the baby picture is out there. you talking about where you run
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in your neighborhood and how long. it's all out there. >> and these guys exploited all of those things you just mentioned? >> they mined it all. >> reporter: as for matt yussman, he's still upset at how he was treated by the fbi and local authorities. former police chief jim wardwell. he'd like to have taken a swing at you guys? >> and rightfully so. mr. yussman went through so much. for any of us to have added to any of his anguish is regretful. he is a victim of a horrific crime and a good man and a courageous man. >> reporter: and while the men behind this crime will be in prison for years and years into the future, all of their victims seem to have been deeply traumatized. reporter jamie satterfield. >> they will never be able really, i think, to ever fully rest easy in their own homes. that's the price, i think, they paid was security. >> your life can never be the same. it never will be. no matter how much i put on that face and tell everybody that i'm
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fine, i'll never be the same after this. i'm craig melvin. >> and i'm natalie morales. >> and this is "dateline." >> i know my sister would have fought. we used to tell each other that if somebody ever tried to hurt us that we would do everything we can to leave something behind so the other one can figure it out.

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