John Whitrock robbed 23 banks in 18 months. This is the true story of his crimes, his life after prison, and his search for redemption.
The man seemed older than the typical bank robber, although the cameras never really got a good look at him. For the first handful of robberies, he wore an old bucket style hat, which earned him the nickname “The Fishing Hat Bandit” from law enforcement and the media.
The FBI chased him. Bank and credit union employees kept a watchful eye as his string of robberies and notoriety increased with each passing month. By the tenth robbery, his exploits were regularly updated on the evening news, but he was just getting warmed up.
The majority of the robberies happened in the Twin Cities, Minnesota metro area. And when he finally got sloppy, the ending was as spectacular as the crime spree itself. After robbing 23 banks in 18 months, John Whitrock, 55, a man with only a minor criminal record, was pulled from his hiding place in the trunk of his car by a heavily armed SWAT team after a 3-hour standoff, complete with news helicopters hovering overhead.
This feature-length documentary film tells the story of Whitrock’s incredible bank robbery spree. Breathless archival news footage follows the elusive criminal as he evades capture time and time again. We hear about the hunt to capture the bandit from FBI agents and members of local law enforcement, but the narrative then evolves into something more complex and nuanced. The story unfolds in surprising and unexpected ways as Whitrock, now in his 70’s, adjusts to life outside of federal prison and explores feelings of regret for the trauma he caused to bank employees.
Many true crime stories treat the victims as an afterthought, but our documentary delves deeply into the memories of four of the bank tellers who were confronted by the Fishing Hat Bandit. Some are still angry. Others are still haunted by the trauma they experienced during their brief interactions with Whitrock nearly twenty years ago.
The final act of this story finds John Whitrock, the reformed felon, seeking ways to make tangible amends to the people he wronged over the course of his year-and-a-half crime spree. The resulting encounters yield an unexpected final chapter to this twisting and turning true crime tale.
MARK BROWN – DIRECTOR/PRODUCER
Mark has worked for two decades as a photojournalist and marketing/advertising photographer and video producer. His first documentary, Sermon of the Serpent (2014), screened at film festivals across the country and abroad. It won best short documentary at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. Mark has made several other short documentaries, including Gaelynn Lea: The Songs We Sing (2018), about Duluth musician and disability rights advocate Gaelynn Lea. The Fishing Hat Bandit is his first feature-length documentary.
NICK CLAUSEN – EDITOR/WRITER
Nick Clausen lugged around a 23-pound camera for many years covering television news from Chattanooga to Minneapolis, winning four regional Emmys and a regional Edward R. Murrow award. Today, Nick films and edits documentaries, including Women Outward Bound, which aired on PBS stations throughout the nation, and won Best Feature Documentary at the Paddling Film Festival. Nick’s credits include short documentaries for the Washington Post, The New York Times, livestreaming for AJ+, and various Showtime and Netflix credits. A documentary Nick filmed and edited, Sign O’ The Times, screened at the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Film Festival in 2022.
CHRIS NEWBERRY – PRODUCER
Chris Newberry is an award-winning producer based in Minneapolis. His films have appeared on two acclaimed PBS series, America Reframed and Independent Lens, as well as several national and international television networks. Chris recently served as producer and cinematographer on Norah Shapiroʼs TIME FOR ILHAN, which premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival and took home a National Daytime Emmy Award and an NAACP Image Award nomination. Chris is currently in post-production on his fourth feature-length documentary as producer, which explores the 1989 abduction and murder of Jacob Wetterling.