The ‘Sex Magick’ Bonnie and Clyde That Pulled Off a Daring Heist
The new Netflix docuseries ‘Heist’ examines three of the wildest heists in American history—including one that may have been inspired by the movie ‘Goodfellas.’
Heist barely qualifies as a docuseries, given that approximately 95 percent of its action is staged dramatic recreations of events that are narrated by a few principal figures—one of whom, it’s ultimately revealed, is actually an actor reciting lines from a pre-recorded interview. The proceedings’ generally artificial nature, which extends to commentary that often sounds as if it’s been scripted, is a nagging problem for Netflix’s latest true-crime effort. In the end, however, even more problematic is the simple fact that its stories aren’t nearly as engaging, and its culprits aren’t nearly as sympathetic, as the show finds them.
Premiering on July 14, Heist is a six-episode venture that covers three tales of thievery, and in each one, the perpetrator recounts his or her wrongdoing while directors—Derek Doneen, Martin Desmond Roe and Nick Frew, respectively—present Hollywood-style reenactments of the incidents in question. Those sequences are polished and informative, but they’re also cheesy and inherently phony, putting a gloss on real-world affairs that would have been far more interesting had they been relayed via legitimate non-fiction means. It’s almost shocking to find so little archival material employed throughout these installments; aside from the occasional news report and home movie snippet, there’s simply nothing of that sort to be found.
A dearth of pre-existing video and audio is the undoubted reason Heist took its chosen dramatic-recreation route, but the ceaselessness of that gimmick runs thin. So too does its deceptiveness. It’s one thing to have actors pretend to be these tales’ crooks, since the artificiality of that clunky device is obvious. Yet it’s more insincere to present as the genuine article a compendium of phony black-and-white surveillance footage, faded and yellowed photographs, and VHS police interrogations. The ostensible goal of this formal tack is to trick viewers into thinking that what they’re watching is the real deal. The result, though, is to make one distrust the authenticity of everything being described and depicted—a situation compounded by the fact that the series’ speakers repeatedly make pronouncements that are too composed, clever, and writerly by half.
It’s difficult to buy everything that Heist is selling, and that also goes for the central accounts given about its three robberies. The first two episodes concern Heather Tallchief, who in 1993, at the age of 21, hooked up with Robert Solis and quickly became the Bonnie to his Clyde. Smitten beyond belief, Tallchief followed career-criminal Solis’ orders to get a job with Loomis Armored Car Company in Las Vegas, and then agreed to drive away with her vehicle—and its $3.1 million cargo—during a vulnerable point along its route. Tallchief makes it sound as if she took this gig without knowing Solis’ plan, which is implausible on the face of it, and becomes thoroughly preposterous once director Doneen reveals that Solis had already served time in 1969 for murdering a Loomis guard during a prior heist gone awry.
Following their crime, Tallchief and Loomis went on the run, during which time Tallchief had a baby and fell out with her beau over his desire to keep bringing other women into their bedroom. That Solis and Tallchief’s initial courtship revolved around the practice of “sex magick”—ritualistic carnal nonsense in which they tried to manifest desires by harnessing the power of the orgasm—gives Heist’s maiden story a kinky kick. Yet any excitement is neutered by a desire to paint Tallchief as a pitiable victim of both a drunken deadbeat dad (and broken home) and “master manipulator” Solis, which even if true doesn’t serve as a legitimate excuse for her eager embrace of a life of drugs and larceny.
Tallchief points the finger at everyone else for her willing decision to do the wrong thing, as do the subjects of Heist’s other stories. In “The Money Plane,” Cuban immigrant Karls Monzon convinces his gangland friends and relatives to rob an airport depot full of cash (they got away with $7.2 million), all because he wanted to have the financial resources to pay for an adoption that would satisfy his and his struggling-to-conceive wife’s yearning for a family. Similarly, in “The Bourbon King,” Gilbert “Toby” Curtsinger claims that the reason he was selling black market bourbon to Frankfort, Kentucky’s rich and powerful was so he could provide comfort for his clan—a contention supposedly bolstered by Christmas-morning home movies that demonstrate how much he loved to give.
These gestures come across as cornball attempts to endear us to these criminals, and while it’s apparent that they’re not the worst of the worst—Curtsinger, for example, was implicated in a heist that came to be known as “Pappygate” (after the top-shelf Pappy Van Winkle bourbon), even though it’s likely someone else did that particular deed—it hardly gets them off the hook for the serious offenses they committed. In Curtsinger’s case, that involved selling (and using) steroids and stockpiling weapons, whereas Monzon hired murderous goons to rob and rough up one of his own heist accomplices, leading to underworld insanity that would have ended in bloodshed had it not been for the fortuitous intervention of the feds. Together, this collection of thieves is occasionally colorful, but the more they forward woe-is-me justifications for their misconduct, the less one feels for them or the prosecutorial fates they inevitably suffered.
Best, then, are the small details littered throughout Heist about the intricacies of pulling off such schemes. The sheer, cumbersome weight of millions of dollars in cash proves to be an element of both Tallchief and Monzon’s experiences, and in all three instances, it’s clear that the key to getting away with daring heists is to limit the number of people who know what you’re up to, and to maintain a consistently low profile once the job is done. Moreover, as Monzon explains, the shrewdest way to prepare for a million-dollar plot is to watch lots of television, since shows like CSI: Miami and The FBI Files contain various insights into the investigative methods of federal agencies. While he denies that Goodfellas was the inspiration for his own airport robbery, he’s not above admitting, “Discovery Channel also helped me a lot.”