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The rise & fall of a Boomer Outlaw 

Eddie Dodson's journey from smalltown boy to LA personality to world record bank robber

When NC native and former Charlotte resident Edwin Dodson was interred recently in his hometown of Shelby, it marked the end of a bizarre and bittersweet journey. The story began in the early 70s when, after living in Charlotte for a few years, Dodson moved to California and opened a successful and trendy antique shop on Hollywood's famous Melrose Avenue. For over a decade, he hobnobbed and partied with celebrities, models and designers. Unfortunately, Dodson also became addicted to cocaine and heroin -- which led him to become the most prolific bank robber in history. Dodson robbed a record-setting 64 banks, including six in one day, and served close to 14 years in prison. He was released last October, and passed away shortly afterward on February 21 from liver failure related to Hepatitis C and cancer. Just A Normal Kid

Dodson was born in Shelby on Christmas Eve 1948. His father, an insurance executive, died when Dodson was a baby, and he was raised by his mother and grandmother. Although money was tight, Dodson's mother worked hard at a textile plant to provide for her only child. Both his mother and grandmother were devout Christians and, while they were strict, they showered him with love and attention. As a youngster, he attended church regularly, played Little League baseball, and was in the school band."He was just a normal kid," says Marjorie Bass of Statesville, Dodson's first cousin.

"He was a cute, sweet, chubby little boy," says Janice Wilson of Blacksburg, SC, another cousin.

After graduating high school in 1967, Dodson enrolled at UNC-Charlotte to study art. By then he had fully embraced the hippie subculture, sported long hair, and lived with a couple of other like-minded folks in a big house (which has since been torn down) in Dilworth, at the corner of South Boulevard and East Boulevard. His mother and aunt, outraged at his lifestyle decisions, at times drove from Shelby and stood on the sidewalk outside Dodson's "hippie house" and quoted scripture, urging Dodson to change his sinful ways.

It was during this time that Dodson and a young woman named "Susan" met at Freedom Park.

"What I remember of Ed is that he was overweight, had long, straggly hair, and wasn't very attractive -- basically a scruffy-looking hippie," says Susan, who now lives in a small town south of Charlotte. "But he was a nice guy, he had a great personality, and was funny and kind. He was just sort of living day to day like so many other people."

At the time, Dodson was a small-time drug dealer, selling pot and acid to folks like Susan and her friends.

"I had my first acid trip with Ed," Susan says. "This was at the height of the whole hippie era in Charlotte. It was all kind of innocent."

Dodson and Susan remained casual friends for about a year, until Susan went off to college in 1969 and later moved to Seattle. However, she would hear from Dodson one more time, seven years later in a surprise phone call.

Dodson, still living in Dilworth, was busted for marijuana possession during a traffic stop in 1971. Facing a drug conviction and possible jail time, he and his girlfriend hit the road and eventually landed in Los Angeles in 1972, with Dodson living under an assumed name. He took to his new surroundings, and landed a job helping out at an antique store.

His good fortunes continued when his lawyer back in Charlotte managed to get his drug case thrown out. Dodson dumped his alias and opened his own antique store on Melrose Avenue. His natural affability, charm and gift for gab helped make his antique shop a success. It also became a favorite hangout for an artsy bohemian crowd as well as celebrities including Barbra Streisand, Joan Collins, John Lennon and Yoko Ono, Steve Martin, Liberace, Lily Tomlin, Tony Perkins, Timothy Leary, Steve McQueen and Jack Nicholson, who would become a good friend.

Dodson had indeed come a long way from his small hometown in North Carolina. But his adventures in La La Land would eventually take a big downhill detour.
The Gentleman Bank Robber

Timothy Ford, a writer and art dealer, arrived in LA in 1976. His buddy, "Bob," who had recently moved to LA from Seattle, picked him up at the airport and took him to the apartment of Eddie Dodson, a charming, dapper and somewhat flamboyant fellow who owned a trendy, hip antique shop on Melrose. The three friends were talking when Bob mentioned his friend Susan from Seattle. The more Bob talked about Susan, Dodson realized it was the same girl he had befriended in Charlotte. They called her on the spot. "I was in complete shock," Susan says of the unexpected phone call. "I figured I would never hear from Ed again. I asked Bob what Ed looked like, and he said he looked really good. He had lost weight, cut his hair, and was very stylish. He was even dating models and hanging out with celebrities. I just couldn't believe it. He had completely re-invented himself."

Ford and Dodson hit it off, and the two friends dove headfirst -- and nose first -- into LA's raucous party scene. "It was the 70s and 80s in Hollywood, and there was a lot of drugs, especially cocaine," says Ford, who is working on a book about Dodson. "There was also a flood of Persian heroin in LA during the 80s. So coming in the wake of all that nerve-rattling cocaine was this nerve-soothing heroin. A certain percentage of people got involved with both. Ed was one of them."

For over a decade, Dodson lived the high life, both literally and figuratively. Eventually, the drugs started to take their toll and his friends, loved ones and business all suffered.

By 1983, he was so strung out on drugs he started robbing banks to support his habit. Over the next nine months he robbed 64 banks (the most single-handed bank heists in the recorded history of the world), including six banks on a single day -- November 29, 1983. Dodson mostly robbed banks in affluent areas, used only an unloaded starter pistol, and was known for his soft-spoken, courteous and friendly manner. Dodson's old LA friends would later say they couldn't believe the emaciated, sickly looking figure shown on the banks' surveillance tapes was the once vibrant and fashionable antique shop owner. The law finally caught up with Dodson in 1984, and he was arrested at the Farmer's Daughter Motel in Hollywood.

"It was hard to believe," says Ford. "Everyone knew he was using drugs, but the idea that he could pull off all these bank robberies seemed impossible. He was having trouble getting his store open, how could he rob six banks in one day?"

Dodson was sentenced to 15 years, and served a little over 10. When he was released, his old friend Jack Nicholson hired him as a "caretaker" for his mountain retreat in Santa Monica.

"It was a beautiful hideaway home with hundreds of white rose bushes, a spa, tennis court and swimming pool," Ford says. "Ed lived there and worked as the housesitter. Jack was basically just taking care of him."

But Dodson couldn't stay clean. On several occasions, Ford helped get him into rehab, but it never lasted. Ford says Nicholson finally had enough, and two weeks before Dodson's parole was over, Nicholson told him he had to go.

A month later, in 1999, he started robbing banks again, eight in all. He was arrested again, and this time was looking at 120 years in prison. Around that time, he was also diagnosed with Hepatitis-C. Partly because the court thought he didn't have long to live, Dodson got only 46 months, although he had six additional months tacked on for drug use. He was released in October 2002.

After spending nearly 14 of his 54 years in prison, Dodson died February 21 at UCLA Medical Center.

"Ed was very charming, flamboyant and irresistibly engaging," says Ford. "He had a wonderful quality to make people feel like they were the center of the universe when he was talking to them, all the while making him the focus of attention. He was the perfect salesman. But he was also somewhat exasperating. He very much wanted to be in control of things. Sometimes we have to let life bring us what it brings us. He didn't have a lot of faith. I think that was his downfall."

Dodson's funeral in Shelby on February 26 was a small, somber affair. Most of his immediate family had passed away, and he had long ago lost touch with his friends in the Carolinas. Many newspapers, including the Shelby Star, ran an Associated Press blurb about his passing, calling the NC native and Hollywood shopowner one of the most prolific bank robbers of the last century.

"To us he's family, he's ours," says Wilson, Dodson's cousin in South Carolina. "We really don't want to capitalize on his notoriety. It's heartbreaking. When we heard he was involved in drugs and robbing banks we didn't believe it. We loved him. It's just sad that drugs can do you that way."

"He was raised in a loving home," says Bass, Dodson's cousin in Statesville. "Nobody could understand why he did the things he did. But someone introduced him to cocaine and heroin, and I think that's why he got into trouble. I loved Eddie; I'm not ashamed of him. He's my own blood kin. I wish he hadn't done the things he did, but who am I to judge?"

Contact Sam Boykin at 704-944-3623 or sam.boykin@cln.com.

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