The year was 2004, the state was Kentucky, the criminals were four college-aged white teens, and their mark was a rare book at a local college library. The incident, now known as the "Transy Book Heist," is the subject of a new movie American Animals. The film features interviews with the real American Animals thieves, with elaborate, Hollywood-grade recreations (think I, Tonya, but with the real people on screen). Don't worry, though, because thanks to these photos of the real American Animals guys, you won't get confused about who's who. Well, you might, but that's a risk audiences will have to take.
In December of 2004, Warren Lipka, Spencer Reinhard, Eric Borsuk, and Charles "Chas" Allen II, walked into the Special Collections Library at Kentucky's Transylvania University, forcefully bound and gagged librarian Betty Jean Gooch, and walked out with a collection of rare books valued at an estimated $735,000 by Vanity Fair. Though they failed to abscond with their original target — Birds of America by John James Audubon worth a reported $12 million — they managed to do pretty well for themselves and were able to escape to New York City.
But the books ended up being harder to unload than the group originally thought. As reported by People, poor planning and a fumbling execution — including one member, Reinhard, leaving his home phone number at an action house — eventually led to their capture. The four men served seven-year sentences behind bars, with Lipka, Reinhard, and Borsuk all doing time at the same Kentucky minimum security prison. And they all contributed to American Animals, providing interviews and personal accounts that are actually featured in the film. They even appear in scenes with their onscreen counterparts.
Lipka essentially dropped out of college his freshman year after losing his athletic scholarship and started selling fake IDs on campus in 2003. In the 2015 investigation by John Falk published in Vanity Fair, Lipka is described as the driving force and mastermind behind the scheme. It was he who allegedly cooked up a plan to sell the book through underground channels, he who allegedly came up with the plan.
In the film, Lipka is played by Evan Peters, of American Horror Story and X-Men fame. The two share a red shirt and shaggy brown hair in the film, and even appear on screen together during a scene in which Peters and Lipka sit in a car and talk about the actions they're describing or acting in the film. "It's real, it's a real interview," director Bart Layton told Deadline of those scenes.
Reinhard, an aspiring artist, attended Kentucky's Transylvania University art program. He was old childhood friends with Lipka, and his artistic talent appealed to the budding criminal as a way to help keep his fake ID business afloat. It was Reinhard who mentioned that the campus housed a rare book collection, which he had seen during a tour of the library.
Barry Keoghan, who recently starred in the Oscar-nominated Dunkirk, plays Reinhard, who became an unlikely leader in this attempted school robbery.
Borsuck played high school soccer with Lipka and joined his former teammate in his first criminal enterprise of selling fake IDs. The two eventually had a falling out, but later reconnected when Lipka recruited Borsuck to join his scheme with Reinhard.
Jared Abrahamson plays Reinhard, wearing similar rectangular glasses to those Borsuck wears in his on-camera interviews.
Charles "Chas" Allen II
Allen was the final member to join the heist. A friend of Borsuck, they started a business together after their freshman year, and he was later recruited to join the group.
In the Vanity Fair article, Allen is described as the most privileged and clean cut of the crew (he is also the only one not interviewed in the piece). So it makes sense that he is played by Blake Jenner, an actor who not only looks the part of an All-American golden boy, but has played variations on the type before in The Edge of Seventeen and Everybody Wants Some.
Looking at photos of the real American Animals guys, it's not too hard to see a resemblance to the cast. And hopefully the real life "Transy Book Heist" gang enjoyed looking in a Hollywood mirror, because audiences will definitely love looking at it.