this day in crime history: august 9, 1969

On this date in 1969, members of Charles Manson’s “family” murdered five people at the Los Angeles home of actress Sharon Tate.  The victims included Tate (who was eight months pregnant), hair stylist Jay Sebring, coffee heiress Abigail Folger, Polish actor/writer Wojciech Frykowski, and recent high school graduate Steven Parent.  Three of the victims were friends of Tate and her husband, director Roman Polanski.  Polanski was in Europe filming a movie at the time of the murders.  The fifth victim, Steven Parent, had the misfortune of visiting the home’s caretaker (who was staying in an adjacent cottage) on the night of the murder.  He was intercepted by the Mansonites as he was leaving the property.

The victims were all shot and/or stabbed by Manson followers Charles “Tex” Watson, Susan Watkins, and Patricia Krenwinkle while Linda Kasabian stood watch.  After the murders, Atkins wrote “pig” on the front door of the house using Sharon Tate’s blood.

The following night, the four killers, along with two other Manson followers, Leslie Van Houten and Steve “Clem” Grogan, would murder Leno and Rosemary LaBianca.  Manson would actually accompany the murderers to the scene this time, but left the dirty work to his minions.

When police finally caught up to Manson and his crew, they convinced Linda Kasabian, who hadn’t actually committed any of the murders, to testify against the other members of the family.  All of the defendants were ultimately convicted.  They are all currently incarcerated in California, except for Grogan, who was paroled in 1985, and Atkins, who died in prison in 2009. Linda Kasabian returned to her native New Hampshire after the trial.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – Charles Manson and the Manson Family

Find-a-Death – The Death of Sharon Tate and the Manson Murders

this day in crime history: august 7, 1970

On this date in 1970, four men took hostages in the Marin County, CA courthouse in an attempt to free three prison inmates. The incident began when Jonathan Jackson carried a bag containing several guns into court during the trial of San Quentin inmate James McClain. He used the guns to free McClain, as well San Quentin inmates Ruchell McGee and James Christmas, who were there to testify at the trial. The men took Judge Harold Haley, Deputy District Attorney Gary Thomas and jurors Maria Elena Graham, Doris Whitmer, and Joyce Rodoni hostage. They walked the hostages out of the building and to a rented van. On the way out of the building, they informed the police of their demand: Release the “Soledad Brothers” by 12:30 PM that day. The Soledad Brothers were three inmates who were charged with murdering a prison guard at Soleded Prison in January 1970. The guard was killed in retaliation for the the fatal shooting of four black inmates by a prison guard at Soledad. One of the men, George Jackson, was the brother of Jonathan Jackson.

While moving between the courthouse and the van, there was a brief exchange of gunfire. The gunmen then loaded the hostages into the van and drove off. As the van headed to the 101 freeway, it was stopped by a police roadblock. After the van stopped, police and the gunmen engaged in a shootout. In the ensuing battle, hostage-takers McClain, Christmas, and Jackson were killed. McGee was seriously injured. Judge Haley was killed by the shotgun the hostage-takers had secured to his neck. Deputy DA Thomas was paralyzed by a shot to his back, and juror Graham was wounded in her arm.

Radical activist Angela Davis was eventually arrested and charged with conspiracy, as the guns used by the hostage takers were registered to her. She was acquitted of the charges. George Jackson was killed the following year while leading a prison riot at San Quentin Prison.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Marin County courthouse incident

Wikipedia – Harold Haley

NY Times – Angela Davis is Sought in Shooting that Killed Judge on Coast

this day in crime history: june 12, 1962

On this date in 1962, prison officials at Alcatraz discovered that inmates Frank Morris, and brothers John and Clarence Anglin had apparently escaped from the federal prison. The escape took over two years to plan and execute. The escapees used stolen materials to make a raft to escape on and dummies to place in their bunks. They tunneled from their cells into the prison ventilation shaft, through which they climbed up to the roof of the prison. They climbed down from the roof, made it to the water, and paddled away on their homemade raft. The men were never found and were presumed drowned in San Francisco Bay.

Further reading:

“The Great Escape from Alcatraz”

FBI Files: Alcatraz Escape

IMDb: Escape from Alcatraz

this day in crime history: june 5, 1968

RFK

On this date in 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, was shot in Los Angeles, CA.

It was just after midnight when Kennedy finished addressing supporters at the Ambassador Hotel’s Embassy Room ballroom. His advisers decided it would be best to leave the hotel through the kitchen, so as to avoid reporters who were pushing for an impromptu press conference.

As the entourage moved through the kitchen, they were confronted by 24 year old Sirhan Sirhan, an immigrant with Jordanian citizenship. A Christian of Palestinian descent, Sirhan was angered by Kennedy’s support of Israel. He  produced a .22 caliber pistol and shot Kennedy repeatedly. Kennedy fell to the floor as his security detail, consisting of former FBI agent William Barry, decathlete Rafer Johnson, and pro-footballer Roosevelt Greer, wrestled Sirhan to the ground and subdued him. The gun discharged several times during the struggle and five people were injured. After being subdued, Sirhan managed to break loose and grab the gun again. He attempted to shoot it, but he had already used up all his ammo.

Senator Kennedy was taken to the Hospital of the Good Samaritan for emergency surgery, but the prognosis was not good. At 2 AM the following morning, a spokesman announced that Kennedy had died.

Sirhan Sirhan was tried by the State of California for murder. He was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in the gas chamber. His sentence was commuted to life by a California court in accordance with the People v. Anderson decision. He is currently incarcerated at California’s Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego and has been denied parole over a dozen times.

Further reading:

Crime Museum – The Murder of Robert Kennedy

About.com – Robert Kennedy Assassination

Wikipedia – Assassination of Robert F. Kennedy

this day in crime history: may 9, 1980


On this date in 1980, the Security Pacific Bank branch in Norco, CA was robbed by five heavily armed men. The robbers were confronted outside the bank by Riverside County Sheriff Deputies. In the ensuing shootout, one of the robbers was killed. The remaining four stole a car from the bank’s parking lot and fled the scene.

The pursuit went on for 25 miles and extended into neighboring San Bernadino County. Units from the CHP and San Bernadino County Sheriff’s Department, including a helicopter, joined in the pursuit. The robbers fired at officers and civilian vehicles during the pursuit. At one point, they stopped and set up an ambush for police. RCSD Deputy Jim Evans was killed. Officers in the helicopter had tried to warn him of the ambush, but an incompatibility between the RCSD and SBCSD radios prevented him from receiving the warning.

The robbers fled into a wooded area near Lytle Creek, CA with police in pursuit. One of the robbers was killed in a shootout with police. The remaining three surrendered.

The three survivors were tried and convicted of multiple felonies. They’re all serving life sentences without possibility of parole.

Further reading:

RCDSA – Norco Bank Robbery (This site includes a link to a video documentary about the robbery)

RCDSA – A list of the suspects and their weapons

Wikipedia – Norco shootout

this day in crime history: december 16, 1962


On this date in 1962 – the 25th anniversary of the Cole/Roe escape attempt – Alcatraz inmates John Paul Scott and Darl Lee Parker took a shot at busting out of The Rock. After bending the bars on the kitchen window, they made it to the shore and swam for it using inflated rubber gloves as makeshift water wings. Parker made it about 100 yards and stopped on a rock formation near the island. He was found there half an hour after the escape was discovered by prison officials. Scott was found an hour and a half after Parker, unconscious and suffering from hypothermia. He had made it to Fort Point, underneath the Golden Gate Bridge. After a stint in a nearby hospital, Scott was returned to Alcatraz. John Paul Scott is the only Alcatraz escapee who ever successfully swam to the mainland… that we know of.

Further reading:

Utica Observer“2 Escape from Alcatraz; Freedom Short Lived”

Alcatraz History – Escape Attempts

this day in crime history: december 16, 1937

On this day in 1937, Theodore Cole and Ralph Roe decided they needed a change of scenery. The two Oklahomans were inmates at the infamous federal prison on Alcatraz Island. Over a long period of time, they had filed through the bars on one of the windows in the prison mat shop, where they worked. They waited for a stormy day, when the guards in the towers would be less likely to see them leave the prison. When the time was right, they crawled through the window and disappeared. When prison officials discovered that the men were missing, they conducted an exhaustive search of the island, but there was no sign of the two men. It’s believed that the men tried to swim to shore using empty five gallon oil cans as floatation devices, and that the current – stronger than usual due to the storm – carried them out to sea, where they drowned.

Further reading:

Wikipedia – Alcatraz Escape Attempts

Alcatraz History – Escape Attempts