Over the Hill

Revisiting a Paso police thriller

Sometimes while researching one story, I stumble onto another that deserves retelling. Here’s one that sounds like a TV police thriller, but it actually happened north of Paso Robles.

I discovered it in a 1950 issue of the Paso Robles Press while researching a Camp Roberts column. But this story has nothing to do with the camp or war.

On Oct. 10, 1950, Paso Robles police were notified that two armed robbers were headed south toward the city in a stolen car.

The men were wanted in King City, San Jose, Sacramento and San Diego for armed robberies and car thefts. They had also wounded a man while trying to rob a Sacramento liquor store.

One fugitive was 20. The other had been recently paroled by the Youth Authority.

Police later learned they’d promised each other they’d die rather than surrender.

Now they were barreling down Highway 101 toward Paso Robles, and a Paso Robles police car was speeding north toward them.

Driving was Chief Elmer Morehouse. In the passenger seat was Lt. Thomas Flowers. They planned to intercept the robbers in a sparsely populated area, where gunfire was less likely to endanger bystanders.

Flowers was holding what the news report called a .45-caliber machine gun. I bet it was a Thompson submachine gun, also known as a Tommy gun. The officers spotted the robbers’ car two or three miles north of Paso Robles and spun around to pursue it.

The two cars reportedly sped along at 70 mph within 40 feet of each other. One of the fugitives opened a car door. Flowers assumed the man was preparing to shoot, so he leaned out the police car window with the machine gun and blazed away.

Five of his bullets hit the rear of the fleeing car. It swerved off the road and smashed into a tree about a half-mile north of Paso Robles.

One man rolled out of the car without serious injuries. The other robber, who’d been driving, was found dead with a bullet hole in his temple.

His partner said the man had shot himself while driving to avoid being captured.

The next day, however, the survivor confessed that he’d actually shot his partner. He said he did so because the partner wanted to surrender rather than carry out their suicide pact.

How can we explain the desperate actions of those two out-of-control young men? Today we might blame methamphetamine, but they didn’t have it then.

Contact Phil Dirkx at phild2008@sbcglobal.net or 238-2372.