Note: This is an encore post and originally appeared in 2005 on the 1947project.
In the spring of 1968, Times reporter Charles Hillinger went up to San Luis Obispo for a story about a prison facility for elderly convicts, like John D. “Frenchy” Florence, 82, whose felony was unrecorded, and a thief named Simon Birdow, 78.
Gardening was particularly popular among the men, and Jesse Houston, 70, showed off his snapdragons, lilies of the Nile and hollyhocks, as well as his orchard of peaches and nectarines. Houston, Hillinger noted, had been the facility’s shuffleboard champion for three years.
Gardening and shuffleboard were the last things on Houston’s mind on June 16, 1947, however, when he was shot in the head during a gunfight with police after he and two other men took $2,500 in cash ($23,660.46 USD 2005) during a robbery of Citizens National Trust and Savings at 769 S. Vermont Ave. One of the robbers struck bank client J. Liberman with a pistol when he refused to drop his safe deposit box into a shopping bag the men were using to carry the stolen money.
A Wilshire Division patrol car and a motorcycle officer chased the robbers , who shot it out after their sedan sideswiped another vehicle and jumped the curb on 8th Street near Normandie. Motor Officer Robert C. Maier was struck in the right leg and Officer R.H. Simmons was wounded in the left leg while his partner D.G. McMullen was uninjured. At least 15 shots were fired.
The officers received commendations from Police Chief Clemence Horrall, and whatever became of Houston’s partners, Fred Anthony, 23, who was shot in the right leg, and Emmett Fuller, 21, who was uninjured, they never reappeared in print.
As for Houston, whose holdup record apparently dated to 1913, he told Hillinger: “Spring is the prettiest time of year. The fruit trees are in blossom, all the different colors of the flowers. The Santa Lucia Mountains are like green carpets of velvet.”