By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD
The 1963 kidnapping of two LAPD plainclothes officers and subsequent murder of one sent shock waves through the department and law enforcement.
This could not happen to US—WE ARE THE BEST OF THE BEST. NOT HERE, NOT NOW, NOT EVER.
But it did, and it shook us to the core.
Seven short years later, four young California Highway Patrol Officers (CHP) lost their lives in a 4 1/2-minute gunfight, 270 seconds, 4 dead.
It came to be known as the “Newhall Incident” or “The Newhall Massacre.”
The officers (partners in first unit): Walter Frago, age 23 and Roger Gore, age 23. In the second unit: James Pence, age 24 and George Alleyn, age 24.
Each of them had less than 2 years on the job. Just recently a stretch of I-5 has been named in their honor.
I write this due to the fact some of you might have been too young to know of it or perhaps you never knew the story. Worse yet, maybe you have forgotten it.
The killers were two hard core ex-cons: Jack Twinning, age 35, graduate of eight different prisons including Alcatraz where he had killed another inmate on parole 11 months. Bobby Davis, age 27, on parole 8 months. They met and allied in prison.
Shortly before midnight, Sunday April 5, 1970 Davis brandished a handgun in a traffic dispute near the Grapevine on I-5. The citizen contacted police and the suspect vehicle was spotted southbound toward L.A.
Frago and Gore follow while Pence and Alleyn waited in nearby Valencia to assist if necessary.
The suspect vehicle exited the freeway on Henry Mayo Drive, entered and stopped in the parking lot of “J’s” restaurant.
Davis exited the driver’s side while Gore approached and prepares to search him.
Frago armed with a shotgun held at port arms, across his chest at a 45-degree angle, covers Gore.
As Gore prepared to search Davis, Twinning suddenly exited the vehicle on the passenger side. Armed with a handgun, he fired 2 shots at Frago, hitting him twice and killing him. Gore turned has attention to Twinning, drew his revolver and traded shots with him, both missing. Davis now behind Gore pulled his revolver and shot Gore twice in the back, killing him. All of this in the blink of an eye.
Shortly afterwards Pence and Alleyn arrived and there was a furious exchange of gunfire. Twinning was struck in the head by a bullet fragment suffering only superficial injuries. Alleyn was killed, and Pence seriously wounded, when Gary Kness age 31, a former Marine and civilian, enroute to work saw the gunfight. He came to assist the officers. He attempted unsuccessfully to drag Alleyn to safety unaware he was deceased. Then, he armed himself with Alleyn’s revolver and joins the gunfight. Twinning got behind Pence while he was reloading, shot him twice in the head and killed him. A fragment from a round fired by Kress struck Davis in the chest but was ineffective.
At this time a third CHP one-man unit arrives and there was a further exchange of fire. Both suspects fled on foot armed with the officers’ weapons.
Twinning takes a hostage but is surrounded by Sherriff’s Deputies. After an all-night standoff he shot and killed himself.
Davis stole a car but was quickly arrested. Convicted of multiple murders he was sentenced to death; later commuted life in prison. He committed suicide in 2009.
This incident as you can imagine caused many changes in training and tactics.
“J’s” coffee shop no longer exists however half a dozen eateries are at that off ramp which leads to Magic Mountain.
Seriously consider taking time to google “Incident or Massacre at Newhall” for a virtual shot by shot account of the gunfight and the heroic actions of these brave young warriors.
I’d like to include photos and the link to this but copyright issues preclude it.
Remember this when you hear people bad-mouthing the police. Thanks also to Gary Kress, the former Marine.
Semper Fi and GOD BLESS AMERICA
15 replies on “The Call Box: The Newhall Incident”
Still a vivid memory.
I vaguely recall this as I was getting ready to graduate from high school. But three years later when I went to work at San Rafael PD, they were still talking about it and working out training to prevent this from happening again.
I recall it well. I heard that some of the officers had spent casings in their pockets. This was the result of range programming to pick up your brass after each shoot.
It made an impression on range practices. If this info is wrong please correct it.
I remember my SRPD pistol team days, “police your brass” was pounded into us. Later, not so much, when the lessons from Newhall oozed down to the rank and file. The message sure took longer then than it does now. God bless wi-fi!
REGARDING THE ”BRASS” IT WAS A STRONG RUMOR FOR YEARS, THE INVESTIGATOR RESPONSIBLE FOR ”INCLUDING” IT IN HIS LECTURES APOLOGIZES AS IT TURNED OUT TO A FALSE RUMOR. SEE ”GOOGLE FOR QUOTES” ONE THEORY FOR LACK OF HITS IS THEY WERE ALL SHOOTING .357’S WHEN THEY WERE USED TO THE RANGE ”WAD CUTTERS” WITH A VERY LOW POWDER CHARGE.
I don’t know about LAPD, but weren’t qualification shoots infrequent in those days?
DURING MY TIME ON THE JOB..1956 TO 1976
LAPD QUALIFICATION WAS ONCE A MONTH.
ALTERNATING BETWEEN THREE RANGES
TARGET // COMBAT // SHOTGUN…………… YEARS LATER THEY ADDED A FILMED COMPUTER TYPE ”SHOOT”………….
During my career as a Correctional Counselor ( A multi-tasking job..BTW!) with CDCR-Chino I interviewed thousands of convicted criminals all shapes & sizes. Since Ed mentioned Ian Campbell I must discuss one case I was assigned that brought back that horrible event most vividly. My supervisor came to me with a
C-File (Case File) telling me to, “Get this SOB processed, and off the yard ASAP.”
I began doing just that. When I read the file I recognized the individual as Jimmy Smith one of the Ian Campbell murder co-defendants. I was a high school sophomore in 1963. At the time I interviewed him he was a 70+ yr old burnt out heroin addict back in prison as a parole violator return to custody, or PVRTC. I processed him, and put him on the next bus outbound. In 2008 when I attended Sgt Mike Diaz’ retirement dinner/roast I was introduced to Joseph Wambaugh the author of The Onion Field which chronicled the Ian Campbell murder case. I broke a (tiny) rule when I retired: I keep a copy of Smith’s booking photo. CDCR’s R&R (Receive & release) photos are purposely small to fit on inmate ID cards, and fit in our C-Files.
I asked Joe if he’d like a copy of Smith’s photo. He was delighted to accept one, and gave me his mailing address. I sent him an enlarged copy. A nice THANK YOU followed. Not long after I saw Smith he died, and was followed by Greg Powell (His co-offender) who died in prison as I recall bring this tragic tale to a close. I had the best job in the state. I never had a dull day!
Great story, John! Thanks for sharing with us.
I got assigned some VERY sad cases as we all did. This was a sour reminder of that senseless crime complete with a face to face with one of the perpetrators no less.
We had range qualification EVERY 90 days come hell or high water. If you had an armed assignment, and you didn’t qualify you got a job change to an unarmed position until you did qualify. No exceptions!
In the early 80’s they made a training film about this incident starring my buddy, Van Williams (the Green Hornet). He played one of the bad guys and they showed one of the wounded officers struggling to reload his revolver before being shot and killed. Van was a great guy who volunteered as a deputy sheriff once his acting career ended.
Yes I heard he was a reserve LASO deputy in Malibu. Correct?
Yeah, I believe it was Malibu. He was in a lot of training films and loved police work. He only got paid a pittance as a reserve deputy, but it wasn’t about the money. He collected police patches, too. I only met him in person once, but in my book he was a guy who had your back.
Got a lively discussion going on a closed Facebook group of Sonoma County cops from back in the day. One comment came from Deputy Harvey Head, who I first worked with in San Rafael PD in the mid-70’s before SoCo hired him. Here’s what he had to say:
Harvey Head – Thonie Hevron I went to officer survival school in San Luis Obisbo just after the Newhall incident. That was covered extensively and what Matt (referring to another comment about picking up brass) said is one reason why that incident went so bad. Also they covered things like letting someone get their ID from a briefcase and pulling a weapon out and shooting the officers. I mentioned this because I was backing a deputy on a stop with a known HA in Penngrove the week after the school. When the HA said his ID was in the trunk, he reached to open a briefcase which I slammed closed on his hand. After removing him from the trunk I opened the case and retrieved a hand gun. The moral of this is we need all officers to attend these type of training on a regular basis.