Hot Best Seller

Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History

Availability: Ready to download

A true crime account of one of the most violent bank heists in US history. Norco ’80 tells the story of how five heavily-armed young men—led by an apocalyptic born-again Christian—attempted a bank robbery that turned into one of the most violent criminal events in U.S. history, forever changing the face of American law enforcement. Part action thriller and part courtroom d A true crime account of one of the most violent bank heists in US history. Norco ’80 tells the story of how five heavily-armed young men—led by an apocalyptic born-again Christian—attempted a bank robbery that turned into one of the most violent criminal events in U.S. history, forever changing the face of American law enforcement. Part action thriller and part courtroom drama, Norco ’80 transports the reader back to the Southern California of the 1970s, an era of predatory evangelical gurus, doomsday predictions, megachurches, and soaring crime rates, with the threat of nuclear obliteration looming over it all. A group of landscapers transforms into a murderous gang of bank robbers armed to the teeth with military-grade weapons. Their desperate getaway turned the surrounding towns into war zones. When it was over, three were dead and close to twenty wounded; a police helicopter was forced down from the sky, and thirty-two police vehicles were destroyed by thousands of rounds of ammo. The resulting trials shook the community to the core, raising many issues that continue to plague society today: from racism and the epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder within law enforcement to religious extremism and the militarization of local police forces.


Compare

A true crime account of one of the most violent bank heists in US history. Norco ’80 tells the story of how five heavily-armed young men—led by an apocalyptic born-again Christian—attempted a bank robbery that turned into one of the most violent criminal events in U.S. history, forever changing the face of American law enforcement. Part action thriller and part courtroom d A true crime account of one of the most violent bank heists in US history. Norco ’80 tells the story of how five heavily-armed young men—led by an apocalyptic born-again Christian—attempted a bank robbery that turned into one of the most violent criminal events in U.S. history, forever changing the face of American law enforcement. Part action thriller and part courtroom drama, Norco ’80 transports the reader back to the Southern California of the 1970s, an era of predatory evangelical gurus, doomsday predictions, megachurches, and soaring crime rates, with the threat of nuclear obliteration looming over it all. A group of landscapers transforms into a murderous gang of bank robbers armed to the teeth with military-grade weapons. Their desperate getaway turned the surrounding towns into war zones. When it was over, three were dead and close to twenty wounded; a police helicopter was forced down from the sky, and thirty-two police vehicles were destroyed by thousands of rounds of ammo. The resulting trials shook the community to the core, raising many issues that continue to plague society today: from racism and the epidemic of post-traumatic stress disorder within law enforcement to religious extremism and the militarization of local police forces.

30 review for Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History

  1. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    This is a remarkable book, the true story of a bank robbery in Norco, California, in Riverside County by five men, some of them religious Christians convinced the end times were coming. Two lived together in a house in Norco where they were digging trenches and fencing the perimeter of their property with barbed wire preparing for marauders to come for their caches of food, weapons and supplies. They were late on the mortgage, owed child support so there may have been a mixed motive for the bank This is a remarkable book, the true story of a bank robbery in Norco, California, in Riverside County by five men, some of them religious Christians convinced the end times were coming. Two lived together in a house in Norco where they were digging trenches and fencing the perimeter of their property with barbed wire preparing for marauders to come for their caches of food, weapons and supplies. They were late on the mortgage, owed child support so there may have been a mixed motive for the bank robbery. Either way it turned into one of the largest crime scenes ever, in the bank and then when they tried to get away spreading out over forty miles, in two different counties, Riverside and San Bernadino, with police departments from both and sheriff's officers from both, helicopters and a chase that ended up with them driving up a single-file road in the San Gabriel mountains, a national park, with forty police cars from the four jurisdictions and California Highway Patrol lined up behind them and the four remaining perps firing away. The officer in the lead car was killed. The suspects fled into the chaparral and were tracked by helicopter, dogs and SWAT teams. They had assault rifles. The alpha in the group, a Vietnam vet, had altered them so they could shoot more ammo faster. They had pipe bombs, other bombs and homemade grenades. They didn't need the internet because there was a book that gave detailed instructions on how to make bombs and grenades. They had timed out the bank robbery but messed up, one guarding a door wasn't and more people came in, a silent alarm set off by a teller went to the wrong city. The bank didn't even have much money. So many things went wrong it's incredible that only one person was killed. They messed up getting their getaway cars and ended up kidnapping at gunpoint the owner of a bright yellow truck. His legs were bound with duct tape and eventually, because the police couldn't be sure he was a victim or a perp, he had to roll his way through an intersection over to them. This is when things go really wrong and the crime scene gets very spread out. There are officers at the bank, where one perp lies dead at the wheel of their van. And now they're traveling in suburban neighborhoods and on the highway in a bright yellow truck with two guys standing up in the back shooting thousands of rounds of ammo indiscriminately and the others shooting from the windows. They shot around twenty-five police officers. They hit a boy riding his bicycle with his friends ("clipped his finger," the author says, which I assume is an injury?). They hit a girl whose dad was giving her a driving lesson. They put thousands of bullets into thirty-three police cars that were destroyed. They shot at the helicopter. Throughout the crime, which is the first half of the book, the police did their best in an utterly chaotic situation. They had so many limitations but the biggest one was they did not have assault rifles. They had small handguns. This is the case that resulted in officers nationwide being armed with assault rifles. The robbery happened the same year PTSD was added to the psychiatric DSM manual and this is the crime that brought to light how utterly unequipped law enforcement entities nationwide were to deal with PTSD when it manifested in their officers. That too would change as a result of the Norco robbery. Peter Houlahan does an amazing job of bringing the reader into every part of the forty-mile crime scene. The book reads like a movie but a movie could never do it justice because it was so spread out and chaotic. It's his first book but he's written articles and is an EMT in Newtown, CT whose unit responded to the Sandy Hook school shooting, although their services weren't needed when they arrived. He has also studied PTSD. You have to read the book to see how this crime unfolds, it's so unreal but all too real. The second part deals with the trial and for a little while I was getting bored and wondering why but then it all came together.. The three captured (two died) were tried together with separate attorneys. The trial lasted a year not counting the penalty phase, and what Houlahan chooses to bring forth makes that section well worth it. The author is so gifted the book unfolds as if it's written itself. He is at all times master of the material. Like the crime, you've got to read what he tells us about the trial because the truth is so much stranger than fiction. There are a few things so shocking that even though this happened I won't give them away here. Mostly I was incredulous at how the defense attorneys treated the cops on the stand. These men had been through a crime the likes of which has never been seen. Many were wounded. Some watched their friend die. It's very relevant to today because there is so much attention paid to mistakes the police make -- and they do, horrible ones -- and here they did too but it's so clear everyone did the best they could in the worst of circumstances. In the end we learn how some fared. No one came away unscathed. And the criminals, unrepentant and self-righteous throughout, trying to game the system, having no respect for life or property all the while proclaiming their faith. You won't read another book like this because there's never been a crime like this and because Houlahan tells a very complex story in an organized and compulsively readable way. My review hasn't done "Norco '80" justice. The book is that good. As long as my review is, I haven't even scratched the surface. I wasn't sure it was a book for me, and the material is disturbing in many ways, but I'm very glad I read it. I encourage everyone who is interested in true crime, religious fanatics who justify violence,, sociology or anyone looking for a great read, one you won't want to put down, to go for it.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Melki

    3-Edward-50, the suspects are stranded, their vehicle is disabled at Hamner and Fourth. Roll help. I need an ambulance. I'm bleeding badly. I'm not a big fan of true crime books; stories are never tied up nice and neat like they are in fiction, and sometimes the bad guys win. But, ever since seeing Dog Day Afternoon at a fairly young age, I have been intrigued by tales of bank robberies gone horribly wrong. And, they don't get much "wronger" than the robbery that occurred in Southern Califor 3-Edward-50, the suspects are stranded, their vehicle is disabled at Hamner and Fourth. Roll help. I need an ambulance. I'm bleeding badly. I'm not a big fan of true crime books; stories are never tied up nice and neat like they are in fiction, and sometimes the bad guys win. But, ever since seeing Dog Day Afternoon at a fairly young age, I have been intrigued by tales of bank robberies gone horribly wrong. And, they don't get much "wronger" than the robbery that occurred in Southern California in 1980 when five young men, who were armed to the teeth with semi-automatic weapons plus homemade bombs and grenades, attempted to raise the capital they felt they needed to see themselves through the coming apocalypse. Pretty much everything that can go wrong with a robbery went wrong that day. From bad timing, to stupid choices, to personality clashes, to bizarre coincidences - it was a disaster that led to death, and destruction, and lives forever changed. The book starts off with some exposition, and the author flings a lot of names at the reader. I was going a little crazy wondering which ones might be most important to the story, but it turned out to not be a problem. Once the introductions are over, the story takes off. Be warned - once you hit page 61, plan on settling in for a while because the next 100 pages are packed with some of the most intense, nonstop action you'll ever read. It's an amazing tale of heroism and horror that should keep you riveted.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    "Riverside to all Norco units. 211 in progress at the Security Pacific Bank at Fourth and Hamner." -- the RCSO dispatcher, on page 73 (*211 is California penal and/or police radio code for armed robbery) An absolutely outstanding and suspenseful true crime book, meticulously chronicling the May 1980 bank robbery / pursuit / shoot-out in Southern California (not in Los Angeles, but farther east in a desert and mountain area known as 'The Inland Empire') that pitted five heavily- and better-armed t "Riverside to all Norco units. 211 in progress at the Security Pacific Bank at Fourth and Hamner." -- the RCSO dispatcher, on page 73 (*211 is California penal and/or police radio code for armed robbery) An absolutely outstanding and suspenseful true crime book, meticulously chronicling the May 1980 bank robbery / pursuit / shoot-out in Southern California (not in Los Angeles, but farther east in a desert and mountain area known as 'The Inland Empire') that pitted five heavily- and better-armed thieves against a small and diverse group of responding law enforcement personnel - county sheriff's deputies, city police officers, and highway patrolmen from various agencies - in a particularly violent and nightmarish encounter. It reads like it's right out of a Hollywood script, but it was the real deal. This is author Houlahan's first book, and it is one hell of a strong debut. Norco '80 is a confident, well-researched detailing of the personalities involved (the suspects, the police, the lawyers on both sides), the actual incident, and the occasionally absurd trial aftermath. Drawing on many interviews, taped radio transmissions (see above), investigatory reports, and court transcripts, Houlahan weaves everything together into an absorbing narrative. However, I don't want to necessarily make it sound like a fun, mindless action movie - this was a retelling of a particularly dark day for the involved law enforcement and bystanders, involving a tragic line of duty death and also countless injuries. But out of said tragedy came a better understanding / response for dealing with PTSD, among other things.

  4. 4 out of 5

    SimitudeSims

    What a great ride this was. It was so exciting. I had moved away from Norco in the late 70’s, and I could picture this whole tale. I didn’t appreciate the slanted views on religion at the beginning. I felt it was unnecessary and the author obviously had a bias. All in all, it got a five from me, so you can tell how much I enjoyed the rest of the story.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Judith E

    The true account of the ill-conceived bank robbery that resulted in a harrowing police chase and gun battle in 1980’s Norco, California. After the 5 perpetrators fled, they began their powerful and overwhelming fire power attack (automatic and semi-automatic guns, grenades, pipe bombs, thousands of rounds of ammunition) on the police forces that pursued them. Many officers were injured, and one officer was dead. This crime caused police departments across the country to incorporate military grad The true account of the ill-conceived bank robbery that resulted in a harrowing police chase and gun battle in 1980’s Norco, California. After the 5 perpetrators fled, they began their powerful and overwhelming fire power attack (automatic and semi-automatic guns, grenades, pipe bombs, thousands of rounds of ammunition) on the police forces that pursued them. Many officers were injured, and one officer was dead. This crime caused police departments across the country to incorporate military grade weapons in their arsenals. The personalities of the perpetrators are exposed to reveal the circle of manipulation, fear, and bullying that caused these men to unite and commit such a horrible crime. It’s too bad no one recognized the need of a mental health intervention of George Smith when there were so many warning signs of paranoia, grandiose ideation and delusional thinking. An in depth account of the trial follows and if you are not familiar with court proceedings it might be overwhelming, but I found the courtroom histrionics fascinating! Not quite 5 stars because I found all the players (perps, victims, lawyers, police forces/units, family members) jumbled and it would have behooved the author to reference their role more than once. Recommended.

  6. 4 out of 5

    J.K. Grice

    Astounding...Staggering...Mind-blowing... Eyeopening.... These are just some of the reactions I experienced after reading Peter Houlahan's brilliant true crime book, NORCO '80. Houlahan spent over four years researching documents and interviewing people who were involved with one of the most violent and insane bank robbery attempts in American history. He amazingly pulled together accounts and testimonies from dozens and dozens of law enforcement personnel, case lawyers, and family members in his Astounding...Staggering...Mind-blowing... Eyeopening.... These are just some of the reactions I experienced after reading Peter Houlahan's brilliant true crime book, NORCO '80. Houlahan spent over four years researching documents and interviewing people who were involved with one of the most violent and insane bank robbery attempts in American history. He amazingly pulled together accounts and testimonies from dozens and dozens of law enforcement personnel, case lawyers, and family members in his exhaustive quest to piece together this fascinating account that reads "stranger than fiction." George Wayne Smith was an honorably discharged soldier living in Riverside county in southern California. He became obsessed with the religious prophecies of Revelation, as well as apocalyptic visions of the doomsday scenario he perceived the world to be headed toward. He had been working for a landscaping company when he met another young man named Chris Harven. In many ways Harven was the opposite of Smith; a stoner, a slacker, and a troublemaker who was actually dishonorably discharged after a brief stint in the military. But the two men shared common survivalist, religious, and apocalyptic beliefs and became friends and roommates. Living in a house in Mira Loma together (both had failed marriages) they even dug their own bomb shelter in the back yard. Eventually, they were out of work and low on money. Still, the pair's goal was to be able to buy a mountain cabin in Utah or Colorado and fortify it for family members and themselves, so all would be safely together and survive the impending Armageddon. Smith and Harven also loved firearms and began buying all sorts of guns, both pistols and high caliber assault rifles. Apparently, they used the last of their money to arm themselves and three other accomplices whom they convinced to help them rob a bank in the nearby town of Norco. Chris's brother Russ, and brothers Manny and Billy Delgado rounded out the gang which would later be infamously known as the Norco 5. So on May 9th, 1980 this crew of first time criminals made their way to Norco, armed to the teeth with more firepower than any law enforcement agency in the country possessed. Their mission was to steal enough money on a big, one time score so George Smith and Chris Harven would be able to establish their survivalist utopia somewhere in the mountains of the West. Russ, Manny, and Billy would be given their cuts of the take as well. The events unfolded on a Friday afternoon and are so chaotic and crazy, it's hard to go into great detail without spoilers and so on. Suffice it to say that in the end, over two dozen cop cars were shot to hell, hundreds of rounds of ammunition were fired at law enforcement, and three people were dead. Some members of the Norco 5 were captured, and it took 20 months before they would stand trial. The trial itself would not conclude until over two and a half years from the initial crime date. Procedures and events at the trial were like a 3 ring circus at times and read like something out of a Hollywood film. Now in the 21st century, where horrific mass public shootings have become all too tragically frequent, the Norco bank robbery kind of stands out as a harbinger of the future, as far as terrorist type acts are concerned. Peter Houlahan has indeed pieced together an important part of history, coupled with insight and fast-paced story telling. NORCO '80 is a completely true account, as well as a flat out thrill ride.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    The blame begins with the huge eruption of Mount St. Helens. George Wayne Smith (age 29) and Chris Haven (age 27) were convinced that the eruption announced the coming rapture as predicted in the Book of Revelations. Their apostolic faith convinced them that the end was near and that they needed to move to the mountains in order to survive the coming chaos. Both of them were ex-military and stockpiled a huge supply of weapons, homemade grenades and ammunition to prepare for the coming apocalypse The blame begins with the huge eruption of Mount St. Helens. George Wayne Smith (age 29) and Chris Haven (age 27) were convinced that the eruption announced the coming rapture as predicted in the Book of Revelations. Their apostolic faith convinced them that the end was near and that they needed to move to the mountains in order to survive the coming chaos. Both of them were ex-military and stockpiled a huge supply of weapons, homemade grenades and ammunition to prepare for the coming apocalypse. One thing they lacked—money for the move. So—these two guys convinced their friends, Belisaro and Manuel Delgado, and Chris’ brother, Russell, to join them in robbing the Security Pacific Bank. Unfortunately, an employee from the bank across the street saw the masked men entering the bank and quickly called police. What ensues is Fargo-esque as events flew out of control. Total chaos ensued with the five robbers spraying hundreds of rounds of ammunition at the responding police in an area full of civilians. The miracle is that there were not more deaths and casualties. But there were still plenty—two of the perpetrators and one Sheriff’s deputy were killed, another 9 wounded, over 30 police cars were damaged, and even one helicopter was downed. The bank robbers were forced to steal a second truck when their first one was damaged. They were able to escape Riverside County and entered San Bernardino County with multiple police officers from multiple jurisdictions in hot pursuit. Eventually they reached the mountains and proceeded on foot. They were caught the next day. The second part of the book focuses on the trial for the three remaining robbers. It was not your usual criminal trial! The Defense Attorneys presented numerous audacious theories and verbally fought with the presiding judge. And then there was the case of the Defenses’ investigator falling in love with George Wayne Smith. [I’m sure that will turn out well! Not!] Recommend this true crime tale that defies believability.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Mikey B.

    In May of 1980 in Norco, California a bunch of losers had decided to rob a bank. They were armed to the teeth with all kinds of automatic weapons and they also had homemade grenades. What ensued after the robbery was a massive chase in which over thirty police cars were wrecked by the onslaught of automatic weapons from the bank robbers. The chase ended high up in the canyons and mountains which are such a prominent feature of California. On the canyon road the robbers finally had to disembark th In May of 1980 in Norco, California a bunch of losers had decided to rob a bank. They were armed to the teeth with all kinds of automatic weapons and they also had homemade grenades. What ensued after the robbery was a massive chase in which over thirty police cars were wrecked by the onslaught of automatic weapons from the bank robbers. The chase ended high up in the canyons and mountains which are such a prominent feature of California. On the canyon road the robbers finally had to disembark their pick-up truck, which they had hijacked, and headed off into the wilderness. Exhausted, they were easily captured the next day by police and SWAT teams. One police officer was killed, several were injured and also many innocent civilians who were walking or driving on the roads during the chase. (view spoiler)[Two of the robbers were also killed. (hide spoiler)] A lengthy trial ensued, (view spoiler)[after which the remaining bank robbers were given life in prison – and hopefully will stay there until the end of their days. (hide spoiler)] The portrait of these loser bank robbers is not pretty. They couldn’t hold jobs, couldn’t support their children and wives/girlfriends who had left them and sold drugs to supplement whatever income they had. Some sought solace in religion, and they all had survivalist tendencies believing that end-times were approaching. One of them came up with a cockamamie plan to rob a bank – and the rest followed, believing it was going to be easy money. So, they kept buying loads of guns and ammunition to rob the bank and then settle somewhere, someplace in the wilderness to await the apocalypse, end-times and a second coming where they would all be pardoned for their sins… This was a most pathetic group. Apparently, the Norco bank robbery prompted police forces across the U.S. to get more and better armaments and vehicles to deal more effectively with any subsequent episodes like Norco. That’s one way to look at it. The other is that why is an ordinary citizen permitted to buy and stockpile weapons and ammunition that (page 104) were capable of firing 120 rounds in just over a minute? What was most interesting is the dissension and the PTSD that afterwards pervaded the various police departments that were involved in the chase. Some officers could no longer speak to each another – feeling a lack of support. Others, after months or years left law enforcement. That violent day left an imprint on their lives that festered and constantly gnawed at them. They had permanent behavioral changes. Perhaps the book goes on too long at times – more so with the police cars being riddled with bullets. The long trial was a travesty in some ways with both defenders and prosecutors getting weary. Nevertheless, this is an exhilarating page turner.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Matthew

    Earlier today whilst “researching” this very review, I ran a google search for “Heat movie gunfight” and was predictably met with several videos capturing the famous scene from Michael Mann’s 1995 crime drama, a longtime favorite of mine. That being said I was also met with a series of questions halfway down the page underneath the ‘People also ask’ section, the first of which being: “Is the movie Heat realistic?” A week ago, I would’ve unequivocally answered “no”, because, well, it’s a movie (a Earlier today whilst “researching” this very review, I ran a google search for “Heat movie gunfight” and was predictably met with several videos capturing the famous scene from Michael Mann’s 1995 crime drama, a longtime favorite of mine. That being said I was also met with a series of questions halfway down the page underneath the ‘People also ask’ section, the first of which being: “Is the movie Heat realistic?” A week ago, I would’ve unequivocally answered “no”, because, well, it’s a movie (albeit one loosely based off of a true story). Then again, a week ago I had yet to have consumed Peter Houlahan’s Norco ’80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History. To say the book’s subtitle lives up to its declaration would understate its spectacular-ness. But as Twain famously said: “Truth is stranger than fiction, but it is because fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities; truth isn't.” The truths Norco ’80 depicts are, in a word, astonishing. The stuff of Hollywood blockbusters or, better still, great fiction. After all, who in their right mind would decide to rob a bank with enough artillery to take on – and likely defeat – the National Guard? No one. Which is to say the leader of the five-person crew that centers Norco ’80 was batshit Crazy with a capital C. And that is where Houlahan’s recounting begins, with the story of a man named George Wayne Smith. A Vietnam vet, Smith is also a devout, born-again Christian who saw the May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens as a sign of an impending rapture. Alongside his roommate and fellow Christian, Chris Harven, Smith had begun preparing his property for the inevitable end of days, outfitting it with barbed wire, digging trenches to be used as bunkers, and stockpiling food and weapons. Lots and lots of weapons. One thing Smith had not done during his exhaustive doomsday preparation is generate any substantial income. Mortgage payments fell behind. Child support, too. Their part-time jobs as landscapers hardly covered these costs; they needed money and they needed it fast. And so, they gathered up a few other friends – specifically, Chris’s sibling, Russ; and a pair of brothers, Manny and Billy – and decided to rob a bank. Suffice to say, things do not go as planned. What follows is complete madness: a carjacking-turned-kidnapping, a highly-flawed robbery attempt, a WWIII-like shootout, and a standoff in the mountains. Several are injured, and one police officer is slain, along with Billy and Manny. And that’s in just the first 120 pages. Mimicking the events as they unfold Houlahan takes on a frenetic pacing that’s wholly absorbing and borderline chaotic. Had I been sitting I would’ve been on the edge of my seat; truth be told I was too amped up to stay still. This hardly changed upon reading Norco ‘80’s back half, wherein Houlahan describes the subsequent court trial – “one of the longest and most expensive in American history” – of the three surviving bank robbers. As if things weren’t already strange, the trial takes it to new, wildly unexpected levels that are all but impossible to summarize in a few sentences. With every new, bizarre detail unfurled, the narrative is pushed into unbelievable territories - those typically reserved for fiction. What’s more, Houlahan also juxtaposes his true crime drama with a deep-dive into the post-traumatic stress many of the participants experienced, and the means to which many law enforcement agencies took to support these struggles. These means are about the only positive result of what was ultimately one of the more harrowing events in American history. Strangest, too. My quibbles with Norco ’80 were minor; there are many personalities involved (especially during the trial phase), some of which get lost in the mix to the point of becoming just names on a page. I imagine when Netflix inevitably gets their grubby little hands on this and develops it into the hot new true crime docuseries, these details will be tightened up through supers, not to mention the actual faces to match them. And hey, even if that series is never created, at least we’ll have Houlahan’s account to revert to. Frankly, I couldn’t think of a more adept writer than Peter Houlahan – a former EMT who was a first responder to the Sandy Hook tragedy, as well as a holder of an MFA from Sarah Lawrence – to recount this unbelievable tale. That Norco ’80 is his first book is perhaps the most unbelievable fact of all. That Twain was clearly on to something, eh?

  10. 4 out of 5

    OutlawPoet

    Oh, this book was all kinds of amazing! Even though I'm from Southern California, I'd never heard of the Norco bank robbery. I figured it was before my time, but my parents hadn't heard of it either. Reading, this, I don't know how we missed it. This is one exciting read. While the author takes some liberties here and there with the feelings of some of our participants (like one dying young man was thinking/feeling), those liberties are logical. The book is well researched, but honestly reads like Oh, this book was all kinds of amazing! Even though I'm from Southern California, I'd never heard of the Norco bank robbery. I figured it was before my time, but my parents hadn't heard of it either. Reading, this, I don't know how we missed it. This is one exciting read. While the author takes some liberties here and there with the feelings of some of our participants (like one dying young man was thinking/feeling), those liberties are logical. The book is well researched, but honestly reads like a movie. I could see people getting shot, feel the whiz of bullets as they narrowly missed other characters, and my heart was pounding like crazy. A fabulous book that inspired me to learn even more about what happened (and more about a serial killer and a cult I'd never heard of before). Excellent!

  11. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    I recently expressed the opinion that most true crime books can be divided into 2 categories, either a straightforward retelling, generally with additional detail, of a contemporary criminal event, or books that delve more deeply into the particulars of a time, place or subject, where that background is necessary to understand the crime under examination. This analysis of a bank robbery gone horribly wrong could be placed in the first category, since it is definitely a retelling of a specific eve I recently expressed the opinion that most true crime books can be divided into 2 categories, either a straightforward retelling, generally with additional detail, of a contemporary criminal event, or books that delve more deeply into the particulars of a time, place or subject, where that background is necessary to understand the crime under examination. This analysis of a bank robbery gone horribly wrong could be placed in the first category, since it is definitely a retelling of a specific event, with a boatload of detail. I'd suggest, however, that the historical moment, 1980, and the location, Southern California, were key elements in how this violent story played out. The brief summary: five guys, down on their luck and obsessed with apocalyptic religious fervor, decide to rob a bank in the small city of Norco, California. Their objective was to obtain the funds they need to purchase a remote property on which they could build an armed hideout where they could live during the cataclysm they anticipated. Several of them were veterans whose personalities were affected by the experience of being in the military during the Vietnam war era. A couple were not physically well and easily led by one who was especially disturbed and manipulative. They acquired an extensive armory of automatic weapons, to which they added home-made explosives, and proceeded with their plan even when the wheels started falling off early on the day designated for the heist. Things went from bad to worse, with the botched robbery followed by a bizarre car chase that ended with their arrest in the San Gabriel mountains. They were pursued by police from several jurisdictions, all of them significantly less well armed than the group of five. So what made this event so connected to the time and place, as reflected in this book? *Southern California was knee deep in extremist religious groups in the late 70's, such that this group did not stand out as unique, did not call attention to themselves. *1980 was only five years after the end of the Vietnam war and many returning servicemen carried scars visible and otherwise. *The state did not have especially strict gun control laws, and nothing stood in the way of the group purchasing their arsenal, again not calling attention to themselves. *By contrast, it was not normal in 1980 for state or local law enforcement officers to be armed with assault weapons. These circumstances set up the lengthy car chase and the ultimate outcome of the robbery. In fact, the discrepancy in weaponry in Norco led directly to changes in police departments across the nation. it was clear that the time had arrived when criminals could be, and were happy to be, in a position to outgun law enforcement. The aftermath of the event also unfolded in ways that reflected time and place. The California judiciary tended to be liberal, although capital punishment was available as a sentence. Both of these elements had an affect on the trial. (The lengthy trial had far too many extraordinary elements to recount here.) The most pronounced after effect of the event, in my opinion (formed solely by reading this book, I will confess), was the way in which the post traumatic stress suffered by so many of the law enforcement officers wasn't immediately recognized or addressed. PTSD was only added to the Diagnostic and Manual of Psychiatric Disorders in that year, so that's understandable, if unfortunate. So, enough philosophizing. The book held my interest all the way through. My one problem with it was something over which the author had no control: too many similar names, especially for a listener. It took me an entire chapter to figure out that there was a Manny Delgado and an Andy Delgado, one on each side. BTW, the narrator, Joe Bennett, is a good match for the material. Not quite as good as the true crime books I've rated most highly, but a very solid 4.

  12. 5 out of 5

    britt_brooke

    What a damned disaster. What began as a terrifying take-over style bank heist quickly turned into a deadly shootout and car chase. The robbers, equipped with quite an arsenal, were not giving up peacefully. The police were utterly outgunned. This violent incident was a pivotal moment in law enforcement history. Horrific, but fascinating.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    4.5 stars rounding up - what a wild story from the robbery all the way through the trial. I had never heard of it before. The writing makes you feel like you’re right there throughout the whole robbery and chase. Really well done. I need a Netflix doc on this!!

  14. 5 out of 5

    Russ

    Sometimes frustrating, sometimes exhilarating--a detailed account of despicably reckless bank robbers and outgunned police officers. Found the prologue a bit heavy-handed attempting to place the robbers into the context of the charismatic, apocalyptic, unhinged California super-criminals of the 1970s. But once we transition to the actual history, the backgrounds of the robbers and cops, the book really picks up. We get to the gripping events of the robbery itself and it gets even better. The robbe Sometimes frustrating, sometimes exhilarating--a detailed account of despicably reckless bank robbers and outgunned police officers. Found the prologue a bit heavy-handed attempting to place the robbers into the context of the charismatic, apocalyptic, unhinged California super-criminals of the 1970s. But once we transition to the actual history, the backgrounds of the robbers and cops, the book really picks up. We get to the gripping events of the robbery itself and it gets even better. The robbers know their firearms but they've never robbed anybody before and it shows. (We get plenty of minute-by-minute descriptions, and I assume the author was able to infuse the magnitude of detail into the narrative because of the trial records and eye-witness accounts.) For example, the bank teller asks whether the robbers want the coins (which are heavy, worthless, and would slow the robbers down), and the ringleader demands every damn cent. As compelling as the amateurish heist itself was, it was the ensuing police chase that leapt from the page and rattled around my psyche for a hundred pages and a couple days or so. The white-knuckled pursuit pitted the well-meaning but rightfully nervous sheriff's deputies, police officers, and highway patrolmen against a truckload of savages who shoot at everything including law enforcement, helicopters, and civilian bystanders. The frustration for me was that the robbers seemed to get away with so much. Not money, but such disregard for their fellow human beings during their attempted escape. Time and again they were able to slip away from their pursuers. Later, during the trial, they seemed to be making headway with ludicrous defense strategies and impugning anybody they could in an attempt to shift blame. The ringleader continued to exploit and demean his henchmen even in captivity. Frustrating because it's difficult to face such ruthlessness, and to watch as some people (the henchmen, girlfriends, even attorneys) seemed to fall for it or become attracted to the magnetism of the criminals.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Debbie Rose

    Evidence Never Lies Given the evidence available to you, I appreciate you being an impartial writer...WELL DONE. From one who lived it, Debbie Rose Investigator Asst. to Jeanne Painter

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jim A

    A better read than any thriller shoot 'em up, because it's a true story. The author does a great job with backgrounds on the bank robbers and with some of the police officers involved. It covers from the background to the robbery itself, the shootout, the chase, and the capture. Then moves into the trial phase and the aftermath of PTSD to the officers involved. Very much like the North Hollywood bank robbery in the late 90's and the FBI shootout in south Florida in the mid 80's. A better read than any thriller shoot 'em up, because it's a true story. The author does a great job with backgrounds on the bank robbers and with some of the police officers involved. It covers from the background to the robbery itself, the shootout, the chase, and the capture. Then moves into the trial phase and the aftermath of PTSD to the officers involved. Very much like the North Hollywood bank robbery in the late 90's and the FBI shootout in south Florida in the mid 80's.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kerri

    I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway. This story provides further proof that truth is stranger than fiction. From the beginning, it engages the reader and doesn't let go; narrative writing at its finest. I lived in the midwest and was in my teens during the time of this crime and trial and I don't remember hearing anything about it, so I was fascinated by the entire tale. It was especially enlightening reading about how this one crime impacted law enforcement, particularly the militariza I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway. This story provides further proof that truth is stranger than fiction. From the beginning, it engages the reader and doesn't let go; narrative writing at its finest. I lived in the midwest and was in my teens during the time of this crime and trial and I don't remember hearing anything about it, so I was fascinated by the entire tale. It was especially enlightening reading about how this one crime impacted law enforcement, particularly the militarization of it, nationwide. There were several times where I felt completely lost and couldn't keep the moving pieces straight (and I am a careful reader), but that just shows how convoluted the entire episode was from the planning of the crime through the outcome of the trial; that the author could make sense of any of it, and manage to make it into a coherent story, speaks volumes. I can't even imagine what Mr. Houlahan's white board/bulletin board/post-it note tree, or whatever he used to connect the dots, looked like. I highly recommend this book!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Mrs. Danvers

    Where the hell was I when this happened? I was in college in the next county over, in what was in fact my home town, and I think I must have been reading the NY Times rather than local papers but what the hell? How did I miss it? This story is crazy. It is a miracle that more people weren't killed. My eyes are sore from bugging out of my head while reading this. Where the hell was I when this happened? I was in college in the next county over, in what was in fact my home town, and I think I must have been reading the NY Times rather than local papers but what the hell? How did I miss it? This story is crazy. It is a miracle that more people weren't killed. My eyes are sore from bugging out of my head while reading this.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Donna

    The jaw-dropping account of how 5 bank robbers armed to the teeth with military grade weapons - automatic weapons, homemade bombs, Molotov cocktails, and a samurai sword robbed a bank in the rural town of Norco (Riverside County) California in 1980 and subsequently led police on a wild pursuit. Thousands of rounds were fired during the chase, putting police and civilians in harm's way along the rural roads of Riverside, on the freeway and up into the nearby mountains. 30+ police vehicles were sh The jaw-dropping account of how 5 bank robbers armed to the teeth with military grade weapons - automatic weapons, homemade bombs, Molotov cocktails, and a samurai sword robbed a bank in the rural town of Norco (Riverside County) California in 1980 and subsequently led police on a wild pursuit. Thousands of rounds were fired during the chase, putting police and civilians in harm's way along the rural roads of Riverside, on the freeway and up into the nearby mountains. 30+ police vehicles were shot up, a helicopter shot out of the sky, and tragically, a police officer killed in the shoot-out. Houlhan's research meticulously takes us from the reasons for the hold-up (the robbers' belief that the rapture was coming and they needed to get the hell out of California), to the pursuit of the robbers up to the San Bernardino mountains. The second half of the book is equally gripping as the author explains how the criminal trial became a circus as the defense lawyers used questionable tactics, made ridiculous claims, and engaged in outright lies to try and get their clients off the hook if not out of the gas chamber. A must read for any one who is interested in true crime narratives, police procedure, or true-life cops and robbers stories -- or questions why police departments today use military grade equipment in their line of work.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kristin

    Norco ’80 is one hell-raising ride through 1970’s Southern California with an apocalyptic prophet and the prosecutors bent on turning the tables on the policemen involved in the most violent bank heist ever committed on American soil. From the minute you meet the charismatic George Smith and his flunky friend Christopher Harven, you’ll be hanging on for dear life, waiting for the next catastrophe to take your breath away with each heart-breaking turn of the page. It’s part law and part order and Norco ’80 is one hell-raising ride through 1970’s Southern California with an apocalyptic prophet and the prosecutors bent on turning the tables on the policemen involved in the most violent bank heist ever committed on American soil. From the minute you meet the charismatic George Smith and his flunky friend Christopher Harven, you’ll be hanging on for dear life, waiting for the next catastrophe to take your breath away with each heart-breaking turn of the page. It’s part law and part order and it’s outstanding!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Chaz

    3.5 stars really... Quite a story and one that, like most people, I was completely unfamiliar with. I know there is talk of a movie about this, and there really should be. The book is a good read, although it drags a bit in the trial portion... Then again so did the actual trial. But the robbery, shootout, chase, and apprehension... WOW. Just wow. That three people died is both terrible and remarkable. Glad I read it and at times really hard to put down.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jan

    This is one of the best books of its sort I have ever read. Well done, Peter Houlahan. What a heartbreak. I lived a very unexciting life within ten miles of where all this went down, and I was completely unaware of all of it until now.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Ronald Kramer

    Well researched, well told. I want to write so much more about this book, but I just am not finding the words.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kevin

    This book lives up to its billing in the subtitle. I'd never heard of the Norco robbery before reading this book. The author does a great job telling this story in a comprehensive and compelling way. You can tell that he did a ton of homework but he doesn't hit you over the head with it. This book included just the right amount of details to put you in the middle of the story without bogging down the narrative. Having read enough detail-laden non-fiction that loses the thread for the sake of sho This book lives up to its billing in the subtitle. I'd never heard of the Norco robbery before reading this book. The author does a great job telling this story in a comprehensive and compelling way. You can tell that he did a ton of homework but he doesn't hit you over the head with it. This book included just the right amount of details to put you in the middle of the story without bogging down the narrative. Having read enough detail-laden non-fiction that loses the thread for the sake of showing off the amount of research that was put in, I know that this is no easy task. The first half of this book covers the half-baked robbery scheme cooked up by a couple of apocalypse-predicting survivalists who decided they needed an arsenal to knock off a sleep suburban bank. Their planning on how to deal with an armed response was impeccable. They had plenty of high-powered weapons, ammunition, and grenades to deal with the police (which they ultimately put to use by damaging 30+ police vehicles, injuring nine officers, and killing one). Their planning for the actual robbery however, was a different story. All told, they made it out of the bank with about $20,000 to be split among the five of them. The second half delves into the bizarre and meandering process that this case took through the criminal justice system. By simply relating the events of the trial, the book highlights the deficiencies of the legal system and the outsized impact that a single player or two can have. An event that was over and done with in less than 24 hours, from the robbers entering the bank to their capture 25 miles away, took 14 months to try. The author laudably doesn't jump onto a soap box to decry these problems but he also doesn't have to. Reading through the processes used, the ridiculous arguments made, and the delay tactics employed is argument enough. Reading this book is like traveling not just through time, but to a totally different country. Houlahan drops you into the middle of post-70s Inland Empire, California, with its mix of born-again evangelicals, disillusioned hippie dreamers, and Vietnam war vets returning home and starting their careers and families. He offers a straight-faced description of the self-professed rationale that the robbers had for trying to knock off a bank without mocking them or praising them. The description of the shootout and its aftermath crackles with suspense. Like any good documentary, this book walks you through the events from a variety of viewpoints without losing track of the timeline or jumping back and forth to the point that you forget where you are. By positioning the reader at various points with the robbers, the police, the victims and witnesses, and later the attorneys involved in the trial, you get a variety of perspectives and get a holistic view of this crime and its fallout. Life cannot be neatly summed up in a neat us vs. them narrative and this book highlights the tensions created by this crime. From a deputy who washed out of law enforcement within a year of being shot at to another who felt that his fellow officers had abandoned him in the middle of a war zone, the story goes beyond the end of the shooting to describe the long-term impact this case had on its participants decades after the shooting stopped. Every so often, the narrative tries to put Norco into a bigger historical perspective. This is primarily done in pointing out how out-gunned the officers were at the time and contrasting with how things would have been done differently in neighboring jurisdictions that were better prepared for a shootout or how they would have been handled today when every police agency equips its officers with rifles and has a SWAT team ready to intervene. The book maintains its tight focus and describes the changes that were implemented by the Southern California agencies directly involved in the shootout. History ultimately showed that law enforcement on the national scale required several more deadly bank robbery shootouts (in Miami and North Hollywood) before making wholesale changes. As the author points out, Norco has largely been forgotten from the national consciousness. My father in law grew up in Riverside County during this time and he didn't recognize either the name or the story when he saw me reading this book. Hopefully this book goes a long way towards preserving this story and highlighting this bizarre and heartbreaking chapter of American history.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Keen

    3.5 Stars! “If you had robbed a bank in the greater Los Angeles metro area on May 9, 1980, you would not have been alone. Los Angeles had long been labelled “Bank Robbery Capital of the World” among FBI agents responsible for investigating the crime. It was a title well earned. For decades, one quarter of all bank heists in the United States fell under the geographical jurisdiction of the Los Angeles field office of the FBI, which included Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. By 1980, an averag 3.5 Stars! “If you had robbed a bank in the greater Los Angeles metro area on May 9, 1980, you would not have been alone. Los Angeles had long been labelled “Bank Robbery Capital of the World” among FBI agents responsible for investigating the crime. It was a title well earned. For decades, one quarter of all bank heists in the United States fell under the geographical jurisdiction of the Los Angeles field office of the FBI, which included Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. By 1980, an average of six banks were being robbed each business day. More than 1500 a year. The reason was simple: freeways.” I had never heard of this robbery before and only came across it through various Americans who had reviewed it on GR. This was a really interesting overview into a dramatically botched armed robbery and its long, drawn out aftermath. I think the details of the crime itself could have been edited down and as for the court case, I often lost track of all the names and who was representing who etc. I believe that a little dramatis personae page at the start of the section would have done wonders for the clarity and point of reference.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Brian Turcich

    The first half of the book reads like a gripping action movie, complete with shoot outs, car chases & bullets flying everywhere. The second half goes into a kind of drawn out Law & Order look at the 2 year long court case with at times too much detail into personal lives of the lawyers and court officials. This book could have ended 100 pages earlier and it would have been 4.5 stars. Still, very entertaining and an interesting look at a point-in-time when police weren't equipped like seal team 6 The first half of the book reads like a gripping action movie, complete with shoot outs, car chases & bullets flying everywhere. The second half goes into a kind of drawn out Law & Order look at the 2 year long court case with at times too much detail into personal lives of the lawyers and court officials. This book could have ended 100 pages earlier and it would have been 4.5 stars. Still, very entertaining and an interesting look at a point-in-time when police weren't equipped like seal team 6. You can pinpoint this as the turning point for the militarization of US police forces, which I think was a fascinating point for further inspection but felt like more of an afterthought in the epilogue.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Larry Hamilton

    3.5 stars. Without knowing anything about the story and reading the subtitle, “... the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History” I expected something on the order of the movie “The Italian Job.” What I found instead were five bungling, inexperienced bank robbers, an out gunned police force and a totally ridiculous, dragged out trail. For the most part I found the meticulous yet excruciating story details to be quite boring and the only thing that sparked my interest was the actual robbe 3.5 stars. Without knowing anything about the story and reading the subtitle, “... the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History” I expected something on the order of the movie “The Italian Job.” What I found instead were five bungling, inexperienced bank robbers, an out gunned police force and a totally ridiculous, dragged out trail. For the most part I found the meticulous yet excruciating story details to be quite boring and the only thing that sparked my interest was the actual robbery and police chase.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Tom Brennan

    Birthed in a distinctively curious milieu of poverty, survivalism, sign gifts, and eschatology, the story told here is all kinds of fascinating. The planning, the robbery, the pursuit, the capture, and the trial are all given full treatment. Along the way, Houlahan not only holds our interest but builds it. The characters described become old friends and foes to us. It is the kind of book where you cannot help but keep saying, "Wow!" to yourself as you hike along the trail listening to it. Where Birthed in a distinctively curious milieu of poverty, survivalism, sign gifts, and eschatology, the story told here is all kinds of fascinating. The planning, the robbery, the pursuit, the capture, and the trial are all given full treatment. Along the way, Houlahan not only holds our interest but builds it. The characters described become old friends and foes to us. It is the kind of book where you cannot help but keep saying, "Wow!" to yourself as you hike along the trail listening to it. Where has this story been hiding all these years? Hats off to Mr. Houlahan. Great work.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Alex

    4⭐️. I’m surprised this is not a movie yet. The author has really nailed narrative journalism here- turning what could have been a very boring rehash of thousands of documents and recollections into a fascinating story and insightful look at the events. In particular, I enjoyed the brief discussions on how these events shaped the militarization of today’s police forces, and the new world of PTSD emerging in 1980- I would have taken more on both. Really good book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lin

    It dragged a little near the end (during the trial portion of the book), but overall it was a compelling read and a crazy story! It's a shame that lives were lost in the act of a few people being incredibly stupid. It dragged a little near the end (during the trial portion of the book), but overall it was a compelling read and a crazy story! It's a shame that lives were lost in the act of a few people being incredibly stupid.

Add a review

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Loading...
We use cookies to give you the best online experience. By using our website you agree to our use of cookies in accordance with our cookie policy.