Hot Best Seller

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

Availability: Ready to download

In the spirit of Killers of the Flower Moon and The Onion Field, Norco ’80 is a gripping 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 ch In the spirit of Killers of the Flower Moon and The Onion Field, Norco ’80 is a gripping 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

In the spirit of Killers of the Flower Moon and The Onion Field, Norco ’80 is a gripping 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 ch In the spirit of Killers of the Flower Moon and The Onion Field, Norco ’80 is a gripping 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. 4 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

    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.

  3. 5 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!

  4. 4 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

  5. 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!

  6. 4 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.

  7. 4 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.

  8. 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!!

  9. 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!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Katie/Doing Dewey

    Summary: A well-written account of a dramatic true crime. This is the story of a 1980 bank robbery in Norco, California. Committed by five men almost on a whim, this poorly planned robbery led to a terrifying car chase and fire fight. The chase was made particularly dangerous by the superior weapons possessed by the robbers. The subsequent trial was a huge spectacle. In several ways, it was less of a foregone conclusion than you might think. The relationship between attorneys was also incredibly Summary: A well-written account of a dramatic true crime. This is the story of a 1980 bank robbery in Norco, California. Committed by five men almost on a whim, this poorly planned robbery led to a terrifying car chase and fire fight. The chase was made particularly dangerous by the superior weapons possessed by the robbers. The subsequent trial was a huge spectacle. In several ways, it was less of a foregone conclusion than you might think. The relationship between attorneys was also incredibly contentious, with insults and even pencils thrown by both sides as the trial dragged on. This book did pretty much everything right. The story was certainly chosen well. The pursuit of the bank robbers and the following trial were both dramatic events. The writing made the story personal by giving us background on the police, robbers, and civilians involved. I occasionally found it a little difficult to keep track of the many cops involved and would have appreciated a cast list. This wasn't bad though. The author gave enough background on each person to be interesting, without being overwhelming. He also did a good job focusing on the key players. The descriptions of the fighting, the car chase, and the court case were all equally well done. The author made it easy to visualize the action. He then highlighted some entertaining moments of the very long trial. I do have two small complaints. First, I thought we lingered a little too much on people being shot. It felt like the author was gratuitously working hard to add drama when the events were dramatic enough already. And second, although the author's note initially impressed me with a stated commitment to accuracy, it eventually becomes clear that the author is sharing the thoughts of people who were never available for interviews. These bits are unnecessary embellishments of an account that otherwise seems well-researched. I would have appreciated it if the author had called them out. With those two tiny caveats, I found this an enjoyable read. I think any fan of true crime will find what they're looking for here.This review was originally posted on Doing Dewey

  11. 4 out of 5

    Susan (aka Just My Op)

    This story of the spectacular and deadly 1980 bank robbery and subsequent chase is certainly interesting. And very detailed – perhaps a little too detailed for me. While the story was interesting, that didn't keep it from dragging in places. I did like that background was given on quite a few of the people involved, which helps me understand actions and decisions better. In the epilogue, we're told what has happened to key players, and I appreciated the updates. I didn't appreciate this observatio This story of the spectacular and deadly 1980 bank robbery and subsequent chase is certainly interesting. And very detailed – perhaps a little too detailed for me. While the story was interesting, that didn't keep it from dragging in places. I did like that background was given on quite a few of the people involved, which helps me understand actions and decisions better. In the epilogue, we're told what has happened to key players, and I appreciated the updates. I didn't appreciate this observation: “One of the court watchers, almost all of them nosy old retirees, nodded in his direction and whispered something to the old crone beside her.” Excuse me, Mr. Houlahan? This particular nosy old crone doesn't really enjoy being stereotyped. At first, I wondered about the lack of quotes in most of what people were saying. The parts were a bit of conjecture. Quotation marks were used when the actual conversations were known. There are no footnotes and no bibliography. However, there is a section on the author's research. The photos at the end of the Kindle version were poor quality but helpful. This was an eye-opening, if a bit too long, story for people interested in reading true crime stories.

  12. 5 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.

  13. 5 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.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Brad

    Norco ‘80 by Peter Houlahan is a nonfiction #BOTM pick. This book tells the story of a bank robbery gone horribly wrong in California in 1980. There is a lot of detail (sometimes too much) about the robbery, the chase and the trial. There is a about the effect on the lives involved, especially for law enforcement. Reads like the author did his research. A good choice if you’re interested in what it was like in the late 70’s/early 80’s.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Carmen

    My GOD I read this book in one 6 hour sitting. I simply couldn’t...and wouldn’t...put it down. The pace is mind boggling and the author does a great job of keeping the relevant but not getting bogged down during the trial portion (a la Errol Morris) and wraps it up tidily. There are a few slips from fact into opinion, especially in his attempt to defend Painter. Painter was fired appropriately and did do a great disservice to professional women. If we are demanding equality, then this author made My GOD I read this book in one 6 hour sitting. I simply couldn’t...and wouldn’t...put it down. The pace is mind boggling and the author does a great job of keeping the relevant but not getting bogged down during the trial portion (a la Errol Morris) and wraps it up tidily. There are a few slips from fact into opinion, especially in his attempt to defend Painter. Painter was fired appropriately and did do a great disservice to professional women. If we are demanding equality, then this author made the mistakes of spending time trying to defend her indefensible behavior. But as I understand this is a first-time author, it’s forgivable. Excellent job...I highly recommend!’

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ashley

    Interesting story, but gets a bit bogged down in the details of the police chase. Overall, very enjoyable

  17. 4 out of 5

    Shannon A

    On May 9, 1980, what usually only happens in action-thriller movies came to life in Orange County, California. I don’t usually read true-crime, but Houlahan’s writing pulled me in. While reading this meticulous researched and documented account, I could almost smell the gun powder, hear the cacophony of gunfire making my ears ring and see the dust clear as the largest crime scene in American history came into view. Documented here is how an attempted bank robbery and its subsequent trial would f On May 9, 1980, what usually only happens in action-thriller movies came to life in Orange County, California. I don’t usually read true-crime, but Houlahan’s writing pulled me in. While reading this meticulous researched and documented account, I could almost smell the gun powder, hear the cacophony of gunfire making my ears ring and see the dust clear as the largest crime scene in American history came into view. Documented here is how an attempted bank robbery and its subsequent trial would forever change a town, its people and law enforcement nation-wide. The crime and court case may have been an unbelievable catastrophe, but this book is pitch-perfect.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Brandt

    So I realize that I have a kind of hardcore ideal of what "histories" should be about and why they should be written (see my review of The Crowded Hour among other histories I have recently read for an idea of what I am talking about.) So when I read Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History I found myself at cross purposes--was I reading a history or a true-crime book? Of course the answer was both but I think what I was trying to figure out was if I w So I realize that I have a kind of hardcore ideal of what "histories" should be about and why they should be written (see my review of The Crowded Hour among other histories I have recently read for an idea of what I am talking about.) So when I read Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History I found myself at cross purposes--was I reading a history or a true-crime book? Of course the answer was both but I think what I was trying to figure out was if I was going to hold this book to my radical views of what histories should. However, as a fan of the true-crime genre, it was likely that I wouldn't hold this book to my usual standards for histories. For those not familiar with "the most spectacular bank robbery in American history" (as I was not before I read this book), in May of 1980 a bunch of out of work men who believed that either society was going to collapse or the rapture was going to happen armed themselves to the teeth and attempted to rob a bank. They bungled it, however, which lead to a police chase that lead to tragedy. This book not only describes the robbery and chase, but also the trial the followed (and that is a shit-show that has to be read to be believed.) As a true-crime tome, Norco '80 hits all of the true-crime happy buttons. (I now anxiously await the Investigation Discovery documentary of this book) but I think Houlahan has another more subtle reason for writing this book, and that hit my "history" happy buttons as well. As part of the Norco robbery, the robbers ended up killing a police officer named Sheriff Jim Evans. As Houlahan points out in Norco '80, Evans was woefully unprepared for the arsenal that the Norco robbers were carrying, and because of that, and an inability for inter-agency communication once the chase crossed from Riverside County into San Bernadino County, it cost Evans his life. Several times in this book Houlahan returns to the idea that the Norco robbery is the genesis of local law enforcement turning increasingly to more high powered firearms in the execution of their jobs, because the Norco robbers were the forebears to an arms race between those who would break the law and those who would enforce it. After Norco, a local law enforcement agency was not going into the fray underpowered against their adversaries. Unfortunately, Houlahan doesn't speculate as to whether the police militarizing is a good thing. I suspect that he is trying to excuse recent law enforcement excesses which have lead to the deaths of seemingly innocent people, usually minorities. In Houlahan's mind, Norco is what made law enforcement go down this road, and given the stresses of the job and the very real possibility that when someone like Jim Evans went to work he wouldn't come home that night, and as such law enforcement is justified in their current militarized state. Unfortunately, when the police shoot first and ask questions later, kids like Tamir Rice get killed, and so we need to question if massive police firepower is something we actually want. But Houlahan doesn't address this directly--he beats around the bush, leaving this to work more in the "true-crime" genre than the "history" genre. And if what you are looking for is true-crime, Norco '80 is a winner.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Ken Heard

    I was bogged down at first by Peter Houlahan's writing style in the first third of the book. He took massive author liberties in assuming what the robbers said and thought while planning their heist and during the actual robbery. There's an eff-load of cursing in their thoughts. Maybe it was a way to show the excessiveness of the 1980s lifestyle (think Scarface, the Brian DePalma movie featuring Al Pacino that captured with brilliant satire the excessive world of that era in Miam1). It was also I was bogged down at first by Peter Houlahan's writing style in the first third of the book. He took massive author liberties in assuming what the robbers said and thought while planning their heist and during the actual robbery. There's an eff-load of cursing in their thoughts. Maybe it was a way to show the excessiveness of the 1980s lifestyle (think Scarface, the Brian DePalma movie featuring Al Pacino that captured with brilliant satire the excessive world of that era in Miam1). It was also somewhat awkward at first when reading quotes because there were no quote marks. His style seemed a blend of Norman Mailer in "The Executioner's Song"- the epic on convicted Utah killer Gary Gilmore's life - and Cormac McCarthy with his disregard for anything of quote marks. Maybe he was trying to capture the essence of that era, the 1970s and 1980, by replicating Mailer's style of writing. And, after getting into the book, that feel did come over me; I may be giving Houlahan too much credit comparing him to two renowned authors and a satirical film, but once I got into the groove, it worked okay. The writing about the actual robbery was fast-paced and well researched. I do think he added dialogue that would be hard to prove happen... for example, the last thoughts of Delgado just after a shotgun slug hit the back of his head. The coverage of the trial was well done, although it seemed to be a complete change of style from the first part. At times it read like Ann Rule on Aderol to the point of extreme detail over some minute part. I think Houlahan had gotten the trial transcripts and made the best of them, putting life to the story. This was a landmark robbery in the police enforcement realm. Cops realized they were outgunned when Smith et al began firing on them with AR-15s. They returned fire with .38 six-shooters. Changes in weaponry for officers were made as a result, although it didn't really reach critical stage until 10 years later when the North Hollywood robbery occurred and the badguys had an arsenal comparable to warfare times. Houlahan also touched on the after effects of the robbery with the deputies, chronicling the post traumatic stress some felt. Overall, this was a quick, good read that shows his excellent research and his awareness of the significance of a botched robbery. Get past the changing styles of writing and the reader will find an interesting take on the outcome of a robbery and its subsequent trial.

  20. 5 out of 5

    J. F.

    Short reading notes: Norco '80 by Peter Houlahan Norco '80, the "most spectacular bank robbery in American history" is an event no one has ever heard of but was purportedly a pivotal point in the militarization of police forces in America. When superimposed against, for instance, the United California Bank $30 million robbery in 1972, readers may feel they've been set-up for a bit of an exaggeration. The "gang", a hodgepodge of friends and neighbors, was armed to the teeth with automatic weapons, l Short reading notes: Norco '80 by Peter Houlahan Norco '80, the "most spectacular bank robbery in American history" is an event no one has ever heard of but was purportedly a pivotal point in the militarization of police forces in America. When superimposed against, for instance, the United California Bank $30 million robbery in 1972, readers may feel they've been set-up for a bit of an exaggeration. The "gang", a hodgepodge of friends and neighbors, was armed to the teeth with automatic weapons, long-range rifles and explosives against the handguns, shotguns and a single automatic rifle (captured in a previous criminal case) for local law enforcement. Planned on a whim, the motley crew botches the "robbery" coming up with loot - a huge fat zero. The "plan" takes a page, half of the book on endless details of the chase, and half on a trial. The "verdict" anticlimactically takes all of a page. The trial on a 45-count indictment centers on the death of a single law enforcement officer. The other two deaths (three in total as stated in the book description) were those of criminals when the police eventually returned fire. With hundreds of rounds ruthlessly sprayed by the "gang" at first responders and innocent bystanders, dozens more could certainly have been killed. Four years of research and interviews provided copious material for the author to provide a factual account. The interpretation of "facts", giving moral equivalence to the righteousness of criminals caught in flagrante delicto causing extensive danger to the public and damage to property against the righteousness of those whose job is to serve and protect at the risk of their own lives, - the glorification of the criminal, so to speak - may leave a sour taste in the mouth for some readers. The author seems to turn a blind eye to the fact that criminals lie, especially in prison interviews, and particularly those rotten types who fail to take responsibility for their deeds. The result is a reportage, not unlike a 400-page serial article in the weekly New Yorker, where it's hard to get connected - an account overloaded with names and minutiae of the most obscure nature, - except one does have to feel for the family and fellow officers of the fallen policeman for their loss. "...Smith headed into his conclusion with a statement that will bring the blood of many in the courtroom to a boil..." That said a lot about the book.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Wanda Keith

    Fantastic book about a bank robbery by five unlikely guys that turns into one of the most violent crimes in U.S. history. The story takes place at a bank in the small town of Norco, California in 1980. The group is made up a couple of born-again Christians who believe the world is in it's last days and three easy to persuade friends. The book is slow to get into but once the writer starts with the bank heist you won't be able to put this book down. The writer starts off describing the participan Fantastic book about a bank robbery by five unlikely guys that turns into one of the most violent crimes in U.S. history. The story takes place at a bank in the small town of Norco, California in 1980. The group is made up a couple of born-again Christians who believe the world is in it's last days and three easy to persuade friends. The book is slow to get into but once the writer starts with the bank heist you won't be able to put this book down. The writer starts off describing the participants of the robbery and the planning that they put into their accumulation of enough weaponry to start a war...weapons that were far more powerful than anything the police had at that time. The story then goes to the scene at the bank and the subsequent shootings and chase and "when it was over there were three dead and close to twenty wounded, a police helicopter forced down, and 32 police vehicles destroyed by thousands of rounds of ammo." The five criminals had rocket launchers, bombs, and AR-15's...weapons that the police force in the 1980's were barely familiar with unless they had served in the military. One officer remembered that they had confiscated an AR-15 from in a bust and grabbed it out of evidence to go after the robbers. In 2015 when two Islamic extremists attacked the Inland Regional Center in San Bernadino, California and killed fourteen and wounded twenty-two it sparked the largest manhunt since 1980 in Norco. What was different was that once the perpetrators were found it only took five minutes to take them down. The local police and FBI said that it was because of lessons learned from the Norco events that led to such a quick end. This is Houlahan's first book but I am sure it won't be his last because he really brings the story home to where you almost feel like you are riding with some of the police and sheriff's deputies. High praise for the officers involved in this story and for those who put their lives on the line everyday.

  22. 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.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Ben

    An interesting true crime story about a bank robbery in California filled the news when the robbers began a shoot with law enforcement officers. The robbers, heavily armed with multiple guns, home-made grenades and nail bombs, started a shoot out that lasted for days and spread into the high desert. The author , Peter Houlihan, does an excellent job covering the young felons -to-be personalities and motivations, and does the same with many of the law officers. The violence following the robbery, An interesting true crime story about a bank robbery in California filled the news when the robbers began a shoot with law enforcement officers. The robbers, heavily armed with multiple guns, home-made grenades and nail bombs, started a shoot out that lasted for days and spread into the high desert. The author , Peter Houlihan, does an excellent job covering the young felons -to-be personalities and motivations, and does the same with many of the law officers. The violence following the robbery, which I recall from tv coverage at the time, reads like the scenario for a violent action movie. Were it not real life, it might be unbelievable. That narrative is fast moving and well described. Then comes the trial. It is a trial that makes the OJ trial look like a Perry Mason episode. R. Houlihan fries valiantly to deal with the confusions , trial motions and strategies by the many defense lawyers, and the tortuous testimonies and cross testimonies, but this part of the book I found very hard to follow. I have to agree that that the US judicial system is a horrible mess that one should strive to avoid like a zombie attack. The author did his best to make it comprehensible, it my interest flagged. In sum: good true crime reporting, so -so trial reporting

  24. 5 out of 5

    John Wood

    An amazing account of a bank heist that couldn't have gone more wrong. The robbers mixed drinking, doping and apocalyptic survivalist beliefs and came up with a plan. Horrible mix! They were armed for Fort Knox and didn't have any backup plan or checklist to assess whether or not to go ahead. The author offers a riveting account of the whole ordeal from planning thru sentencing. The robbers had all sorts of automatic weapons, homemade bombs, and even a Samurai sword. The police had their standar An amazing account of a bank heist that couldn't have gone more wrong. The robbers mixed drinking, doping and apocalyptic survivalist beliefs and came up with a plan. Horrible mix! They were armed for Fort Knox and didn't have any backup plan or checklist to assess whether or not to go ahead. The author offers a riveting account of the whole ordeal from planning thru sentencing. The robbers had all sorts of automatic weapons, homemade bombs, and even a Samurai sword. The police had their standard issue guns and a grand total of one automatic weapon among several police departments, city, county, and CHPs. With a shootout at the bank and all over the escape route, through populated areas to the treacherous road in the canyon it is lucky there weren't more dead, including civilians. All told one cop, two robbers, and a lot of police cars were killed that day. This robbery, for better or for worse, was a major influence on the militarization of the police in America.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Cobb Sabatini

    I won an Advance Reading Copy of Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History by Peter Houlahan from Goodreads. Peter Houlahan takes readers step-by-step through the Norco bank robbery of 1980 and it's aftermath in his book, Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History. Introducing all the individuals involved, Houlahan helps readers to understand motivations, the interplay of experience and ideology, and individual viewp I won an Advance Reading Copy of Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History by Peter Houlahan from Goodreads. Peter Houlahan takes readers step-by-step through the Norco bank robbery of 1980 and it's aftermath in his book, Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History. Introducing all the individuals involved, Houlahan helps readers to understand motivations, the interplay of experience and ideology, and individual viewpoints during the events on both sides of the law. The easy to follow narrative escorts readers through the harrowing robbery and shootouts, and the complicated trial. The book further gives readers insight into into the impetus for the military like arming of police departments across the United States. Norco '80 by Peter Houlahan is a must-read book for fans of true crime.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    AMAZING story - unfortunately, author isn't the best writer. He isn't bad but with such amazing source material that as far as I know about has never really been written about in book-length, he could have been so much better. Parts of the telling of the crime were really boring and really slow - too much detail about the guns, the bullets, the angles. A re-telling that should not have been boring at all became a little boring. For example, I bet Jeffrey Toobin would have written something amazi AMAZING story - unfortunately, author isn't the best writer. He isn't bad but with such amazing source material that as far as I know about has never really been written about in book-length, he could have been so much better. Parts of the telling of the crime were really boring and really slow - too much detail about the guns, the bullets, the angles. A re-telling that should not have been boring at all became a little boring. For example, I bet Jeffrey Toobin would have written something amazing about this crime. Still, this book is not bad for the story itself. I would actually have preferred a little less about the crime and more about the trial which was nuts. Also, at the end, I felt the wrap-up was a bit poor. Not even sure about where one of the criminals is right now. I can't believe this robbery isn't better known - truly nuts.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Thomas Kelley

    This follows a group of guys which includes two sets of brothers Norco California, May 1980 who is orchestrated by one George Wayne Smith who is a military veteran who believes that the apocalypse is coming the end of the world and in the aftermath the need to be a survivalist because people are going to come and take your guns, your food and anything else to survive. George knows he cannot stay in California and survive but you could survive in Utah or Colorado but you got to have money. This b This follows a group of guys which includes two sets of brothers Norco California, May 1980 who is orchestrated by one George Wayne Smith who is a military veteran who believes that the apocalypse is coming the end of the world and in the aftermath the need to be a survivalist because people are going to come and take your guns, your food and anything else to survive. George knows he cannot stay in California and survive but you could survive in Utah or Colorado but you got to have money. This book after this first couple of chapters are a little slow and then this story takes off mind you this a real event. It is hard to believe that by the time you get mid way through the book it has only covered about 45 minutes in event time. These events help convince police forces that they need to be better armed and the diagnosis of PTSD. The court part of this book is a little slow at times but there is a lot of drama here also. This a definite five star read.

  28. 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 sea 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.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Joe Cosentino

    Wow! All in all a really wild ride and I think an important read to provide historical context around timely issues of militarization of police, PTSD and its impact on police efficacy, and gun control more broadly. The first third (~150 pages) recounts a 40 minute bank robbery and subsequent chase and firefight in harrowing detail. This is both exhilarating and exhausting, but a true achievement in writing nonetheless. The rest of the book outlines the aftermath of the event, including the court Wow! All in all a really wild ride and I think an important read to provide historical context around timely issues of militarization of police, PTSD and its impact on police efficacy, and gun control more broadly. The first third (~150 pages) recounts a 40 minute bank robbery and subsequent chase and firefight in harrowing detail. This is both exhilarating and exhausting, but a true achievement in writing nonetheless. The rest of the book outlines the aftermath of the event, including the court case and the impact on the lives of the officers involved. This was a truly whacky trial, which at times had me laughing out loud. Reading about the impact on victims’ lives had me tearing up, so felt the full spectrum of emotions. Read this book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Downward

    a book bifurcated by an unbelievably high octane and violent bank robbery and chase and the death penalty trial aftermath, Norco 80 is at its most interesting when it traces the effect of violence on those who engage in it. we watch police officers lives fall apart because of the ptsd of gun violence and we watch America react by arming our police more heavily. this could have been a much much more political book, but you get the sense that the political points that the facts make are the ones t a book bifurcated by an unbelievably high octane and violent bank robbery and chase and the death penalty trial aftermath, Norco 80 is at its most interesting when it traces the effect of violence on those who engage in it. we watch police officers lives fall apart because of the ptsd of gun violence and we watch America react by arming our police more heavily. this could have been a much much more political book, but you get the sense that the political points that the facts make are the ones that the author wants to avoid. so what you have is an incredibly compelling true story weaved with bullets and lives lost, not driving toward any particular meaning or comment.

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.