03 October 2008

Carbon Canyon Crime Capsule #2: 1958 Manhunt for Murderer of Ontario Police Officer

In February 1958, Russell Grower, a 34-year old Ontario police officer, was working with two detectives on a minor case of burglary, in which automobile tires were stolen from several service stations and hidden in, of all places, a vacant ranch house in Soquel Canyon. After the officers knocked on the door of the building, a man inside yelled "I haven't time to talk to cops" and then fired a shot from a handgun. Grower went down with a wound to the head and the detectives, from Pomona and Montclair, returned fire. The suspect, however, ran out the rear of the building and disappeared into the heavy brush. Two unnamed officers tried to track the murderer down but lost his trail after a mile.

By evening, nearly 200 officers from four counties descended on the area and sealed off any escape route convinced that the wanted man was hiding on the ridge separating Soquel from Carbon canyons. Initially, news reports indicated that the man "was routed out of a brush-covered culvert near a roadblock manned by Highway Patrol officers," which would obviously be Carbon Canyon Road, the state highway under the jurisdiction of the CHP.

Later, though, another article stated that he was found "in the home of Mrs. Lucille Squire" in Sleepy Hollow. The report continued that he'd entered the home about midnight "and apparently fell asleep in a first-floor bedroom." Mrs. Squire was said to have discovered the man, who had a .38 caliber revolver with him evidently stolen from the Soquel Canyon ranch house. The account concluded by stating that officers combing the nearby hills were called in and took the man into custody.

A third article, however, lauded the heroism of Bill Squires [the surname being corrected,] Lucille's husband, who had stopped in at the Sleepy Hollow Cafe earlier in the evening, asked why it was so empty, and was told that a manhunt was on for the murderer of officer Grower. This version stated that Squires went up the hill to his two-story home and that the family went to bed with nothing seeming amiss. At 11:30 p.m., however, Mrs. Squires woke her husband to say that she'd heard a sound in the house.

When her husband investigated, he found a man sitting on the living room couch smoking. According to this article, the figure was that of a man, bearded and slightly wild-eyed, his wet shoes and socks and pants lay on the floor, and he was covered by some clothing belonging to the Squires children. When Squires asked the man if he was lost, the reply was that he was tired. Thinking fast, he asked if the visitor wanted a beer, which required a visit to the community store a block away. While he hated to leave his pregnant wife behind to walk down the hill to the store, Squires thought this the only way to alert the authorities. After a few minutes, during which the police were called, he returned with the beer and engaged in small talk with the lean, wild-eyed intruder, who offered that he'd recently picked cotton in Mississippi and Texas. Ten minutes later, the police arrived and quickly captured the man. Nine hours had elapsed since the murder.

When caught, the suspect identified himself as Jeff Davis and said he was from Mississippi. There was no indication in the articles from the Los Angeles Times that anyone understood that the murderer was referring to himself using the name of the former president of the Confederacy during the Civil War! The suspect was then taken to Patton State Hospital, in San Bernardino for observation. When he signed in, he identified himself as Lester Dean Bonds, a 35-year old native of Mississippi and was raised in Arkansas, where he graduated in 1945 from a vocational school in Clinton (yes, Clinton, Arkansas!) some sixty miles north of Little Rock. It turned out that Bonds had been sent to Patton six years before for threatening a bartender and escaped in January 1953 before being captured in nearby Highland. In the course of that incident, however, he wounded two deputies by stabbing and using a boulder (yes, a boulder.) Bonds had, strangely, served in the intelligence unit of the Air Force before suffering a mental breakdown and being committed to a veterans' hospital and a series of other hospitals. After his release in 1954, he went back to Arkansas, but his mental illness continued and he was sent back to a veterans facility two years later. In the fall of 1957, he was released to his family's custody and then left their home and drifted back to California.

According to one source, Lester Bonds died at age 73 in 1986 in Alameda County in northern California, but there seems to be no information as to whether Bonds was convicted of the murder, which was then a capital offense potentially bringing a death sentence, or sent to a mental institution instead. Twenty-five years later, there would be another incident involving an escaped murderer in the Chino Hills area: the notorious Kevin Cooper case of 1983.

The information for this incident came from the online archives of the Los Angeles Times and from a Times blog by Larry Harnisch called the "Daily Mirror."


Anonymous said...

To whom it may concern:,
My name is Douglas Hackett and i am the grandson of Bill and Lucille Squier, In this article my grandfathers name name is spelled wrong and i just wanted to show for the record that his last name is not Squiers the correct spelling of his last name is Squier and i do believe that since my grandfather did actually help catch this cop killer he does deserve the respect and recongition that he deserves may he and my grandmother rest in peace, thank you very much.
if you have any questions or would like to get ahold of me my e-mail is dhdawg27@yahoo.com or at 951-634-5191 thank you

prs said...

Hello Douglas, the spellings of your grandfather's last name came directly from the newspaper article cited and quoted in the post. In any case, thanks for leaving the comment and squaring things up. If you happen to have a photo of your grandparents that you would like to share in this post, I'd be happy to add it.