The Armed Citizens Of Newhall
Four Highway Patrolmen lie dead or dying, the cop-killers are still up and running … and you are there to face them.
Having your own gun is generally better than having to use someone else’s … and courage, determination, and skill will be more important than what kind of gun you have.
Many years ago, in an early segment of this continuing series, we touched on the April 5, 1970 gunfight in Newhall, Calif. that took the lives of four young California Highway Patrolmen. We touched on it again here more recently to highlight new information uncovered by Mike Wood for his new book on the incident.
One of the most famous gunfights of the 20th century, this shooting basically kick-started the officer survival training movement as we know it today. However, almost 43 years later, some of our readers were surprised to learn that before the terrible night was over, two armed citizens would exchange shots with the cop-killers. They wrote in to ask for more details on that side of it.
At the Scene: Gary Kness
When Gary Dean Kness drove past the complex of J’s Restaurant and the Standard gas station on his way to work, he “came in at the middle of the picture.” In fact, as he saw the gunfire lance between the tan-uniformed cops and the men at the red car stopped in front of their black and white patrol units, Kness thought at first that someone was filming a movie or a TV show. But then, he saw one of the patrolmen slump onto the trunk of a patrol car, and slide to the ground, and the reality of it became starkly apparent.
At that moment, Gary Kness could not have known what had happened immediately prior. A few minutes before midnight, CHP officers Roger Gore and Walter Frago had pulled into the complex behind a red ‘64 Pontiac fitting the description of a car in which a lone driver had brandished a snubnosed revolver at a couple in a Volkswagen a short time earlier. Frago, riding shotgun, had unlimbered the issue Remington 870 from its dashboard rack and taken a position at the right front of the black and white, while Gore had emerged from the driver’s seat and drawn his privately owned, department approved 6″ Colt Python and, from cover behind the fender, ordered what they now saw to be two suspects out of the car. The suspects did not move. When the repeated commands proved fruitless, Gore approached their vehicle, and Frago followed.
Bobby Davis, 27, emerged from behind the steering wheel, now apparently compliant. Frago, his shotgun muzzle up with the butt on his hip, approached the passenger door. But Jack Twining, 35, spun in the right front seat and came up with a 4″ Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum revolver — ironically, the Highway Patrolman model — and rapidly shot Frago twice in the chest, instantly and fatally dropping the young officer.
On the other side of the Pontiac, Gore — who had been the top shot in his academy class — reacted instantly, firing at Twining but missing. Twining in turn pumped two .357 rounds at Gore, both of which hit the Pontiac instead of the policeman. But Gore’s attention had been diverted from Davis, who surreptitiously drew the revolver he had brandished at the other motorists earlier and shot Gore twice in the chest. The .38 slugs, fired from a Smith & Wesson Bodyguard, are believed to have killed Gore instantly.
As this was happening, the first CHP backup unit pulled into the scene, Officer James Pence driving and Officer George Alleyn on the shotgun side. After a quick radio call for assistance, they exited the vehicle, Pence with another 6″ Python and Alleyn with the patrol car 870. In the blazing gun battle that followed, the perpetrators emptied both of their revolvers. Twining seized one of two 1911 .45s in the back seat of the Pontiac and got off one shot before it jammed. He dumped it back in the car and grabbed the other .45, while Davis grabbed a sawed-off 12-gauge Western Field (re-branded Mossberg produced for the Montgomery Ward chain) pump shotgun.
Officer Alleyn emptied the Remington, one live shell inadvertently lost on the ground and the other three rounds of double-ought buck blasted toward the Pontiac. One .33-caliber pellet, slowed by rear window glass, created a painful and bloody but superficial wound on Twining’s forehead, which only served to enrage him, and another barely dinged the nose of Davis. Dropping the empty shotgun, Alleyn drew his 6″ S&W Model 19 and sent three .357 rounds in the cop-killers’ direction, without effect. The bad guys were actively shooting, too, and moving. Pence, crouching behind the other patrol car, had emptied his Colt fruitlessly, and had been hit by three of Twining’s bullets, twice in the legs and once in the torso. He was down on his knees now, trying desperately to reload from dump pouches.
Alleyn, the last cop standing, was then hit in the face and chest by 10 double-ought pellets from Davis’ sawed-off. He convulsively triggered a .357 slug through the back of his own patrol car as he slumped down onto the trunk, and slid off the side to the ground, exposed and vulnerable to the killers’ continued gunfire.
It was this that Gary Kness saw as he pulled over, jumped from his car, and entered the fight.
Citizen Fights Back
Alleyn, down behind the right rear of the CHP car, was the closest officer to Kness, and the 31-year-old former Marine sprinted to him, covering an estimated 70 yards. His first instinct was to pull the downed lawman into the safety of cover, but when he grabbed the Sam Browne belt and tugged, he felt only dead weight, and could not move him. Realizing that one of the gunmen was moving in on his position (Bobby Davis, now armed with the Colt .38 he had taken from the corpse of Officer Frago), Kness knew only one option remained: shoot back!
Kness scooped up the Remington 870 from the ground, leveled at the gunman who was rapidly approaching, and pressed the trigger. Click. He would remember forever after the sick feeling that came over him when he heard that sound. Kness racked the action and pressed the trigger once more. Click. The feeling of helplessness deepened.
However, his actions created some doubt on the bad guy’s side, too. Researcher and author Mike Wood writes, “At the sight of Mr. Kness aiming the shotgun at him, Davis abandoned his advance and immediately retreated back to the front of the Pontiac. However, once it became apparent that the shotgun was empty, Davis began another advance on Mr. Kness and Officer Alleyn, continuing to fire the .38-caliber revolver he had taken from Officer Frago.”
Kness looked down, saw the 6″ Model 19 and snatched it up. He “got it in two hand combat, elbows on the trunk, and cranked one off,” Kness would say later. “I knew I had him. He spun around. I cocked it and then it went click.” For the third time in four trigger pulls, the guns he had picked up had failed to fire.
At that moment, he heard a deafening gunshot off to the side. It sounded “like a howitzer,” he would say later, but it was the .45 going off in Twining’s hand. Twining had seen Pence down behind the other car reloading, rushed him before he could close the cylinder, and shouted “Got you now (expletive deleted)” as he pumped an execution shot into the helpless Pence’s brain.
Kness’ one shot had apparently hit his antagonist, causing the gunman to spin away and break off his attack. Kness had no reason to believe he could continue the fight with empty guns. He turned to his right and sprinted to the cover of a deep ditch.
At that point the third CHP car pulled in, containing Highway Patrolmen Richard Robinson and Ed Holmes. Kness saw the barrel of a shotgun already protruding out the patrol car window, and realized that he was covered with blood and still holding a revolver. Even though he believed it was empty, he knew there was no way the officer could know that. He held the gun down by his thigh out of sight, so he wouldn’t be shot, and told the officers, “They went that way!” Moments later, shots were exchanged again — one of the officers is believed to have hit the fleeing Pontiac containing the two cop-killers, and one of the gunmen’s bullets was subsequently found to have struck the third patrol car.
Not until later was it learned that there was still one more live cartridge in Alleyn’s Smith & Wesson. Apparently at some point in the fight, the officer either short-stroked the gun double action causing the chamber to cycle without being fired, or he cocked the gun and then lowered the hammer. Of course, there had been no way for Kness to know this, in the dark and in circumstances too fast-breaking to open the cylinder and examine the case heads.
Along The Escape Path
The killers fled into the night, each bleeding from minor wounds. Twining had the forehead injury from Alleyn’s buckshot pellet. Davis, in addition to having been dinged on the nose by a pellet graze, had been hit by Kness’ single shot. It had struck one of the vehicles en route to its intended target, breaking up, but at least part of the bullet had gone where the courageous citizen intended, scoring an inch-wide peripheral wound in Davis’ armpit area. It had been enough to make Davis spin away and run in the other direction, breaking off his murderous assault.
The fugitives abandoned the shot-up Pontiac, separated, and each continued alone on foot. Twining had run all his own guns dry, and plundered weapons from the downed officers who had fallen near his Pontiac. Armed with Officer Gore’s Python and its remaining ammunition, and with the Remington 870 of Officer Frago, he made his way to a local home, where he held the family hostage. When Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department personnel surrounded the building, Twining released the hostages and, as the police made entry, blew his own brains out with the CHP shotgun.
Davis, wandering in the dark on a remote road, came upon a small truck mounting a camper shell. Asleep inside was the owner, one Daniel Schwartz. Mike Wood, whose exemplary research in his new book represents a new high water mark for published information on this incident, tells what happened next:
“Davis encountered Daniel Joseph Schwartz during his escape and fired a single shot at him while Mr. Schwartz was inside the camper shell on his 1963 International Scout pickup. Mr. Schwartz blindly returned gunfire through the door of the camper with his Enfield No. 2 Mk I* revolver, chambered for the relatively impotent .38/200 (or .38 S&W) cartridge. One of his three bullets struck Davis and slightly wounded him, according to the CHP. The weak bullets didn’t have much energy after penetrating the camper, which is why Davis was not more seriously wounded. After Davis threatened to burn him out, Mr. Schwartz exited the vehicle and fired his remaining three rounds at Davis (perhaps wounding him again — Davis had an armpit wound and a wound to the right neck/collarbone area) whereupon Davis clubbed him with the now empty revolver that he had stolen from the dead Officer Frago. Having savagely beaten Mr. Schwartz, Davis escaped in the truck, only to be captured by Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies Fred Thatcher and Don Yates at a roadblock along San Francisquito Canyon Road around 0415 on 6 April 1970.”
Gary Kness, now well into his seventies, is thankfully still with us at this writing. He has, for generations, been a hero among the members of the California Highway Patrol. Having received much official recognition for his valor, he remains modest about his actions that terrible night. “Somebody needed help,” Kness said quietly, many years later. “When I saw the officer fall out into the street, I could see he was still taking fire … he needed help.”
In 2008, when a portion of Interstate 5 was renamed in honor of the four fallen Highway Patrolmen, Gary Kness was present. Los Angeles Times reporter Bob Pool captured this telling vignette: “… Kness was hugged by Alleyn’s relatives. A long line of CHP officers and other law enforcement authorities formed to shake his hand. ‘I’ve always heard of you. I’ve wanted to meet you all my life,’ said retired San Fernando Police Officer Fred Iverson.”
Given the situation he had to work with, it’s hard to imagine how Kness could have done anything better than he did. His initial aggressive response with the shotgun drove back a charging gunman. When he appeared to be helpless, Davis came at him again, firing the stolen .38 … until Kness nailed him with a bullet, at which point the cop-killer turned and fled, abjuring from the conflict.
Kness maintained a constant awareness of what was around him. Long after, he told an interviewer that his Marine training had come back to him in that long and terrible moment of need during the gunfight. “Check your six, see what’s going on around you,” Kness explained. He was able to pick up on Twining — on his flank, murdering Pence and about to murder him. He could hear a vehicle coming in toward the scene, which he correctly presumed to be cavalry riding to the rescue, the third patrol car containing Holmes and Robinson. Taking these factors together, along with the reasonable belief he no longer had anything with which to shoot back, his final retreat to the safety of the ditch appears to have been the logical strategy.
So does his decision to carefully aim and fire. Acutely aware the last two times he had pulled a trigger nothing had happened, Kness carefully cocked Alleyn’s blood-spattered revolver and squeezed off a shot, hitting his target and stopping the violent attack.
In 1970, when this happened — as now — residents of southern California had little hope of getting a license to carry a gun, or even keep a loaded gun in their car, unless they are a judge, politician or wealthy celebrity. We’ve seen how powerfully Gary Kness handled himself with picked-up guns and a single live cartridge. Suppose he could have been carrying the same 1911A1 .45 of his beloved Marine Corps, the same gun the murderer Twining used to deadly effect. Might that have changed things? Might that not, in the hands of a man like Gary Kness, have very likely put the two criminals on the ground right then, right there?
What of Daniel Schwartz? Probably woken from deep sleep, he had little time in which to react or to consider the situation. Some would question his firing blindly through the door (what if that intruder had been holding a hostage?), but under the circumstances it’s hard to fault him for doing so. This bullet, as Mike Wood has already noted, was a feeble one, and it inflicted minor injury in the upper chest/collarbone area. Tim Mullin wrote in The 100 Greatest Combat Pistols (Paladin Press, 1994), “The problem with this pistol, of course, is the load: .38-caliber, 178-grain, full metal jacketed loads at 650-odd fps simply are not reliable manstoppers. Throughout World War II, this was the major complaint about the Enfield. That is only reasonable when you consider that these loads are slightly less powerful than .380 automatic loads.” He’s describing the British military load that followed the original .38/200, a blunt-nosed 200-grain bullet at about 600 foot-seconds.
By 1970, tons of these war surplus Enfields had been sold in the US, at prices of $19.95 or less. The ammo generally available for them here is what was most likely in Schwartz’s gun: .38 S&W, comprising a roundnose lead bullet weighing 146 grains loaded to a velocity of 730 fps. Mr. Schwartz’sEnfield was one of those whose barrel was shortened to 2″, the power level reduced that much more. The evidence photo of Schwartz’s revolver shows that it had no front sight.
Why did the final three shots fired by Schwartz miss entirely? It is unclear from anything I can find. The darkness of the night, perhaps? Would a flashlight in the other hand have helped Schwartz to see Davis well enough to hit him once the camper shell door was open? We’ll never know for sure.
The shot Davis fired at Schwartz, fortunately to no effect, was the last one in the gun. It was a .38 Special Super Vel. Frago, alone among the CHP men who were killed, was carrying a .38 Special revolver instead of a .357 Magnum: a Colt Officers Model Match with 6″ heavy barrel. That gun, snatched from the corpse of the one of the four slain men who never had a chance to shoot back, weighed 39 ounces empty. When Davis was savagely pistol-whipping him with it, Schwartz might have had occasion to ponder the wisdom of Robert Ruark’s advice, “Use enough gun.” A bullet from one of those would likely have gone through the camper door with enough power to deliver much more than a superficial wound when hitting the upper chest area. Yes, a .357 Magnum or a .45 would have been painfully loud when fired inside a camper shell, but it would probably make one’s ears ring less than being bludgeoned about the head with a two and a half-pound gun.
Perhaps the final lesson is that cops aren’t the only ones who can shoot back at the most dangerous criminals our society breeds. There are many lessons to be found in Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis by Mike Wood, available from the Amazon Kindle Store and on the Gun Digest Books website. I believe it is by far the most thorough treatment of this incident yet put in print.
Author’s note: The Wood book dispels some long-standing myths about this incident, discussed in these pages in 2012. One of the murderers’ names is often spelled “Twinning,” though Wood believes “Twining” is the correct spelling. Mr. Kness’s name is pronounced with the “K” silent, and some, including me, have phonetically misspelled it “Ness” incorrectly, in the past.
By Massad Ayoob