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Norco '80 by Peter Houlahan
True crime

Norco '80

by Peter Houlahan

Quick take

The deadly story of a robbery gone south.

Why it’s worth it

A band of reckless outsiders. A cache of automatic weapons. A stick-up gone wrong and a days-long, shoot-out. Welcome to Norco, California, circa 1980—site of one of the most violent bank robberies in U.S. history.

May 9, 1980. Five homegrown terrorists armed with a small arsenal of military-grade guns and handmade explosives stormed the city branch of Security Pacific Bank. A ragtag group of drug dealers, doomsdayers, and firearm enthusiasts, they had neither the brains nor the bravado to pull off a heist, and so, shortly after entering the bank, everything went wrong. This is the rough and tumble story, from the basement planning sessions to the high-speed police chase, right down to the drama in the courtroom, of that bloody event.

A history lesson rendered in technicolor, Norco ‘80 brings you so close to the action you can hear the rat-a-tat of the machine guns in the San Bernardino Mountains shoot-out. More interestingly, Peter Houlahan draws back the curtain on the complicated motives behind the robbery as well as the horrific aftershocks still felt within the Norco community today. Not just the play-by-play of a tragedy, Norco ‘80 is the story of an entire culture in limbo.

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Overview

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.

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Preview

Get an early look from the first pages of Norco '80.

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