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Norco '80 by Peter Houlahan
True crime

Norco '80

We love supporting debut authors. Congrats, Peter Houlahan, on your first book!

by Peter Houlahan

Quick take

The deadly story of a robbery gone south.

Why I love it

Book of the Month

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

Member thoughts

All (306)
All (306)
Love (117)
Like (156)
Dislike (33)
326 ratings
  • 36% Love
  • 48% Like
  • 10% Dislike
  • Montgomery , AL

    An unbelievable true story that will make your jaw drop. This book walks you through the planning stages, the bank heist, and the trial of the Norco bank robbers of 1980. Well written & entertaining!

  • Houston, TX

    About a hundred pages in, I had to tell a friend about the adrenaline rush of a book I was reading. I even bought him a copy, maybe to confirm that yes, non-fiction can be this much of a thrill!

  • Indian Trail, NC

    Was fascinated with this book. Maybe because i am in the banking industry but this robbery really takes you on a thrill ride not knowing what was coming next! Definitely a page turner!!!

  • Lufkin, TX

    I knew nothing about this before I read the book. This was such an informative book while also being very easy to read and follow the story. I really loved this book!

  • Eagle, ID

    Unbelievable. Such a in-depth account of a crime spree and court case which I had never heard of. Excellent book, excellent author. I wish there were more pictures.


    Really good. I moved to Southern California nine years after this happened. Can’t believe I never heard about it before. Great detail, reads quickly.

  • Philadelphia, PA

    Took a long time through the trial, but you could tell it was a true story and you wanted to know every detail of their lives. Each character pulled you in

  • Houston, TX

    I had never heard of this robbery before and I loved how the author gave facts but kept the story interesting.

  • Brooklyn, NY

    A bit slow at times, but a fascinating look at policing, radicalism, and the history of weapons in our country.

  • Indianapolis , IN

    Could. Not. Put. This. Down. This needs to be taught in schools. I’m really hoping this is made into a movie.

  • Auburn, WA

    Riveting retelling of the heist that made heist history. Hard, gripping, compelling. I couldn't put it down!

  • Riverside , CA

    Amazing story, reads like fictions at times. Being familiar with the area made it more interesting to read!

  • Cincinnati, OH

    well-written and mostly fast-paced. finished it in a day. true story but reads like a crime series on tv.

  • Mount Prospect, IL

    this was such a wild ride and i can’t believe it was all true. so crazy. i loved it.

  • Tucson, AZ

    A bank robbery at the end of the Vietnam generation, and at the start of the GoGo 80s

  • Baltimore , MD

    Excellent retelling of a historic event that not many people know about.

  • Charlotte, NC

    Slow start but great book after the early chapters.

  • Marina del Rey, CA

    A crazy story that didn’t read like a history book!

  • Neptune Beach, FL

    Holy crap. So much action. Very good.

  • Troy, MI

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