El Segundo Cop Killing Cold Case

It was a dark and late Monday night, July 22, 1957. Two partners, Officer Richard Phillips and Officer Milton Curtis, were working the night shift on the quiet streets of El Segundo, California, a well-to-do suburb in the Los Angeles area. Their squad car sat in wait, parked, scoping out the intersection of Sepulveda and Rosecrans. Things were probably shaping up like any other night for the officers when they spotted the 1949 Ford Sedan. The driver had slowed down at the red light, but continued on through when they thought the coast was clear. The patrolmen pulled out, turned their lights on and signaled for the Ford to pull over. The driver of the Ford saw the lights in the rear view mirror, probably cursed under his breath and begrudgingly pulled the vehicle to the side of the road as instructed.

Officer Phillips approached the vehicle, ticket book in hand, while Curtis backed him up from the vehicle. A second squad car passes as Officer Phillips is just beginning to write the driver a citation. Anticipating an easy encounter the extra presence was not requested so the squad car kept rolling. Soon after the vehicle left, all hell broke loose. The 2 officers were bushwhacked by a sudden barrage of gunfire, both being struck 3 times in quick succession. Both were fatally wounded in the surprise attack and died shortly after the event started. Cops from all over the county came out in numbers to help find the culprit to no avail. Very little was left at the scene in the way of evidence. The suspect seemingly vanished into thin air and the events sparked the largest manhunt in California history up to that point. This however did nothing to help find the culprit. He was gone. 

 Officer Phillips

Officer Phillips

 Officer Curtis

Officer Curtis

Unknowing to law enforcement, the killer began his night of debauchery much earlier. The stranger had approached four teenagers in a car, a ’49 Ford Sedan. The suspect acted quickly, pointing the barrel of his gun into the crowded car. He blindfolded and robbed all four of the teenagers. He then continued his crime spree by deciding to rape one of the female car passengers. He left them on the side of the road, barely dressed, helpless; fleeing in their vehicle.

Soon the vehicle was found dumped. There were 6 bullet holes scattered throughout, return fire from the wounded officers. They were unable to collect all of the bullets from the officers weapons which made the detectives theorize the suspect may be carrying a key piece of evidence within him; a bullet from the officers gun could still be lodged within him. In addition to the bullets, police were able to lift fingerprints from the vehicle and develop a composite sketch from witness testimony. Despite a few promising leads, detectives were unable to nail down a suspect. This would not deter the police. Nothing new would develop for 3 years when in 1960 the murder weapon would be recovered. A pistol was found in a residential backyard. The gun was traced to a department store in Louisiana but the registered owner was a fake name. The case had gone cold once more. Law enforcement would continue to chase down every lead to track and take down the cold blooded murderer. None of the detectives would have guessed that it would have taken nearly 50 years to finally nab and apprehend their perp.

 Gerald Mason Mugshot, 2003

Gerald Mason Mugshot, 2003

No new leads surfaced over the next few decades. In September of 2002 El Segundo Police Department received a phone call claiming to have information on the double homicide. The caller claimed that her uncle had mentioned he had committed the crimes, got away with it, and showed no remorse. They now had a name of the man they thought killed their colleagues so many years ago. They compared his fingerprints and to their surprise they had a match, Gerald F. Mason, the uncle of the witness who had phoned detectives. Gerald was now a law abiding member of society, a retiree, a husband, a grandfather and so much more. He was able to live a long and fulfilling life without a shred of remorse for the officer’s family, who lost loved ones so long ago. Friends and family were shocked at the thought of old Gerald being involved in such a horrendous crime. 

On January 29th, 2003 detectives from the El Segundo P.D. offices knocked on Gerald's door. They introduced themselves to the old man and the old man began to hesitate, claiming he may need a lawyer. The officers stated their reasoning for being there, the ongoing investigation of the double homicide of 2 young officers. With astonishment on his face Gerald stated, "You're here for that?" Once in custody further evidence was gathered when authorities were able to identify the scar where Officer Phillips was able to strike him years earlier. He had been shot and that piece of evidence would forever tie him to the events of that evening. Once the evidence was put forth Gerald pled guilty to his crimes. Through tears, he apologized for the pain he caused and for his actions on that faithful night. He was sentenced to serve life in prison for what he had done but would be eligible for parole. Mason died, January 22, 2017 while still serving his sentence.