Treasures of the Valley » Mike Lawler

Supermarket Shootout


Our giant Ralphs supermarket on Foothill Boulevard was originally divided in half and hosted two stores. On the west side was Builders Emporium while the east side was Food Giant, a supermarket. It later became Alpha Beta until the Ralphs moved from La Cañada and took both store sites. In 1965, it was targeted by armed robbers, which resulted in an Old West-style shootout inside the store that spilled out into the parking lot.

On a September evening in 1965, three men drove up from the San Fernando Valley. They stole a car from a home on Los Olivos. Two of the bandits got into the stolen car and drove to the Food Giant, while the third man waited in their car a couple of blocks from the store. The bandits wore green overalls, nylon stockings over their heads, and goggles.

The two robbers entered the busy store and approached a box boy. They pulled their handguns and demanded he take them to the manager. He did so and they forced the manager to open the safe. One of the robbers, Richard Rose, stuffed the money into a bag while the other man held a gun. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to the bandits, someone in the store had pressed the silent alarm to the Montrose sheriff station. The two men began to leave the store, one approaching the western-most door while the other – Rose – money bag and gun in hand, approached the eastern door.

And that was when Montrose sheriff station Sgt. Spenard walked in that eastern door to the surprising sight of a masked man right in front of him, bag in one hand and a gun in the other.

Sgt. Spenard acted quickly. He knocked the gun from Rose’s hand and grabbed him. At the western door, the other bandit opened fire, spraying bullets. Rose tried to get away from Sgt. Spenard so Spenard pulled out his own gun and hit him over the head with it. As he started firing several shots back at the other bandit, he shoutedto the shocked customers to get down. Many were frozen in place as bullets flew everywhere in the crowded store.

While glass was breaking and people were screaming, the other bandit ducked out the western door and ran to the eastern door where the officer had his friend on the ground. He burst in the door, catching the officer with his back turned. As he leveled his handgun at the back of officer’s head customer Tom Ashton, 77, shouted a warning. The officer spun around and fired a couple of shots, driving the bandit back out the door, where he turned and ran to his stolen getaway car.

Right at that moment, a patrol car pulled up. Both patrol officers piled out and began firing at the getaway car, one with a handgun, the other with a shotgun. The getaway car, now riddled with bullet holes and much of the glass blown out, tore out of the parking lot. It traveled up Raymond and then west on side streets where it met a third man waiting behind the wheel of the original car. The two patrol officers didn’t give chase, probably as they didn’t know if there were more gunmen inside the store.

Inside the store smoke from the gun battle clouded the air. The captured bandit, Richard Rose, was on the ground as was $5,000 in cash, the total haul from the robbery. Scores of bullets had been fired inside the store and in the parking lot. Broken glass and bullet holes were everywhere. Amazingly during the melee no one was hit. Tom Ashton was named a hero for alerting Sgt. Spenard, essentially saving his life.

Rose was arraigned on multiple charges and it turned out he was recovering from bullet wounds from a shootout with LAPD a few months earlier. The other robber was arrested a week later and was named a suspect in another supermarket robbery in Sunland-Tujunga.

The massive remodel that created our giant Ralphs took place a few years ago. I wonder if the workers found bullet holes in the walls?

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical
Society of the Crescenta Valley
and loves local history.
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