Media Life: Cool, quintuple killer left mark on Placer crime annals

By: Gus Thomson/Media Life
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In the world of high crimes and misdemeanors, baby-faced quintuple killer Ray Latshaw tops an ignominious list in Placer County. The recent retirement of District Attorney Brad Fenocchio and a chance to interview him about some of his most memorable cases brought back to light a 1998 killing spree just outside Auburn by Arturo Suarez that left four dead. Suarez continues to bide his time on Death Row. The Suarez case is undoubtedly the most heinous in recent memory. The most notorious was another “quad” murder – this one in Old Town Auburn and dating back to 1904. In that murder case, Adolph Weber was hanged for the killings of his parents, brother and sister. The case drew widespread attention – and a change in state law – after Weber used his inheritance money from the parents he murdered to pay for some high-priced defense attorneys. The Latshaw murders of 1943 have their own place in the dark annals of Placer County – not only for the number of killings but the callous nature of the crimes. Cool killer “The coolest man I ever saw,” the arresting officer told reporters, before “cool” stopped being equated with words like “sinister” and “calculated.” Let’s set the Media Life time machine back to Feb. 11, 1943, to a Loomis-area barnyard at a ranch off Auburn Folsom Road. Eighteen-year-old Ray Latshaw’s father, Amos, 38, and stepmother, Olive, 39, are arguing and the brouhaha soon escalates into drunken beating by Amos on Olive. That’s according to Ray, whose confession is the lone account from the shootings that would soon leave everyone else on the Latshaw Ranch that day dead. Latshaw said he had been tending to his rabbits and growing increasingly agitated by his father’s actions. When his father said he was going to get a club, Latshaw went inside and found his father’s .38 caliber pistol. Amos was the first to go. Latshaw initially confessed to investigators that he shot him in the neck but after no bullet turned up in the body and a coroner determined that he died of a broken neck, Latshaw changed his story and said he never fired a shot. Ray’s stepmother was next. The teen said he panicked and decided he didn’t want any witnesses. Olive was killed by a single bullet at close range. She was attempting to get up from where she was being beaten on the ground moments earlier. Entering the ranch house, Ray shot to death his grandparents Clarence and Bertha Latshaw, both in their mid-50s, and then his half-brother, Charles, only 7. Pathetic pennies Ray said he hurriedly packed and left, rifling through his father’s pockets for $115 and also finding $4 worth of pennies in the house to take with him. And, oh yes, he drew the blinds, locked the doors and threw both his dead father and stepmother down a well on the property. His flight in his grandparent’s 1937 Dodge Coupe took him first to Sacramento and then, without the car, to the York Hotel on Nob Hill in San Francisco. The York, in one of those bizarre future twists, was featured in the Alfred Hitchcock film “Vertigo.” Hopping an airplane flight to Los Angeles, Ray initially booked into the upscale Biltmore Hotel and left with the bill unpaid when his stolen money ran out. Meanwhile, the livestock was beginning to starve to death on the Latshaw Ranch and a neighbor became concerned enough to phone the Placer County Sheriff’s Office. The March 1 discovery of the five bodies touched off a manhunt, with Ray as the chief person of interest. In late March, a sharp-eyed traffic cop working a Broadway intersection in Los Angeles saw a man who looked like the Latshaw murder suspect. The man walked by and into a movie house. The officer approached the man and Latshaw identified himself as the suspect. “I’m glad to see you,” Ray told 20-year Los Angeles Police Department veteran Clarence Clarke. “I’m glad to get this all over with.” Swift justice Justice was swift in those days. One jury ended in a deadlock in April 1943 on whether Latshaw was not guilty by reason of insanity. In June, facing another trial, Latshaw lodged guilty pleas to four of the killings but maintained his innocence in the death of his father. He was sentenced to three consecutive life terms for first-degree murder and a fourth concurrent term. The judge dismissed the fifth murder charge because although Ray had admitted to the killing of his father and all indications were that it pointed to a capital crime, there was no bullet. Legal experts at the time said that the sentence would put Latshaw behind bars for the rest of his life and, indeed, it did. While Media Life has no firm date on his death at San Quentin Prison, it has heard from local authorities that he did die there.