May 27, 1968
Escape stories are part of the territory when prisons set up shop in town. The most famous escapee the county has known was probably Timothy Leary.
This story leaped out as I was spinning through the microfilm looking for another story. You know when the local paper hits the doorstep with two rows containing eight mug shots something bad has happened.
2 mental escapees still loose
–3rd captured in Pismo surf
adds a new twist
By Gilbert Moore
Two of the three inmates who kidnaped four hostages and forced their way at gunpoint out of Atascadero State Hospital remained at large today.
But their hostages were alive and safe this morning, the last being released in San Francisco.
They had survived stabbings, threats and separate hours-long ordeals in wild flights by the mental patients that cross-crossed the county.
The trio split up Sunday night in an attempt to evade a massive manhunt. They eluded an army of law officers Sunday in a succession of stolen cars.
The last hostage, a one-armed psychiatric technician, fought free from his bonds in San Francisco about 4 a.m. after the two at-large men, wearing stolen security uniforms, dropped him off.
The search is concentrating today in Northern California.
Earlier this morning, the third escapee was found half-naked and clinging for his life to a stubby piling off Pismo Beach as pounding surf broke over his head and nearly pulled him out to sea.
Two women psychiatric technicians he had held captive — one of them exchanging herself as a hostage for the other–also were safe.
Two security guards stabbed in the breakout from Atascadero State Hospital Sunday afternoon were recovering from their wounds.
They were tied and left in a deserted rural Avila Beach house. One fought free and bloody and wearing inmate’s clothing, finally flagged down a passing motorist.
While scores of lawmen searched for the men and their victims the three stole at least six cars, ransacked two rural homes and held an elderly couple at gunpoint.
And in a mysterious turn to the case, the woman technician who traded places with one of the original hostages Sunday night was under suspension from the hospital today.
The woman, Mrs. Virginia Voss, was picked up near the beach Sunday night, questioned by sheriff’s deputies early this morning, then released.
Hospital authorities said she will remain under suspension until the investigation into her role in the escape has been completed.
Remaining at large ad mid-morning were:
–Robert George Quinlan, 28, of Hawthorne, charged with armed robbery and originally captured after a shootout with lawmen at Los Angeles International Airport. He was sent to Atascadero’s maximum security hospital after being judged incompetent to stand trial.
–Gerald J. Gallant, 28, of Los Angeles, the apparent ring-leader, whom lawmen believe had carefully planned the escape with a gun smuggled into the hospital.
Gallant had been convicted of robbery and rape and was considered a “disordered sex offender.”
In county jail after being treated for cuts suffered in his own ordeal in the ocean was Robert Higuera, 30, of Downey. He had been charged with robbery and narcotics theft but judged too mentally ill to stand trial.
The two stabbed guards recovering in Sierra Vista Hospital today were security Sgt. Dave Baro, 41, of Santa Margarita and guard Robert Moore, 55, of Templeton.
Baro was stabbed in the abdomen during the breakout while Moore was stabbed in the back shortly before they were left at the house at Avila. Baro and Moore were listed in serious condition but out of danger.
Mrs. Voss reportedly was called by Higuera and drove from Atascadero to a Pismo Beach motel to be taken prisoner in exchange for the other woman, who was then released.
Mrs. Dorothy Warren, 43, of Atascadero, got in Mrs. Voss’ car and drove non-stop to San Luis Obispo before telephoning authorities from a service station.
“I wanted distance between us right then,” Mrs. Warren told the Telegram-Tribune today.
“I didn’t know any of the three,” Mrs. Warren went on.
“All were quite threatening at times. Once in a while they would tell each other to knock that stuff off.
“Once we were outside the hospital, none of us were hurt any more.”
Technician Frank A. Svehla was released by the pair in San Francisco today, though he was tied up.
The sequence of events that touched off one of the greatest searches in county history started in a supposedly secure Ward 23 at the Atascadero facility at mid-day Sunday.
The two security officers were called there for a “shakedown” of prisoners. They were met by Higuera with a gun at the door, then forced to swap uniforms with gallant and Quinlan.
Hospital authorities said the trio then locked up most of the ward technicians, and with four hostages, started to go through the steel doors that barred their freedom.
At one, a guard controlling punch buttons was confronted with a pistol through the glass. He let them out. At the last door, Baro said to let them through.
Then all seven piled into Sevhla’s station wagon and headed south.
At the foot of Cuesta Grade, the trio forced over a car driven by James Lowrey and commandeered it at gunpoint from the Los Angeles man and his wife. Their daughters, following in another car, reported hte hijack to authorities.
Meanwhile the men and their prisoners raced down Highway 101 and stopped at the house just off the highway near Avila Beach.
There they stole a third car after finding more guns and liquor and shooting holes in the living room wall. Svehla and Mrs. Warren were taken with the trio, but the two stabbed guards were tied to beds and left behind.
Then the three drove to Los Osos. There, near Los Osos Valley Memorial Park, they entered the home of Mr. and Mrs. Charles Blodgett, both 64, who were gone for the afternoon.
When the Blodgetts returned home at 7 p.m., they were seized and forced to sit quietly while mysterious–to them–telephone calls were made in another room.
From there the escapees split up, each group stealing one of the Blodgett’s two cars. Higuera and Mrs Warren drove toward Pismo Beach, passing on the way a patrolman who was looking for the earlier stolen car.
Later, the other two men and Svehla left about 9:30 p.m. The apparently headed straight north reaching San Francisco about 3 a.m. today.
Before abandoning Svehla, they tied him up with strips of upholstery from the car. Svehla, a long-time hospital employee who lost an arm in World War II, managed to free himself and walked three blocks to the freeway where he flagged down the officers.
“When they tied me up, I figured this was it,” Svehla said. “I thought sure they were going to shoot me or stab me.”
After Mrs. Warren called in, saying she had been held at a Pismo Beach Motel, lawmen with drawn guns converged on it, but found no one. Later, Mrs. Voss, who was on foot, was found and said Higuera had started toward the beech to walk the pier. After a police check failed to spot him, Sheriff Larry Mansfield and Sgt. Izzy Flores, who were cruising the beach from Grover City, sighted Higuera clinging to a post in the water.
After a warning shot in the air the escapee raised his hands and fought back through the surf to the shore and capture, falling exhausted to the sand.