As soon as Gary Hakala pulled into the parking space, he knew something was wrong. “They just didn’t look right. They looked at me with an odd stare, as though they were trying to size me up.” Instead of getting out to fix his mirror as he had intended, Hakala stayed inside the van and walked to the back to grab a padlock and secure the trailer, “…because I was suspicious of the guys in the car, so I wanted to lock down the trailer. I never got the chance,” said Hakala, hostage in what has been dubbed, “America’s most spectacular bank robbery,” the 1980 Norco, California bank robbery/hostage/murder case.
“…because I was suspicious of the guys in the car, so I wanted to lock down the trailer. I never got the chance,” said Hakala, hostage in what has been dubbed, “America’s most spectacular bank robbery,” the 1980 Norco, California bank robbery/hostage/murder case.
In a flash, three Hispanic men descended upon Hakala’s van. “All three were Hispanic. One came through the passenger side, one through the driver’s side, and one opened the sliding door. I was as close to them as I am to you right now. There’s zero chance that I was mistaken. I said it then, and I’ll say it now: I saw three Hispanic men: two of them were the Delgado brothers, yes, but there was a third Hispanic man. There’s no way I was wrong. I know what I saw.”
After enduring unimaginable pain for almost six hours, Hakala thought his ordeal was over. He sought to put it behind him as quickly as possible when he left the hospital later that same night. But his ordeal wasn’t quite over.
“The news cameras had spread my picture and story all throughout the country within minutes of my release from the hospital. As soon as I exited, the news guys with their cameras grabbed me and started firing questions. My mom and dad lived in Wyoming at the time, and they saw the story and called me as soon as they saw it. I was telling the police, even in the hospital that there was another Hispanic man to go along with the two Hispanic men and three white guys they were after. No one wanted to listen.”
When the hospital, the police, and the news crews were done with him, Gary Hakala was tired, alone…and stranded. “Nobody cared. I was just there, with no ride…miles from home. After all that, a reporter who arrived late, by the last name of Rose, he was from KABC-7…he drove me home. Nobody cared about me.” The other thing nobody seemed to care about was the fact that the assailants were in control of Hakala’s van…they knew his address.
When he got home, Gary Hakala was about to receive a solemn reminder that his saga wasn’t quite finished. “When I got home…there were muddy footprints all throughout the house. And remember…this was that same night before they had caught those guys the next day.” Hakala didn’t wait around to see who might show up next. “I immediately beat it to a friend’s house and stayed there for a few days.”
For a full year, Hakala carried protection everywhere he went. “I didn’t even go to the bathroom without protection. After a year I figured I’d kind of forgotten what the guy looked like…and I began to relax. But I’ll never forget that there were 3 Hispanic men.”
When asked if George Wayne Smith (who, at the time of the robbery had a slightly “Hispanic” look) could have been the mysterious “third Hispanic,” Hakala was unequivocal, “Hell no. It clearly wasn’t him. This guy was smaller…and more sedate than any of the other guys. Smith might have been a nice guy under normal circumstances, but these weren’t normal circumstances. During the robbery he was hyped up and brash, barking orders at very one. Smith was the one in charge. The third guy was also, very obviously not the ring-leader. Manny (Delgado) secured me, Billy (Delgado) was driving, and the
third Hispanic was just taking orders.”
Hakala recalls many other instances that support his assertion of a sixth assailant. “When we pulled up to…what seemed to me to be a warehouse…this was before they set the diversion and before they actually robbed the bank…it was wherever they loaded the bombs and bullets, three other guys entered the van. I heard what I came to know from TV and in court was Smith’s voice holler out, “Where’s the dude?” You see, he wasn’t in the van originally. It just wasn’t any of those five guys…not the three they caught, nor the two that died. Smith never saw me, and I never saw him because I was backward in that little closet in my van.”
And Hakala says that, contrary to what one might think, he was not nervous or frightened by what was going on. “I thought to myself, “I’ll be damned if my last minutes on earth are going to be spent begging for my life. If I’m going to go out, I’m going out defiant. There was little I could do of course, but I certainly wasn’t frightened. At first, I was dead calm…and then I got angry. I was never nervous or out of control. I knew and know everything that went on.”
Hakala can still clearly remember that the man in question was much younger than Smith. He also recalls that the young man’s hair was very neatly combed and manicured. “Yes, I saw pictures of Smith in the papers, and he had…sort of an Afro and scruffy facial hair. The guy I saw was younger and was clean-shaven. The difference was night and day.”
Hakala also points to what he told the police the day they asked him to identify all three men in prison. “I told them the truth. I turned to the police and said, “Yes, I know this is Mr. Smith and I know these are the Harvens, but I only know that from the newspapers and the TV. I never saw Mr. Smith while I was in the van. I told them that even then.”
The young Hispanic was very compliant with all the orders he was given. “They told him to take my glasses off. He was actually within just a couple of inches of me at most…and he’s the one who took my glasses off. We were looking at each other eye-to-eye when he began to remove the eyeglasses from my face. When I objected, he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll put them in the glove compartment.” And that is precisely where the female police officer retrieved them for Hakala later in the day. “She had started to ask me some questions. I answered one, maybe two and said, “Listen, my head is splitting. I’m not answering anything else until you get me my glasses in the glove compartment. She got them and then she continued to question me.”
Looking back through the lens of nearly forty years can be difficult. Recall of fine details may be all but impossible, but while Gary Hakala may have lost the details of the facial features of the timid, clean-cut well-manicured young Hispanic man he knows existed, his testimony then-and-now, has never wavered.
“I will go to my grave, knowing that there was at least one more man involved.”