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Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History
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Norco '80: The True Story of the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History

3.96  ·  Rating details ·  1,546 ratings  ·  208 reviews
A true crime account of one of the most violent bank heists in US history.

Norco ’80 tells the story of how five heavily-armed young men—led by an apocalyptic born-again Christian—attempted a bank robbery that turned into one of the most violent criminal events in U.S. history, forever changing the face of American law enforcement. Part action thriller and part courtroom d
Hardcover, 400 pages
Published June 11th 2019 by Counterpoint Press
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Average rating 3.96  · 
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 ·  1,546 ratings  ·  208 reviews

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Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: reviewed
This is a remarkable book, the true story of a bank robbery in Norco, California, in Riverside County by five men, some of them religious Christians convinced the end times were coming. Two lived together in a house in Norco where they were digging trenches and fencing the perimeter of their property with barbed wire preparing for marauders to come for their caches of food, weapons and supplies. They were late on the mortgage, owed child support so there may have been a mixed motive for the bank ...more
May 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: true-crime
3-Edward-50, the suspects are stranded, their vehicle is disabled at Hamner and Fourth. Roll help. I need an ambulance. I'm bleeding badly.

I'm not a big fan of true crime books; stories are never tied up nice and neat like they are in fiction, and sometimes the bad guys win. But, ever since seeing Dog Day Afternoon at a fairly young age, I have been intrigued by tales of bank robberies gone horribly wrong. And, they don't get much "wronger" than the robbery that occurred in Southern Califor
Aug 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
"Riverside to all Norco units. 211 in progress at the Security Pacific Bank at Fourth and Hamner." -- the RCSO dispatcher, on page 73 (*211 is California penal and/or police radio code for armed robbery)

An absolutely outstanding and suspenseful true crime book, meticulously chronicling the May 1980 bank robbery / pursuit / shoot-out in Southern California (not in Los Angeles, but farther east in a desert and mountain area known as 'The Inland Empire') that pitted five heavily- and better-armed t
Sep 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
What a great ride this was. It was so exciting. I had moved away from Norco in the late 70’s, and I could picture this whole tale. I didn’t appreciate the slanted views on religion at the beginning. I felt it was unnecessary and the author obviously had a bias. All in all, it got a five from me, so you can tell how much I enjoyed the rest of the story.
Judith E
Sep 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
The true account of the ill-conceived bank robbery that resulted in a harrowing police chase and gun battle in 1980’s Norco, California. After the 5 perpetrators fled, they began their powerful and overwhelming fire power attack (automatic and semi-automatic guns, grenades, pipe bombs, thousands of rounds of ammunition) on the police forces that pursued them. Many officers were injured, and one officer was dead. This crime caused police departments across the country to incorporate military grad ...more
J.K. Grice
Jun 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: true-crime
Astounding...Staggering...Mind-blowing... Eyeopening....

These are just some of the reactions I experienced after reading Peter Houlahan's brilliant true crime book, NORCO '80. Houlahan spent over four years researching documents and interviewing people who were involved with one of the most violent and insane bank robbery attempts in American history. He amazingly pulled together accounts and testimonies from dozens and dozens of law enforcement personnel, case lawyers, and family members in his
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The blame begins with the huge eruption of Mount St. Helens. George Wayne Smith (age 29) and Chris Haven (age 27) were convinced that the eruption announced the coming rapture as predicted in the Book of Revelations. Their apostolic faith convinced them that the end was near and that they needed to move to the mountains in order to survive the coming chaos. Both of them were ex-military and stockpiled a huge supply of weapons, homemade grenades and ammunition to prepare for the coming apocalypse ...more
Mikey B.
Aug 22, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: crime, united-states
In May of 1980 in Norco, California a bunch of losers had decided to rob a bank. They were armed to the teeth with all kinds of automatic weapons and they also had homemade grenades.

What ensued after the robbery was a massive chase in which over thirty police cars were wrecked by the onslaught of automatic weapons from the bank robbers. The chase ended high up in the canyons and mountains which are such a prominent feature of California. On the canyon road the robbers finally had to disembark th
Feb 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Earlier today whilst “researching” this very review, I ran a google search for “Heat movie gunfight” and was predictably met with several videos capturing the famous scene from Michael Mann’s 1995 crime drama, a longtime favorite of mine. That being said I was also met with a series of questions halfway down the page underneath the ‘People also ask’ section, the first of which being: “Is the movie Heat realistic?”

A week ago, I would’ve unequivocally answered “no”, because, well, it’s a movie (a
Jun 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Oh, this book was all kinds of amazing!

Even though I'm from Southern California, I'd never heard of the Norco bank robbery. I figured it was before my time, but my parents hadn't heard of it either. Reading, this, I don't know how we missed it.

This is one exciting read.

While the author takes some liberties here and there with the feelings of some of our participants (like one dying young man was thinking/feeling), those liberties are logical.

The book is well researched, but honestly reads like
Aug 09, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: true-crime
I recently expressed the opinion that most true crime books can be divided into 2 categories, either a straightforward retelling, generally with additional detail, of a contemporary criminal event, or books that delve more deeply into the particulars of a time, place or subject, where that background is necessary to understand the crime under examination.

This analysis of a bank robbery gone horribly wrong could be placed in the first category, since it is definitely a retelling of a specific eve
Nov 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
What a damned disaster. What began as a terrifying take-over style bank heist quickly turned into a deadly shootout and car chase. The robbers, equipped with quite an arsenal, were not giving up peacefully. The police were utterly outgunned. This violent incident was a pivotal moment in law enforcement history. Horrific, but fascinating.
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
4.5 stars rounding up - what a wild story from the robbery all the way through the trial. I had never heard of it before. The writing makes you feel like you’re right there throughout the whole robbery and chase. Really well done. I need a Netflix doc on this!!
Aug 19, 2020 rated it liked it
Sometimes frustrating, sometimes exhilarating--a detailed account of despicably reckless bank robbers and outgunned police officers.

Found the prologue a bit heavy-handed attempting to place the robbers into the context of the charismatic, apocalyptic, unhinged California super-criminals of the 1970s.

But once we transition to the actual history, the backgrounds of the robbers and cops, the book really picks up. We get to the gripping events of the robbery itself and it gets even better. The robbe
Debbie Rose
Jun 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Evidence Never Lies

Given the evidence available to you, I appreciate you being an impartial writer...WELL DONE.
From one who lived it,
Debbie Rose
Investigator Asst. to Jeanne Painter
Jim A
Aug 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: new-authors
A better read than any thriller shoot 'em up, because it's a true story.

The author does a great job with backgrounds on the bank robbers and with some of the police officers involved. It covers from the background to the robbery itself, the shootout, the chase, and the capture. Then moves into the trial phase and the aftermath of PTSD to the officers involved.

Very much like the North Hollywood bank robbery in the late 90's and the FBI shootout in south Florida in the mid 80's.
I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway. This story provides further proof that truth is stranger than fiction. From the beginning, it engages the reader and doesn't let go; narrative writing at its finest. I lived in the midwest and was in my teens during the time of this crime and trial and I don't remember hearing anything about it, so I was fascinated by the entire tale. It was especially enlightening reading about how this one crime impacted law enforcement, particularly the militariza ...more
The jaw-dropping account of how 5 bank robbers armed to the teeth with military grade weapons - automatic weapons, homemade bombs, Molotov cocktails, and a samurai sword robbed a bank in the rural town of Norco (Riverside County) California in 1980 and subsequently led police on a wild pursuit. Thousands of rounds were fired during the chase, putting police and civilians in harm's way along the rural roads of Riverside, on the freeway and up into the nearby mountains. 30+ police vehicles were sh ...more
Mar 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Norco ’80 is one hell-raising ride through 1970’s Southern California with an apocalyptic prophet and the prosecutors bent on turning the tables on the policemen involved in the most violent bank heist ever committed on American soil. From the minute you meet the charismatic George Smith and his flunky friend Christopher Harven, you’ll be hanging on for dear life, waiting for the next catastrophe to take your breath away with each heart-breaking turn of the page. It’s part law and part order and ...more
Jun 26, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars really...

Quite a story and one that, like most people, I was completely unfamiliar with. I know there is talk of a movie about this, and there really should be.

The book is a good read, although it drags a bit in the trial portion... Then again so did the actual trial. But the robbery, shootout, chase, and apprehension... WOW. Just wow. That three people died is both terrible and remarkable.

Glad I read it and at times really hard to put down.
Jul 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is one of the best books of its sort I have ever read. Well done, Peter Houlahan. What a heartbreak. I lived a very unexciting life within ten miles of where all this went down, and I was completely unaware of all of it until now.
Ronald Kramer
Dec 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Well researched, well told. I want to write so much more about this book, but I just am not finding the words.
Aug 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book lives up to its billing in the subtitle. I'd never heard of the Norco robbery before reading this book. The author does a great job telling this story in a comprehensive and compelling way. You can tell that he did a ton of homework but he doesn't hit you over the head with it. This book included just the right amount of details to put you in the middle of the story without bogging down the narrative. Having read enough detail-laden non-fiction that loses the thread for the sake of sho ...more
Dec 23, 2019 rated it liked it

3.5 Stars!

“If you had robbed a bank in the greater Los Angeles metro area on May 9, 1980, you would not have been alone. Los Angeles had long been labelled “Bank Robbery Capital of the World” among FBI agents responsible for investigating the crime. It was a title well earned. For decades, one quarter of all bank heists in the United States fell under the geographical jurisdiction of the Los Angeles field office of the FBI, which included Riverside and San Bernardino Counties. By 1980, an averag
Brian Turcich
Aug 07, 2019 rated it liked it
The first half of the book reads like a gripping action movie, complete with shoot outs, car chases & bullets flying everywhere. The second half goes into a kind of drawn out Law & Order look at the 2 year long court case with at times too much detail into personal lives of the lawyers and court officials. This book could have ended 100 pages earlier and it would have been 4.5 stars. Still, very entertaining and an interesting look at a point-in-time when police weren't equipped like seal team 6 ...more
Larry Hamilton
Jun 28, 2019 rated it liked it
3.5 stars. Without knowing anything about the story and reading the subtitle, “... the Most Spectacular Bank Robbery in American History” I expected something on the order of the movie “The Italian Job.” What I found instead were five bungling, inexperienced bank robbers, an out gunned police force and a totally ridiculous, dragged out trail. For the most part I found the meticulous yet excruciating story details to be quite boring and the only thing that sparked my interest was the actual robbe ...more
Tom Brennan
Jul 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
Birthed in a distinctively curious milieu of poverty, survivalism, sign gifts, and eschatology, the story told here is all kinds of fascinating. The planning, the robbery, the pursuit, the capture, and the trial are all given full treatment. Along the way, Houlahan not only holds our interest but builds it. The characters described become old friends and foes to us. It is the kind of book where you cannot help but keep saying, "Wow!" to yourself as you hike along the trail listening to it. Where ...more
Jan 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
4⭐️. I’m surprised this is not a movie yet. The author has really nailed narrative journalism here- turning what could have been a very boring rehash of thousands of documents and recollections into a fascinating story and insightful look at the events. In particular, I enjoyed the brief discussions on how these events shaped the militarization of today’s police forces, and the new world of PTSD emerging in 1980- I would have taken more on both. Really good book.
Feb 07, 2020 rated it really liked it
It dragged a little near the end (during the trial portion of the book), but overall it was a compelling read and a crazy story! It's a shame that lives were lost in the act of a few people being incredibly stupid.
Susan (aka Just My Op)
This story of the spectacular and deadly 1980 bank robbery and subsequent chase is certainly interesting. And very detailed – perhaps a little too detailed for me. While the story was interesting, that didn't keep it from dragging in places.

I did like that background was given on quite a few of the people involved, which helps me understand actions and decisions better. In the epilogue, we're told what has happened to key players, and I appreciated the updates.

I didn't appreciate this observatio
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Peter Houlahan is a freelance writer contributing to a wide range of publications. In his career as an emergency medical technician, he has written a number of articles related to his profession. He holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. A native Southern Californian, Houlahan now lives in Fairfield County, Connecticut.

(source: Amazon)

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