At approximately 1:24 a.m. on Monday, July 22, 1957, at the intersection of Rosecrans Avenue and Sepulveda Boulevard, El Segundo Police Officers Richard Phillips and Milton Curtis observed a car run the red light. Officer Curtis and Officer Phillips pursued the vehicle until the suspect pulled over near Pacific Avenue, a semi-rural road fringed with trees, fields and a large oil refinery.
One of the two additional officers asked if everything was “okay here?” Officer Phillips was standing in front of the suspect while Officer Curtis questioned him.
“We're fine,” Curtis said as he waved a citation in the air he had obviously written. “No problem. Just a red light violation.” Unbeknownst to the officers, the car was, in fact, stolen and the suspect had just raped a teenage girl after holding two couples at gunpoint about five miles from their current location.
Satisfied that Officers Phillips and Curtis had the situation under control, the second patrol car left the scene. Within a minute and a half later the suspect produced a firearm and shot Officer Phillips several times in the back as he walked back toward his squad car. In the midst of the commotion, Officer Phillips was able to return fire. One bullet struck the suspect in the back, the second and third hit the suspect’s stolen vehicle. The suspect then walked over to Officer Curtis and shot him three times at pointblank range as he sat in the squad car alerting dispatch of the shooting.
Hundreds of police officers and citizens from El Segundo and the neighboring communities scoured the area all night. They found the stolen car, but there was no sign of the suspect. The killer had escaped capture.
Twenty-eight-year-old Officer Richard Phillips and his twenty-five-year-old partner, Officer Milton Curtis, were both happily married with a total of five children between them at the time of their brutal murders.
Over 46 years later, in September 2002, a false lead encouraged investigators to enter the prints taken at the crime scene in 1957 into the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s fingerprint database. In a matter of minutes the print led investigators to Gerald F. Mason, who was arrested for burglary in 1956 in South Carolina. It was the only time he had ever been arrested, and it was the only record they had on file.
On January 29, 2003, Gerald F. Mason was arrested for the murders of El Segundo Police Officers Richard Phillips and Milton Curtis. Mason still had the scar from the wounds he sustained from Officer Phillips before he died. Mason later plead guilty in a Los Angles County court and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms.