At approximately 1:24AM on July 22, 1957, at the intersection of Rosecrans Ave/Sepulveda Blvd, El Segundo, police officers Richard Phillips and Milton Curtis observed a car run the red light. Officers Phillips and Curtis pursued the vehicle until the suspect pulled over on Rosecrans near Palm Ave, a semi-rural road fringed with trees, fields, and a large oil refinery.
Within minutes, an additional El Segundo police unit with two officers drove to the location and observed Officer Phillips standing in front of the suspect questioning him. Officer Curtis was seated in his patrol car on the radio awaiting vehicle information. Officer Phillips indicated everything was okay and the second patrol car left the scene.
Unbeknownst to the officers, the car was, in fact, stolen and the suspect had just kidnapped and robbed two couples at gunpoint, raping one of the teenage girls about five miles from their current location.
Within a minute-and-a-half the suspect produced a firearm and shot Officer Phillips three times in the back as he was writing the suspect a citation. The suspect then shot Officer Curtis three times while seated in the squad car. As the suspect was attempting to flee, 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 drove several blocks, abandoned his vehicle, fled, and hid in the residential area of Manhattan Beach.
Hundreds of police officers and citizens from El Segundo and the neighboring communities scoured the area throughout the 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 45 years later, in September 2002, a false lead resulted in investigators entering the prints taken at the crime scene in 1957 into the recently created Federal Bureau of Investigations fingerprint database. In a matter of minutes the prints led investigators to Gerald F. Mason, who had been 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 in Columbia, South Carolina, for the murders of El Segundo police officers Richard Phillips and Milton Curtis. Mason still had the scar from the wound he suffered from Officer Phillips before he died. Mason later pled guilty in a Los Angeles County court and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms.
On January 23, 2017, Gerald F. Mason, convicted murderer of ESPD Officers Curtis and Phillips, died in prison.