Down and Out in Rancho Santa Margarita

When a reporter asked bank robber Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, the line he uttered became such a popular way of stating the obvious that it became known as Sutton’s Law: “Because that’s where the money is.” In 2015, 70-year old retired California detective Randy Adair landed in prison after robbing his fifth bank, confounding his friends and old coworkers. Why would a respected lawman with a pension and family commit crimes? In Los Angeles Magazine, journalist Jeff Maysh asks that same question and finds out how things went wrong for Adair.

His first was on the afternoon of March 24, 1969, when a silent alarm inside the United California Bank in Mid City signaled a robbery in progress. Exiting the bank with the cash and a loaded revolver when Adair and company arrived, the thief turned and ran back into the building. They found him in a second-floor restroom, where Robert Lee White surrendered. He’d eventually confess to being the Wilshire Bandit, who’d hit nine banks in the area, and to being the Blue Blazer Bandit of Fort Worth, Texas. Adair’s career was in full swing.

As the arrests mounted, the detective earned praise from superiors for his “initiative, his alertness, and his imagination.” He felt proud to wear the badge and enjoyed the perks: Half-price chili burgers at Tommy’s on Beverly and free smokes at Sam’s Corner Liquor Store on 6th left him with enough cash to play the ponies and buy bottles of Jim Beam.

If there’s a point when Randy Adair began edging toward the day that he, too, would begin robbing banks, it’s probably here. The gambling and booze would figure prominently in his life, as would the health problems that he traces back to a January night in 1971. That’s when Adair, cruising through Westlake in an unmarked car, spotted smoke billowing from a fire in the  basement of a rundown apartment building. With no sign of the fire department, Adair dashed into the building. “The place started really filling up with smoke bad,” he said. “They had paint and loads of cables covered in grease and oil. Highly toxic fumes.” He could barely see or breathe as he began to carry residents—some too drunk or disabled to move—over his shoulders to safety.

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