My Mother Didn’t Know Her Friend Had Murdered His Entire Family.
According to my mother, life used to be much simpler when she was growing up in the 1930s and 40s. They didn’t have the same kind of violence and anger that we do now.
The truth is the past was equally as dangerous — especially for my mother, who came into direct contact with an old friend after he had changed from a farmhand to a mass murderer.
On February 11, 1943, while 18-year-old Amos Raymond (Ray) Latshaw was tending his rabbits, he witnessed another drunken altercation between his father, Amos, and his stepmother Olive, on the family’s ranch outside of Loomis, California.
Ray was fed up with the abuse he’d received at his father’s hand and the constant fighting between his family members. However, instead of intervening and trying to defuse the toxic situation with words, he decided to stop the escalating argument with violence.
Ray ran to get his father’s gun, a .38, and when he came back, the fighting was still going on, with his father hitting his stepmother. Ray shot his father in the head and his stepmother, while she was still on the ground, to “shut them up,” or at least, that’s what Ray would confess.
Later, when no bullet was found in Amos, the coroner determined that Amos had died from a broken neck.
Ray’s grandparents came out of the house to see what all the commotion was about, and he shot them too. Then driven by adrenaline and feeling the need to get rid of any witnesses, he went into the house and shot his younger half-brother, Charles.
Then Ray went back into the house and searched for any money he could find (114 dollars and a bag full of pennies, packed a bag, closed the curtains, and found the keys to his grandparents' 1937 Dodge Coupe. Before fleeing to Sacramento, Ray threw his father and stepmother's bodies down a well on the property.
From Sacramento, he went to San Francisco but felt as if the police were closing in on him, so he flew to Los Angeles under an assumed name. He and his family had once lived in Anaheim, so he must have thought he’d feel safer in Southern California.
A few weeks passed before a concerned neighbor went to the ranch, saw that the livestock was starving, and contacted the authorities.
My mother, Barbara, was born in 1925 and lived in the small town, Walnut Grove, where she lives now. Her parents moved around a lot since her father, Joe, worked for the government. He either planned roads or planted trees; her memories of that time change frequently.
Every time she tells a story, her father has a different job, they lived in a different place, and various other details change, but she always remembers her friend, Ray.
After Walnut Grove, they lived in Sacramento, Los Angeles, and then back to Sacramento.
It was most likely in a Sacramento junior high that my mother met Ray Latshaw. Loomis is close to Sacramento, and it’s probable that Ray came to school when he was younger and wasn’t crucial to running the ranch. My mother remembers him as being slender with blue eyes and having a friendly and likable personality.
My mother’s parents divorced when my mother was in high school. She and my grandmother moved to LA and settled in Santa Monica.
Never winning any prizes for attendance, my mother enjoyed cutting school and going to the movies. She’d take her 50 cents allowance, get a tuna sandwich and a lemon coke at Woolworth’s, catch the Wilshire Bus, see a double feature, and still have money left over for a box of Jujubes for the long ride back home.
There were plenty of movie theaters closer to home, but my mother still chose to go to one of the grand movie palaces in Downtown LA. She may have thought there was less chance of getting caught by her mother if she went downtown, or maybe she enjoyed looking out of the bus window and dreaming of what her future might bring.
If she hadn’t gone to the movies downtown on that day in March 1943, she’d never have run into Ray and had her first (and only) encounter with a family annihilator.
1943 was a terrific year for movies. Films released that year include Shadow of a Doubt, Stormy Weather, and Heaven Can Wait. But on this day, at the end of Feb. or the beginning of March, she most likely saw Jane Eyre with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. My mother saw it six times and used at least two handkerchiefs from all the crying she did.
As she was fully engrossed in the movie, she had no idea of the real-life drama playing out in front of the theater.
Earlier, on her way to her favorite seat — dead center of the theater, she ran into her old friend, Ray, who was working as an usher. She greeted him warmly. He seemed pleased to see her but slightly nervous.
How odd to see him in Los Angeles! My mother asked him if he had moved here with his family. What did he think of Southern California? Did he like his job?
Ray didn’t have a chance to answer her questions, as the newsreel was about to start, and there were other tickets to tear and patrons to be directed to their seats. Ray promised they’d get together sometime or whatever it was they said in the 40s. Perhaps he said something like, “See ya, Toots!” as she settled down into her seat.
Ray was at the movie-palace door when 20-year LAPD veteran Clarence Clarke, directing traffic on Broadway, near 7th, recognized Ray from a wanted bulletin. Trusting his gut, Officer Clarke walked over to the theater to get a better look and confirm the suspect was indeed Raymond Amos Latshaw.
When Ray saw Officer Clarke coming his way, he knew the jig was up and that his days of evading the police were over. Instead of making a break for it, Ray stayed in place as the officer approached him. Ray identified himself as a wanted man saying, “I’m glad to see you. I’m glad to get this all over with.”
The following Monday, my mother decided not to play truant and go to school as she had her favorite class, Public speaking, that day. Her assignment was to select an article out of the paper and present it to the class.
My mother loved being the center of attention, and she didn’t want to miss an opportunity to stand up in front of a crowd and speak.
With her fingers crossed that she’d find a juicy story, my mother opened the paper and was stunned to see a picture of Ray, the boy she’d seen at the movies. He’d been apprehended by the Los Angeles police and sent back to Sacramento to stand trial for killing his entire family.
Once she got over her shock, she couldn’t wait to tell the class about how she had run into an old friend who turned out to be a murderer. Needless to say, my mother got an A on her assignment and still enjoys telling the story to this day.
After being apprehended, Ray was sent back to Placer County for processing and to stand trial for the five murders he’d committed.
The trial began on April 27, 1943. Ray told of the beatings he had suffered by his father’s hand and pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. However, his abuse story didn’t justify the extreme measures he had taken, and he was found guilty, sentenced to life imprisonment, and sent to San Quentin.
A 1957 article in the Daily Independent Journal reported that Ray was paroled in April 1956, but due to a parole violation, he was sent back to San Quentin, where he died in Aug. 1959.
My mother wonders if Ray thought she was the one who had turned him in and if he had plotted his revenge against her as he sat in his cell. He had worked at the theater for a month before he was caught. Her presence may have rattled him to the point where he couldn’t think straight so that when the policeman came up to him, he didn’t have the energy to lie.
Like every other neighbor of a serial killer or mass murderer, my mother still insists that Ray was really a very nice guy and that there was so much less violence in the old days.