Born in Columbia, South Carolina, he was arrested and did time for burglary in that state in 1956. After his release in 1957, then aged 23, he hitchhiked his way to California, stopping in Shreveport, Louisiana where he purchased a revolver using an alias. He would later say that it was purchased for protection while hitchhiking.
In Hawthorne, California, Mason came upon four teenagers at a local lover's lane. Drawing his revolver, Mason forced the two couples to strip down to underwear and bound and blindfolded them. He then raped one of the girls. Leaving the teens alive as they were, Mason then drove off in their 1949 Ford car, ran a red light, and was pulled over by Officers Richard Phillips and Milton Curtis of the El Segundo Police Department.
Mason later recalled, "I thought, 'If I don't get them, they're gonna get me.' So when the officer turned away from me, I shot both officers, got back in the car and drove away." Backup units and medical personnel arrived onscene to find Curtis dead in his patrol car, with Phillips lying mortally wounded on the ground. Both had been shot three times.
Despite being wounded by a bullet from Officer Phillips, Mason dumped the car before hitchiking his way to safety. This sparked one of the largest manhunts in California history, and will never be forgotten.
In 1960, the murder weapon was recovered a mile from the crime in a back yard. The serial number was traced to a purchase at Sears in Shreveport, Louisiana, under the alias George D. Wilson. The signature was matched to "Wilson's" signature on a YMCA receipt, located near the Sears store. El Segundo detectives proceeded to track down every George D. Wilson in the United States. However, all were ruled out and the investigation went cold.
For the next 45 years, Mason was a law-abiding citizen, never getting so much as a parking ticket. He owned two service stations, had married and raised a family. He was later described by friends and neighbors as friendly and helpful.
Taking 46 years, this had become one of the oldest unsolved murder cases in California's history.
Evidence, arrest and admission
In 2002, with advances of computerized finger-printing technology, the FBI decided to expand the system to include prints collected during arrests in all 50 states. A match based on the partial left thumb prints lifted from the steering wheel of the stolen car, came back about a man convicted of burglary in 1956 in Columbia. He had served time for that case. Besides the matching fingerprint the evidence was also based on matching handwriting, linking him to the murder weapon.
Police located Mason, who had returned to and was still living in his hometown of Columbia, South Carolina. He was retired and a grandfather, quietly living with his family in a suburban neighborhood. Then, in January 2003, a large group of police officers called at his door. Mason was completely shocked and had asked where they were from. The police officers had said, "We are from Los Angeles Police department." Mason then said, "You're homicide detectives? I think I need a lawyer." The police officer then told him that they were there because of the murder of two police officers in 1957. Horrified, Mason responded, "You're here for that?"
Following his arrest, Mason was further identified by the bullet graze wound scar on his back, from a bullet fired by Officer Phillips in 1957.
Confronted with so much evidence, Mason admitted to detectives that he stumbled upon the teenagers while intoxicated. Afterwards, he shot both police officers in an attempt to cover up the rape, robbery, and theft of the car. Mason further told detectives, "I really don't have an explanation for why this happened. I wish I did."
Mason pled guilty and was sentenced to two consecutive life terms. At his sentencing hearing, Mason tearfully apologized to the families of Officers Phillips and Curtis. He said, "It's impossible to express to so many people how sorry I am. I do not understand why I did this. It does not fit in my life. It is not the person I know. I detest these crimes."
One El Segundo Detective commented, "He was remorseful. But I think he was more sad and more sorry for having been caught."
Mason was turned down for parole in 2009. He will be eligible for parole again in 2017. California prosecutors have vowed that he will never be released.
Mason is currently incarcerated in South Carolina, as his plea bargain granted him approval to serve his prison sentence near his family.
The widow of Officer Curtis commented, "I'm not his victim anymore. My son is not his victim anymore. I'm so grateful, and I had to wait this long. It's worth the wait."
In a 2003 interview with People Magazine, Jerri Mason Whittaker said, "There really aren't words to describe the range of emotions we've gone through." Even so, she insisted, "I could not have had a better father."
- "The Ghosts Of El Segundo: Cold-Blooded Crime Haunts Investigators For Half A Century", CBS News, October 2, 2004. (URL last accessed November 17, 2006).
- "Final Justice: The Past Catches Up with Gerald Mason, a Murderer on the Lam Since 1957", People Magazine, Author: Patrick Rogers, Date: May 19, 2003. (accessed August 11, 2010).
- "The Ghosts Of El Segundo: Cold-Blooded Crime Haunts Investigators For Half A Century", CBS News, Author: Rebecca Leung, Date: October 2, 2004. (accessed August 11, 2010).