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Looking Back to 1956: Estranged spouse kills mayor’s sister, gunmen rob locals 

Looking Back Paso Robles

This look back at Paso Robles history comes from local newspapers in the Paso Robles Area Historical Society collection. News for this column is selected with the assistance of Research Director Jan Cannon. Newspaper photography by GiGi Green.

Excerpts from Thursday, August 16, 1956 Paso Robles Journal:

Spouse held for murder in wild shooting

Mrs. Dorothy Gates Moore, 46, sister of Dr. Russell Gates, Paso Robles mayor, was shot to death late Saturday night by her estranged husband, William Thomas Moore, 51, as she left Paso Robles War Memorial Hospital after working a late shift as a nurse.

As Mrs. Moore approached her car after leaving the hospital entrance at approximately 11:15 p.m., Moore suddenly jumped from some nearby shrubbery and started firing a .22 caliber rifle. He fired 10 times, hitting Mrs. Moore five times and narrowly missing other nurses as wild shots penetrated the hospital door and a kitchen window.

Mrs. Moore was wounded once in the hand, twice in the arm and once in the leg in addition to the fatal bullet, which hit her in the back after she had run within a few feet of the hospital entrance and safety. She died 40 minutes later without regaining consciousness.

Killer captured

Moore was captured immediately by hospital administrator Travis Wilson and special officer Al Bryant. Wilson was approaching with a shotgun from the western end of the parking lot, looking for a prowler when the shooting started. Bryant was in the hospital and came out with his gun leveled as Mrs. Moore fell.

Captain Orval Webber and officer Vern Mathesen of the Paso Robles police arrived minutes after the shooting. They had been called to the area earlier when a nurse reported that there was an apparently abandoned car parked at the Y leading to the hospital.

Moore was calm when he was booked at the Paso Robles Police station. He told officers, “I told her if she goofed I’d kill her.” Later Moore changed his tone and said, “I didn’t mean to shoot her. I just wanted to talk to her. And when she started screaming I blacked out. I can’t remember a thing.”

Paso Robles in 1956

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Here six weeks

Mayor Gates, who was called from Santa Barbara by news of the tragedy, said his sister had come here from Cupertino with her nine-year-old daughter just six weeks ago. She had filed divorce proceedings against Moore.

When Mayor Gates confronted Moore, he said, “I’ll see you fry if it takes every cent I have.”

Police found two boxes of .22 shells in Moore’s car, a half ounce of strychnine and a half pine whiskey bottle containing a white liquid. He is a Southern Pacific freight conductor.

Police said Moore wrote a letter after arriving in Paso Robles, but they would not divulge its contents.

Moore was to appear for arraignment today in the Paso Robles District Court of Judge Roy B. Fanning.

Funeral services for Mrs. Moore will be held at Kuehl Chapel at 2 p.m. Tuesday. The Rev. Paul Brown will officiate.

Two gunmen hold up Ralph Hanson home

Two armed gunmen believed to be the same pair who held up Supervisor A.A. Peters Sunday, held up a second Paso Robles home Tuesday night at 11:20 p.m.

Mr. and Mrs. R.O. Hanson were playing cards when the pair forced their way in and demanded to be shown the wall safe.

At first Mrs. Hanson refused to believe the young bandit had a real gun and told him, “You can’t scare me with that toy pistol.”

The gunman then showed Mrs. Hanson that it was not a toy pistol by thumping it twice on the floor.

When the robbers had satisfied themselves that the Hanson’s had no safe, they took seven dollars and left.

Police said the Hanson gave a description that tallied closely with that given by Supervisor Peters.

Mrs. Hansen told officers the boys were white Americans between the ages of 21 and 22, with blond hair and brown hair, weighing between 140 and 150 pounds, and both wearing T-shirts and Levis. One of the lands was also wearing a brown leather jacket.

According to police only one of the gunmen displayed a pistol and that was a small blue steel revolver. Mrs. Hanson told officers that the boy held it in his left hand.

Armed pair rob Supervisor Peters of $80

Two armed robbers held up county supervisor A.A. Peters in his home at 1401 Vine Street Sunday night and took more than $80 in cash.

Peters said he answered a knock on his side door at approximately 9:10 p.m. A youth in his late teens or early 20s stuck a gun in the official’s stomach and asked him, “Have you got any money?”

Shortly after the first youth entered, a second came through the back door ordering Peters to, “Give us your money or I’ll kill you.”

Peters gave them three dollars in loose change that he had in his pocket. The robbers then asked for his wallet and took out $80 telling Peters that his wallet would be returned Monday.

When the pair left they warned Peters not to call the police or they would burn down his house.

Peters, who was very excited, could only describe one of the weapons, and he said it was a short-barreled blue revolver. He was unable to describe the other weapon.

A good description was given to police along with a name that one of the holdup men used to address the other and police are intensifying their investigation.

Read previous Looking Back articles

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About the author: Reporter Jackie Iddings

Jackie Iddings is a contributing reporter and photographer for the Paso Robles Daily News.