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Looking Back to January 1959: Grave robbers hurl accusations 

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 the society’s Vice President Nancy Tweedie and Research Director Jan Cannon.

Excerpts from Wednesday, Jan. 28, 1959, The Paso Robles Journal:

Each blames others—4 face felony charges

Dissension in the ranks of the Atascadero body-snatchers was becoming apparent today, as each began accusing the others in an attempt to shift blame for the desecration of an old Atascadero grave.

All four members of the group, taken into custody Friday, several hours after they “planted” a woman’s head on a fence-post near the Atascadero High School, confessed that night to robbing the grave in an abandoned Atascadero cemetery.

They did it “just for kicks.”

Today they are kicking. But felony charges (violation of Section 7052 of the Health and Safety Code – unlawful removal of a body from the place of interment) will be lodged against the quartet, according to the sheriff’s office.

Looking Back Paso Robles

Click here to read the full front page of the Wednesday, January 28 issue of the Paso Robles Journal.


Signing confessions were three Atascadero youths: J.D. Rambo, 20, Robert Gary MacPherson, 16, and Paul Leroy Williams, 18, all of Atascadero, and their companion, Bennie Ray King, an AWOL soldier from Fort Ord.

The four admitted going to the old cemetery Thursday afternoon, “spading up the body of a mother,” removing the head, and returning with it an Atascadero apartment. Early Friday morning one of the pranksters, at the moment there is disagreement as to which one it was, placed the skull on a fence post near the Highway 101 underpass leading to the high school.

“Victim” of the grisly joke was the corpse of an 83-year old woman buried in the now-abandoned plot in 1918.

“Wasn’t me”

While the practical jokers agreed, in substance, Friday evening, as to the removal of the head, they differed radically today on details, primarily the details concerning which one was involved.

Paul Leroy Williams, known to his companions and the police as “Whitey,” was the first to break under questioning. He told Lt. Al Williamson and Deputy Earl Rogers that he and his three companions had driven to the cemetery in Rambo’s pickup truck, about 2:00 p.m. Thursday, “and looked around for a grave that contained the body of a mother.” Whitey was unable to say why a mother’s body was selected.

Select grave

The quartet located a large marble headstone whose inscription indicated that a “mother” had been buried there in 1918.

Using a pick and shovel they had obtained at an Atascadero motel, they dug to a depth of three and one-half feet, and struck a wooden box containing the coffin.

At this point, their stories begin to diverge. Each maintains that “one of the others” leaped into the grave, and pried open one end of the box, and ripped off a part of the coffin’s lid.

Williams accuses MacPherson, and MacPherson maintains that Whitey opened the coffin. King and Rambo are certain that they didn’t do it, but apparently aren’t sure who did.

Crawls in

Williams says that the coffin was ripped open at the bottom of the box, and that MacPherson crawled into it and, reaching forward, extracted the head, which he “tossed up to us.”

”We wanted to rebury it after we’d taken a look at the thing,” Whitey said, “but MacPherson said he wanted to take it home and nail it up over his bed, just for luck.”

Whitey added that, after the head had been hauled back to Atascadero in a sack concealed in Rambo’s pickup truck, it was hidden under the house of an Atascadero woman. The unnamed woman entertained the four “until the early hours of Friday morning.”

“Later,” Williams states in his confession, “MacPherson took the head to the Atascadero high school underpass and put it on the post.”

MacPherson yesterday denied that he had placed the head there.

It is known that “Whitey” was present when the head was discovered by high school students early Friday morning. In fact, Whitey offered to assist in the investigation and continued to aid Officers Williamson and Rogers until the officers decided to arrest Whitey.

Click here to continue reading page 4.

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About the author: Reporter Jackie Iddings

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