Las Vegas Gunman’s Criminal Father Vanished From Sons’ Lives

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LAS VEGAS — The father of Stephen Paddock, the man the police identified as the Las Vegas gunman, was a grifter, a con artist, a bank robber and a jail-breaker who spent years on the F.B.I.’s most-wanted list — a life nothing like the 64 years Stephen spent without apparently acquiring even a hint of a police record.

But they had this in common: A skill at concealing their criminal plans so carefully that they seemed to materialize from nowhere.

In 1960, when Stephen Paddock was 7, F.B.I. agents showed up at his family’s tidy white ranch house in the hills outside Tucson, Ariz., stunning the neighbors and even the local sheriff. No one could fathom that Pat Paddock, the big, jolly father of four young boys who owned a small business in town and was a special deputy at the sheriff’s office, was really Benjamin Hoskins Paddock, a serial bank robber with a rap sheet that stretched back to Chicago.

“He bulged with sincerity,” the sheriff told The Tucson Daily Citizen at the time, noting that Pat Paddock, who sold garbage disposals during the week, volunteered for the local search-and-rescue team and counseled wayward youths in his spare time.


People who knew Stephen Paddock — even his brother — were just as dumbfounded when the police said he had gunned down scores of people in Las Vegas.

Even so, it is far from clear how much the legacy of the father, whose criminal career spanned five decades, may have shaped the son.

When the F.B.I. arrested Mr. Paddock in 1960, friends and relatives tried to protect Stephen and his younger brothers. While federal agents were rifling through bedrooms and closets in the Tucson house, a neighbor took Stephen — the only one of the four Paddock boys who was old enough to realize what was going on — to the neighborhood swimming pool.



“We’re trying to keep Steve from knowing his father is held as a bank robber,” the neighbor told the newspaper. “Steve is a nice boy.”

It is unknown when or if Stephen ever spoke to their father after that. For years, a friend said, the boys were told their father was dead.

“They thought he was a mechanic — they thought he died from an accident working on cars,” said John Magee, 56, who befriended the younger Paddock boys as they were growing up in the 1970s and 1980s. “Their mother was holding the truth back.”

One of the four sons, Patrick Paddock II, said on Tuesday that their mother never explained to them what had become of their father. “She kept that secret from the family,” he said.

Benjamin Hoskins Paddock was born in Sheboygan, Wis., in 1926, and served in the Navy during World War II. Afterward, he landed in Chicago on the wrong side of the law: he was imprisoned in 1946 for stealing cars and running a confidence game. He was out long enough to marry in Reno, Nev., in 1952 and to father Stephen, before being imprisoned again in 1953 for a fraudulent check scheme, according to an Associated Press report.

When he got out in 1956, the Paddocks moved to Arizona and Stephen’s parents started going by different names: Benjamin became Patrick, and his wife, Irene, became Delores, according to The Daily Citizen.

On their quiet street, they seemed to be a model midcentury family.

“Mr. Paddock was such a nice man,” the neighbor across the street told The Daily Citizen in 1960. “He was so attentive to his wife. He was so kind to the children, and he was always doing helpful things around the house.”

In town, he was active in the shortwave radio club and managed what the newspaper called a “younger-set nightclub” called Big Daddy’s. He was Big Daddy.

But he also had developed a knack for robbing banks. Over an 18-month span in 1959 and 1960, Mr. Paddock hit two branches of the Valley National Bank in Phoenix — one of them twice — and made off with $25,000, according to The Arizona Republic, citing an indictment. Each time, the report said, he showed the teller a snub-nosed revolver tucked in his belt, and fled in a stolen car that he abandoned a few blocks away to switch to the family’s new Pontiac station wagon.

When the F.B.I. finally caught up with him at a gas station in downtown Las Vegas, he tried to flee, nearly ramming an agent, before an agent fired a bullet through his windshield. He surrendered unharmed.

Mr. Paddock was convicted in 1961 and sentenced to 20 years in prison. But he escaped from the La Tuna federal penitentiary in Texas on New Year’s Eve 1968, and made his way to San Francisco, where he robbed another bank. In 1969, the F.B.I. placed him on its Most Wanted list, describing him as 6 feet 4 inches, 245 pounds and “diagnosed as psychopathic.”

“He reportedly has suicidal tendencies and should be considered armed and very dangerous,” the poster read, adding that he was an “avid bridge player.”


The youngest son, Eric Paddock, told reporters outside his Florida house on Monday that their father was largely absent from their lives. When the father died in 1998, a paid newspaper obituary listed only one son, Patrick, as a survivor.

After the 1960 arrest, the family moved to Sun City, Calif., where their mother supported the four boys, augmenting her wages as a postal worker by investing in stocks, Mr. Magee said. They never talked about their father.

Patrick Paddock II said that he and his brothers all grew up with anger that they had to learn how to manage, in his case through military training over 17 years of service in the Air Force. But he said he thought Stephen seemed the least affected. “My brother was the most boring one in the family,” Patrick said of Stephen. “He was the least violent one.”

Hiding from the F.B.I. after his prison break, Benjamin Paddock moved to Springfield, Ore., where he used the alias Bruce Werner Ericksen, grew a forked goatee and made money by turning back car odometers. In 1978, he made a deal with a small women’s charity to open a bingo parlor and share the proceeds, but he kept most of the profits himself, according to a court filing.

Locals who knew nothing of his criminal record called him Bingo Bruce, and recalled a host of fanciful stories he told about his past.

“He claimed that he’d been a Dixieland band singer, pilot, auto racing crew chief, Chicago Bears pro football player, survivor of World War II minesweeper sinking and a wrestler named ‘Crybaby,’ ” a columnist for The Eugene Register-Guard who interviewed Mr. Paddock at the time later wrote. “Some of that may have been true. With Bruce, you never knew.”

At the time, his wife and children lived in California. Eric Paddock said in a telephone interview on Tuesday that in this period he learned that his father was still alive.

“I went to see him for the first time when I was 17,” Eric said in an interview on Tuesday. “He was a gambler. That’s how you were cool back then. So I get up there, and he starts telling me about how he used to send letters to J. Edgar Hoover, calling him a pansy. That’s what he chose to tell his 17-year-old son, whom he never met before. I don’t think I ever saw him again.”

A photo of Bingo Bruce that ran in a local paper tipped off the authorities, and on the night of Sept. 6, 1978, federal agents arrested him outside his bingo hall.

A year later, he would once again leave federal prison early, but this time on parole. People who knew him in Oregon, including a local mayor, lobbied for his release after a year in custody, according to the article in The Register-Guard.

He returned to bingo, this time opening his own church so he could keep all the profits, but he could not stay out of trouble. State authorities charged him with racketeering in the 1980s; Mr. Paddock settled civil charges and avoided jail after paying $623,000. He eventually left Oregon for Texas, where he died in 1998.

Mr. Magee, the neighbor who knew the Paddock boys as children in California, said that even in light of the family history, he could not bring himself to believe that Stephen Paddock would carry out a mass shooting.

“Steve was a gentlemen, his brothers respected him,” he said. “I just can’t see him doing this.”


Article from:- https://www.nytimes.com

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