Fifty-seven years before Stephen Paddock arrived in Las Vegas with 18 firearms that included at least one fully automatic weapon, his father drove into town with a little snub-nosed revolver tucked into the front seat of his car.
The revolver was apparently the same one that Benjamin Hoskins Paddock had displayed to a teller at the Valley National Bank in Phoenix as he presented her with a shopping bag and ordered her to fill it full of cash.
The father had then made his getaway in a car that had been stolen two miles away a few minutes before. A bank employee dashed out behind him and followed in a commandeered car.
After a few blocks, the employee saw the robber switch the stolen vehicles for a car that had several large antennas on the back. A check of people with amateur radio licenses showed only one person who owned a car of that description: it was Benjamin Paddock of Tucson.
Nobody was more surprised than Sheriff Waldon Burr of Tucson, Arizona, for Paddock had used his radio to assist the local search and rescue team. Paddock also let anyone who so desired get on his radio to contact relatives aboard.
And Paddock served as a volunteer special deputy with the Pima County Juvenile Probation Department, saying that his own troubles in his early years motivated him to assist what he called “wayward youths.”
“He bulged with sincerity,” Sheriff Burr later told a reporter.
The FBI learned that Paddock had gone on what he had described as a business trip to Las Vegas, apparently stopping in Phoenix to rob the bank along the way. He played tournament level bridge, but his real passion was gambling and he apparently intended to use $3,000 of his loot to try his luck in Vegas.
But his luck turned bad before his first wager when the FBI spotted him and moved to make the arrest. He allegedly attempted to run down one of the agents. He stopped when another agent fired a round through his car windshield.
Down in Tucson, neighbors were shocked to see the FBI show up at the newly built suburban ranch house where Benjamin Paddock had moved with his wife and four sons after arriving from Illinois the previous January.
“Little Children Underfoot As FBI Agents Move In,” read the headline in the Tucson Daily Citizen.
A neighbor across the street, Eva Price, took the oldest son, 7-year-old Stephen, swimming.
“So that the boy couldn’t hear about the charges against his father,” the newspaper reported.
Three-year-old Patrick, 18-month-old Bruce, and 6-month-old Eric remained with their mother, Delores.
“The other three children cluttered distractingly underfoot as Mrs. Paddock showed the three FBI agents through the home, garage and Paddock automobile,” the paper reported.
Price was quoted saying, “What a terrible thing for the children.” She added, “The Paddocks always minded their own business and behaved respectably as far as any of us noticed.”
Up until then, the neighbors had known Benjamin Paddock only as a fellow suburbanite who sold and serviced garbage disposals.
“He seemed like the average middle-class businessman devoted to his home and family,” Price said, offering, “I find Delores to be especially charming."
If Benjamin Paddock had a wild side, it seemed to his neighbors to go no further than belonging to the Hot Rodder Club and operating a nightspot in town. Price and the others could not have imagined that Benjamin Paddock’s criminal record already included two convictions in Illinois, where he had moved after starting life in Sheboygan, Wisconsin. He had been sentenced to a five-to-eight-year sentence for stealing ten cars in 1946 and to a two-to-four-year term in 1953 for running a confidence game. He was now was sentenced in federal court to 20 years.
Added time loomed when Paddock was indicted for three other bank robberies. He was known to love umpiring prison baseball games, but he apparently decided that eight years in custody was enough and in 1968 he managed to escape from La Tuna Federal Prison in Texas.
He remained at large as he went on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List.
The FBI described him as “glib… smooth talking… arrogant and egotistical.”
“Diagnosed as psychopathic, has carried firearms in commission of bank robberies,” the wanted poster noted. “Reportedly has suicidal tendencies and should be considered armed and very dangerous.”
The poster reported that he was six-foot-four, weighed 240 pounds, was balding and sometimes shaved what blond hair he still had. His nicknames in his alternate life as a criminal not improbably included Chromedome, Old Baldy and Big Daddy.
But in his new life as an escapee, he reinvented himself as Bruce Ericksen. And, as Ericksen, he opened the first bingo parlor in Oregon in 1977, having exploited a loophole in the law by assuring the authorities that virtually all the proceeds would go to an educational charity save for a modest salary for himself. His outsized sense of himself led him to pose for a photo for a newspaper article about “Bingo Bruce” of the new Bingo Centre.
The photo caught the attention of the FBI and in September of 1978 he was recaptured after a decade as a fugitive. Prosecutors wanted him to serve the rest of his 20-year term with another two years added on, but he had developed quite a following as Bingo Bruce. Some 1,600 people petitioned the court for his release. The judge granted him parole.
Upon his return to Oregon, Ericksen reopened the Bingo Centre, saying that the proceeds would now go to a non-denominational church, the Holy Life Congregation, headed by none other than himself. He testified with remarkable candor when the venture led to disciplinary action against his one-time attorney:
Q. You had been convicted of armed bank robbery?
Q. That you had previously been convicted of auto theft?
Q. That you had previously been convicted of forgery?
Q. That you have previously been convicted of confidence crime charges?
Q. At the time of your arrest, you had been an escapee from the West District of Texas for approximately nine years?
He was further asked if he had been on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted list.
A. Yes. I've been No. 1. Also had three killings that don't appear on that, for seven and a half years.
When speaking to a local reporter, he announced that his days as a criminal were over.
“My name is Ericksen now,” he said. “Paddock is dead.”
And he continued to live as Ericksen after he moved to Texas, all the way unto a grave in 1998 marked with his new and final identity.
But Paddock was still the name he had given his four sons, though he does not appear to have had much more than that to do with them.
The one who had been old enough to have registered the shock when the father’s secret criminal life was revealed with a knock at the door by the FBI had gone on to become an accountant of little account.
And, where Benjamin Paddock had sought to be bigger than everyday life no matter what it cost his family, Stephen Paddock seemed smaller. The son became wealthy and shared his father’s passion for gambling and wagered far greater amounts than the father ever contemplated. Yet at 64, the son still struck most people as not just reclusive but hardly a presence at all.
“Just nothing,” said a neighbor at his retirement community in Mesquite.
But back on that day in 1960 when everything suddenly changed for the Paddock family, Big Daddy had driven into Las Vegas with just one little snub nosed revolver. His eldest boy, the only one of the four who could have possibly remembered the full shock of that long ago change, arrived there 57 years and with an arsenal of high powered weapons.
Stephen Paddock proceeded to give full meaning to being psychopathic and armed and dangerous. He fired and fired and fired from his big spender suite in the gleaming high rise of the hour hotel, seemingly with no other goal than to kill as many as possible.
The son of the man who sought to be bigger than life was now seeking to make himself bigger than death.
He only needed the guns.