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The 1989 Memorial Day killings in Julian backcountry

American Primitive

Monument at Chariot Canyon. Deputies driving Banner Grade have seen Gustav Hudson at the property and  Benjamin Haimes' Lincoln Continental.
  • Monument at Chariot Canyon. Deputies driving Banner Grade have seen Gustav Hudson at the property and Benjamin Haimes' Lincoln Continental.

Memorial Day 1991 is the anniversary of a deadly gold fields shootout known in the Julian back country as “The Chariot Canyon Massacre.” Five men opened fire with assault rifle, shotgun, machine pistol, hunting rifle, and target rifle in a dispute over a gold claim in the historic Chariot Canyon gold field.

When the echoes of gunfire died away in the remote, boulder=strewn canyon, one Julian man lay dead and another dying of multiple gunshot wounds. More than 40 shots had been fired at the two men. It was a bloody Memorial Day in a rough country where prospectors – notoriously paranoid about their claims – have roamed in search of gold for more than 100 years.

After studying an investigation by the San Diego County sheriff’s department, the San Diego District Attorney came to the following decision about the two shooting deaths: “It is our conclusion upon sifting the facts as adduced from the reports and supplemental review that no criminal complaint can be filed as a result of this incident.”

The site of the shootout figures prominently in the history of gold mining in Southern California. Chariot Canyon and Chariot Creek, along with Chariot Mountain, which adjoins them on the east, was the locale of the second big strike – in 1870 – of the Julian gold rush. Today, most of the gold-mining areas of Chariot Canyon are within public lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management.

As public land, the old gold fields are open to prospectors and their mining claims. Those who have worked claims in the area are deeply resentful and openly hostile, to newcomers – “flat-landers” is the term of contempt used by natives to identify outsiders. Prospectors frequently threaten trespassers on what they believe to be their legitimate mining claims. Most of them go armed. But until Memorial Day, 1989, no deaths had arisen from claim disputes.

On that Memorial Day, two men believed they had legal claims to the same mining property. One claimant was Gustav Oran Hudson of El Cajon, who told sheriff’s deputies that he had completed the paperwork necessary to claim the property. The other was Benjamin Haimes of Encino, who had told deputies that he had been in possession of the property for four years, and had spent $250,000 on improvements.

Haimes employed Christopher Mark “Chris” Zerbe, 34, of Julian as his caretaker at the mine. The two who died that day in the gunfire were Zerbe and a friend and a friend who accompanied him to the disputed mine. The friend was Edward John “Joe” Lopes, 66, also of Julian.

The tragic events of the day were triggered by an encounter between Zerbe and Hudson at an iron gate that closes off the entrance to Chariot Canyon on Highway 78 east of Julian. The gate is at the U-curve on Banner Grade known locally as Horseshoe Bend. The little canyon beyond the gate is kept in eternal shade by patriarchal live oaks and white-trunked sycamores. Freeform granite boulders, a recurring feature of the Julian country, add their rugged beauty to the canyon. The iron gate is flanked on each side by wrought-iron fences that enclose most of the canyon entrance.

Zerbe and Lopes were waiting in Zerbe’s pickup inside the iron gate when Hudson arrived, accompanied by his wife and children, one of his employees, and several of their friends. Hudson told sheriff’s deputies that the part had driven in several cars from El Cajon for a combination of picnicking, panning for gold, and target shooting. The only living witnesses to the confrontation are members of the Hudson party.

Mrs. Mary Louise Hudson told sheriff’s deputies that the confrontation took place between 11 a.m. and noon. She said the meeting began with Zerbe shouting, “’You don’t go in here,’ or something like that. My husband took out the paperwork [on the claim],” Mrs. Hudson said. “The area has, as we know, many claims. So he [produced] his clams paper to show which area was legitimately ours to be in.” She said, “These other people seemed to accept that as right.”

She further recalled Zerbe and Lopes shouting, “We’ll stay out of your stream if you stay out of our hole.” She said that meant that Zerbe and Lopes wouls stay out of the stream, where Hudson had his claim, if the Hudson party would stay out of the old lode mines, the Ready Relief and Hubbard, claimed by Zerbe’s employer, Benjamin Haimes.

Gustav Hudson, a contractor who works out of his home, said he thought Zerbe and Lopes had been drinking. Another member of the Hudson party said he saw empty beer cans in the bed of Zerbe’s truck. “I think he was drunk or something,” Luis Roberto Higgins, 19, told deputies in reference to Zerbe. Higgins, Mrs. Hudson’s brother, gave the same El Cajon address as that of Mr. and Mrs. Hudson.

Gustav Hudson told deputies he “didn’t pay much attention” to Zerbe’s antagonistic attitude because he was accustomed to dealing with painters “that are drunk all the time on the job. When you do contracting work there’s always disputes, and somebody brings a gun, you know, and makes threats.”

Hudson confirmed his wife’s understanding of the oral agreement made between Zarbe and himself. Hudson explained: “I told him exactly where we’d because they said, ‘Don’t go over there by the cabin.’ I said, ‘We won’t.’ Wouldn’t be in their mines doing anything like that. We’d be using the sluice. So they, you know, knew exactly what we’d be doing,” Hudson said. “I showed him the claims. He calmed down,” moved his truck, and said to Hudson, “Go on, get in.”

District Attorney Miller’s letter to then-Sheriff John F. Duffy shows some confusion on the part of the DA’s office regarding the agreement reached between Zerbe and Hudson at the iron gate.

“Mr. Zerbe warned Mr. Hudson to stay off property mined by others; that is, property not covered by the Hudson claim. Mr. Hudson agreed.” The DA’s letter is dated December 14, 1989, and it covers the agreement in a general way rather than quoting the specific terms spelled out by the two men. The Hudson party did not limit its activities that day to the terms of the oral agreement.

The iron gate was the entrance to private property that adjoined the gold claim area, which is about a quarter of a mile away. The gate was always secured with three or more heavy padlocks. The District Attorney’s letter reported that Zerbe had permission from the property owner to use the gate and drive across the property to the gold claims. Hudson did not have such permission.

Nevertheless, after the confrontation that day at the iron gate, Michael Hudson cut off Zerbe’s padlock “’cause he cut ours off.” Michael, youngest of the Hudsons’ two sons, used bolt cutters that his father carried in his motor home.

Gustav Hudson told deputies that he had put his own lock on the iron gate on his first trip to the canyon on Mother’s Day 1989. That padlock made a total of three padlocks on the gate at the time of the confrontation. In answer to questions, Hudson told deputies that he did not know who owned the other two locks. (One of them was put there by Zerbe, acting as caretaker for Benjamin Haimes. The third lock was not identified during the sheriff’s investigated.)

The confrontation at the iron gate lasted only a few minutes. When it was over, Zerbe moved his pickup truck. The Hudson party drove its four vehicles through the iron gate and on to the claim site. Lopes yelled at the Hudson party to close the gate. The four vehicles of the Hudson party were Gustav Hudson’s 15-year-old motor home, two pickup trucks , and a sedan. Only the motor home remained in the claims area when the killings occurred there later in the day.

Over a two-month period following the killings, from early June to early August, deputies traced the movements of Zerbe and Lopes after they drove away from the iron gate. The deputies interviews with local residents revealed a great deal about the reputation of the two men in the community.

Zerbe and Lopes were familiar figures in the Julian area. Each was regarded as a man who lived his own lifestyle, somewhat eccentric, perhaps, but behavior that was usually harmless, and certainly tolerable in Julian, a community that prides itself on following a philosophy of “live and let live.” They were both, according to a witness, among “the colorful people” of the town. The two men had at least one trait in common: each, according to testimony collected from acquaintances by the sheriff’s department, had an “alcohol problem.”

Julie Ann Zerbe-Hutchinson, 30, Zerbe’s sister, was interviewed on June 5, 1989, Sheriff’s detectives, who wrote the following in their investigative report: “She related that she had taken possession of Christopher’s weapons approximately two years ago when he was placed on probation on weapons charges.”

Zerbe-Hutchinson told the detectives that she and her husband had taken had taken Zerbe’s weapons and a coffee can full of ammunition to the home of friends for safekeeping. The weapons – two rifles and two shotguns – were reclaimed by Zerbe on the afternoon of the killings in Banner Canyon.

District Attorney Miller’s letter of December 14 to Sheriff Duffy included the following statements: “Mr. Zerbe was arrested in 1985 for drunk driving and carrying a concealed weapon in a vehicle … Your department’s investigation reveals that Mr. Zerbe had a reputation for being a dangerous man with a weapon but had apparently avoided contact with weapons for an extended period.”

Zerbe was described as thin and wiry. He was 5’9” and weighed 138 pounds. He wore an untrimmed, full beard and moustache. He had wavy brown hair that was beginning to thin in the front. His eyes were hazel. On Memorial Day, Zerbe wore a bandana as a headband.

Chris Zerbe was outspoken and sometimes abrasive, witnesses said. One acquaintance interviewed by deputies said Zerbe was :an intimidating prick.” Aside from his duties a mine caretaker for Haimes, he had no regular income, according to the testimony collected by the sheriff.

A long-time friend of Zerbe’s made the following remarks in an interview with a detective on July 26: “The local sheriff’s have been against Chris [Zerbe] since he was, uh, 15 years old.” He said that one sheriff at the funeral following the Banner Canyon killings had questioned why anyone was at the funeral when Zerbe “was just a dud.”

The same witness testified that Zerbe had been known to fire weapons “in anger,” but not at anyone. Two years earlier, the witness said, “for about three days he was completely out of it. In his paranoia he drank a whole bunch, and that made the problem much worse.” Zerbe’s former wife, Nancy Louise Esquinka-Withers of Santa Ysabel, told deputies that Zerbe “has fired weapons in the air when he was mad at me, but it was only in frustration.”

In his battered blue pickup truck, Zerbe was a figure familiar to many residents of the Julian area. He usually carried a three-wheel, all-terrain vehicle in his truck. A dog sometimes traveled in the truck with him.

Joe Lopes, the second victim of the Banner Canyon killings, was a shy, polite man of 66. He was short, a couple of inches over five feet, and stocky. His stomach protruded over his belt, or, in the words of the Julian country, “He had a beer belly.” He had a full beard and mustache and graying, collar-length hair. “He looked like Santa Claus,” Todd Harding of the Hudson told deputies. The sheriff said Lopes had no job and no permanent address, even though he was well known in Julian and Ramona as a day laborer.

A sheriff’s detective interviewed Ricard Wayne Nichols, 46, of Julian, a friend of Lopes’s, by telephone on July 26, 1989.

“Did he have a little drinking problem?” the detective asked.

“Oh yeah,” Nichols replied. “Yeah. He sure did. But he was the nicest man you’d ever want to meet. I’ve seen him stone drunk and he would never cuss. Always called women ‘Ma’am.’ And he was really well mannered. I’ve never seen him do anything that would cause harm to anybody. He was about the friendliest drunk you’d ever want to meet.”

Lopes’s interest in the Old West was evident in his dress and his person. He wore a belt buckle that portrayed a western scene and bore the legend “Tall in the Saddle.” On his right biceps was the tattoo of a pretty cowgirl. Aging had blurred the image of another tattoo, this one on his right forearm. Lopes usually wore blue jeans, a T-shirt, and lace boots. At the time of his death, he had a dollar bill and some small change in his pockets.


One of Zerbe’s first acts after leaving the iron gate was to telephone his employer, Benjamin Haimes in Encino. Haimes’s answering machine recorded the following message:

“Hello, Ben, possibly you should give me a call. We have a lot of trouble going on down in the canyon [unintelligible]. There’s claims-jumpers everywhere down here.”

On June 27, nearly a month after the killings, the detective learned in a telephone conversation that Karen Kim, identified as Haimes’s fiancée, picked up the telephone as the message was being recorded on Memorial Day and talked with Zerbe for “10 or 15 minutes.” She said Zerbe told her there were claim jumpers on the property.

Kim quoted Zerbe as saying the claim-jumpers “are blasting all over the place.” He told her that the intruders were “the people who locked the Hubbard Mine.” That mine was claimed by Haimes, and Zerbe had earlier removed Hudson’s padlock and installed his own. She said Zerbe told her “he’s going to go back there and take care of them.” She said she did not know what he meant by that comment. Deputies asked Kim if Zerbe sounded “like maybe he had a couple beers.” She said he sounded “normal.”

Zerbe telephoned his former wife, Julie Ann Zerbe-Hutchinson, of Julian, at about 1:30 on the afternoon of the killings. Detectives reported that “Christopher called and told her he would like to have the firearms back.” Julie and her husband, Richard Hutchinson, drove to the home of the Julian friend who had been storing Zerbe’s guns at the request of Mrs. Hutchinson. They collected the weapons and the can of ammunition and returned to their home.

“Christopher and Joe Lopes arrived at her home at approximately 5:00 p.m. on the day of the shooting,” the deputies reported. Hutchinson returned the weapons and the can of ammunition to Zerbe. “She further related that Zerbe was calm and in a ‘good mood.’ She had no indication they had been consuming alcohol.”

Zerbe picked up a pizza at the Romano Dodge House restaurant in Julian “between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m.,” according to Mrs. Carmel Joanne Romano, wife of the owner. She told the deputies that Zerbe was “sober and clear-eyed.”

Terry Doherty of Whispering Pines Drive in Julian told deputies that Zerbe and Lopes stopped at a garage sale at his house at about 5:30 p.m. Zerbe purchased two Coleman lanterns, and Lopes purchased a wooden ammunition box. The report said: “Doherty stated both men were in good spirits and he was not aware if they had been drinking any alcoholic beverages at the time.” Doherty said he believed Zerbe and Lopes “left east on Highway 78 down Banner Grade.” That route took them to the iron gate at Horseshoe Bend, the entrance to Banner Canyon and the disputed claims area.

Meanwhile, the Hudson party had driven from the iron gate on Banner Grade and up Chariot Canyon to the old Ready Relief and Hubbard mines in the area where Gustav Hudson had reportedly filed his claim. Members of the party erected a canopy over Banner Creek as protection from the sun while they were panning for gold. Gustav Hudson and the other men set up monuments on both sides of the creek and up the sides of the canyon mountains to define the area of his claims.

Mary Louise Hudson told deputies that she was “just kind of ambling around” while her husband, Gustav Hudson, was working “working with his gold pan.” She made baskets of grass picked at the site, searching for memorabilia of the mining country.

Another member of the Hudson party, Todd Randall Harding, 24, an employee of Hudson’s Pro Construction Company, told deputies that he looked for gold in and around the old mill building. It was one of the structures that Hudson had told Zerbe his party would not enter. Gustav Hudson joined him in the mill, and they talked about the rocks Harding had picked up.

Later, Harding and four other members of the Hudson party went off exploring, carrying firearms for target shooting. They went to the Hubbard Mine, about a half-mile from the iron gate. There, Harding testifies, “we busted that lock off and went in there. That was our mine, or Gus’s mine.”

Hudson’s party again had broken a lock that was not theirs and entered a mine they had promised to stay away from.

Late on Memorial Day afternoon, Zerbe drove his Chevrolet Luv pickup truck through the iron gate and up one of the primitive trails into Chariot Canyon. His friend Lopes rode on the passenger side of the truck. Both men were armed, Zerbe with a .30-.30 deer rifle, Lopes with a 12-guage shotgun

Zerbe drove the truck to within about 100 feet of the site on Chariot Creek where Hudson had parked his motor home. None of the Hudson party saw him approach. Mrs. Hudson said she “barely heard” the truck. The time was about 6:30 p.m.

The following testimony is taken from the investigative reports of the sheriff’s department.

MARY LOUISE HUDSON: I was just walking around because it’s a historic site. Just kind of kicking around the area there, looking for buttons or coins or whatever. As the man saw me stoop over, I guess, he screamed at me, “That’s not placer [panning in a stream], goddamnit.” I think that’s the only words he used. I know I wanted to show him, but there’s no way to show him that I was the only person there. Just me.

DEPUTY: Could you see the individual that was talking to you or screaming at you>

HUDSON: I could have, but I didn’t.

DEPUTY: When you said, he then fired at you…

HUDSON: Yes, he did.

DEPUTY: Did you see the gun?

HUDSON: No, I didn’t.

DEPUTY: How did you know he was firing in your direction?

HUDSON: I never been fired on before so I, I don’t know how I knew.

DEPUTY: I mean, did you hear the bullet strike something near you? Did you see it hit the ground?

HUDSON: It was incredibly loud. And I think that it hit the building that I was standing next to … I started screaming for the kids and I ran for the motor home.

Gustav Hudson was panning in the creek when his wife screamed and ran for the motor home.

DEPUTY: How do you know he shot at your wife?

GUSTAV HUDSON: I saw the end of a gun. There was a big, loud blast. I mean, it was a fairly heavy-duty rifle. She grabbed herself like she had been shot. And then she started to run, and I thought she was okay.

DEPUTY: And then what happened?

HUDSON: The kids were right there. They’d come down the hill. I grabbed my gun.

DEPUTY: Where was your gun at?

HUDSON: It was real close to me.

DEPUTY: Which gun was that?

HUDSON: It was the Ak-47 – it was in hand reach.

DEPUTY: Why did you have the gun down there with you?

HUDSON: I just normally have it when I go out in the desert or go out like that.

DEPUTY: Was it already loaded?

HUDSON: Yes it was already loaded.

DEPUTY: And then what?

HUDSON: By this time, I could see it was for sure a man in the truck. Matthew [Hudson]. I could see him run into the stream. Next thing that happened is, I noticed that Bobby [Higgins] , my brother-in-law was right next to me a couple of feet away. Matthew was maybe ten feet away.

Matthew Hudson: I hear someone yell something : “This is not a placer claim.” I didn’t recognize the voice. I hear two shots. Two or more. I looked across the valley and I could see a truck and I could see flashes – like barrel flashes – I thin k there’s some more shots fired. I wasn’t sure. I ran by and picked up the Hakim eight millimeter. And my Uncle Bob [Higgins] had the shotgun, so we got behind some trees. And then the guy looked down, and he yelled from the tree up there “You’re dead,” and he pointed the gun at my dad.

DEPUTY: So your recollection is that once you reached this point, you didn’t know who fired first, but there was a lot of shots fired. Is that what you’re saying?

M. HUDSON: Yeah. But what I do remember clearly is the guy backed the car up a little bit, or the car rolled backwards, and he points the gun out and goes, “You’re dead.” And he pointed it at my father.

DEPUTY: And that’s when you started shooting?

M. HUDSON: That’s when we started shooting.

DEPUTY: Okay.

M>HUDSON: I wasn’t aiming at the guy at first. I was just shooting. Shot at his tire and I just swept across the car. You know, from the right side to the left side. Till I shot all ten shots. And the I pulled out the pistol and the door opened. I couldn’t see anybody come out so I shot a couple times at the door with the pistol.


Higgins told deputies that he fired two shots from a “Law” 12-guage shotgun.

LUIS ROBERTO HIGGINS: There was a truck with these men in it. The man had a gun pulled out. I was off to Gus’s right-hand side and Matthew was off to his left-hand side. I got a tree between myself and the man on the hill. I saw him pull a gun out. He did shoot. And I did hear a bullet go by my head. Not too far off. I could hear the spin of it.

DEPUTY: And you seen him shoot?

HIGGINS: Yes I did.

DEPUTY: Describe how ou were able to see that.

HIGGINS: When I saw the gun come out of the window — I just saw out of the corner of my eye the shot. Okay? I was down but I could hear the spin of the bullet as it went by. I saw the recoil. He was opening fire on us.


Todd Harding and two girls of the Hudson party had not kept up with Matthew Hudson and Luis Roberto Higgins on their return from target shooting and breaking into the mine. Harding and the girls were on the trail above the panning site. Harding carried a target rifle.

DEPUTY: You’re up on the hill with the .22 with the scope, and you’re looking at them? The what happened?

HARDING: We took cover when a whole bunch of shots went off. I shot the .22 twice. One at the house [cabin] and one at the truck.


Excerpt from district attorney Miller’s letter of December 14, 1989 to Sheriff Duffy: “Subsequent expert firearms examination revealed that Mr. Zerbe’s rifle had been fired, and an empty expelled .30.30 casing was found next to the pickup truck. The Lopes shotgun had not been fired.” Reports of the sheriff and district attorney confirm this.

Excerpt from the district attorney’s letter to the sheriff: “The three members of the Hudson party opened fire on the truck.” According to their own testimony, however, four – not three – members of the Hudson party fired on the truck.


Mrs. Hudson and the two girls, who had come down the hill with Todd Harding, took cover behind a wheel of the motor home when the shooting began. Gustav Hudson was in the six-inch-deep stream and moving around “to put this tree between me and the man in the truck.” He fell in the water, and members of the Hudson party said the man in the truck shot again.

GUSTAV HUDSON: I thought maybe he shot a third time. He screamed out of the car, “I killed him. I killed him. I got the man. I killed the guy,” or something to that effect.

MARY LOUISE HUDSON: After the first shot of two shots, I don’t remember, somebody from up there shouted, “We got him. He’s dead.”


At about this time, the three men of the Hudson party were standing in the creek with weapons. The distance between young Hudson on one side and Higgins on the other was about 12 feet. Gustav Hudson stood between them.

MATTHEW HUDSON: He yelled from the tree up there. He goes, “You’re dead.” And he pointed the gun at my dad, and then we started shooting.

DEPUTY: The you started shooting or he started shooting?

HUDSON: Then, I don’t know who started first. It was all guns at this point, and …

DEPUTY: Both sides?

HUDSON: Both sides.

DEPUTY: I mean, they were firing at you and you were firing at them?

HUDSON: Yes.

DEPUTY: How many people could you see in the truck shooting?

HUDSON: I could only see the one person.

DEPUTY: And that was who?

HUDSON: I couldn’t tell who it was. I didn’t even know who it was.


Gustav Hudson told deputies that his son Matthew fired “eight, I would say seven, eight rounds from a “nine-millimeter automatic pistol.” The sheriff listed it as a TZ-95 automatic pistol with a ten round clip. Matthew, however, said he fired ten shots from an assault rifle, and “two, three or four shots” from the pistol.


DEPUTY: He said that several times, “I killed him. I killed him?”

GUSTAV HUDSON: I think he only said it one time. He was talking about us, and this was after there was already gunfire going on. We couldn’t see him real well in the car. He crouched down with his rifle once the first shot started firing. And then Bobby was shooting and I know Matt was shooting. Todd told me that he had started shooting. And then …

DEPUTY: Was there any conversation between you and the boys during the shooting?

HUDSON: No. I don’t know, maybe the whole incident took place in maybe ten seconds, five seconds, something like that. But it’s just within seconds the whole thing happened. He came out of the truck, and I yelled at everybody, “Quit shooting.” I said, “Stop. Stop.” And you know, he fell down next to the truck. And at that point, I didn’t know that there was another man in the truck. So I knew that he had been hit and he had fallen down. I think his dog jumped out of the car with him. People were screaming and crying, and, you know, it was just a nightmare. We were afraid the guy still had his gun with him, ‘cause when he came out of the truck he’d had it in his hands. He still had the rifle in his hand when he was still screaming.

DEPUTY: You see him fall?

HUDSON: I saw him fall. He had the rifle…

DEPUTY: Is this while you were walking up the hill?

HUDSON: We knew he was down, and he hadn’t fired again. I don’t know how long it took us. We just kind of crept around. We didn’t know what to do. I told the boys to stay back. I went up behind the pickup truck. He still had the gun in his hand or right next to his hand. I could see that he was shot pretty bad. I told him not to move. I said, just lay there and I’ll get help. He didn’t seem to hear me. I kicked the gun. There was kind of a little embankment and a low bush. I just slid it up underneath the brush there so he couldn’t see it in case he did get back up. That was a .30.30 he had, one of those lever-action things.

DEPUTY: You kicked the gun out of his hands?

HUDSON: With my foot, yeah – I had my gun right on him, and I kicked the gun out. I know he was still alive ‘cause he was talking.

DEPUTY: And what did he say?

HUDSON: “Joe.” He called for Joe. I didn’t know there was another guy in the truck. I don’t think I had the kids up there yet. I told them to stay back.

DEPUTY: Did you check the man in the car for a pulse?

HUDSON: No I didn’t. He was moaning.

DEPUTY Could you tell what he was moaning, or just …

HUDSON: He was just breathing deep, that was all.


At this point in the bloody shooting in Chariot Canyon, Joe Lopes was dead of bullets in the head and chest, slumped over in the passenger seat of Zerbe’s pickup truck. He played no active role in the deadly events. A 12-guage shotgun lay unfired beside him.

Chris Zerbe was slowly dying. His body riddled by the barrage from the guns of the four men in Chariot Creek. He had opened the truck door and fallen to the ground during the shooting. Zerbe had apparently tried to crawl to cover behind a bush. Still defiant, and speaking through a bloody mouth, he ordered Gustav Hudson, one of his killers, to “get out of here.”

The first outsider on the scene of the shooting was Bennett Paul “Pablo” Scott, 33, a treetopper by trade, of Julian. He gave sheriff’s investigators a vivid picture of the scene.

“When I was trying to help the guy [Zerbe],” Scott said, “and trying to give him mouth-to-mouth [resuscitation], his cheek was blown apart. There was so many holes it was pathetic.” Scott continued, “Hey, it looked Custer’s Last Stand. That car was bucked from one end of town to the other. There was bullets everywhere. The car got hit from both sides, and it looked like somebody just dumped out tons of lead on each side of it. Both windows were blown in.”

Scott had met Matthew Hudson and Luis Roberto Higgins at the iron gate and accompanied then to the shootout scene upon their request for help. He was barefoot and wearing a cast on one leg. After reaching the scene, Scott – according to his testimony to deputies – took the following actions:

• Identified himself as “having worked with sheriff’s department. I read them their rights. I put them under a citizen’s arrest because I didn’t want to get killed.”

• Escorted Mrs. Hudson to the spot where she reported the first shot. He had her go through the events leading up to, and including, the alleged first shot.

• Moved Zerbe’s rifle. “I put my nose to the end of a barrel and smelled it just out of instinct. It didn’t seem to me that it had been fired. It was cold.”

• Moved the fatally wounded Zerbe, with the help of Gustav Hudson.

• Moved the body of Lopes in the passenger side of the pickup truck.

• “Emptied [Zerbe’s] gun, pulling four or five shells out of it.”

• “Disarmed” Gustav Hudson of his AK-47 and the others of their firearms.

• Instructed Michel Hudson to remove the keys from Gustav Hudson’s motor home.

• Told the Hudson party that Zerbe and Lopes, the shooting victims, “are a couple of troublemakers in town.”

• Escorted the Hudson party to the iron gate, carrying three of the weapons. He dropped at least one of the weapons and accidentally stepped on an empty banana clip from the AK-47.

• Told deputies that Mrs. Hudson “wasn’t sure” that men in the pickup were shooting at her. He quoted her as saying, “I think they were shooting at me.” Scott added his own comment: “Maybe one of them took a pop shot in the air, and they got wasted for it.”

• Told detectives in an interview on June 6 that Gustav Hudson had told him on the day of the shooting that “there was a goddamn drug deal going on. They’re making drugs up there…”

The sheriff followed up on Scott’s story about drugs in Chariot Canyon. On May 29 – two days after the shootings – a deputy went to the site “to check for cultivation of marijuana or the existence of a drug lab.” He reported finding a number of shell casings and other items that he turned in as evidence, but his report did not state the results of his search for marijuana and a drug lab.

Has the back country buried and forgotten tow of its well-known “characters”? Buried, yes, but not forgotten. Drive Banner Grade and pull over in the turnout on Horseshoe Curve at the iron gate and one sees that the two men are remembered.

A rustic cross made of weathered mine timbers stands there at the head of a grave- shaped cluster of stones. The name “Chris” is carved on the left arm of the cross. On the opposite arm is the name “Joe.” The letters are uneven and poorly spaced. As an artifact, the cross would qualify as a fine example of American primitive. Residents of Julian sometimes pull up at the year-old, anonymously erected monument on Highway 78 and add a stone to the mound. The stark roadside memorial holds no bodies. Remains of the two victims in Banner Canyon lie elsewhere.

Some travelers speak a few words over the crude cross: “Rest in peace, Chris … Descanso en pazo … So long, Joe … Adios, senor.”

The iron gate still stands at Horseshoe Curve after the killings at Chariot Canyon. A hundred yards up the mountain, the rugged jeep trail has been blocked by a large oak tree – a tree so skillfully felled that it obstructs vehicle access to the Ready Relief Mine.

Julian deputies say they have seen Gustav Hudson at the property since the killings, they’ve also seen the Lincoln Continental of Benjamin Haimes parked at the iron gate. These are casual sightings, made by deputies driving Banner Grade on other business. No charges have been drawn. There is no law-enforcement surveillance of Chariot Canyon or any of the men involved in the 1989 Memorial Day killings.

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