Tuesday, January 08, 2013

The Rimrock Barbecue

            The Rimrock Barbecue was a popular restaurant and nightclub on N. Columbia Boulevard that opened in 1959. The owner, Horace Crouch, of the well known Portland family of restaurateurs, opened the Rimrock Barbecue shortly after testifying in front of the Senate Racketeering Committee during the Portland Vice Scandal that saw the indictment of the Chief of Police, District Attorney and Mayor. Crouch had been only peripherally involved in the scandal as the owner of the Mount Hood Café, where he had gambling machines owned by Stan Terry on the premises. His business had been badly disrupted by Teamster pickets when they attempted to take control of slot machines and pinball machines in Portland. It is possible that in addition to a full bar and live Country Western music the Rimrock Barbecue offered gambling as well. That may have been the reason it was the target of one of the most violent armed robberies in Portland’s history.
            On October 8, 1966 business was booming at the Rimrock. Buddy Simmons, a popular local Country Western singer with both a local radio and TV show, performed at the club that night and by the time they closed at 2:30 a.m. there was more than $2,000 ($13,000 in 2011) in the restaurant’s safe. There was a fairly large staff on hand to close up the restaurant; two bartenders, Jimmy Lee and James Callahan; a doorman, Glenn Irvin; and two waitresses, Shirley Alexander and another woman whose name was never released. In addition Horace Crouch, the owner, was on hand with his wife, Arlene, and Arlene’s sister, Lucille, Glenn Irvin’s wife. While they were closing up for the night two men, face’s covered with black stockings, forced their way into the restaurant.

Dale Zitek had a long police record that included violence.

            Dale Zitek, a local burglar who had a history of violence, especially against police and Richard G. Johnson, an armed robber from Tacoma, had met in the Oregon State Penitentiary. Shirley Alexander had seen Zitek in the Rimrock with a group of people, which may have included Johnson, earlier in the evening. The two robbers, outnumbered by their victims, used outrageous violence to gain the upper hand. Armed with revolvers, the two men beat their victims severely with tire irons as soon as they were inside the door. Glenn Irvin was injured and the two bartenders were beaten into submission. Zitek held them at gunpoint, along with the waitresses and Mrs. Irvin, while Johnson went to work on the Crouches.
            Horace Crouch was 63 years old and he had suffered two heart attacks in the last two years. The last one had been in July and he was still recovering. Crouch knew the fragile state of his health and he cooperated fully with the robbers, opening not one, but two safes and giving them all the cash that he had on hand. Johnson was not satisfied. Someone had told him that there was a third safe and he was convinced that the restaurant owner had more than $7,000 ($43,000 in 2011) on the premises. Johnson beat both Crouches severely with a tire iron, trying to force them to give up the rest of the money. Johnson’s information was probably wrong, because Horace Crouch was heard to yell more than once, “Take the money. You’re killing me.”
            During the beating Horace Crouch suffered a severe heart attack and passed out. The two robbers were not satisfied with the $2,000 they had been given. Zitek first took Shirley Alexander into the office in an attempt to find the mythical third safe. He forced her to take off her clothes, terrorized her and then made her return naked to the main part of the restaurant. When they returned they forced staff to empty their pockets. When Glenn Irvin was only able to hand over $40 Johnson said it was “chicken feed” and beat him again with his tire iron. Zitek then took Mrs. Irvin into the office and made her strip while she tearfully told him he had all the money in the place. During this the unnamed waitress managed to sneak out a back door. She ran across the street to a bowling alley and called the police.

Richard Johnson met his partner in crime while serving a sentence for armed robbery.

            Zitek and Johnson panicked when they heard sirens approaching. Zitek ran for the backdoor, but Johnson wasn’t fast enough; Lee, Callahan and Irvin jumped him and beat him within an inch of his life. Zitek, with his revolver in his hand ran into the alley behind the restaurant and nearly collided with Multnomah County Deputy Macil “Mack” Flye. The two men began firing at each other from less than four feet away.
            Deputy Flye, who was an officer in the Oregon National Guard and an expert marksman, had fired his weapon in the line of duty for the first time only two weeks before. Zitek got off the first shot and Flye felt the bullet pass through the fleshy part of his arm. He kept a cool head and a steady hand and he pumped six bullets into the robber’s body. Zitek continued to shoot, hitting Flye twice more; once in each leg. Zitek was hit in each leg, twice in the chest and twice in the shoulder. Flye’s grouping was so tight that at first doctors though that Zitek had been hit with only four of Flye’s shots. During his post mortem, nearly ten days later, doctors discovered that all six shots had hit their target. Later Deputy Flye, who had been worried about the two errant bullets, was quoted in the Oregonian, “I’m not paid to miss.”
            Horace Crouch was in critical condition when he arrived at Emanuel Hospital, suffering from cardiac arrest. He died three days later. Zitek was in a coma for several days, waking up only once. Upon awakening Zitek asked about the cop he shot. When told he was recovering well, Zitek said, “I should have shot him in the head.” Zitek died from his wounds nearly ten days later. Macil Flye took a long time to recover and walked with a limp for years after the shooting, but he returned to duty and continued to rise up the ranks; eventually commanding the county river patrol before retiring in the 1980s. The rest of the victims recovered from their physical injuries, but they probably suffered from the effects of trauma for a long time. In January, 1967 Richard Johnson returned to the Oregon State Penitentiary with a life sentence for the murder of Horace Crouch.


Blogger Ken Goldstein said...

Interesting story, but more important, how was the food at the Rimrock? Were the ribs any good? Sorry, bloody murder is interesting, but really good bbq is something else ;^)

8:39 AM  
Blogger jd chandler said...

I don't know how good it was, but it was all you can eat for $1.25. It's hard to beat that.

9:06 AM  

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