The Aqua Caliente robbery wasn’t the biggest robbery in the history of the city, nor was it the most violent. But by 1929 San Diego standards, it was a sign that the sleepy little city by the ocean was growing up. On May 20, 1929, shortly after noon, two guards left the Aqua Caliente racetrack in Tijuana with eighty thousand dollars headed for Los Angeles. The guards passed through the US border without a problem and were driving their Cadillac north through National City when they noticed they were being followed by a black Ford coupe. Still, there was nothing to worry about. The Cadillac had no markings to show it was a cash courier so the guards paid little attention to it. Besides, it was broad daylight and there was heavy traffic on the road. All of a sudden the guards saw the Ford pull up next to the Cadillac. A man with a machine gun was standing on the running boards!

The gunman started shooting at the Cadillac’s tires causing the couriers to swerve out of control and crash. As soon the cash car stopped, the two men opened up on it riddling it with bullets. The guards were killed almost instantly. Police later found one guard had been shot nine times the other shot five. With both guards dead, the robbers grabbed the money and headed north.

The bold, daylight robbery left a number of people stopped along the road in complete disbelief as to what they had just seen. Two women who saw the shooting took off after the robbers, forcing them onto a dirt road but they couldn’t keep up with the speeding Ford.

Thirty minutes after the robbery, the getaway car was found abandoned at Edgemont and B Street. A man who had been outside mowing his lawn when the robbers ditched the car, told police the men pulled up, jumped out and within seconds another car pulled up, the men got into it and sped off.

When police officers checked the getaway car they found it had been stolen the day before from an auto dealership on University Avenue. They also found several bullet holes in the car telling them the guards were able to get off a couple of shots at the robbers. As police investigated the murder scene, they found the guards guns on the floor of the car next to their bodies. As roadblocks went up around the county, police were trying to figure out exactly what they were dealing with. Was it a gangland killing, the types New York and Chicago had been experiencing? Or was it simply two very bold and ruthless robbers that committed San Diego’s first machine gun robbery?

Officers at the murder scene found a trail of blood leading away from the money car. Since neither guard got out of the courier car, officers assumed one or more of the gunmen had also been shot. It would turn out they were correct. One of the robbers had accidentally shot the other in the crossfire.

The search for the killers was intense until one badly wounded robber, Marty Colson, was located in the house of a rum smuggler. With Colson in custody, detectives used the records bureau to crosscheck his known associates and located Lee Cochran, a LA man with an extensive history of violence. San Diego and LAPD officers found Cochran hiding in an apartment where he surrendered, but not before trying to go for a hidden gun.

On the way back to San Diego, Cochran told detectives about his part in the robbery and how he and Colson were about to kill the two women who chased them had they not dropped out of the chase when they did. Cochran also said the men dumped the machine guns into the ocean and burned the checks. He never said what happened to the cash. Both men were later tried and sentenced to life in prison.