The Gary Fadden Incident
Written by Massad Ayoob for American Handgunner
Situation: A road-rage incident escalates into a deadly pursuit.
Lesson: Keep communications as handy as your gun. Bad guys fear resolutely armed people, not weapons. Remember that full auto can stop a fight–but start an indictment.
It’s amazing how often a criminal will say something unbelievably stupid just before he forces a decent citizen to kill him. For many years I’ve been piecing together a book subtitled “Famous Last Words of Scumbags.” The working title will come from the most memorable such incident: “F*** You and Your Automatic Rifle!”
The shooter was Gary Fadden. The incident took place some 20 years ago. Only now is Gary comfortable speaking of it, in hopes that others may learn from lessons that cost him very deeply.
Sunday, February 24, 1984, approximately 2 PM. Gary Fadden, 26, and his lovely 22 year old fiancee are driving from a birthday party in Martinsburg, WV, into Virginia to look at some property for what they hope will be their starter home after their marriage. It’s a bitterly cold day, and with the winter coats in the back of a new ’84 Ford F-250 supercab 4WD diesel pickup, the Pendleton-clad Fadden looks from a distance like a harmless Yuppie. That means he and the pretty brunette look like prey to another kind of person.
Heading east on Rt. 50, they are passed by a Harley-Davidson motorcycle with two people astride, the operator cutting in front of him so sharply that he has to brake suddenly. Gary comments to his fiancee how cold they must be riding a bike on a low 30s day, and that driving as carelessly as he is, the cyclist needs to worry about sudden patches of ice.
A few minutes later, he spots a Chevy pickup in his rearview mirrors. It contains three people. One passenger is gesturing to him to pull over. Gary doesn’t know what these scruffy guys want and he ignores them. But then he sees the passenger waving a knife, and the driver bringing up a revolver.
Gary says to his fiancee, in what will probably be the understatement of his life, “We’ve got a bit of a problem here.”
It is 1984, long before the universal coming of cell phones, and there is no other communications in the vehicle. They are entering Middleburg, a town of perhaps 800, and stop at a red light. Behind them, Gary can see both males exit their truck and run toward him. The driver’s hand is actually on Gary’s door handle when he pops the clutch and sends his new truck screeching through the intersection against the light. The two men run back to their older pickup, and the chase is on.
They’re almost on his bumper. Gary accelerates, hitting open road now, zig-zagging between reaching 95 miles an hour when the speed governor cuts in. Not only are the pursuers keeping pace but he sees the driver aiming a revolver at him out his window. Honking his horn and flashing his lights when he runs into a cluster of automobiles, passing them sometimes on the shoulder of the road and spraying rooster-tails of gravel, Gary still cannot elude the truck behind him.
Gary is desperately looking for a police car he can flag down. He doesn’t see one. The chase has gone for 22 miles now and they’re getting into a more compact area again. Coming up is an intersection tic knows well: he goes through it every day on his way to work. Even on Sunday it will be clogged. He forms a plan quickly: if the light is in his favor, he’ll go through it and keep going, hoping to find police in a more populated area. If the light is against him, he’ll turn right, and make for the plant where he works on Chantilly Road.
The light stays red. Gary cuts hard right, heading for what he hopes will be the sanctuary of the workplace. Behind him, he can see that the pursuers haven’t given up an inch. “I’ve got my pass card through the gates and the front door,” he tells his fiancee urgently. “We’ll get into the building and we can hide. They can’t find us. We’ll call the cops from there.”
He pulls into the front area of the plant, the automatic mechanism taking an achingly long time to raise the gate. As the gate opens, the pursuing truck comes to a stop behind his, both men jumping out and running to Gary’s Ford, their hands clawing at his door handles. He guns the engine and gels away from them, sweeping up to the front door and locking up the brakes in a skid.
The plant is Heckler and Koch.
Gary Fadden is a salesman for HK, and among the rest of their firearms, he sells machine guns. In the truck with him is a competitor’s weapon he has acquired to test, a Ruger AC556, the selective-fire assault version of the .223 Mini-14. He grabs it now as he throws open the truck door, hoping to hold them off at gunpoint. lie knows his fiancee can’t make it to the building’s door now, and he screams to her to get down on the floor of the Ford.
The passenger is running toward him, an average size man in ratty clothes with stringy hair, a long beard, and an expression of absolute rage.
The selector switch and manual safety of the AC556 are in two different locations. Gary has not yet fired this weapon and, though he has taken off the safety, he doesn’t know whether the switch is set for semi, three-shot burst, or full auto. He yells “Stop or I’ll shoot,” points the muzzle upward, and pulls the trigger for a warning shot.
The weapon is set on full automatic. Everything is going into deep slow motion, and Gary is aware that the Ruger spits a burst of nine shots before he can get his finger back off the trigger.
There is no effect whatsoever. The attacker is still running at him, perhaps ten yards away and closing fast, reaching for knives at his belt with each hand. The assailant screams, “F*** you and your high powered rifle! I’m gonna kill you motherf***ers!”
And Gary Fadden has run out of time. He lowers the Ruger, points it at the charging knifer, and pulls the trigger one more time. in the ethereal slow motion of profound tachypsychia, Gary can see the spent .223 shells arcing lazily out of the mechanism. He stops the burst, aware that six shots have been fired, as the man in front of him falls heavily to the ground.
Gary moves quickly, putting a big brick planter between himself and the onrushing pickup as cover. The truck stops and the driver, the larger of the two bearded men, shrieks. “F*** you! You killed one of the brothers! You shot him, you motherf***er!” Gary’s weapon is level and ready, but this time instead of waving the revolver, the man looks as if he’s trying to hide it in the cab of his truck. Gary can see now that the third person in the truck, the one who has always stayed in the cab, is a woman.
And then, the police are there. “They’ve got guns,” Gary shouts to the officers disgorging from two patrol cars. He sets his rifle down and steps back as the officers swarm the pickup truck, taking the surviving man and woman into custody. In a moment, a cop is standing with Gary. “I did it,” Gary says. The cop answers, “Did what?” “I shot that man.” The officer picks up the AC556. “It’s loaded,” Gary warns, “Do you want me to unload it’?” The policeman answers. “No, I’ll do it. Why don’t you sit down?”
Gary Fadden sits on the curb. For a moment, it seems as if the whole bizarre nightmare is over. Unfortunately, it has only begun.
The man he had shot. Billy “Too Loose” Hamilton, was dead. He had been hit by all six rounds of Winchester 55 grain FMJ, headstamped “‘WCC81.” One bullet had struck behind the lateral midline in the instant that he turned away from the gunfire, taking out a chunk of his spine as is skidded across his back from side to side. This would be interpreted later by the prosecutor as having been “shot in the back.”
The partner, who went by the name of “Papa Zoot,” had gotten his weapons out of his hands by the time police arrived. In the front of the five-year-old Chevy pickup that had chased Fadden for more than 20 miles, police found a .22 auto pistol and a four-inch Smith & Wesson L-frame .357 Magnum. The revolver had three live and three empty cartridges in the cylinder. More fired brass was on the floor, and a plastic bag with more live amino was open on the seat. Though Fadden heard no shots and no bullets hit his truck, he was convinced then and now that they were shooting at him during the chase.
Hamilton’s two knives, a Schrade folding hunter and a nondescript fixed blade, were found with his corpse.
Gary Fadden was arrested that night and charged with 1st degree murder. His family raised $60,000 bail. He hired DC attorney Gerry Treanor to defend him. Treanor, at Gary’s request, retained John Farnam and I as expert witnesses. Today, Gary remembers, “Two prosecutors wouldn’t touch it until the third took it. It was all political because of the automatic weapon.”
The weeklong trial took place in October of 1984. Word had reached Gary that Papa Zoot had bought a .30/06 rifle and sworn a “blood oath” to kill him. I was driving toward Fairfax County when I got the message from Gary’s lawyer that John and I wouldn’t be needed because the prosecution had self-destructed.
On the stand, Papa Zoot and the woman had testified that Gary had tried to run their biker brother off the road, and they had just followed 22 miles to get his license tag. Defense lawyer Treanor took them apart on cross-examination. An undercover detective broke his cover to testify that the deceased and Papa Zoot “put a bomb in my car. They like to rough people up.” The prosecutor made such a show of waving the machine gun that the judge made a point of instructing the jury that the death weapon had nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not the shooting was self-defense. The jury learned that Gary purchased the AC-556 personally and that it was perfectly legal to possess the weapon.
By the start of trial, the charge had been dropped to second-degree murder, and as the trial collapsed around the prosecutor’s ears, he offered a plea to manslaughter, which Gary flatly rejected. At the end, when it was announced that the jury had found Gary Fadden Not Guilty on all counts, Fadden recalls that the self-same prosecutor snapped–in open court, in front of Gary’s mother–”‘You’ve let a murderer loose!”
“‘H&K protected me,” says Gary. “They picked up the tab for about half of my legal bills, and got all the publicity for it, until I quit a few years later. Florian Deltgen (at that time CEO at HK) told me after an argument with the vice president that one or the other of us probably had to go, and the vice president wasn’t going anywhere. I accepted a job offer from Beretta USA and then resigned from H&K. Deltgen stuck me with the remaining bill, which I paid off at 10% interest.” The bill had amounted to more than $45,000. Gary was 34 years old before he had paid everything back.
Dr. Deltgen is no longer with Heckler and Koch.
Have communication. In 1984, only the rich had phones in their cars. Today, Gary Fadden is never without a charged-up cell phone. He knows that if he’d had one that day he could have called the police, who would have been able to interdict his pursuers before the thing became a killing situation.
Flight can trigger pursuit. Prey that flees inflames the pursuit instinct of predators. This is why we teach our children never to run from snarling dogs. Gary Fadden did what society told him to do when facing criminals: he ran. They chased. By the time they caught up with him, Billy Hamilton was in such a rage to kill that he could not be deterred.
Understand how deterrence really works. Papa Zoot and Too Loose had guns and ammo and knives in their truck with them. In Gary’s truck were a Remington Nylon 66.22 rifle (for plinking, and never touched during the incident), a 9mm HK VP70Z pistol, and the AC556 with enough amino for perhaps four full magazines. None were loaded at the start. The pistol was loaded and placed in the console during the chase, and the rifle was at that point loaded and placed conspicuously on the dashboard by Gary in hopes that it would deter file pursuit. It did not.
When Gary Fadden stepped out of his new Ford at the climax of the chase, most of us would have seen him as an intimidating presence. The man stands six feet eight and weighed 260 pounds at the time, and he was holding a machine gun. His pursuers were unimpressed.
Later identified as belonging to one of the “big four” outlaw motorcycle clubs, Too Loose and Papa Zoot were members of an armed subculture themselves. They did not fear guns. Zoot was about 6’4″ and 240 himself, and neither man feared big guys dressed like something off the cover of an L.L. Bean catalog. It is critical to understand this: Criminals don’t fear guns. Criminals fear resolutely armed men or women they believe will actually shoot them.
22 miles of running away from them had left these wolves convinced that they were dealing with a large sheep, not the sharp-fanged sheepdog Gary Fadden turned out to be. Testimony that “they liked to rough people up” shows that they had a lot of ego invested in brutalizing others. Perhaps Hamilton, in his last moment on earth, took Fadden’s warning burst as an indication of unwillingness to shoot him. Toxicology screen after death showed Hamilton to have a .19% blood alcohol content. This is a level of intoxication consistent with inhibitions being at their lowest. Gary Fadden sums it up today, “The mouse had run, and the cat was loose. Physical size was no deterrent. The gun was no deterrent with these people. If you pull a gun, you’d better be ready to use it.”
Politically incorrect “assault weapons” make politically incorrect defendants. Though he didn’t say it in so many words, prosecutor Jack Robbins’ case against Fadden seemed to be, “I say, Muffy, people of breeding simply don’t shoot criminals with machine guns in Fairfax County! Now, had he used a civilized weapon like a Browning Superposed … and preferably shot him on the rise … ”
You and I know that Class III holders are the ultimate “card carrying good guys and gals.” That particular card says they have been investigated for six months by the Federal government and been found trustworthy to possess machine guns. Unfortunately, most of the public in the jury pool, and most politically motivated prosecutors, don’t know that. Every self-defense shooting I’ve run across with a Class III weapon, however justified, has at the very least ended with the shooter facing a grand jury. Asked what he thinks would have happened if he’d shot Hamilton with a Remington 870 Wingmaster instead, Fadden replies with certainty, “I would have gone home that night. I’ve told dozens of people since, ‘Do not use a Class III weapon for personal defense.”‘ Today, the guns Gary is likely to have in his car have neutral images: an M-1 .30 carbine, and a 10mm Glock 20 pistol.
Be there for your friends. It was stunning how many people he had trusted shunned Gary after the shooting, and particularly, after his indictment. He cherishes those who stood beside him through the ordeal, particularly Jim Stone and Rick DeMilt and, most particularly, knife-maker Al Mar.
Much later, after his AC556 had been returned to him by the courts, Gary gave that gun to Al Mar, another man who appreciated a fine weapon of any kind. On its stock was a brass plate engraved “To Al Mar, Because You Understand.”
Gary says, “For twenty years now, I’ve cherished every morning I’ve gotten up, because I earned every moment of my life. I fought for it.”
After Al Mar’s death, Gary Fadden scraped up the money to buy his knife business, and he is CEO of Al Mar Knives to this day. One good man carrying on the work of another. It seems fitting.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Publishers’ Development Corporation
COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group