The father of the Las Vegas shooter was an FBI most-wanted bank robber and confidence man known as ‘Big Daddy,’ who was captured in Las Vegas in 1960 – then escaped and lived on the run for a decade.
He was described as psychopathic, armed and dangerous and suicidal – and the public were told not to approach the criminal know also as ‘Chromedome’ and ‘Old Baldy’.
Stephen Paddock – the shooter who killed at least 58 in the Sunday night massacre – was just seven years old and living in Arizona when his father Benjamin Paddock was nabbed by the FBI for a series of bank robberies.
At the time, Stephen’s mother tried desperately to shield her young son and his three siblings from the devastating news that their father was living a double life as a bank robber and con-man.
When FBI agents raided young Stephen’s home in Tucson after his father’s arrest, his mother took the boy swimming nearby.
‘We’re trying to keep Steve from knowing his father is held as a bank robber,’ a neighbour told the Tucson Daily Citizen on July 29, 1960. ‘I hardly know the family, but Steve is a nice boy. It’s a terrible thing.’
Benjamin’s friends and neighbors in Arizona were said to be shocked by his secret life of crime before his 1960 arrest.
Benjamin was known around Tucson as a big-hearted garbage disposal salesman who volunteered to as a ‘special deputy’ with the local police department, according to news reports at the time.
But he was also responsible for at least four armed bank robberies in a two-year span in the Phoenix area, stealing a total of $30,000. He was reportedly armed during the holdups and drove stolen cars.
The law finally caught up with Benjamin in Las Vegas in July 1960, hundreds of miles from his home in Tucson.
After FBI agents surrounded Benjamin in downtown Vegas, he jumped into his car and tried to run one of them over. But an agent shot through his windshield, forcing Benjamin to stop and surrender.
A loaded pistol, a blackjack, and cash were found in his car, according to a news report from the time.
Benjamin was sentenced to 20 years in jail for the bank robbery, confidence crime, forgery and auto theft – but he didn’t stay locked up for long.
He broke out of the Federal Correctional Institution at La Tuna, Texas on New Years’ Eve of 1968. His escape landed him a top spot on the FBI’s Top Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List, which described him as ‘armed and extremely dangerous.’
Described as a ‘glib, arrogant, smooth-talking ‘confidence man,’ the hulking and bald Benjamin went by a number of different aliases over the years – including the nicknames ‘Chromedome’ and ‘Old Baldy.’
A report on the FBI Wanted List described him as smoking cigars and cigarettes and enjoying steaks, desserts, gambling, TV and baseball.
Before his arrest for bank robbery, Benjamin was also vice president of a local ‘hot-rodder’ club in Tucson. He was known to hang around a young crowd at a local nightclub, where he went by the nickname ‘Big Daddy.’
Neighbors and friends told the local paper that there was no evidence of Benjamin’s double life of crime.
‘He seemed like the average middle-class businessman, devoted to his home and family,’ a neighbour told the Tucson Daily Citizen after his arrest.
Even the local sheriff was stunned by the arrest, having brought Benjamin onto the police force as a volunteer deputy.
‘It was quite a surprise,’ said Sherriff Waldon Burr to the Tucson Daily Citizen. ‘He bulged with sincerity.’
A Washington Post article in 1975 described his presence on the most-wanted list as an embarrassment but he was removed from the list in 1977.
After breaking out of prison, Benjamin began using the alias ‘Benjamin Erickson’ and ‘Bruce Erickson’ – an amalgam of two of his children’s names.
He moved to Oregon where he restyled himself as the ‘Bingo King of the State’, opening the first bingo parlor in the state, running his own ‘non-denominational’ church on the proceeds of bingo.
He was finally re-captured by the FBI in September 1978, after the feds found him while they were staking out a Springfield bingo center.
They had been tipped off by an article in a local newspaper profiling the big-hearted bingo operator who was giving the proceeds of gambling – at least so he said – to a women’s charity.
At the time of his arrest he had six cars, legal documents showed, including a Mustang.
After an escape conviction, Benjamin appears to have been released on parole in April 1979.
That hardly stopped his life of crime.
He returned to life as Bruce Ericksen, and being the pastor of Holy Life Congregation, a ‘church’ which relied on its bingo sessions for money.
He was hardly discreet about it; when there was an attempt to regulate bingo so venues could only offer it two days a week, his ‘church’ took out a half-page advertisement attacking local politicians.
He even sued a local branch of Safeway when it refused to sell 1,920 rolls of toilet paper at its advertised sale prices and claimed it would be used as ‘prizes’.
But his adventure in organized religious gambling went wrong too when in 1988 he gained a racketeering conviction in a plea deal when he pleaded guilty to a scam carried out three years earlier in which he turned odometers back on used cars.
Oregon state prosecutors dropped seven more counts in return for the guilty finding at a non-jury trial, on condition that Paddock – who was prosecuted under his fake name – pay $623,000 to settle a civil suit brought by the state’s attorney.
He vanished again, apparently to Canada, Don Bishoff, a columnist for The Register-Guard of Eugene, reported.
In fact he had moved to Texas and lived there until his death in January 1998, Bishoff reported the following month, spending his last days on a veterans pension.
In 1990, syndicated columnists Amy Wallace and David Wallechinsky reported that Paddock had spent the tenth-longest time on the list since its inception in 1950.
Described Paddock as one of the Eugene-Springfield area’s ‘most colorful rogues’.