The Welches true crime story heard 'round the world
Can you name the one and only time that our little Welches area has made the national and even international news?
Famous radio news broadcaster Paul Harvey even led with this story on his popular nationally syndicated radio program that, back in the day, reached 24 million people: "In the tiny community of Welches, Oregon yesterday . . ."
The late Cliff Davis, our longtime and well-known mountain resident, was the hero of this saga. Although, in typical Cliff fashion, at the time this notorious incident occurred right here at the Hoodland Plaza Shopping Center in "downtown" Welches, he wanted to keep a low profile.
Today, I'm going to share all of the details that — for the public's safety — Cliff asked the media not to reveal back in the mid-1980s when this crime occurred.
Longtime local residents will remember this legendary caper that rocked the headlines from coast-to-coast and beyond as the "super glue heist."
Here's what happened. (Please keep in mind that while several aspects of this true crime story have humorous overtones, there was nothing funny about one of the nervous bad guys pressing a loaded shotgun into Cliff Davis' head.)
Armed bad guys
It's 10 p.m. on the third Tuesday in June, 1984. Cliff, the manager at Hoodland Thriftway, and two store employees, Kevin Carey and Steven Metelak, just put the "Closed" signs up and locked the doors.
Steven graduated from Sandy High School two years before. Kevin was a sophomore at the school. Once the remaining store customers pay for their goods, as per normal closing protocol, they will be escorted to the locked doors and let out.
But as Cliff, then 46, and his two younger workmates will soon—abruptly—discover, the three twenty-something patrons still perusing the aisles are actually armed robbers.
"They had a shopping cart full of what looked like stuff for an overnight camping or fishing trip," Cliff, who graduated from Sandy High School in 1956, will later inform. "When they came through the check-out, everything totaled up to 77 dollars. That's when the one guy yelled over to his other buddy a little ways away in the aisle and asked if he had his billfold. That guy answers 'Yes' and pulls a gun out from under his jacket."
The bad guys' next whacky move is what will make this frightening robbery so noteworthy. That, plus the remarkable irony that just across the parking lot, right there beside the gas station, Cliff sees two parked Oregon State Police cars with their State Police Trooper drivers, sitting there inside their vehicles, talking to each other.
The three bandits, now toting a pistol, a sawed-off rifle and a shotgun, escort Cliff, Steven and Kevin toward the back of the store. They tell them not to put their hands up. Cliff wonders if that's because they, too, see the police cars. If that's true and they're still proceeding with their robbery plan, it can only mean that these guys are desperate or gutsy or stupid—or all three. As Cliff knows, this is not a good omen for their hostages.
Cliff also takes note that these three with the loaded weapons aren't trying to hide their identities. What could that mean for their possible plan of attack? Will they leave three witnesses behind — or not?
Once at the back of the store, the bandits have Kevin and Steven stand with their backs to two of the building's free-standing support posts, approximately 20 feet apart. (The building has since been renovated. Those posts are no longer there.) They are then told to put their hands behind them on the opposite side of the posts.
Here's where this heist gets notoriously innovative.
The bad guys "super glue" (cyanoacrylate, the fast-acting, extremely strong industrial super-strength adhesive) their hands together. Adding insult to injury (literally), it turns out that they are using the commercial form of the product, "Krazy Glue," which they'd actually nabbed from Hoodland Thriftway's very shelves.
With their weapons pointed at him, Cliff is ordered to go to the safe. Two of the bad guys go with him.
"The one who seemed to be in charge was the most nervous, temperamental and fidgety," Cliff says. "I was trying my best to keep him calm."
The store's big safe has a combination lock.
"When we got to the safe, I tried to calmly explain that it sometimes takes me a few times to open it, under normal conditions."
Cliff, therefore, asks them to please be patient with him. He assures them that he isn't playing games. He has every intention to open that safe for them. And he, nerve rackingly, does so.
Once the bad guys have all the loot from the safe, they walk Cliff to the back of the store to rejoin the others. As they proceed, out of the corner of his eye, Cliff sees that those two state cops are still out there just a quick shout away from this in-progress burglary.
Back in the rear of the store, they tell Cliff to put his hands behind the third adjacent support post.
Here's where Cliff — unbeknownst to everyone — becomes Wiley Coyote.
In 1984, Cliff and I were neighbors. He trusted me. So as a news reporter covering this robbery, he shared with me a key, undisclosed detail about what he actually did that night. At that time, he asked me not to reveal this hush-hush secret in the newspaper.
It's been almost 35 years since this caper occurred. If Cliff was still with us today, I'm sure he'd now be more than happy to have me spill the beans about his courageous, quick-thinking and oh-so-clever actions that fateful night.
"As soon as they applied the super glue to my hands and stepped away," Cliff confided to me, "I quickly pulled my hands apart and successfully broke the seal. I made sure that they never knew I did that. They thought I was stuck there — no pun intended — just like the others."
Cliff explained the reason why he didn't want the media to know and expose this fact.
"I wanted those guys to think that their ploy worked. If they knew that it hadn't, maybe the next time they robbed someone on down the road they wouldn't be so apt to leave people behind — alive — to thwart their getaway."
Before they snuck out the store's back door, the bad guys cut the store's phone line. They also vamoosed with the keys. Cliff and the others were now locked inside the store.
Once Cliff was certain the three robbers had left he sprinted up to the store's big front windows, hoping he might be able to get the State Police Troopers' attention.
He was in luck. The girlfriend of one of the younger guys was parked directly in front of the store, waiting to pick him up.
Here's where, in retrospect, some humor upstages this super-serious situation.
Cliff starts waving his arms and yelling. But because this man is known to be somewhat of a jokester, the young lady believes it's just Cliff being Cliff.
Her reaction? She laughs and laughs.
Cliff tries everything.
He holds his finger up to his head as if it's a gun. He screams "Help!" He frantically points over toward the parked cops, yelling: "We've been robbed!"
Finally, the young woman realizes that something must be up. She jumps out of her car. Through the window, Cliff tells her that they've been robbed and to go get the police. They call another Hoodland Thriftway store employee to bring the keys.
The police called the Hoodland Fire District, which dispatched their firefighters armed with the solvent acetone to dissolve the super glue's tenacious grip. Kevin and Steven were successfully freed. While their hands were red and sore, they did not require further medical attention.
Police search dogs were brought in, but they lost the bad guys' scent directly behind the store where they had obviously jumped into their getaway vehicle.
With the uncanny Krazy Glue angle, the headline writers had a heyday with this atypical news story. "Sticky Stickup" was a common refrain.
Besides serving as Hoodland Thriftway's manager for several years, Cliff, who passed away in in 2015 at 77, was also known for operating his popular Hoodland Fruit Stand, first in Brightwood and more recently in Wemme. He will also be remembered for his excellent singing talents on mountain area karaoke nights.
Oh, and by the way, a few weeks after those three desperados ambushed Cliff and the others, they were apprehended in Idaho. As good ole Paul Harvey just might say:
"And now you know ... the rest of the story."
Longtime mountain resident and former Sandy Post editor Paul Keller pens his "Beneath Wy'east" column once a month here on the Post's editorial pages.