The Christopher Dorner murder rampage will enter the books as one of the most sensational crime stories in Inland Empire history. It even might top the list.

And that's saying a lot.

After all, it's a list that includes the Charles Manson murders, at least peripherally. Manson and his followers bivouacked at the Barker Ranch near Trona, an old mining town in the extreme northwest corner of San Bernardino County. Manson hid out at the ranch after the August 1969 Tate-LaBianca murders, and it was there that he was arrested the following October.

Barker Ranch itself is in Inyo County, and the arrest was made by Inyo County law officers. Still, the Manson Family's frequent forays into the Mojave Desert included many criss-crossings and activities in San Bernardino County.

There are many other notorious crime stories with Inland Empire connections, some of them dating back to well before Charles Manson.

In a case that came to be known as the Wineville Chicken Coop Murders, a child predator named Gordon Stewart Northcott killed at least five boys in the late 1920s and buried their bodies in the chicken coop at his home in Wineville, in Riverside County. He was arrested in 1928, convicted in 1929, and hanged at San Quentin in 1930. Wineville changed its name to Mira Loma in reaction to the notoriety. The case would inspire the 2008 movie "Changeling," directed by Clint Eastwood and shot partly in San Bernardino.

Many other multiple murder cases have rocked the Inland Empire in modern times.


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There were the killings in March 1973, for example, of two lawmen and a gas station attendant in the Cajon Pass that led to a wild pursuit in which even a San Bernardino County supervisor, James Mayfield, gave chase and fired shots at the suspect. Mayfield, a Sheriff's Department retiree, chanced upon the scene while commuting to work in San Bernardino, and he was armed. The suspect, a parolee, was subdued and apprehended.

In June 1983, prisoner Kevin Cooper broke out of the California Institution for Men in Chino and subsequently murdered four people at a home in Chino Hills. After a seven-week manhunt he was arrested near Santa Barbara and returned to the Southland, where he was tried, convicted of murder, and sent to death row at San Quentin.

In 1986, Cynthia Coffman and Robert Alton Harris embarked on a Bonnie and Clyde-style crime spree that started and ended in San Bernardino County and claimed the lives of a least three victims. It was for the murder of a young woman whom the couple kidnapped from the Redlands Mall and buried in a Fontana field that the two were sentenced to death. They were arrested at a Big Bear Lake motel cabin.

Yes, Big Bear Lake. Ironic, considering the fact that the Christopher Dorner manhunt also came to an end near there.

Other multiple murders also have shocked the Inland Empire, such as the killing in 1995 of five members of a Vietnamese family during a home invasion robbery in San Bernardino. Arrested were several members of a Cambodian street gang based in San Bernardino and Pomona.

But, except for the Manson murders, no story in modern-era Inland Empire history matches the Dorner case in intensity and scale.

As with Manson, the Dorner story began in the western metropolis and expanded east. Both stories grew to attract national and world headlines.

But Dorner, unlike Manson, claimed victims in the Inland Empire itself - a police officer in Riverside and a sheriff's deputy near Big Bear Lake. And the manhunt for Dorner took place in the heart of the Inland Empire, not on the edges, as with the case of Manson.

Also, the Dorner story has played out in a vastly different era than the 1960s. The last stand of Christopher Dorner took place on live television. And the Internet and social media were available to ramp up the drama with real-time coverage, worldwide reach and ongoing interactive public commentary.

It's not yet known whether the Dorner case also will spawn books, television dramas and movies, as the Manson murders did, and as the Wineville murders did, but few would bet against it. 

Read more John Weeks at http://sbsun.com/johnweeks.

Contact him by email at john.weeks@inlandnewspapers.com.