(Horace) Thomas Guerry was born on September 2, 1941, in Compton, California, where he and his family lived until his graduation from high school. Following graduation, he completed a year of police science courses at Fullerton Junior College and worked as a recreation counselor. The family moved to Santa Barbara in 1960.
Tom then earned an associate of arts degree from Santa Barbara City College. On October 1, 1962, Tom began his career as a police officer in the Patrol Division after attending the Riverside Police Academy. In the following eight years, Tom and Jane had two daughters, Sandra and Diane. Tom was a devoted husband and father. He was happy and successful in his career as a Santa Barbara police officer. His hobbies included cabinet making, in his spare time.
Tom loved being a police officer, became a seasoned veteran patrolman and was then appointed as a detective on September 1, 1968, working mainly burglary cases. Tom was actively involved in the Police Benevolent Association (PBA) and served as the President of that organization for several years.
Tom was also active in PORAC and was instrumental in the establishment of other PORAC chapters on the South Coast. He was well liked and respected by his peers and supervisors alike. He fought hard as the PBA President to improve the working conditions for the rank and file within the police department. He was a complete professional who also cared for the people around him.
Tom was tall, husky and handsome. He had an award winning smile, the gentle caring disposition of a lamb, the tenacity and fierceness of a lion, and the determination and stubbornness of a mule. He was your partner in the patrol car, your back-up on a call, the guy you passed each work day in the hallway or with whom you shared lunch. He was a husband and a father. He was the same guy you laughed with, cried with, lived with and would have died with. You would have been proud to have known this extraordinary ordinary man and would have been honored to have him call you “friend.”
He was 28 years old when he was shot and killed in the line of duty on January 13, 1970, at 5:30 p.m.
On the evening of January 13, 1970, a trio of felons had crossed the United States from Baltimore, Maryland, robbing and beating victims as they made their way west. Two of these men were brothers, Bruce and Franklin Bowersox. Aside from the robberies they committed, they had failed in two other attempts to kill a man in New Mexico and another, a parking lot attendant in downtown Los Angeles. The Los Angeles man was spared from death in a parking garage when Bruce Bowersox’s gun misfired.
When the trio arrived in Santa Barbara on January 12, 1970, an associate of the Bowersox brothers turned himself in to a California Highway Patrol Officer confessing of a robbery plan in the city. The CHP notified the Santa Barbara Police Department. Detective Tom Guerry and his partner were given the assignment to check out the information and take whatever action they felt necessary.
While driving on Chapala Street, the detectives noticed the two wanted men walking in the area of Ortega Street and Bradbury Avenue. As they approached the intersection the Bowersox brothers, split apart from one another and began to walk back to each side of the front of the police vehicle. As the detectives stepped from their vehicle, the Bowersox brothers opened fire with handguns, fatally wounding Detective Guerry. His partner returned fire and wounded Bruce Bowersox in the shoulder.
Frank Bowersox was arrested at the scene. Bruce Bowersox fled, but was soon captured.
Franklin Bowersox received life in prison. Bruce Bowersox, at age 32, was sentenced to the gas chamber in San Quentin Prison for the slaying of Detective Guerry. In 1972, California declared the death penalty unconstitutional and Bruce Bowersox’ sentence (along with a host of others on “death row”), was automatically changed to life in prison where he remained until his death in 1992.
The death of Tom Guerry ripped through the heart of Santa Barbara, as well as the entire region. In memory of Tom, the Santa Barbara Citizens Council on Crime established the H. Thomas Guerry award. Each year, law enforcement officers from agencies in the County of Santa Barbara are honored for valor, skill in conflict resolution and outstanding overall performance. The Guerry award continues to be the most coveted and respected award an officer or deputy can receive in the county and each year the members of the Guerry family, without fail, attend the ceremonies. It is through the Guerry Awards that the memory of Tom can be kept alive and his legacy of courage and dedication honored.