Project Description

The Payless Murders

A cold-case podcast series


In February of 1979, the news that three young employees of the PayLess Drug Store in San Mateo, California had been murdered shocked California and the country. For the next 25 years the case went unsolved and became the longest old-cold triple homicide in California.

Police chief John Stangl, who had been a young detective on the case, felt that a book on the murders might shake loose a witness or a new lead, and in the late 1990’s, he and other detectives who had worked the PayLess case twenty years earlier agreed to be interviewed by California writer John Christgau for a book on the murders.

In 1999, Christgau began what would eventually total over a hundred interviews with detectives, lawyers, PayLess employees, and friends and families of the victims, then drafted a podcast script. The result is a combination of re-enactments and authentic previously unreleased tapes, sampled from original interviews with detectives, victims’ families, and others involved in the case.

​This podcast is the story of the murders, told in the voices and words of those who lived it.

Detective Sergeant Larry Weissel was nicknamed “Sidemouth” because of his habit of speaking out of the side of his mouth. What is left hanging in his declaration is the possibility that his genius for catching crooks and murderers has disappeared. Neither regular sips at his investigations desk from a tumbler of cheap brandy nor the affection and beauty of the young dispatcher with whom he works can bring it back.

The case begins on February 4, 1979, with the grisly execution-style murder of three young employees during a robbery at the PayLess Drug Store in San Mateo, California. When officers first arrive on the scene, they find 24-year-old Assistant Manager Michael Olson laying face down in a pool of blood beside a tipped-over chair. The second victim, 17-year-old Cashier Billy Baumgartner, lay on the ground, surrounded by red slashes that seemed to have been swiped on the floor by a bloody paintbrush. The third victim, 16-year-old Tracy Anderson, lay on his back between the aisles in an expanding pool of blood, clutching a horseshoe stake and moaning. Sidemouth makes it his personal mission to find the killer of the three young men.

The main suspect is George Alvan Bandy, a PayLess warehouseman with a reputation for wannabe toughness who describes his duties at the store as that of a “Roving Turkey.” Sidemouth discovers that Bandy owns the right gun–a .38 Smith & Wesson Special, which he often brandishes in the store. During a search of Bandy’s apartment, Sidemouth and other detectives find a box of bullets that match those removed from the victims. Then Bandy lies to Sidemouth about the whereabouts of his gun and his activities the night of the murders. After flunking three lie detector tests, he endures a five-hour star chamber interrogation by Sidemouth. But he refuses to admit to the killings. Tormented by the suspicion and rancor directed at him during the interrogation, Bandy draws himself up into the fetal position, seeking the warmth and innocence of the womb.

George Bandy is arrested at dawn in September of 1980 on a street corner in San Diego. Forensic chemists with the FBI establish that the .38 Special ammunition taken from his apartment comes from the same “homogenous source of lead” as the fatal bullets. But despite an intensive search by Sidemouth for the murder weapon, including a hunt for the ragpicker who regularly scavenged the dumpsters around Bandy’s apartment, the Roving Turkey’s .38 Special is never found. The eventual court battle, presided over by a brilliant but irascible judge, is marked by evidence confusion and ballistic babble that leads to Bandy’s dismissal.

Sidemouth dies shortly after Bandy’s dismissal, of a broken heart, some say, because the Roving Turkey goes free. As of the summer of 2017, the PayLess Murders case remains the only unsolved triple homicide in California.

ALLISON GAMLEN (Narrator, Assistant Director) is an actor and director who teaches Drama and Video Production at Hillsdale High School.

​MICK LAUGS (Detective Bob Grantham, Judge Pliska) is a voice, stage, and film actor and improv artist and teacher.

KEVIN COPPS (Detective Larry Weissel) is an actor who has appeared in numerous Bay Area productions.

DIEGO DEW (George Bandy, Pete Guzman) is a sophomore at Stanford studying Political Science and Theater Arts.

KEREL RENNACKER (Sid) is an actor who has appeared in numerous Bay Area productions.

DAN COOPER (Criminalist Gordon Deeg) is former radio/television student who now resides with his family on the Peninsula.

TIM HULS (Prosecutor Cliff Cretan) is a Bay Area actor who has appeared in numerous threatre, film, and television productions.

ROY PFEIFER (Deputy Sheriff Dave Nelson) is an improv and voice-over actor in the Bay Area.

JOHN DEVINCENZI (Defense Attorney Bob Courshon) is a retired teacher who now lectures for the National Park Service at Alcatraz.

STEVE GEHRE (Coroner Dr. Arthur Lack) is a retired teacher who is also lectures for the NPS at Alcatraz.

RYAN MAYHAN (Asst. Mgr. Rich Connell) is an actor and playwright who is presently a senior at Hillsdale High School.

LENORA FERRO-BRIGNAND (Psychic Kay Rhea) is an author and former reader for “Reading for the Blind.”

PAULA PIOLI (Sandy Weissel) has done musical theater in California and Nevada.

DICK FREGULIA is a Bay Area jazz pianist and composer who has been performing and recording for forty years.

STEVE WEBBER is a bassist who plays and records regularly in bands and orchestras throughout the greater Bay Area.

MICHAEL SANTO has done sound design for theatre companies in Seattle and Portland.

JERMAINE HAMILTON is a sound engineer, producer, and co-owner of Studio Circle Recordings.

JOHN CHRISTGAU (Writer, Director, and Producer) is an internationally recognized novelist and playwright.

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