By BOB TUROSZ
NORTH READING — Former MDC police officer Dana Owen returned to North Reading recently to talk about his new book “Shotgunned” at the Flint Memorial Library. Owen signed copies of his book and spoke to an audience in the library about his nearly fatal experiences 40 years ago that prompted him to write the book, subtitled “The long ordeal of a wounded cop seeking justice.”
Owen was living on Williams Rd. with his young family on June 16, 1975, when he and his partner broke up a tractor trailer hijacking on Route 93, chased the criminals north to the intersection of Swanton and Washington Sts. in Winchester, where a shootout took place that left Owen bleeding and unconscious and dying in the roadway as the gunmen escaped.
Emergency room surgeons at Winchester Hospital saved his life and he eventually regained his health with the devoted care of his wife Sandy, a nurse. But he never gave up his quest to bring the hijackers to justice.
After retiring in 1997 as a sergeant and Armorer for the Mass. State Police, Owen spent years working on his book about the case, which he wrote with the help of former Boston TV reporter Ron Gollobin and Athena Z. Yerganian.
In speaking at the library, Owen told the story of how the hijacking developed and was connected to a string of bank robberies in the mid 70’s attributed to Somerville’s Ten Hills Gang as well as the October 1975 holdup at the Hilltop Steakhouse that resulted in the death of a Wells Fargo guard, Louis Silva from North Reading.
An important role in cracking the case was played by two North Reading police officers at the time, Detective Sgt. Henry (Hank) Purnell, who later became chief of the department and Detective Edward Hayes, who later became lieutenant.
Owens told the story of how he participated in stakeouts of the gang’s Somerville headquarters, how five men from Somerville and Medford were indicted and two were brought to trial in US District Court in Boston before Judge Walter Skinner, best remembered as the presiding judge in the Woburn water contamination case made famous in A Civil Action. Owen testified in the trial and had the satisfaction of seeing two of the men sentenced to terms in federal prison. One suspect was found incompetent to stand trial, one suspect was found not guilty in a second trial and a fifth served time in prison in Kuwait.
Some of those in the audience in the Activity Room of the Flint Memorial Library were too young to remember the 70s, but others recalled it as the “Deadly Decade” when violent crime, spurred by a stagnant economy and social upheaval, was rampant in eastern Massachusetts. For instance, two Boston Police Officers, brothers Walter and John Schroeder, were gunned down three years apart in separate bank hold ups.
Owens’s book is available at Carr’s Stationers, 265 Main St., in the Stop & Shop Plaza on Route 28. New York City Police Commissioner William J. Bratton called Shotgunned “a thrilling and enlightening account of courage and determination.” And it really happened here.