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Murder Mystery: 1974 shooting of U.S. airman still unsolved; sketches show accused killers

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parellaTACOMA — In 1974, the hit TV show, “The Six Million Dollar man,” ran into the hearts of millions. Eric Clapton’s song, “I Shot The Sheriff topped the charts, and President Gerald Ford gave Richard Nixon an unconditional pardon.

It was also the year life changed forever for three men playing pool at a bar. “The victim in this case, Robert Townsend had been at an establishment on South Tacoma Way called the Green Pub Tavern,” said Tacoma police Det. Gene Miller.

On the night of September 16th, Robert Townsend, who was in his 40’s, made a bet with two other men, believed to be in their 20’s, that he could beat them in a game of pool. “He had some interaction with who I believe are the two suspects in this case, where he played pool against them, and they lost. There was an agreement that he would give them a ride home in exchange for the money that was owed to him at the pool games,” Det. Miller explains.

One of the suspects gave Townsend his driver’s license as collateral until he could get home and get cash. But, as the three men were heading that way, something horrible happened. “They somehow ended up in this area at Montgomery and 75th Street. Whether this area has some significant meaning to the suspects is not known with certainty, but I believe they had some connection to this general area.”

The area was just eight minutes away from the bar, on a dead-end road, inside a quiet neighborhood. Det. Miller says, “Once they got into the area, there was some type of altercation that took place in the vehicle. The victim sustained a single gunshot wound to the right side of his head from inside the vehicle and close proximity. All indications are that the round was fired from inside the vehicle.” But that’s not all. “The vehicle ended up crashing first into a parked vehicle, subsequently into a cinder block wall, which was basically here and just a little bit behind me before coming to rest in some bushes,” Miller explains. Those crashes made a lot of noise at 2:00am and brought a powerful witness out of their home. “One of the neighbors in particular was able to observe one of the suspects who at that point and time appeared to be going through the pockets of the victim,” Miller said. He believes the suspect was trying to take back his driver’s license.

Police drew up sketches of what witnesses say the men looked like at the time. The one with long side burns was seen going through the victim’s pockets. The other man fled the scene right after the truck crashed.

It’s been almost 40 years since the murder here at Montgomery and 75th St., and there have been a lot of advancements in science since that time. Det. Miller has both fingerprints and DNA from at least one of the suspects and just needs a name to compare them too. Miller adds, “The hope, quite frankly in this particular case, is that somebody is going to have information in this particular case that hasn’t come forward yet. Somebody is going to look at those sketches and recognize one of those two individuals. That information will allow me to move forward and confirm what I believe happened in this case.”

Although little is known about the victim in this case, Miller says that he was in the Air Force at the time and was just days from retiring.  “This individual had served 20 years in the military. He was due to retire October 1, 1974. This incident occurred literally twelve days before he would have retired from the military,” Miller said.

Police are hoping to get justice for this victim and veteran before another decade passes.

If you think you recognize the men in the sketches from 1974, or know anything about this senseless murder, call an anonymous tip into:


You must call the Crime Stoppers hotline with your tip to be eligible to receive a cash reward for information leading to a fugitive’s arrest.

CLICK HERE for information on how to TEXT A TIP to Crime Stoppers.

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