Crime in Clayton – from the bizarre to the trivial

During his routine 1 a.m. check of downtown Clayton, Concord Police Officer Lawrence Joseph Lee came upon a strange scene in 1965.

Chubby Humble’s was a popular restaurant that normally would have been closed by this time, but there were cars in the parking lot and all the lights were on. Lee walked through the open door and called out several times as he made his way through the dining room and kitchen. No answer. All was quiet.

He noticed the padlock to the large walk-in freezer was unlocked and hanging on the hasp. He opened the door and, to his astonishment, found eight people inside. The employees of the restaurant had been robbed, then pushed into the freezer.

“To this day, I have no idea why I opened the freezer door,” Lee said.

The victims were in relatively good condition when examined by the fire department, but it was soberly noted that all of them would have died had they been trapped for another 30 minutes. The perpetrator of this crime was found to be another employee and his friends.

In that same year, the officer went to the aid of a homeowner on Oak Street who had been rototilling his yard and struck an artillery shell. The shell did not detonate, and it was later determined to have landed in Clayton at the time of the Port Chicago Naval Munitions explosion in 1944.

Officials bundled the shell in rags, gently loaded it into the man’s car and drove to the Concord Naval Weapons Station, with Lee leading the small convoy that progressed gingerly at 5 mph. This interesting episode ended with the shell being safely disposed of without injury.

In 1965, the newly incorporated city of Clayton contracted with the Concord Police Department to keep the peace. A typical shift included one or two runs through town to check on the resident who lived in the eucalyptus grove and to monitor activities at the Clayton Club. In July 1972, the city formed the Clayton Police Department – made up of three men dedicated to “three areas of main concern: burglary, juvenile relations and traffic.”

In earlier days, a Clayton resident appointed as constable was the small town’s law enforcement. He dealt with minor crimes, while a justice of the peace handled minor legal issues. Beginning in 1860, three generations of the Chapman family were Clayton constables: George, Charles and Victor.

Recorded in a 1895 justice of the peace ledger is a notation about Constable Charles Chapman seeking a warrant charging Charles Johnson of “willfully and maliciously driving his horse at a fast and unusual rate of speed on the public streets of the town of Clayton.” Chapman recommended a fine of $30 or 30 days in the county jail.

Interesting and amusing entries to the Clayton Police daily log continue in modern times, like a complaint about someone burning garbage that turned out to be a neighbor merely barbecuing his dinner. Or a woman who requested that police dispose of a bowling ball found on a trail that she felt was sure to injure someone walking.

Police also responded to a house alarm and found that the gardener had set it off after losing control of his lawnmower, which crashed into the garage door.

Law enforcement and the courts have to be ready for just about anything – whether they be issues major or minor.

Debbie Eistetter is a board member of the Clayton Historical Society. For more information or to become a member, visit The Clayton Museum, at 6101 Main St., is open 2-4 p.m. Wednesdays and Sundays. Admission is free.

Debbie Eistetter
Debbie Eistetter

Debbie Eistetter has been a resident of Clayton for almost 30 years.  She serves on the Board of the Clayton Historical Society and believes that history shows us the way to a more enlightened present and hopeful future.  For more information about the CHS Museum please visit