Cleveland Elementary School Shooting

A little after 8 a.m on Monday, Jan. 29, 1979, parents in San Carlos, a pleasant suburb of the California seaside city of San Diego, started...

Life in Prison (COVID Update)

(UPDATED August 31st 2021) 

Brenda Spencer Parole 2021

Brenda Spencer voluntarily waived her right to her Parole Suitability Hearing, Sept 2021. Her next hearing will take place before September 9th, 2022. She is creating a strategy with her attorney, Michael Brennan - Clinical Professor of Law and Director, Post-Conviction Justice Project. 

At this stage, it is unclear why she waived her right to the hearing. 


(UPDATED May 26th 2021) 

Brenda Spencer 2018

Brenda is back to work in the auto shop but still wearing a mask when indoors. Her next parole hearing or "Subsequent Suitability Hearing" is now scheduled for September 9th 2021. 

(UPDATED March 19th 2021) 

Brenda received her second dose of the Moderna vaccine. Many of the others in her unit received their second dose as well. It was one of the quietest days in the prison with many feeling unwell the next day. She spend this week visiting with her new lawyers preparing for her parole hearing (believed to be this September).  

(UPDATED March 8th 2021) 

Brenda Spencer has officially applied for her COVID-19 Relief money. She applied for other stimulus checks in 2020. The new bill passed by the federal government allows her to apply for an additional $1400.  As an official state employee for her work behind bars she is entitled to stimulus money. Brenda's mom is a bookkeeper and does her yearly taxes. 

California Institution for Women (CIW)

COVID Protests at the CIW

(UPDATED Feb 14th 2021) 

The Miller, Latham and Barneberg Units at the CIW went on full quarantine in 2020. Many of her prison mates and friends contracted the virus and survived. Just prior to Christmas 2020, she tested positive after a random test. She was quarantined to the medical unit and slowly began to show symptoms.

Less than two weeks later she tested negative and was returned to her normal room to start 2021. Brenda is currently healthy and alone in her room preparing for her next parole hearing.

On valentines day 2021 she received her first dose of the Moderna vaccine and felt little affects afterwards. The prison reported multiple issues of nausea and sickness from other inmates.Brenda was just fine.  

Entry to Prison 1980

Brenda was the most famous entrant at the CIW since the Manson Girls arrived ten years earlier. She was internationally known, and other inmates would whisper behind her back as she walked by. As a very small underdeveloped girl in a general population prison, she kept to herself for almost a year.

From day one she attended both Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous but failed to fully complete the 12 step program until 1991. But she did complete countless anger management courses and Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA).

Brenda went on a tirade of self-help courses and learning programs. She finished an animal grooming program, took vocational electronics and hobby/craft classes, got her electrical test technician qualification and worked as a repair tech for over 12 years.

She completed an upholstery and maintenance warehouse courses with top marks. She is an accredited forklift driver and got her driver’s licence so she could start working in the Auto Shop. She also worked as the Fire House Receptionist for years and made friends with a number of prison staff. 

Brenda became a tutor for the Project Read program and helped other inmates learn to read. She even played for the prison softball team, performed in the prisons musical group called ‘One Heart Band’, helped to rebuild the recreation auditorium, participated in multiple events like World AIDS Day and HIV education programs.

Brenda became a fairly good prisoner and her Central File or C-file shows she does not have any serious 115 disciplines and about seven minor C128’s. Brenda started slowly and only missed a few days at work duty or educational assignments classes.

Her file includes a favorable mention relating to an incident in the hobby/craft room. A prison staff member cut her hand and Brenda took control and “gathered up all the tools and organized the situation”.

California Institution for Women (CIW)

CIW yard outside Emmons Unit

Brenda was relocated to the Emmons A Unit and was given the cell across the hallway from Manson Family Member, Leslie Van Houten. The two became good friends and worked together helping other prisoners to read. She is also friendly with Patricia Krenwinkel. 

Brenda read Helter Skelter the year before her crime and had known of the women long before arriving at the prison. Leslie is a liaison between prisoners and officials and Pat works with Guide Dogs. Brenda also got to know Betty Broderick after she arrived, but they did not become friends. Both were unaware of the connection with her ex-husband. 

 All four women are part of the ‘Golden Girls’ program and get special treatment because of their age.They get special treatment because of their age like being first in the medicine line and laundry time. 

Other than her father, Brenda’s siblings rarely visited her while she has been incarcerated.Since her father and brother's deaths, only her mother makes the trip up from SD - but she cant remember the last time. 


New Release
Recorded in 1979. An excerpt from the San Diego Police dispatch with information on the shooter. 

Brenda was identified by her father. He also told them she had more than 600 round of ammo.  

The Reporters and the famous quote

 San Diego Evening Tribune 1979

Evening Tribune City Desk 1979

As the police and ambulances raced to the scene, San Diego Evening Tribune police reporter Frank Saldana was picking up the police calls on his scanner from his base at the main station. Frank was a seasoned and personable correspondent, intentionally placed at the main cop shop to grab breaking stories.

Frank Saldana 1977
He immediately recognized this as out of the ordinary and called it into the newspaper’s head office in Mission Valley. His editor, Bernie Hunt, took the call and awaited more details. Frank was an “action man, sent to the scene for immediate impact”, Hunt would later say.

On the fourth floor at the Tribune’s impressive building in Mission Valley, about 15 minutes freeway travel west from San Carlos, the editors were reaching their deadlines for the first afternoon edition. Having received the information of the shooting from Saldana who was based downtown, city editor Mike Walker and Hunt, the chief assistant city editor, sent all available reporters to the scene to get the story.

With all active reporters already out tramping their usual editorial beats or hitting the streets for this story, Hunt walked down to the “politics corral” and threw a Haines Criss+Cross reverse directory to Steve Wiegand.

Hunt told Wiegand about the breaking story and pressed him into service to start calling houses near the school on Lake Atlin Avenue to see if he could track down witnesses to the events.

The first number Wiegand called was the house across the street from the incident.

“When you are fishing for witnesses through the reverse directory, you get very few results,” Steve recalls. ”So just getting someone to answer the phone on my very first call was a bit of a win, since we were on a pretty tight deadline.”

Wiegand was surprised that someone answered and slightly more surprised when it was the voice of a young girl.

Steve Wiegand 1985
Steve Wiegand 1985

It was just after 9 a.m and the person identified herself as “Brenda”. Steve recorded the famous quote, "I dont like Mondays" in his notes and captured as much as he could until she hung up. 

After she hung up, Wiegand turned to Walker and said he was pretty sure he had just spoken to the sniper. All reports coming in were saying the point of origin was the house across the street from the school. Wiegand had definitely spoken with the shooter.

Walker decided to have Wiegand start writing the story and get something out for the first edition. The fast-approaching deadline was just 25-30 minutes away. As Wiegand started writing up his notes in story form, Clarence A “Gus” Stevens was given the number and told to call back again and keep the girl talking.

 Gus Stevens 2011
Gus Stevens 2011

Gus Stevens was slightly older than most reporters at the Tribune and well known for reaching deep into the personalities when reporting. He was a sober reflective man with wire-rimmed glasses and a patchy beard. Bernie Hunt brought him in to help cover the story from his normal post in features, because he was available and competent. In his free time, Stevens wrote more than 100 romance novels and perhaps he was the right person to delve into the mind of a teenage female shooter?

Stevens took Wiegand’s place and rang back at about 9:15. Brenda answered again. Stevens introduced himself and to his surprise she was still interested in talking.

While Stevens and Wiegand were on the phone with Brenda, the SDPD were taking people to safety and getting themselves ready for a stand off. Detectives told the Evening Tribune to step back and the police took it from there. 

Brenda's best friends

Brenda Spencer Yearbook 1978

Brenda Spencer Yearbook 1978

Despite popular belief Brenda had a number of friends growing up in San Carlos, San Diego. A few were interviewed by the police after her arrest and at least one was said to have given statements in the civil suit brought by the victims.

Brenda's father indicated there were a few friends who spent the night at their house and also came with them to their mountain property. Brant Flemming, the next door neighbor is the most notable friend of Brenda's. He was 3 1/2 years younger and was arrested with her in 1975 and 1978 for shoplifting and vandalism.

Brenda Spencer Yearbook 1978 
Susie Stewart was her best friend in Jr High and first year at Patrick Henry. She was with Brenda during her bike accident and head injury in 1975. They drifted apart when Brenda attended another school for a semester and they did not have classes together in 1978. Her family rented a house on Mission Beach each summer and had Brenda as a guest. Susie also visited juvenile hall with Wally Spencer and wrote to Brenda for many years. Curiously, Wally called her 'Susan' instead of her commonly used name when interviewed by police. They believed he was purposely trying to distance himself from her. But why?

Brenda Spencer Yearbook 1978

Dawn White was thought to be Brenda's good friend by her father. Other friends disputed this despite Wally meeting her many times and knew her by name. She lived quite close to the Spencer's and was known by Brenda's brother and sister. Dawn told the SD Union newspaper that she was one of her best friends and "“I went into the desert with her last year to go target shooting and she killed a lot of lizards and squirrels. She almost never missed.”

Brenda Spencer Yearbook 1978

Shari Stuchlik was Brenda's best friend in Elementary and Jr High School.She lived down the road and was friendly with the entire family. Susie Stewart was jealous of Shari and tried to keep her away from Brenda once they were in Jr High School. Shari was close to Brenda at the time she moved from her mom's to her dad's after they split up.

Brenda Spencer yearbook 1978

Tracy Mills 16, described herself as a friend at high school to the newspapers saying, “She always talked about getting wasted on drugs, and about shoplifting all the time. She seemed proud of the fact that she was a good shoplifter."  Tracy also said, “She always seemed like a radical,” a statement that has been incorrectly attributed to a youth councilor. Wally said she was the last girl to visit Brenda at home. 

Brant Flemming 1980 Brant Flemming 1980

Roderick Brant Flemming was Brenda's next door neighbor and lived with his sister and mother. His former step-father was a police office but had left the home tow years before the shooting. The Flemmings had a swimming pool and many of the neighbor kids came over to swim on hot summer days. Brenda was one of the many kids there.

Brant and Brenda struck up an unusual friendship. She was over three years older but they were similar in small stature and spent a lot of time together. They vandalized Cleveland Elementary the year before she shot from her front door. They were also arrested stealing gun ammunition at local drug store years before.

His life was changed forever by Brenda when she showed him drugs in the fort she built in the garage. His family moved away to Santee the summer of 1978 but they stayed in touch. Brant rode his bike more than a hour to visit the weekend before the shooting. They spent that Saturday harassing the witnesses who saw them vandalize the school. 

After Brenda was arrested, Brant was questioned by the police but no further action was taken against him. He was clearly Brenda's follower but probably her best friend.Brant briefly joined the Speech Team in high school but eventually battled drugs and dropped out. He sadly died in a single vehicle car crash in 1993. Brant was so little when he met Brenda.

The House on Lake Atlin Ave

 

6356 Lake Atlin Ave

Directly across the street from Cleveland Elementary was 6356 Lake Atlin Ave. It was a normal family home painted light brown with white trim. The one story, three-bedroom house with a two-car garage and ample off-street parking, was built in 1959, about the same time as the school.

The house was owned by single father Wallace “Wally” Spencer, who had been divorced about eight years. He lived her with Brenda, his youngest, a junior at Patrick Henry High School, the other her older brother Scott.

Just inside the door on the entrance tiles were scattered cartridge casings and little else. The police report listed them as 36 empty cartridge casings and two live rounds in an area about 7 by 6 feet.

“Entrance way was slightly wider than it was deep and was a beige color tile,” said Det. Thwing. Just outside of the entryway were the white folding knife and hunting knife sitting next to a small bottle of Southern Comfort.

To detectives, the folding knife looked to be for filleting or gutting fish and the hunting knife was dark with a brown leather handle. The pint-sized bottle was listed as a quarter full without its cap. There were no indications the alcohol spilled as the floor was dry and clean. Thwing said saw no drug remnants or paraphernalia anywhere in the house.

In the hallway was a rotary telephone with a cord long enough that it could have been transported anywhere throughout the house. Detectives saw no second phone and concluded this must have been the phone Brenda used to communicate with reporters and police.

The first bedroom was Brenda’s. It was untidy and cluttered with a few magazines and clothes. A single bed was against the wall with sage-colored shag carpet. On the bed was a brown and white imitation leather gun case that detectives took into evidence. Next to the bed was a night table covered with random electronics and a small lamp.

Lake Atlin Ave 1979

On top of the chest of drawers was small stereo with a couple speakers. “It looked like a tape player in the room, which could have possibly been an 8-track player.” said Thwing. He also thought that it may have also been TV parts. Brenda’s room had no posters or pictures and only an old clock hung on the front wall. The police photographed this room at 3:25 pm and moved on. 

Brother Scott’s bedroom was in just as much disorder as his sister’s. He had bunk beds and camping gear scattered around.  Bedroom three was clearly a storage area. It was full of red camping coolers and camping gear like sleeping bags. In the far corner was the C02 air rifle Wally had described. Police listed this room as a bedroom in disarray, although that could have described the entire home.

Wally’s room was much the same as the others with, clothes, food bowls, soda cans and papers on the floor. A large mattress and box spring directly on the floor sat in the corner. The table across from the unmade bed was built out of cinder blocks and wooden board. On the table was stacks of magazines and a TV in pieces.

Lake Atlin Ave 1979
The police report made no mention of the fort or the C02 pistols that Wally said were in his room. This space was not extensively searched, and detectives photographed it and moved on. Thwing described this room as “less cluttered than the other rooms” although pictures disagree with that assessment.

The official police report called this area extremely messy and cluttered with various foodstuffs.  The dining table was covered in pre-packaged snacks and various bottles.

The living room, just off from the kitchen, was covered in unvacuumed light brown shag carpet. Police reports listed it as having a large double lounger and two small couches but not much else. The report also describes a homemade TV set as being the only thing out of the ordinary.

Detectives never opened the sliding glass door or went into the backyard. The SWAT teams and Astrea helicopter surveillance was present for the past six hours, so this may have played a role in that. Though Brenda had spoken of pets, the officers saw saw no sign of any animals while they were in the house.

The official report was not time stamped and it is unknown exactly how long the detectives searched the house. We know the detectives arrived just after the surrender at 3:06 p.m., and the search was over in about two hours. Detective left just before it got dark, when the sun set at 5:18 p.m., and pulled the police tape from around the scene.

Steve Camblin

 Steve Camblin

Steven Camblin was a San Diego School District security officer in 1979. He heard the call on his portable police radio and made his way to the scene. Camblin was an eager security guard at Patrick Henry High School and believed himself also responsible for the lower schools in the area. He arrived at the rear of Cleveland Elementary, his presence uncontested by officers already on the scene. 

Camblin made claims of heroism at the time, but finally settled on being part of the trash-truck operation masterminded by police. Camblin is an interesting character who plays a role in the aftermath and historical accuracy of the event. 

Exactly why he was there or who asked him to attend is unclear. As a Parick Henry High student, Spencer would have recognized Camblin, but there is no way that he would have known that Brenda was the perpetrator. Officer Kasinak first noticed him “in front of the school after officers and myself were getting the principal and custodian on the gurneys for transportation to the hospital." He never saw Camblin near the trash truck. 

Steve Camblin

Camblin was a recipient of the Purple Heart during the Vietnam war as a parachutist. He held a college degree in criminal justice and finished fourth in the training which would have normally assure him a place on the team. “My career in law enforcement was ruined. I was told by other police agencies I would never work again.” he said. 

Camblin was recognized for his ‘heroic and unselfish actions’ but was later stripped of all awards. He was eventually suspended then fired from Patrick Henry High and was not accepted into the police force.Years later he sued the school district for unfair dismissal and a number of other infractions. He won £115,000 and started a roofing business.

In 1989, Camblin shot an intruder in his yard but was not arrested. He passed away from Cancer in 2008. I contacted his brother who said Steve never spoke to him about any of the incidents.

Steve CamblinSteve Camblin


Brenda's brother and sister

 Teresa SpencerScott Spencer 

Brenda had an older brother and sister then later a half-sister. 

Scott Mathew Spencer was born in December 1956 and in less than two years later, Teresa Lynn Spencer arrived on August 1958. The parents bought a house at 6413 Boulder Lake Avenue in the relatively new area of San Carlos.Brenda was born 4 years later. 

At the time of the shooting, Scott was 22 with long reddish sun-bleached hair and often wore a head band to keep it under control. He had just moved out of the house to live in El Cajon with friends.

Scott and Brenda were quite close and were known to smoke marijuana together on many occasions. According to Scott, Brenda idolized him and liked to go places together. She was like a little brother because she was a tomboy and they shared the same outdoor interests.

He was a decent soccer player at Patrick Henry High School and outgoing - very unlike his father. He later moved to Victorville in central California and then back again because he had been arrested for cultivating marijuana (later dismissed). At the time of the shooting he was travelling the mid-west with friends.  

Teresa,20, was only slightly taller than Brenda at 5’3’. She graduated Patrick Henry High and was far more worried about appearances than the rest of the family. To save money during college she remained living at the house. She started at San Diego State University the following Fall to study commercial art.

Teresa was not as close to Brenda as her brother and did not love the outdoors like the rest of the family. Teresa was more introverted like her father but that may be the only thing they share. She was the only person who did any chores around the house and would often untangle Brenda’s hair and do the laundry.

Teresa married and moved away to the Bay Area shortly after the shooting and enjoys her anonymity. She divorced and remarried and remains in in Northern California. She has not visited Brenda in Prison. 

Scott passed away in 2019 after falling in his kitchen. He remained friends with Brenda and she was devastated by his death. 

All three siblings had a major legal bust-up with their half -sister Bree, after their fathers death.