Good Pat on Back Is Retiring Chief's Goal

Times Staff Writer

After 29 years on the El Segundo police force, Chief J. Clark Devilbiss is leaving to take on a new career--as a professional masseur.

Unlike some retirees who spend the happy hour of their lives taking it easy, Devilbiss plans to teach others to relax through deep-tissue muscle massages.

His sudden, somewhat surprising career switch has raised eyebrows and curiosity among El Segundo residents.

"At first they suspect some kind of controversy because my retirement was a bit sudden," Devilbiss said. "Then, when I tell them that I plan to work in a massage clinic they just don't know what to think."

Bothered by Word

Just the word massage makes people uneasy, he said, because massage parlors are sometimes a front for prostitution.

"They think it's kind of kinky at first. But those residents who know me and my athletic background realize that this a legitimate endeavor."

A self-described physical fitness buff and longtime member of the Manhattan spa, Devilbiss makes frequent trips to a posh San Diego spa to get massages himself.

Citing a need for legitimate massage businesses in the South Bay, the 55-year-old police chief plans to offer a massage clinic at the Manhattan Athletic Club for Men in Manhattan Beach. "There is nothing like a good massage to move the blood all around, relax the muscles and make someone feel good after a good workout or a hard day's work," Devilbiss said.

3-Month Course

Shortly after his retirement, which takes effect Friday, Devilbiss will work at the health club as a trainer until he completes a 3-month course on massage technique at the Institute of Psycho Structural Balancing in Santa Monica.

There, he will learn the art of deep-tissue, Swedish and Oriental massage. His clinic, to be open to both members and non-members of the athletic club, is scheduled to begin in mid-April.

"People tell me they can't wait," Devilbiss said, "but I don't know if they are exited to have a professional massage or if they're just curious to see what the old chief can do."

Six months ago, Devilbiss said he would have scoffed at the prospect of running a massage clinic. But the unexpected death of his sister, Joanne Hauber, last month prompted the chief to abandon earlier plans to retire on his 30-year anniversary with the force next October and go into private security.

'Life Is Too Short'

"I've always wanted to do a lot of things outside of law enforcement," he said. "My sister's death made me realize that life is too short not to do what you want to do."

Devilbiss, a longtime El Segundo resident, said his wife Patricia and three grown children all support his new career choice.

Though department, union and city officials say they wish only the best for the retiring chief, all of those interviewed expressed disappointment at seeing him leave at what appeared to be the peak of his career.

"The best thing he could do for me is make sure I don't have to worry about the Police Department, and that's what he has done," said City Manager Nicholas Romaniello.

"We are sure going to miss his outlook on life," said Capt. Tim Grimmond. "He taught us all that we have to always think of the people we serve, not just the badge we wear."

Five Applicants

The city is advertising in professional publications for a new chief and has received five applications so far.

Throughout his two-year stint as police chief, Devilbiss has prided himself on his involvement in what he calls "the little city by the sea."

He said his office is bombarded with calls from parents seeking advice on dealing with troublesome children and from neighbors who need a mediator to settle property disputes. "I always listen," he said. "Sometimes that's all it takes and they solve the problem themselves."

Said Vern Wood, former deputy chief: "He always had this keen sense about people, like he could read them or something."

Devilbiss refers to his relationship with the city as a "good marriage," noting that he was "fortunate enough to rise through the department ranks rather quickly."

Notorious Case

In 1957, after less than a year on the force, Devilbiss received his first promotion when he was assigned to investigate one of the South Bay's most notorious homicides--a case that was never solved.

The incident began at Rosecrans and Van Ness avenues, along what was then a lovers' lane. A man attacked two teen-aged couples, forced them to undress and raped one of the girls. Fleeing in the victims' car, the man was pulled over by El Segundo officers Milton (Gus) Curtis and Richard Phillips for running a red light at Rosecrans and Sepulveda Boulevard.

Before Phillips could finish dating the ticket, the man shot both officers three times. Curtis died instantly. Phillips managed to radio for help before dying.

"Working on this case was quite prestigious," Devilbiss said, noting that it received nationwide attention.

Partner Killed

For him the case meant more than a promotion. It was a chance to hunt for his partner's killer. Except for a last-minute scheduling change, Devilbiss, not Curtis, would have been with Phillips that night.

"If I were with Phillips . . . I'm not sure about anything, but maybe things would have been different," Devilbiss said.

Today, almost 30 years later, he still feels frustrated that the killer was never found. He rattles off the case number as if it were his phone number, and keeps the ticket Phillips was writing and other mementoes of the case in his office.

His intense commitment to the investigation eventually helped gain him an administrative position as assistant to Police Chief Thomas DeBerry in 1967. Four years later he was promoted to captain and in 1983 he moved up to chief.

"After such a successful career, people just can't believe I'm leaving the Police Department to work at a health club," Devilbiss said.

"But I've done all I wanted to do here. It's time to move on before life passes me by."

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