In the Line of Duty, Conclusion

adams-and-john-lawOn October 24, 1946, Tony Adams limped into Judge Leroy Dawson’s courtroom and was formally charged with the murder of California Highway Patrolman Steve Sodel. He was also indicted for grand theft of the Chevy sedan which belonged to Jeanne Trude. Adams was manacled to Lieutenant John Law of the sheriff’s department, presumably to prevent him from making another escape attempt. Adams’ attorney, William E. Turner, waived reading of the complaint and Judge Dawson set a hearing date.

Adams, an occasional artist’s model, had at least one person in his corner. Beverly Lounsbury, 23, ex-cashier at a Sunset Strip night club that was one of Adams’ regular night spots. Lounsbury visited Adams in the County Jail on the morning of his arraignment. She said that Adams had broken a date with her for the night before Sodel’s murder. Lounsbury told Lieutenant Law, “I feel sorry for him and wanted to tell him so. He told me you fellows didn’t believe him when he said he threw the gun away but he swore he was telling the truth.”adams-cuffed

A jury of nine women and three men was selected to determine Adams’ fate. Attorney William Turner must have worked hard to get nine women on the jury. There was no doubt that Adams was a handsome guy, referred to in the newspapers at the Playboy Killer. Perhaps, if he was lucky, the women jurors could be swayed by the defendant’s good looks. Adams was going to need all the luck he could get. He had drawn Judge Charles W. Fricke.  The judge was a former prosecutor with a reputation for being a tough on lawbreakers. For their part, the prosecutors John Barnes and Fred Henderson didn’t care what Adams looked like, they made it clear that they intended to seek the gas chamber for the alleged cop killer.jeanne-louise-smith

Beverly Lounsbury found a seat in spectator section of Fricke’s courtroom. She told reporters “I’m not sure myself that Tony is guilty of the crime they charge him with. He needs a friend and I’m going to stick by him.”

One of the prosecution witnesses was a former girlfriend of Adams’, Jeanne Louise Smith. The car hop testified that she and Adams had dated briefly while she was separated from her husband. On the evening of September 14, Adams had shown up at her workplace to show her something. “He called me to the rear of the drive-in stand and showed me this gun. I asked him what he was doing with it, but he didn’t answer. He merely stood there, holding the gun in one hand and jingling a bunch of cartridges in his other hand.” Unfamiliar with guns, Smith was shown several different types of firearms but she was unable to say whether Adams had shown her a revolver or another type of gun.

Frances Sodel, the slain officer’s widow, took the stand and, wiping away tears, she identified a photo of her husband and articles of clothing which were discovered in the shallow grave with Steve Sodel’s bullet riddled body.

Frederic D. Newbarr had performed the autopsy on Sodel and he testified that the officer had been shot in the chest five times.

Jack Singleton identified Adams as the man who had stopped him and asked for help in extricating his car from sand alongside the road. Singleton said he had a feeling that the car was hot, so when he saw Officer Sodel he flagged him down and reported his suspicions. Sodel took off after the black sedan.

In his testimony service station operator John Rose said “I heard sounds of automobiles traveling at a high rate of speed and then a black Chevrolet zoomed east on Jefferson closely followed by a California Highway Patrol car. Neither car made the boulevard stop and I think they were going about 65 or 70 miles an hour. I knew the Highway patrol car was Sodel’s because I had seen it many times before.” Rose said he watched both cars disappear from view, then he went back to work.

Jeanne Trude and Elyse Pearl Brown

Jeanne Trude and Elyse Pearl Brown

Jeanne Trude told the court how Adams had introduced himself to her and a girlfriend, movie extra, Elyse Pearl Brown, at the Jococo Club. She said Adams accompanied them to Dave’s Blue Room on the Sunset Strip where, “Miss Brown and myself ordered dinner at Dave’s but Tony just asked for a cup of coffee. He said he was suffering from malaria. Then he excused himself and left. I didn’t see him again, but when I went to get my car I discovered it was gone. I saw it again two weeks later and instead of being gray it was painted black–and not very well, at that.”

The hat-check girl/former cashier and reputed girl friend of the defendant testified that he had visited her a couple of days prior to the slaying. He had a gun, a handful of cartridges and an electric razor he claimed he had won in a poker game the previous night. Adams wanted her to hold the gun for him but she refused. He then told her to “keep quiet about the whole thing.”

One of Adams’ neighbors, Gordon Briggs, testified that he had seen him wearing a paint stained work shirt late in the afternoon of September 17. When Briggs asked about the stains Adams told him,  “I’ve been helping a friend fix some pipes.”

Adams’ explanation for the paint was refuted by Police Chemist Ray Pinker. Pinker said he took samples of paint from the stolen car and matched them to the paint on Adams’ work shirt. They were identical. Pinker had also examined the undercarriage of the stolen car for evidence and had found weeds similar to those found near Sodel’s shallow grave.

Adams’ defense opened their case with two alibi witnesses. The first was Armand Martinez who worked at a cafe at 219 N. Vermont Avenue. He told jurors that Adams couldn’t have committed the murder because he was in the cafe lunching with a beautiful blonde at the time of the crime.

Next on the witness stand was Alvin Faith, a bartender. At 3 p.m. on the day of Sodel’s disappearance he said that Adams was in his bar. “Adams had a nosebleed. So I got him some ice and told him to go back to the restroom.”

Fletcher Herndon, an employee of the Studio Club at 3668 Beverly Boulevard, said that Adams was a frequent customer and had been in at about 11 p.m. on September 17 and asked whether a woman named Selznick had been in looking for him. Selznick?! At the mention of the name name Adams grimaced at Herndon and began to shake his head vigorously back and forth. Herndon didn’t get the message fast enough. He said it was his understanding that the woman was married to a “movie man”. Is it possible that Irene Mayer Selznick, wife of producer David O. Selznick, was seeing pretty boy Tony Adams? In Hollywood, anything is possible.

Adams’ attorneys decided to put their client on the stand to testify in his own defense. Under direct examination by William Turner, Adams denied being Sodel’s killer. Once Turner had finished Prosecutor John Barnes grilled Adams in a blistering cross-examination.roosevelt_sodel

The only thing Adams would admit to was that he had accompanied Jeanne Trude from the Jococo Club to Dave’s Blue Room. He claimed that he left the table when he realized he didn’t have funds sufficient to pay for dinner. Rather than face the embarrassment, he left.  In the parking lot Adams claimed he met a “Mr. Cudahy”–a guy he knew from one of the bars in town–and they’d driven downtown looking for women to pick up.

According to Adams, the mysterious Mr. Cudahy told him he as leaving for New York the next evening and offered Adams a ride. They arranged to meet the next day. Adams said they drove to Las Vegas, but he discovered Cudahy was carrying a box filled with guns. Adams said he “ditched” Cudahy and went on to New York by bus. He told the court “The first time I knew I was wanted for any crime was when I heard it over the radio on a murder program. When my name was mentioned you could have knocked me through the floor.”

Adams claimed the statements he’d made to New York City detectives, in which he had copped to stealing Jean Trude’s car and getting rid of two guns the day following Sodel’s murder, had been made under duress. Adams said he was questioned continuously by a group of at least 6 detectives. One of them, he said, kept slamming a blackjack on the table and  telling Adams that he was a candidate for Harts Field  (a local pauper’s cemetery in).

In closing arguments the prosecutors wove together all of the circumstantial evidence that linked the defendant to the murder. They made a compelling case.

The Defense Attorneys John Irwin and William Turner weren’t left with much. All they could do was maintain that the State had failed to prove its case. They said that there was no definite link between Adams and the murder of Steve Sodel.

The jurors would have to weigh the evidence and testimony and make up their own minds.

The jury deliberated for four hours before notifying Judge Fricke that they had reached a verdict. Frances Sodel said beside another CHP widow, Mrs. Loren Roosevelt as they waited for the verdict to be read. Adams, dressed in a brown pin-striped suit, sat at the defense table with his head in his hands. Jury foreman Edward A. Mohr handed the decision to the court clerk, who then handed it to Judge Fricke. Adams was found guilty of the murder of Steve Sodel. But rather than the gas chamber the jury recommended life without parole.

Why hadn’t the jury handed Adams, a cold-blooded cop killer, a ticket to California’s gas chamber? Evidently the verdict was a compromise, reached when one of the female jurors declared that she would, “sit in the jury room for six months if if necessary” rather than condemn Adams to death.adams-pic

After hearing the verdict, Adams posed for news photographers and said, “I am satisfied with the jury’s verdict. My attorneys, Richard Erwin and William Turner, have given me a fair shake. I’m very lucky.”

Certainly luckier than Steve Sodel and his family.

Epilogue —  According to records, Tony Adams arrived at San Quentin on February 1, 1947.  Adams’ prison register indicates that he was married with one child. His marital status never came up at trial, although his numerous girlfriends and other female acquaintance did. It is entirely possible that he abandoned his wife and child, likely in New York. One wonders if his wife and child ever knew where he went or what happened to him. Adams didn’t spent much time at San Quentin before being transferred to Folsom Prison on April 17, 1947.  As far as I know he remained there until he was paroled. I haven’t been able to discover the date of his parole, but I sincerely hope his looks were long gone by the time he was released. He had a reputation for using women by trading on his looks.  Several women to whom he owed money came forward to talk to sheriff’s department detectives. I prefer to believe that by the time he left prison he had nothing left to trade. Albert Anthony Adams died in Huntington Beach, California on August 15, 2000.

A bronze memorial plaque honoring Steve Sodel was set in cement at the base of a tree at the Sheriff’s Honor Farm (known as Wayside) in Castaic by Sheriff’s Department American Legion Star Post 309.

Note: Many thanks to my friend, Mike Fratantoni,  for sharing this story with me.

In the Line of Duty, Part 2

sodel_blimpEquipped with binoculars, the observers aboard a Navy blimp piloted by Lt. A. J. Slack skimmed the treetops of Palos Verdes, Playa del Rey, Hollywood Hills and Topanga Canyon searching for any sign of missing CHP Patrolman Steve Sodel.  The terrain yielded nothing.

Detectives attempted to piece together a plausible scenario for Sodel’s disappearance from the scant clues available.  They believed that the officer had the misfortune to meet up with one or more so-called “cop-haters” who then forced him at gunpoint into the Chevy sedan.   Tire impressions found at the scene showed that the sedan had backed up and then “dug out” past the parked CHP prowl car.

sodel_headline2Late on the fourth day of the search a bloodstained sedan, riddled with bullet holes, was found abandoned near Las Vegas, Nevada.  A private plane owned by a member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Aero Bureau flew members of the CHP and the Sheriff’s department to the scene.

The search of LA’s environs was a bust, but the car in Las Vegas was a treasure trove of useful information.   The car was sitting in a Las Vegas police impound yard when LA detectives and criminalists arrived to examine every inch of it.  The car was stolen, just as they had thought.  There was a bullet hole in the trunk and something that may have been blood was discovered on the front fender.  Tests were needed to determine whether the stains were human and not animal blood.  The vehicle was dusted for prints inside and out.  Paperwork, routinely carried by highway patrolmen, was also found in the car.sodel-death-car

The evidence was flown back to LA and they got a hit on the fingerprints—they belonged to Albert A. (Tony) Adams, a house painter in his mid to late 20s.  They also traced the owner of the stolen car.  It belonged to Jeanne Trude, 10540 Cushdon Avenue, West Los Angeles, and was stolen from the parking lot of a Sunset Strip nightclub early on the morning of Sodel’s disappearance.  Trude said that she and her friend, Elyse Browne, met a man named Tony Adams at a local night club.  When he suggested that they drive to another, they agreed. Once they arrived at the second night spot, Adams excused himself from the table saying he would return in a few minutes.  He never did.  When Trude and her friend went out to get her car, it was gone.

An all-points bulletin went out for Adams.

A search of Adams’s home led by Sheriff’s Detective Captain Gordon Bowers turned up a photo which he showed to Jack Singleton.  Singleton recognized the man as they guy he had helped with his car on September 17th.   What didn’t turn up in the search was the .32 caliber revolver which acquaintances of Adams’s said he often flashed at bars and night spots. adams_pic

Five days after Sodel’s disappearance, a 35 man posse on horseback convened at dawn to conduct a search for the missing man.  Under District Inspector Walter P. Greer of the Highway Patrol the posse was divided into three groups and set out to search the hills near Loyola University for Sodel but, once again, they failed to find him.

On that same day three young boys—Robert Freyling, 9, Robert Irvine, 8, and his younger brother Blair Irvine, 5—were playing near a new subdivision in Baldwin Hills when they found Steve Sodel’s body.  It was partly covered with dirt. His service revolver and handcuffs were missing but his identification papers and uniform were intact.

The autopsy revealed that Sodel’s skull had been fractured—three .32 caliber slugs were lodged in his chest and two other bullets had passed through his body.   At least now there was physical evidence to support the original theory of the crime—that Steve Sodel had been kidnapped and murdered.

Steve Sodel’s brother officers assisted his widow with funeral arrangements.  The rites were scheduled for 2 p.m., Wednesday, September 25, 1946 in Patriotic Hall, with interment in Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale.  Star Post No. 309, of which Sodel was Junior Past Commander, officiated.

As Steve Sodel’s family grieved, law enforcement continued their search for Tony Adams.

 NEXT TIME:  A killer is captured.

In the Line of Duty, Part 1

About 2 p.m. on Tuesday, September 17, 1946, Jack Singleton, an employee of Central Airport, was driving down Sepulveda Boulevard near Lincoln Avenue when a man flagged him down. The man’s car was stuck in the sand, so Singleton pulled over to offer aid. Singleton noticed that the Chevy sedan had a fresh coat of paint. Singleton hooked a rope over the bumper to free the car. As Singleton was securing the rope he saw something that struck him as odd– the license plate had been partially painted over. Together Singleton and the stranded man were able to pull the car out of the sand. As Singleton drove back onto Lincoln he saw a Highway Patrol car approaching from the opposite direction. Singleton signaled to the officer.  They pulled next to each other and talked for a few moments. Singleton told the officer he thought that the car that he’d just helped pull out of the sand was stolen. The cop agreed the painted license plate sounded fishy and sped off in pursuit of the suspicious car

sodel-picSeconds later John A. Rose, the operator of a service station at 328 Lincoln Boulevard, saw a black Chevy blow through a stop sign at Lincoln and Sepulveda. Rose’s best guess was that the driver was going roughly 65 to70 mph–and right behind him was a Highway Patrol car. Rose recognized the car as the one always driven by officer Steve Sodel. Rose knew it was Sodel’s car because it was kind of beat up–more so than some of the others he’d seen around. The pursued and pursuer disappeared down the highway and Rose went back to work.

George Osborne, an aeronautical engineer, was headed to his W. Imperial Highway home when he noticed that a 1941/1942 dark colored Chevrolet was parked alongside the road. Right behind it was a Highway Patrol car. Like most of us, he was likely relieved that it was some other poor clown getting a ticket.

Sixteen minutes after Osborne saw the Chevy and CHP car at the side of the road, Sodel’s black and white radio car was found abandoned on Jefferson. sodel-jeepThe next day over 100 CHP officers combed Venice and Playa del Rey for Sodel, but they didn’t find a trace of him.  Even a blimp took to the air in an attempt to find the missing man. Dozens of tips were phoned in, but none of them panned out.

sodel-family-waitsSteve Sodel was not only a dedicated lawman, he was the former Commander of the American Legion’s Star Post No. 309. In an effort to get a lead in the case the post offered “a substantial reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of a person or persons responsible for his disappearance.”

While the massive search continued the 48-year-old missing patrolman’s wife, daughter, and son-in-law anxiously waited at home.

NEXT TIME: The search for Steve Sodel concludes.

30 More Years of Crime in L.A.

When I  began this blog in December 2012, I arbitrarily chose to examine crime in Los Angeles during the years from 1900 to 1970.  Now, however, I think it is time to expand the purview to include the decades of 1970, 1980 and 1990 to encompass all of the last century. In terms of crime in the City of Angels, the last three decades of the 20th Century are enormously interesting.

The 1970s have been called one of the most violent decades in U.S. history. Homicide rates climbed at an alarming rate and people felt increasingly vulnerable.

dirtyharry

Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry

Hollywood contributed to popular culture, and helped fuel the debate on crime and punishment, with a slew of vigilante films like Dirty Harry and Death Wish. The films  showed bad guys being blown away by impressively large weapons.  It was cathartic, but not terribly realistic.

It was during the ’70s that the bogeyman got a new name when FBI Investigator Robert Ressler coined the term “serial killer”.

In 1978 convicted rapist and registered sex offender, Rodney Alcala, appeared on the Dating Game. Why wasn’t he more thoroughly vetted by the show’s producers? I have no idea. Even more astounding than his appearance was the fact that he won! The bachelorette who selected Rodney ultimately declined to go out with him–she found him “creepy”. He’s currently on California’s death row and is believed to have committed as many as 50 murders.

ramirez_108a

Richard Ramirez aka the Night Stalker, flashes a pentagram on his palm.

Some people joined cults where they banded together with like-minded folks for spiritual comfort and to retreat from the scary world-at-large. But there is not always safety in numbers, and evil can assume many guises. In 1978, over 900 members of the People’s Temple died in a mass suicide commanded by their leader, Jim Jones. The group was living in Guyana when they drank cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. The People’s Temple may have been founded in Indiana, but like so many other cults before them they established a presence in L.A.

Jim Jones of the People's Temple

Jim Jones of the People’s Temple

A crack cocaine epidemic swept the country in the early 1980s.  It decimated communities and cost many people their lives. Crack  was inexpensive, easily accessible, and even more addictive than regular cocaine.

The 1980s gave rise to a “satanic panic” which resulted in some of most bizarre prosecutions we’ve seen in this country since the Salem Witch Trials in the 1690s. The McMartin Preschool abuse trial was the most costly ($15 million) ever in the U.S. and resulted, rightfully I believe, in no convictions.

Surprisingly, there was a decline in crime during the 1990s, and it has been attributed to a variety of factors including: increased incarceration; increased numbers of police, growth in income; decreased unemployment, decreased alcohol consumption, and even the unleading of gasoline (due to the Clean Air Act). Despite the decline, there was still enough murder and mayhem to make us uneasy.

oj-simpson-murdeHere in L.A. there was the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, the so-called Trial of the Century. If you remove fame, wealth, and race and reduce the crime to its basic elements you end up with nothing more than a tragic domestic homicide–the type of crime which is altogether too common everywhere–yet the case continues to fascinate.

Heidi Fleiss, the Hollywood Madam, made news in 1993. At her pandering trial actor Charlie Sheen divulged that he had spent in excess of $53,000 for services rendered by Heidi’s girls.

Please join me as I explore the entirety of 20th Century crime in Los Angeles.

Joan

 

 

 

Death of a Detective, Conclusion

Jack Green confessed to his role in the murder of Detective Lieutenant Crowley in the Fox Wilshire Theater in Westwood on January 11, 1932. He named his accomplice, James Francis Regan, as the the one who had fired the shots that felled the detective.

crowley obitWith Green in custody, LAPD officers were turning over every rock in the L.A. area. They had managed, through a lead given them by Green, to locate the doctor who had rendered aid to Regan shortly after the shooting. The cops figured that there was a better than even chance that Regan had succumbed to his wounds and was either lying dead along a roadside or his criminal companions had disposed of his body in some remote location.

Green testified at the inquest conducted by Deputy Coroner Monfort at the Hall of Justice. Green offered his pathetic excuse for the slaying:

“We didn’t mean to kill Crowley. We thought he was the manager. He just walked into it, that was all. We heard him enter the lobby while we were in the office and stepped outside to meet him. He saw us, jerked out his gun and started shooting. One bullet whizzed past my face and burned me. Regan then grabbed his gun and started shooting.”

According to Green, he and Regan ran from the theater:

“I looked back as both Regan and I ran from the theater and saw Crowley on the floor. Regan was wounded by a bullet from the officer’s gun, and we stumbled across a vacant lot to where an automobile was parked in front of a store. As we climbed into the car, a woman ran out, but we drove away and abandoned the car at Gardner Avenue and Sunset Blvd. We took a cab from there to Joe’s apartment.”

Once at the apartment Green tried to locate a doctor.

“I phoned a friend of Joe’s and he called a doctor. I don’t know the doctor’s name. After that I went home to bed. Before going home I burned some of Joe’s clothes and sent his suit to the cleaners.”

Deputy Coroner Monfort asked Green pointblank about his involvement in the attempted hold-up.

Green responded:

“I was in on the hold-up, but I didn’t shoot. I had a gun but threw it away after we left the theater.”

Green’s gun, discovered by a gardener, was introduced in evidence at the inquest. Green said he had no idea where Regan had gone after the doctor came and dressed his wound.

“The bullet went right through him and he was in bad shape,” Green said.

crowley spot killerInspector of Detectives Davidson issued a plea through the local press asking citizens to phone in with any tips as to Regan’s whereabouts. Davidson seemed to feel that the best chance law enforcement had of catching up with Regan was through a member of the public noticing something unusual and making a call.

“We have run down every clew leading through underworld channels without success. Green was caught through citizens observing him enter his room at 956 North Western Avenue after he and Regan had abandoned the stolen automobile they used to get away from the scene of the shooting. Perhaps the same kind of tip will lead us to Regan’s rendezvous.”

About a week after Crowley’s murder the nude, bullet-riddled body of a man was found near El Centro, but his description didn’t match that of Regan. Cops were back to square one.nude corpose

Detectives located two people they thought may have assisted Regan — Mrs. Joan Murray, who was suspected of having rented the Wilshire district apartment where Regan was kept for three days following the shooting; and Leo Boster who was supposed to have procured the car in which Regard was taken to San Francisco. During interrogation Murray and Boster provided cops with information which lead officers to the San Francisco flat where Regan was captured.

Regan was in bad shape as a result of the slug he’d taken to his abdomen, Crowley’s final act, but he was well enough to start shifting the blame for Crowley’s murder to his accomplice, Jack Green.

According to Detectives Condaffer and McMullen, during the trip from San Francisco to L.A. Regan admitted firing the shots that had killed Crowley, but when he was taken to the theater and asked to re-enact the shooting Regan was non-committal.

“Don’t ask me that; you know I can’t talk about it.”

When he was asked if he had anything to say for himself, Regan said:

“No, I guess not.”

Then, as if it was a valid excuse, he added:

“I was shot first.”

Regan was positively ID’d by the three men he and Green had bound and gagged in the office at the Fox Wilshire Theater. Regan’s only comment was:

“I suppose I’ll be hung.”

A jury found Jack Green and Joseph Regan guilty of murder in the first degree and recommended the death sentence — neither man showed any emotion as the verdict was read.

The verdicts were appealed, but the California Supreme Court upheld the murder convictions, as well as the conviction of the pair on a first-degree burglary charge.

A dead man walking can become extremely desperate, and Regan attempted to finger a third man who was supposed to have been involved in the robbery that resulted in the fatal shooting of Lt. Hugh Crowley. The man named by Regan was a Folsom convict, Thomas Kelly. According to Regan, Kelly was employed by a Los Angeles bond house and it was his idea, not Green’s or Regan’s, to hold-up the theater. Green and Regan each received a reprieve while the legal wrangling continued.hugh_photo

Governor Rolph had been urged by six of the jurors to sustain their original verdict and hang the two cop killers. Other members of the jury had evidently had second thoughts about the verdict and felt that the killers should be allowed to live.

Jack Green won the death penalty lotto when his sentence was commuted by Governor Rolph to life without the possibility of parole — but Regan would still walk the thirteen steps to the gallows because he actually fired the shot that killed Crowley.

Many citizens were outraged that Governor Rolph ignored the fact that Green had planned the crime which resulted in Hugh Crowley’s death, and it was Green who had asked Joseph Regan to be his accomplice.  It seemed obvious that both men should have been equally culpable but, as Mr. Bumble said in Dickens’ Oliver Twist: “…the law is an ass.”

 I agree.