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.
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.
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
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.
Here 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.
Bootlegging was a bloody business. Hijacking a competitor’s shipment of booze or encroaching on his territory were considered acts of war. During the 1920s, police became accustomed to finding the bodies of dead gangsters–victims of rough justice. According to LAPD Detective Lieutenant Aldo Corsini by mid-August 1928: “One thing was certain. Either some of the gang killings had to be solved, or somebody was going to get transferred to the sticks. People on the streets were beginning to talk.”
At five past midnight on August 7, the homicide detail in Central Station received a phone call. There had been a shooting at 767 New Depot Street and it looked like another gang job. Detectives Corsini and Frank Condaffer jumped into a call car and drove out to the scene. When they pulled up to the house Detective Corsini recognized it as the home of Gaetano Binetti. Binetti was a known racketeer. If he’d been snuffed out it was likely the result of an underworld disagreement.
The detectives entered the house and found Binetti dead. He’d taken two shotgun blasts to his chest. Next to him his wife, Concetta, lay moaning in agony. Some of the buckshot had entered the back of her head. Gaetano was obviously the target, his wife was collateral damage.
The murder weapon, a shotgun belonging to the dead man, lay on the floor next to the bed. That was odd for a professional hit, but not unprecedented. Concetta was rushed to the Pasadena Avenue Emergency Hospital and her husband’s body was removed to the morgue. Two children, belonging to Gaetano’s cousin Maria, were taken from the home by relatives.
Maria and her two kids lived with Gaetano so police questioned her first. She said that four men had forced their way into the house by breaking in the back screen door. The noise had awakened her and the next thing she knew she was being held at gunpoint by a man wielding a large blue steel revolver. The other three intruders made their way back to Gaetano’s bedroom. Moments later Maria heard gunshots.
The men escaped through a window in the living room. Strange that they didn’t just run out through one of the doors to the home. Maria told the cops that she thought she recognized the assailants, or at least could offer an informed guess as to their identities.
Three months before the hit, Gaetano had been “taken for a ride” by four men who had accused him of hijacking a truck load of illegal hootch from a small farm near Sawtelle where a huge still was located. It may have been one of the few times in his life when Gaetano had been accused of something he hadn’t done. He was able to convince his kidnappers that he hadn’t taken their liquor, and didn’t know who had. Remarkably they believed him and he was released.
The incident had sparked a gang war and Gaetano was the leader of one of the warring factions. Maria was convinced that the same four men who had taken Gaetano for a late night drive had been the ones to kill him. She gave Detectives Corsini and Condaffer the names of the men. Louis B. Williams, 30 years of age and Gentry F. Watkins, 27, were former police officers who had turned to bootlegging. The other two were Japanese gardeners, George Kunisawa and Henry S. Okamoto, both of them 24.
The police rounded up the quartet and took them to Central Station for questioning. None of the men hesitated to admit to the “ride” on which they’d taken Gaetano; but there was no way they were going to cop to a murder of which they insisted they were innocent. Even so, they were coy to the point of refusal when asked where they’d been at the time of the slaying.
Concetta had been critically wounded in the attack that killed her husband. If she lived she faced the possibility of total blindness. The detectives were hopeful that if she regained consciousness she could reveal the identity of the shooter. When Detective Corsini was finally allowed to get a few words with her she had nothing to offer. She had been sound asleep when the killer entered the dark bedroom. She knew that her husband had enemies but whether or not they had been the ones to murder him, she couldn’t say.
The detectives turned their attention back to the men they had in custody. Williams had joined the LAPD on July 23, 1923 and resigned “under pressure” on May 12, 1925. Watkins became a cop on June 22, 1925 and was discharged on January 4, 1928 because of suspicions that he was hijacking bootleggers.The disgraced officers owned a barbecue stand at 12000 Pico Boulevard where it was believed they sold more than sandwiches. The gardeners, Kunisawa and Okamoto, rented the former officers a barn on their Sawtelle ranch. They knew it housed a still and were well paid to keep quiet.
The only one talking was the eye-witness, Maria. She said that as she was being held at gunpoint, she heard one of the men shout: “You stole the liquor!” followed by the fatal gunshots.
Unless they got a break Gaetano’s murder might be added to the growing list of unsolved gang hits; but then someone confessed.
NEXT TIME: A surprising confession and case wrap-up.
In a drunken rage LAPD detective Edward P. Nolan shoved Robert Wilson, the salesman who had been dancing with his sweetheart, Grace Duncan, into the bathroom of room 815 at the Lankershim Hotel.
Nolan was shouting obscenities and waving his service weapon around. Wilson stayed in the bathroom and locked the door, the other occupants of the room, Dan Smith, Jimmy Balfe, and Helen Burleson, fled into the hallway where they watched through the doorway as Nolan beat and kicked Duncan. The woman’s screams were loud enough to bring Floyd Riley, a bellboy, up to the 8th floor—but he didn’t want to confront Nolan either. He said:
“He looked like a wild man to me. His eyes gleamed and her cursed incoherently. I could smell liquor on his breath.
Grace rolled over onto her stomach but the beating continued. At one point Dan Smith yelled at Nolan to stop, but was told to “mind your own business”. Addressing no one in particular, the drunken cop declared:
“I’ve done everything for this woman. I’ve paid for her room, bought her food and paid installments on her car.”
Apparently in his mind the things he’d done for her entitled him to beat her. The terrified witnesses watched as he drew his revolver and repeatedly bashed her over the head until she stopped moving. Then he fired a couple of shots into the floor.
Once it appeared that his rage was spent, Wilson, Balfe, Smith and Riley tentatively approached Nolan. He allowed himself to be taken back to his second floor room. He muttered the entire way that he loved Grace, but her battered body told a different story—one of uncontrollable jealousy and bad booze. After arriving at his room he downed several more glasses of gin, then he passed out on the floor.
The LAPD was called and Acting Captain Frank Condaffer, who had been Nolan’s superior officer for years, swore to out the complaint charging the cop with murder.
Grace’s two daughters, Edna (17) and Mary Jane (14) visited “Daddy” Nolan in jail. Sobbing, whether in grief or self-pity, Nolan wrapped his arms around the girls. The girls told officers that he had always been good to them.
Nolan was denied permission to enter an insanity plea and jury selection began on November 9th. With several eye-witnesses to the fatal beating of Grace Duncan it didn’t seem that Nolan had much of a chance to beat the rap. Helen Burleson testified that Nolan had been in a frenzied rage when he cornered Grace Duncan in the 8th floor room and beat her to death.
Attorneys for Nolan tried twice more to get permission to enter an additional plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, but the motion was denied each time. When the insanity plea went nowhere, Nolan took the stand and said that he had no memory of anything that had happened after he threw Grace out of his room.
Following four hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict of guilty of first-degree murder and Nolan was sentenced to life. He was lucky, the prosecution had wanted to see him hang.
Nolan entered San Quentin on January 9, 1932. Look closely and you’ll notice that his stated profession was propman. Cops, even those who have been disgraced, aren’t welcomed by the other inmates. If he was smart, Nolan never mentioned his decade on the Los Angeles Police Department to his cellmates.
On February 1, 1932 the State Board of Prison Terms and Paroles denied Edward Nolan’s request for release. The Board informed him that he would have to serve 10 calendar years before they would review his application again.
Nolan was released in early March 1942, but he didn’t enjoy his freedom for very long. He died on July 20, 1943 in a VA facility in San Francisco.
During Prohibition people drank whatever they could get their hands on, and it wasn’t always quality juice. Shady characters who distilled booze in basements and warehouses weren’t concerned with anything other than profit. Manufacturing overnight whiskey made from “…refuse, burned grain or hay or any old thing that will sour” posed a serious danger to people’s physical and mental health.
According to a St. Louis newspaper article from August 30, 1933 (just a few months prior to repeal):
“Here are some of the things called for in different formulas that go to make up our modern whisky:
Peppers, all kinds; prune juice, caramel, Acetic ether, tobacco, creosote, sulphuric acid, butyric ether, extract vanilla, sorghum waste, artifical bead, cenanthic ether, amyl alcohol, butyrate of amyl, fusel oil, extract of orris, acetic acid, tannic acid, oil bitter almond, muriatic acid, tartaric acid, oil of cedar, oil of fennel, catechu, alum, cloves, castile soap, and a little pure aged whisky.”
The article continued:
“Not too much whisky should be added, as that might be expensive; about 1 gallon to 20. Blend is what the public is getting drunk and sodden on today, and not whisky, but whisky gets the blame. The man over stimulated from alcohol makes a quick recovery. The soft-nerved wreck depressed with blend, mentally and physically mortified and shattered, seldom makes a complete recovery.”
After several cocktails containing a noxious blend of chemicals a person might be capable of anything.
A native New Yorker, Edward P. Nolan had come to Los Angeles to make his fortune in the budding film industry. He was much luckier than most Hollywood hopefuls because during 1914 and 1915 he appeared in shorts with Charles Chaplin, Mabel Normand, and Marie Dressler. His most noteworthy appearances were in The Face on the Barroom Floor and Between Showers (both from 1914). He doesn’t appear to have worked in film between 1915 (Hogan’s Wild Oats) and 1920 when he appeared opposite Leatrice Joy and James O. Barrows in Down Home.
Nolan played the bartender in “Face on the Barroom Floor”
What Nolan did for a living during the five years between acting gigs is anyone’s guess, but by 1922 he had joined the LAPD and risen to the rank of Detective Lieutenant. Maybe policing wasn’t such a big stretch for Nolan; after all, he’d played a cop several times in the movies.
On June 16, 1931, Nolan made a dramatic arrest of an extortionist, George Freese. Freese had sent anonymous death threats to A.H. Wittenberg, president of the Mission Hosiery Mills in an attempt to get $700 out of him. The bust went down like this: Freese instructed Wittenberg to hand the pay-off over to a taxi-cab driver-messenger who would then deliver the cash to him. Nolan had been living with the Wittenberg family for several days as their protector.
When the phone call from the extortionist came, Nolan took down the details and made a plan. He prepared a dummy package and when the cab driver appeared outside the Wittenberg home Nolan concealed himself in the auto and told the driver to proceed to the rendezvous point. Detective Lieutenants Leslie and McMullen followed in a police car.
Freese was waiting at the corner of First Street and La Brea Avenue to collect the money. As he accepted the dummy package he was grabbed by Nolan and the two other detectives.
Freese confessed immediately–he held a grudge against Wittenberg because six months earlier he had been turned down for a salesman’s job at the hosiery company. Freese said that he and his family needed the money because they’d fallen on hard times–a common enough predicament for people during the Great Depression.
The day following the successful conclusion of the Wittenberg case, Nolan and his 36 year old divorced girlfriend, Grace Murphy Duncan, were together at the Lankershim Hotel. The couple spent a lot of time at the hotel while Nolan sought a divorce from his wife, Avasinia. Once the divorce was final Duncan and Nolan planned to marry.
Photo of Lankershim Hotel courtesy of LAPL.
At about 6:30 pm on the evening of June 17 1931, Mrs. Helen Burleson, who was visiting from San Francisco, left her upper floor room and headed for Nolan’s room on the second floor. She had wanted to consult with him on a private matter. When she entered the room she saw that Grace was there and noticed that the couple had been drinking heavily. The lovers began to quarrel and Nolan shoved Duncan out of the room and threw her coat into the hallway after her.
Helen and Grace went up to Helen’s room and talked about Nolan’s bad behavior. Grace wanted to drop a dime on him to the LAPD brass, but Helen talked her out of it.
While Grace and Helen were talking a trio of traveling salesmen, Robert V. Williams, Dan Smith, and Jimmy Balfe went up to Robert’s room to catch a ball game on the radio. Robert said:
“After a while the lights went on in a room across the light well and we saw two women enter the room. Smith said he recognized Mrs. Burleson and he telephoned to her room and asked her if she wanted to come over and listen to the radio. Mrs. Duncan with her, and I don’t believe the two were in the room five minutes before Nolan burst in. The ball game had ended and I had dialed some music. It was about 10:30 o’clock. Mrs. Duncan and I were dancing. Nolan walked right up to her and said: ‘What do you mean by making up to this fellow?’ He pushed her over on the bed. Then he turned to me and said, ‘I saw you kissing her.” Then he hit me. I staggered back into the bathroom.”
The 1920s were a time of rapid growth in Los Angeles. During the tenure of the 32nd Mayor of Los Angeles, George E. Cryer (1921-1929), the population of Los Angeles surpassed 1,000,000 and several important civic development projects were undertaken such as the construction of Central Library; City Hall; Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum; Hall of Justice; Mulholland Highway; and the Olympic Auditorium.
The Olympic Auditorium was originally supposed to cost $350,000 to build, $4.8 million in today’s dollars, but overruns pushed it above $500,000. Land for the project was acquired at Grand Avenue and West Eighteenth Street in a twenty-five year lease deal with the Los Angeles Athletic Club. The building was designed to be a combination convention hall, exposition building, and boxing arena and when completed it would be the largest venue of its kind with seating for 15,300 people.
Olympic Auditorium [Photo courtesy LAPL]
The Olympic wasn’t just for mugs and pugs. In May 1925 the Los Angeles Times reported that a “…colossal presentation of ‘Aida’ with elephants and camels, a chorus of more than ninety voices and a ballet of twenty-four dancers…” would be on stage at the auditorium. I love opera and it would have been a treat to see live elephants and camels at the Olympic—it must have been a remarkable night.
Of course now you’re asking “what has civic pride and operatic spectacle got to do with cops behaving badly? “ Alas, not much except to point out that where there is big money there is an opportunity for misbehavior.
The auditorium opened to much fanfare and sold-out crowds, but there was a problem. It was reported that at least sixty contractors had not been compensated for their work. Liens totaling $400,000 had to be paid. It was never made clear in the newspaper accounts exactly why the contractors had been stiffed. It sounds to me as if there was some creative bookkeeping going on, but then I’m a naturally suspicious person.
In any case the way the payments worked was simple enough—Sheriff’s deputies collected the gross box office receipts from the various events held at the auditorium and locked them up in a vault at the Sheriff’s office. Once taxes and overhead had been deducted from the gross the deputies took the balance and applied it to the outstanding claims.
For several months everything went like clockwork. But on April 16, 1926 Mrs. M.Q. Adams, a bookkeeper in the Sheriff’s civil department, noticed that the vault door was partly opened. She immediately called to Chief Civil Deputy Arthur Jewell who discovered that the previous night’s deposit of $1182 was missing. Sheriff Traeger decided not to publicize the burglary—it should be on a need-to-know basis only. Theft of money from his office vault was damned embarrassing.
Undersheriff Biscailuz and Chief Criminal Deputy Wright were assigned to the case. They were certain that whoever had taken the money must have known the combination to the outer door and possessed duplicate keys to the inner door. In other words, it was an inside job.
Deputy Karl Wallich (38), one of the few people who had access to the vault, was immediately a suspect. During questioning Wallich said that after he had left the Hall of Justice in the early morning he had turned back at the Plaza to buy a pack of cigarettes. He couldn’t find a store that was open so he ended up driving to a small market at Fifth and Spring. Wallich’s story didn’t hold up. Deputy Wright found seven stores between the Plaza and Fifth and Spring Streets that were open early in the morning.
Deputy Sheriffs Heller and Johnson dropped in on Karl Wallich at his home to take his statement. They confronted him with his lie about the stores and he caved in on the spot. He wasn’t cut out for a life of crime. He produced half of the missing funds and ratted out his friend and accomplice Harry Adler (19), a civilian clerk, who quickly relinquished the other half.
Adler confessed that he had hidden himself in the vault about 10 o’clock Wednesday night waiting for the auditorium’s receipts to be deposited. Deputy Sheriffs Wallich and Barton came to the vault door about 11:30, locked up, and left the building. Once he figured that everyone had gone Adler took a screw driver and removed the plate from the combination lock and exited the vault. Nobody saw him leave. He then met Karl in front of the Hall of Records where they divvied up the cash.
The most surprising thing about their confessions was that both men insisted that they hadn’t stolen the money to enrich themselves—the theft was meant to be a joke! The pair of merry pranksters said they had only wanted to get even with Deputy George Barton, a co-worker they said had teased and played jokes on them. The theft was their way of getting even. They figured since Barton was the only person who had keys to the inner vault it would be his ass in a sling when the money disappeared. The plan was to let Barton twist in the wind for a bit then return the cash to the vault, but then” things got so hot” they couldn’t see their way out of the mess.
Sheriff Traeger wasn’t amused by Wallich and Adler’s little stunt—he’d covered the full $1182 loss out of his own pocket until the money was returned.
Adler pleaded guilty at his arraignment. He spent ninety days in a Sheriff’s detention center and upon his release he was granted three years probation. Wallich first entered a not guilty but then he changed his mind and entered a guilty plea and requested probation. There was no follow-up story in the newspaper so I don’t know how Wallich fared. My guess is that he got probation.
Of course both Wallich and Adler lost their Sheriff’s Department jobs. I wonder if the men stayed friends or if their criminal misadventure ended it. I like to think that with their penchant for pranks the guys opened a brick and mortar joke shop—the kind that sold whoopee cushions, rubber vomit, joy buzzers, and fake dog poop.
Doesn’t everyone appreciate a good joke?
NOTE: Many thanks to my fellow crime historian, Mike Fratantoni for introducing me to this tale.
Because it’s been a few days since we last visited the Stanley Beebe case I think that a brief synopsis is in order.
In December of 1942 Stanley Beebe was arrested for public intoxication. He was taken to LAPD’s Central Station where he later alleged he had been badly beaten. In a death bed statement to his wife, published in the L.A. Times, Beebe reiterated his claim. He died about ten days later of injuries that the coroner had determined were the result of a savage beating.
The Beebe case was a political hot potato–corruption and abuse by the cops terrified and enraged the citizens and just a few years earlier, in 1938, Angelenos had ousted Mayor Frank Shaw in a corruption scandal. Shaw was the first U.S. mayor to be recalled and the city was still reeling from the fallout of that national embarrassment.
The investigation into Beebe’s death was deftly stonewalled by a monumental lack of cooperation from LAPD. Finding the truth was going to be an uphill battle all the way, especially since people were being threatened if they didn’t drop the inquiry.
We’ll pick up the tale from there…
Deputy City Attorney Everett Leighton’s wife received a telephone call threatening her husband with death if he didn’t back-off the Stanley Beebe case. But it wasn’t just high profile city government types who were being threatened. Raymond Henry, 42, of 915 S. Mott Street was in jail when Stanley Beebe was allegedly beaten. If the D.A.’s investigators were looking for more info on Stanley’s case it wasn’t going to come from Raymond Henry. However, Henry did have a story to tell. He said that there had been another case of police brutality in the jail at approximately the same time.
There was an alley leading into the booking office and Raymond said he had seen a man dressed in khaki work clothes lying there and he appeared to have been beaten. Henry received a mysterious telephone call from a man claiming to be a cop; but unlike the call Everett Leighton’s wife had received Henry’s unknown caller made him an offer. The mystery man said he’d like to meet with Henry and offered to “pay all his expenses for a couple of days”. It was clear that someone wanted Raymond out of the way so he couldn’t testify about what he had seen.
In mid-February 1943 Chief Horrall ordered several LAPD officers jailed for their parts in the death of Stanley Beebe: Compton Dixon, James F. Martin, John M. Yates, E.P. Mooradian, McKinley W. Witt and Leo L. Johnson. The case became even uglier when it appeared that the police report had been falsified. A copy of the report showed Beebe’s occupation as machinist, he was an accountant; and his address was “transient” — yet the telephone call he’d been allowed to make had been to his wife at their apartment.
Every politician from Los Angeles to Sacramento sought to make political hay out of the issue of police brutality. Newspapers continued to report on new and increasingly alarming allegations of abuse of authority. One former prisoner said that he had been beaten while handcuffed and that large quantities of water and brandy had been forced down his throat.
It was LAPD officer Compton Dixon who was finally accused of manslaughter in Beebe’s death. Compton didn’t fit Stanley’s description of his attacker, but there were several points on which Stanley had been understandably vague in his death bed statement to his wife. It was very possible he had incorrectly described his assailant.
Compton was indicted for Stanley’s murder on March 4, 1943, but he was immediately released on $10,000 bail when his Defense attorney Samuel Rummel and prosecutors stipulated that even if it was proved that Compton had beaten Beebe to death, it could possibly amount only to second-degree murder.
Because second degree murder carried a penalty of five years to life they decided he could be released on a bond.
Rummel’s reputation as a mouthpiece for crooked cops and local gangsters was well known, and deserved. Sam was friendly with gangster Mickey Cohen among other bad guys, but rubbing elbows with crooks isn’t a smart move. Rummel lived the high life hanging out with Cohen and various corrupt policemen, he was even part owner of a couple of Las Vegas casinos, but it all came to an end when he was shot gunned to death in the driveway of his Laurel Canyon home during the early morning hours of December 11, 1950. His slaying remains unsolved.
Sam Rummel dead in his driveway. Photo courtesy of UCLA Digital Archive.
Two rookie officers had testified at the Grand Jury hearing that they’d witnessed Stanley’s beating. They were quite clear in their statements; but when it came time for them to testify in open court they were both suspiciously vague. In fact each of them said they had seen Stanley and they’d seen a foot on his stomach, but they just couldn’t be sure whose foot it was!
One by one, police officers who had previously admitted that they’d seen Compton Dixon beat Stanley Beebe retracted their statements. One of them, Leo Johnson, said that the statement he’d made at the LAPD training center on February 14th was made under duress:
“That statement is false. It was not prepared by me and not written by me. Words were put in my mouth and the statements are untrue. I don’t ever remember seeing Dixon place his foot on anybody’s stomach.”
Officers with amnesia and revised statements should have been expected in Dixon’s trial, but there was one courtroom shocker that knocked the wind out of some of the observers.
Deputy District Attorney Robert G. Wheeler, who handled the original investigation into the fatal beating, testified that after completing his inquiry he was of the opinion that Mrs. Maxine Beebe, widow of the dead man, could have murdered her husband!
When asked by Rummel on what facts he had based his conclusions, Wheeler responded:
“Only that Beebe was under her control from December 20 to December 27, and her evasiveness during the inquiry”.
I told you Sam Rummel was a mouthpiece for crooks.
Compton Dixon was questioned by Rummel about the alleged crime, quoted here verbatim from the L.A. Times:
“Did you strike Beebe?” Rummel asked.
“I did not,” Dixon replied with a firm voice.
“Did you kick him?”
“Did you jump on him?”
I did not.” Dixon said.
The case went to the jury and they deliberated for seven days before becoming deadlocked: 8 to 4 in favor of acquittal.
It was a disgusting miscarriage of justice. District Attorney Howser issued a statement in which he said the failure of the Los Angeles Police Department to solve the murder of the prisoner was due to:
“…concealed evidence and a misdirected investigation by members of the same department who were afraid disclosure of the truth would involve a member of members of the department.”
Dixon still had to face a police trial board–he had been suspended from duty since February. The LAPD board of rights concluded its investigation in July 1943 and they found Compton Dixon not guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer for refusing to testify before the grand jury. The board said that Dixon had been charged with manslaughter and the natural right of self-preservation, as well as his constitutional rights, superseded the general duty of an officer to testify before inquisitorial bodies.
Dixon was returned to duty and his back pay was restored. He retired in 1946 and because he had spent 20 years or more at a jail duty station he was presented with silver keys (that wouldn’t actually turn the locks) to the main doors of City Jail. It didn’t matter that the keys were phonies–Dixon didn’t need the real thing, he’d been given a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in 1943.
None of the officers implicated in the various brutality cases being investigated at the time were punished, and no one was ever held accountable for Stanley Beebe’s death.
From the 1920s through the 1950s political corruption, police pay-offs and rumors of police brutality were part of life in Los Angeles. Countless books (read any of James Ellroy’s novels), newspaper articles and angry editorials have been written on the topic.
There were many instances of malfeasance in the city. From the framing of city councilman Carl Jacobson, a vice crusader, on morals charges by political enemies in 1927, to the “Bloody Christmas” beatings of prisoners by LAPD officers in 1951 the city was up to its eyeballs in excrement.
On December 19, 1943 Mr. Stanley H. Beebe, a 44-year-old certified public accountant with a job in the war industry, was pulled off of a streetcar at First and Hill for public intoxication. He was booked by Sergeant J.E. Martin then transferred to Lincoln Heights Jail. His wife Maxine turned up and paid the $10 fine–Stanley was kicked loose.
Maxine was horrified by Stan’s condition. He had a couple of shiners and a large hourglass-shaped bruise (which looked like a shoe print) on his abdomen. He couldn’t stand up straight and she had to help him into the taxi that took them to their apartment at 1819 N. Kingsley Drive. Stan told Maxine that he had been kicked in the stomach by one of the officers and that he had been vomiting and in excruciating pain ever since.
The day following her husband’s release Maxine phoned the Police Department to make a complaint–she reported what her husband had told her, that he had been beaten severely by officers while in custody. Her complaint went nowhere until Stan died of a ruptured bladder, which had resulted in peritonitis, at General Hospital on December 29th and his widow took her complaint higher up the food chain to the District Attorney and the Coroner.
With the news of Stan’s death, Detective Lieutenant Lloyd Hurst was tasked with investigating Maxine’s complaint. Every officer who admitted to having seen Beebe the night of his arrest stated that the man had not been assaulted while in their custody. LAPD wasn’t going to be solely responsible for the investigation into Beebe’s death, however. District Attorney John F. Dockweiler assigned Deputy District Attorney Robert G. Wheeler and Investigators Charles Ebbets, Everett Davis and Kenneth Gillie to check out the allegations.
Dockweiler told newspaper reporters:
“Police brutality, if any exists, cannot be condoned in this community. I have ordered a thorough investigation into the death of Mr. Beebe to determine the truth of his charges that he was fatally injured by police officers while under arrest.”
The 1943 grand jury would review the case as soon as it was impaneled.
D.A. Dockweiler pressed Chief of Police Horrall for his department’s cooperation in the investigation of Beebe’s death. Horrall (who would be involved in a vice/corruption scandal just a few years later) pledged LAPD’s full cooperation.
LAPD Chief C.B. Horrall inspecting Detective Division c. 1947. [Photo courtesy UCLA Digital Collection.]
Coroner Nance weighed in with his findings in Beebe’s autopsy. He stated that Stan had died of peritonitis the result of a ruptured gall bladder. To head off any attempts to blame the deceased’s death on a diseased gall bladder, Nance made it crystal clear that the organ had been healthy until it was damaged by an external blow–and there were plenty of bruises to prove his assertion.
“I intend to find out who kicked or struck this man in the abdomen. The police and District Attorney have promised me full cooperation and I have deferred the inquest until
I have their complete list of witnesses.”
“Whatever happens, I will not close this case until I am satisfied that every bit of available evidence has been made available at the inquest.”
The D.A.’s investigators questioned more than 60 men who had shared the drunk tank with Stan on the night of his incarceration. Jail trustees were also grilled.
Otto Schalinske, the Central Jail turnkey, was summoned to Wheeler’s office for questioning but he didn’t go alone, he was accompanied by Chief Horrall and Vernon Rasmussen, chief of the police homicide detail. There was no way the conversation among the men could be kept secret and portions of their meeting was printed in theL.A. Times:
Wheeler spoke with Schalinske:
“Were you the officer who removed Beebe from the chair in the lieutenant’s office after he had telephoned his wife?”
“I am,” Schalinske answered. “I removed him gently and did not harm him.”
“Did you hit Beebe in the jaw when he remonstrated against being confined in the jail, and when his chair overtunred kick him in the abdomen?”
“No,” Schalinske replied. “I just took him to the tank.”
Wheeler was quick to point out that question the officers didn’t mean that they were guilty of anything–he was simply seeking the truth.
Wheeler admitted that he was troubled by the fact that the entire investigation was “pigeonholed by the police for more than a week after Beebe’s death, despite the pleas of relatives for an active investigation.”
Investigators were also trying to find out what had happened to the $40 that Stan supposedly had in his wallet shortly before his arrest.
One of the policemen questioned, Sergeant R.C. Kucera, had visited Beebe at General Hospital and could bear witness to the number and extent of the man’s injuries which included two discolored eyes, a black and blue mark two inches in diameter on the center of his abdomen, abrasions of the left groin and a black and blue mark the size of a half dollar on his throat.
So far the investigation seemed to substantiate Maxine’s assertion that Stan had been badly beaten by cops; however the most damning piece of evidence was Stan’s death bed statement. It was reprinted verbatim in the L.A. Times and I’m reprinting it here because I think it is important to hear the incident described by Stan in his own words.
On this Christmas Eve–December 24, 1942–a statement to the best of my memory as what happened the night of the 199th as long as I could remember, recorded by my wife in a question-and-answer form–
Q:When did you get on the Hill St. trolley? A: About 6:30 to 6:45 at my usual place, Seventh and Hill Sts. I was feeling kind of sick as the car was crowded and the air was bad, so I stood near the door trying to get some air. Q: Then what happened? A: Every street the car stopped I leaned out of the door and got a few gulps of air–some comments were made about blocking the roadway and I answered back–more words were said and then I commented about these people who should be doing things for the country and didn’t. Q: Then what happened? A: The conductor asked a darked-haired man of small build to take me off the trolley for making a disturbance. Q: Who was this dark-haired man? A: At first I didn’t know but he showed his badge and said he was a sergeant of the police and that I had better come with him to the police station as I was not in apparently good condition. Q: Did you resist? A: Oh, no! I told him this was a free country. We were fighting for freedom overseas and we should maintain it here. I certainly want to maintain it here and want to go with him at once. Q: Then what happened? A: I went into the police station with him. Q: Can you describe the station house to me? A: Oh, yes, you come into the door and on the right side there is a door about 8-10 feet from the entrance. On the left side there is a long counter–I should say about 25-30 feet long. Q: Was there anybody around when you came in? A: Yes, behind the counter there was a man sitting and I believe there was a phone but I can’t remember. Q: Did this man say anything to you? And can you describe him? A: He didn’t say much. He made some comments and said something to my escort. Q: Up to this time did anyone touch you or harm you in any way? A: No! Q: Then what happened? A: I was taken into the room I told you about at first on the right-hand side. My escort spoke to the man sitting at the desk there. Q: Please tell me about the room! A: When you walk in the room is on the right-hand side. There is a small roll-top desk and a swivel chair. Next to that is a window. In the diagonal opposite corner of this desk is a table-top desk with some phones on it. It was one of these phones I used to call you. Next to this desk is a door which was closed. And that’s all that impressed me except that the air was bad and hot and the room very small. Q: Then what happened? A: I called you on the phone and told you the circumstances and you spoke to the blond man who was sitting at the desk. Q: Do you know his name? A: I was told but it is not a usual name so I didn’t remember. Q: Do you remember the name of the man who brought you in? A: I believe it was (censored) or (censored). The man at the desk began to speak to me in an uncivil tone and in language which doesn’t or didn’t seem necessary or warranted. He would not let me say anything and said I was to be arrested, fingerprinted and jailed. Q: What happened then? A: I told him I had committed not crime, was never arrested and neither were any of my antecedents and that at 44 I wasn’t going to start a record. Q: Then what happened? A: At this point (censored) or (censored) came in and the man who was using toughy methods, he took a swing at me and hit me in the side of the jaw. I was kind of stunned but I (two words undecipherable) going to take a swing at him and missed him and accidently hit (censored) for which I am very sorry. Q: Then what happened? A: They wanted to take me back somewhere and I wouldn’t get out of the chair as I said it was my civil right to speak. At that point the big man took another swing and hit me in the eye. I was holding on to the chair with both arms and would not let go. He turned the chair over with me in it and kicked me in the chest twice with his shoe-toe. Then he and (censored) took me by my arms and hands and started dragging me back to the back of the building through a corridor. At this point the big man said, “I like to fix up a guy like you.” As they was dragging me I was trying to get up but I couldn’t and the big man kept kicking me in the side of my stomach. Finally he became so incensed that he stamped his whole foot on my stomach. After that I am quite vague. I do now I received a few more blows, one in the eye. Not the (undecipherable) one and a kick in the groin. Also a few more punches inthe face and they did something to my throat but I can’t tell you what, as I was in too much agony. I know I stood up before another man and they took my fingerprints to, but after that stomach blow I was out on my feet. Finally I was taken somewhere else where there were a lot of men around who also were arrested. I was in agony and one o f the m en gave me a place to sit. We must have sat quite a while then we were taken in a van to another place. I could hardly walk and some of the other poor devils helped me into the van. Q: Then what happened? A: When we got to the other place I asked for a doctor and the watcher or guard said he would get one. Q: When did he come? A: He never came although I asked for him for separate times. Q: Then what happened? A: I could hold no water on my stomach and I had diarrhea. Gosh, I was so thirsty! Q: Then what happened? A: Then, thank God. I saw you in the other room and I knew that soon I could get home home to bed and some care. Q: Is there anything else you want to say? A: Yes, darling, please try to do something for someone else so no one person has to go through what we are suffering and let’s not tell mother anything (as we wouldn’t have her Christmas spoiled for anything.) It doesn’t matter for me as I am a goner. Q: Please, Stan, must you put this in? A: Absolutely, and be sure and leave it there as I am going to read this statement all through and sign on the very last line to be sure that you haven’t left out the end as that is very essential.
STANLEY H. BEEBE
A parade of police and civilians who were in Central Station during Stan’s alleged beating were questioned. The police officers who were interviewed said that they hadn’t seen or heard a thing that was out of line.
If Stan’s statement was false then he had managed to erode the public’s trust in their police department and, additionally, sullied the reputations of members of the LAPD for no good reason.
But what if Stan had told the truth? If his statement was true then no citizen of Los Angeles could feel safe in the presence of the people who had sworn to protect and serve them.
Newspaper accounts suggested that a Blue Wall of Silence was being constructed–it was going to take committed investigators to discover the truth.
NEXT TIME: The investigation into Stanley Beebe’s death continues.
Florence Coberly testifies at inquest. [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]
In 1952 LAPD Policewoman Florence Coberly appeared to be a woman with a bright future in law enforcement. She had been instrumental in taking down career criminal and ex-con, Joe Parra. Parra had a history of sexual assault and he was shot and killed during an undercover assignment in which Florence had acted as a decoy. She had stayed tough during the inquest following Parra’s shooting when his brother Ysmael began shouting and then attempted to lunge at photographers. She had appeared on television and had been honored at various awards banquets all over town.
Yes sir, Florence’s star was shining brightly.
But (you knew that was coming, didn’t you) Florence’s personal life began to unwrap slightly when after only three years of marriage she divorced her husband Frank in 1955. We’ve heard countless times over the years how tough it is to be a cop’s wife, but I imagine being the husband of a cop is not much easier–the unpredictable hours and the danger could be enough to send any spouse out the door forever. But then we don’t really know what caused the Coberly’s marriage to dissolve. The divorce notice appeared in the June 29, 1955 edition of the L.A. Times, but it was legal information only and gave no hint of the personal issues which may have caused the Coberly’s to break up. Even if her marriage hadn’t made until “death us do part” at least Florence had her job.
Florence with her back to the camera, befriends a lost girl c 1954 [Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]
There is no further record of her in the Times for several years following the fatal shooting of serial rapist Joe Parra in 1952, so we’ll have to presume that her career in law enforcement was on track. Then nearly six years after the Parra case, on July 2, 1958, the Times ran a piece under the headline: “Policewoman’s Mother Convicted in Shoplifting”; it was buried in the back pages of the “B” section and it told an interesting tale.
Mrs. Gertrude Klearman, the fifty-three year old mother of a policewoman, had been found guilty of shoplifting by a jury of eleven women and one man. The jury had spent only one hour and seven minutes in deliberation. As embarrassing as it would have been to have your mom convicted of shoplifting, it would have been so much worse if you were a cop–and orders of magnitude more humiliating if you were a cop busted WITH your mother for stuffing $2.22 worth of groceries into a handbag and walking out without making the necessary stop at the check-out stand.
According to Police Officer George Sellinger, an off-duty cop supplementing his income by working as a store detective, the pair of women, one of whom you have undoubtedly guessed was Florence Coberly, had been accused of stealing two packages of knockwurst, a can of coffee, a package of wieners and an avocado.
Florence had remarried and not surprisingly she had married another cop, Sgt. Dave Stanton. But despite a change in her surname there was no mistake that the woman accused of shoplifting was none other than the former Florence Coberly, Policewoman of the Year.
Florence seated next to her husband, Sgt. Dave Stanton. [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]
Gertrude was found guilty, but Florence had been freed of the shoplifting charge during trial on a technicality involving unreasonable search and seizure.
At the misdemeanor trial her attorney, Frank Rothman, vigorously questioned Sellinger on the stand and finally got him to admit that he had not actually seen Florence stuff the food items into her purse. He had pressured her to submit to a search outside the grocery store based on the scant evidence of having seen her holding some packages in her hand. As far as Rothman and the law were concerned Sellinger’s reason for the search was seriously flawed and a legal no-no.
LAPD in the late 1950s was still understandably touchy about any hint of scandal or misbehavior by its officers. During the decades prior to William H. Parker’s ascension to Chief, the institution had watched as many of its members were accused (some even convicted) of all manner of graft and corruption.
While a package of knockwurst hardly rises to the standard of bad behavior that had plagued LAPD earlier, just being arrested was enough to get Florence suspended from duty pending a Police Board of Rights hearing.
It couldn’t have been easy for Florence to sit on the sidelines and await the decision that would have such an enormous impact on her future. Law enforcement wasn’t just a 9-5 job for her, it was a career and one for which she had displayed an aptitude.
While Florence waited on tenterhooks for the Board of Rights hearing, her mother was sentenced to either forty days in jail or a $200 fine (she paid the fine).
Florence’s hearing began on July 22, 1958 before a board composed of Thad Brown, chief of detectives, and Capts. John Smyre and Chester Welch. Officer Sellinger repeated the testimony he had given at the trial and despite the fact that the shoplifting charges against Florence had been dismissed in a court of law, the board found her guilty of the same charge and ordered her dismissed from LAPD.
This photo may have been misidentified in the USC Digital Archive as Florence’s misdemeanor trial. I believe it to be the Police Board hearing.
It was an ignominious end to a career that had shown such early promise, and I can’t help but wonder if there was more to Florence’s dismissal from the police force than the shoplifting charge.
In February 1959, Florence filed suit in superior court seeking to be reinstated. Her complaint was directed against Chief Parker and the Board of Rights Commission. Florence stated that she had been dismissed from the LAPD on a charge that she had, with her mother, shoplifted groceries from a San Fernando Valley market. Florence denied her guilt and contended that the only evidence in the case may have been applicable to her mother alone.
It took several months, but in July 1959 Superior Court Judge Ellsworth Meyer sided with the LAPD and refused to compel Chief Parker to reinstate Florence.
I haven’t discovered any further mentions of Florence in the newspaper. I’m curious to know how her life played out and what became of her in later years. As it is with so many of the tales covered here in Deranged L.A. Crimes there is no satisfactory conclusion. Of course I can always hope that a member of her family will see the story and contact me. It has happened before.
Meanwhile, I salute Florence for her no-holds-barred, kick-ass entry into policing in 1952; and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one last time that fantastic bandolier that dangled so daintily from her belt–as I said before lady cops knew how to accessorize.
NOTE: Many thanks to my friend and frequent partner in historic crime, Mike Fratantoni. He knows the BEST stories.
As I’ve said before, cops are only human and as such they are susceptible to all of the same foibles, follies and bad behaviors as are the rest of us.
Have you ever had a few too many and behaved like a jerk? If you answered yes, you should be able to empathize with LAPD Officers Rice and Robinson.
Gideon L. Rice was on duty the morning of March 4, 1940 His shift had ended hours earlier but apparently his drinking had not. He called the station at 1:30 a.m. from his beat at 108th and Main Streets to let the powers that be know that he was still hard at work.
The ungrateful brass were not impressed with Rice’s dedication to duty, particularly since he was obviously shit-faced when he placed the call. The brass were further unimpressed when Officer Rice allegedly made an exhibition of himself in the public view in an 11th Street cafe.
I would love to know how Rice had made an exhibition of himself but, sadly, the newspaper didn’t go into detail.
Gideon felt that his dedication to the job should be rewarded. The fact that he’d been working while inebriated didn’t keep him from demanding to be paid overtime. Unfortunately the Police Commission did not agree with Rice and relived him of duty.
On the same date that Officer Gideon’s contretemps made the news it was reported that Officer R.S. Robinson had gotten himself in to a booze related jam.
Apparently in his cups, Robinson had attempted to collect coins from the bottom of a wishing well in Chinatown. The tipsy officer drew a crowd, but he didn’t appreciate being the center of attention. He pulled his head out of the wishing well long enough to fire two shots from his revolver and then use it to strike a citizen over the head.
Officer Robinson was suspended for 30 days without pay.
Los Angeles has never had the reputation for police corruption that other U.S. cities have had, but that doesn’t mean that L.A. law enforcement has been perfect — far from it. As Chief William H. Parker once said in response to questions about corruption and brutality in the LAPD:
“We’ll always have cases like this because we have one big problem in selecting police officers…we have to recruit from the human race.”
The human race is a problematic gene pool at best, and with this post I’m beginning a series of occasional tales called “Cops Behaving Badly”. First up is Deputy Ted Swift.
On October 7, 1939, Deputy Swift stumbled his way into The Dinner Bell Cafe at 1604-1/2 North Vine Street, adjacent to the Brown Derby in Hollywood. He eyeballed two cute waitresses, Jessie Clark and Cleme Reeves, and in his inebriated condition Swift thought that they would find him irresistible.Ted had seriously miscalculated his sex appeal so when he tried to corner the two young women behind the counter they slipped beyond his reach.
Failing to get his arms around either Jessie or Cleme, Swift turned his attention to Michael Aronson who was seated at the counter washing down an early breakfast with a cup of coffee. Taking an immediate and violent dislike to Aronson’s fedora, Swift began to verbally abuse the startled man and then ordered him, and his hat, out of the cafe.
Aronson hadn’t had enough time to finish his coffee, let alone leave a tip for his waitress, so he tried to re-enter the cafe. Swift caught a glimpse of the hated chapeau and drew his revolver. Rather than turn his weapon on the fedora, and the head on which it was perched, he decided to fire on six helpless custard pies! Flecks of creamy custard and bits of crust flew everywhere, and when the smoke cleared half a dozen innocent pies had been senselessly slaughtered.
As Swift unloaded a volley of rounds into the unarmed pies, patrons of the cafe dove for cover under tables and beneath the counter. It was at this point that Police Officer Monte Sherman arrived — and so did several squad cars filled with detectives.
Ted was quickly, or should that be swiftly, subdued and taken to the Hollywood Receiving Hospital where he was determined to be shit-faced.
Undersheriff Arthur C. Jewell was not happy with Deputy Swift and offered him an opportunity to resign. If he didn’t take the Undersheriff up on his generous offer he would be fired.
Swift was infinitely more popular with his fellow officers than he was with the Undersheriff because they passed a hat (probably NOT a fedora) and collected $75 to pay the costs of the broken crockery, punctured walls and slain pies at the Dinner Bell Cafe.
Swift left the LASD and found his way into the growing SoCal aerospace industry, he owned two charter companies — Desert Skyways, and Swiftair.
On October 24, 1949 two men were injured and three killed on Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam when the amphibian plane they were test landing snagged its landing wheels in the water, slammed over on it back and burst into flames. One of the dead was former deputy Ted Swift.
NOTE: Thanks again to my friend Mike Fratantoni for a great idea.