Cops Behaving Badly: The Death of Stanley Beebe, Part 1

beebe death studiedFrom 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.]

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.

Nance said:

“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.”

He continued:

“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.
(Signed)
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.

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