Let’s Kill All The Lawyers, Redux

In 1939 Arthur Emil Hansen was sentenced to from two to twenty years in San Quentin for the courtroom slayings of two attorneys, R. D. McLaughlin and J. Irving Hancock, who were besting him in a civil suit that cost him every cent he had.

Did Arthur learn anything from the crime or his punishment? Evidently not, because in January 1951 a plan he’d hatched from behind the gray walls of San Quentin to assassinate four Los Angeles judges and two attorneys was uncovered by the Sheriff’s Department.

On Hansen’s list for liquidation were: Superior Judges Charles W. Fricke, Arthur Crumm and Frank G. Swain; Municipal Judge Lewis Drucker, former District Attorney Buron Fitts and Attorney Isaac Pacht. Apparently, Hansen had discussed his plan with a few of his fellow convicts — a big mistake–nobody will rat you out quicker. He had approached an inmate scheduled to be released on parole and offered to pay him $10,000 if he would murder one of the six men on his hit list.

hansen_prisonHansen’s plan was diabolically elegant in its own way. He wanted the parolee to whack one of the people on the list, then he would “take care” of the remaining five when he was paroled. He told his confidant that he intended to leave one clear fingerprint at the scene of each murder. Then, when the five murders had been committed, the police would have all the fingerprints of one of his hands and his identity would be revealed.

Sounds a little crackpot, doesn’t it. But in the 12 years that Hansen had been in prison he’d become quite paranoid. He had little else to do but sit and stew about the real or imagined wrongs he’d suffered in the L.A. courts. He refused to accept blame for his actions and his rage continued to build to a detonation point.

Hansen gave his soon-to-be paroled friend a vitriolic letter, copies of which were to be given to various L.A. newspapers. The letter bitterly accused the judges, the Attorney General’s Office, the District Attorney and Governor Warren of conspiracy. Hansen’s letter also predicted that he would not be prosecuted for the murders because he would be revealed as an emancipator and a protector of the public.

I wonder if he thought he had super powers.

The letter advised the police that they could not save the victims on the hit list because “Their doom is sealed.”  Hansen remained unrepentant for the double murders saying: “I regret nothing I did. I had nothing to lose.”

Hansen made a huge mistake when he directed that the letters be sent just as he was coming up for parole, He was just days away from being released when his plot was discovered. For the murder plot, Hansen forfeited all of his good time and at least six more years of his freedom.

Let’s Kill All the Lawyers

Dick the butcher: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

 –Henry The Sixth,  William Shakespeare

Like many residents of Los Angeles, Arthur Emil Hansen was a transplant. He had been a successful farmer in South Dakota before moving to the city in 1932. Perhaps he’d grown tired of farming and longed for a change; whatever the reason he had traded his 200 acre farm for the Chatham Apartments on Berendo Street. He assumed a $15,000 (equivalent to $256,000 in 2014 U.S. dollars) mortgage against the building. Subsequently, he traded his equity for an equity in another apartment house and assumed a $150,000 (equivalent to approximately $2.5M in current U.S. dollars) liability against it.

lawyers slain

If not a real estate mogul, Hansen was fast becoming quite the wheeler and dealer. Following his success with the apartment building he then invested in an 800 acre parcel of land in the Imperial Valley. Unfortunately the deal didn’t go smoothly, and by June 1938 the thirty-eight year old former farmer, and land baron wanna-be, had been tied up in a civil suit for over five years. For his part Hansen claimed that he’d never even taken possession of the ranch and that after signing the trust deed he was foreclosed upon. Arthur had lost both the apartment building AND the ranch for a total of about $39,000 (equivalent to $665,892.00 in 2014 U.S. dollars)–hardly a pittance at any time, and a veritable fortune at the tail end of the Great Depression. He was convinced that he had been swindled.

In the first round of litigation Hansen was awarded $7000, but the case didn’t end there and more legal wrangling ensued. After all was said and done he was on the hook for taxes and water assessments for the ranch and Mr. John Hancock (no, I didn’t make it up) was seeking to collect the $5000 judgement he’d won against Hansen in 1935.

On June 22, 1938, Hansen entered the courtroom of Referee in Bankruptcy on the eighth floor of the Hall of Records where he was about to lose every dime he had left–the real estate deals had gone south and paying an attorney over a period of five years is an extremely expensive proposition. Financially, Hansen was on crutches and they were about to be kicked out from underneath him. As soon as he crossed the threshold, he caught sight of the two attorney’s who were representing his opponent.

lawyer vics

The attorneys, J. Irving Hancock, who was representing his father (John must have saved a fortune in attorney’s fees)  and R. D. McLaughlin, were seated toward the front of the room with their heads together. Anyone else observing the pair would likely have thought that they were conferring on a point of law, or maybe asking after each others wives and children, but as far as Arthur was concerned the two lawyers were sneaking glances at him, whispering, smirking, and plotting his complete financial annihilation.

E.F. Crozier, clerk in Commissioner Kurtz Kauffman’s court, was working on some papers when he noticed Hansen enter the room and sit behind McLaughlin and Hancock. Then he heard shots. Crozier ducked behind the desk and then got up and ran for help.

death scene diagram

Deputy Sheriff Frederick O. Field arrived and took charge of the situation: “Don’t let anybody in or out” he said. Field saw Hansen attempt to exit the courtroom and prevented him from escaping. Then  the deputy ordered the courtroom to be kept closed until Capt. William Penprase, head of the Sheriff’s Bureau of Investigation, arrived with a squad of officers.

Hansen confessed on the spot:

“When I entered that courtroom and saw those two attorneys whispering together to harass me further I could not stand it. I wanted to kill them both–I am glad they’re dead–they can’t hurt anybody else.”

Hansen was summarily booked in the County Jail, charged by Deputy Sheriff Killion with suspicion of murder and ordered to be held incommunicado for forty-eight hours.

Shortly after being placed in his cell, Hansen was interviewed by Gustav F. Boehme, Jr., a psychiatrist. Reporters attempted to get an in-depth statement from the alienist, but all he would say was that Hansen was emotionally excitable.

Hansen was definitely volatile, but even so he’d made some interesting allegations about harassment and about having been swindled by Hancock and a few others in the real estate transactions. Was he just hysterical, or had the South Dakota farm boy been duped?

NEXT TIME: Hansen’s criminal case and aftermath.