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.

Death of a Detective, Part 2

hugh_photoWhen Magele Crowley, Hugh’s widow, was given the news that he had been gunned down she collapsed and was taken by a police ambulance to the Hollywood Receiving hospital where she was revived. It would fall on her shoulders to explain to her young daughter, Gloria Ruth (8), what had happened to her father.

Hugh Crowley was shot twice in the abdomen and once in the shoulder with dum-dum bullets. The dum-dum expands on impact and it is meant to inflict maximum damage on its target. The dum-dum was originally a British military bullet developed at the Dum
-Dum Arsenal for use in India. They’ve been outlawed for use in warfare for over one hundred years. The term dum-dum now refers to any soft-nosed or hollow-pointed bullet. escape headline crowleyThe use of dum-dum rounds in the slaying of Hugh Crowley enraged law enforcement and they brought the full force of their resources to the manhunt. Detectives were drawn from half a dozen special squads and were working many hours of overtime in their relentless search for the gunmen. Fox West Coast Theaters, Inc., offered a $1000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killers.

At least the cops had some tangible evidence to work with — a gray silk handkerchief, a .32-caliber revolver, a white flannel cap and a silk scarf had been dropped along the bandits’ escape route. The other good news in terms of the investigation was that there were three witnesses to the shooting, and there was also Mrs. Smith, the woman who had watched the crooks jump into her car and drive it away.

Hugh Crowley had been acting as a special messenger for Fox for several years before he was gunned down in the Fox Wilshire. Ironically, in 1929 he was held up at gun point outside of Grauman’s Theater. He had picked up $15,000 in cash and a large quantity of canceled ticket stubs and was walking towards his car when three men closed in on him. The bandits leveled their revolvers at Crowley and demanded the bag of money. Crowley told reporters:

“For a moment I hesitated, then I ducked, flung the bag in my car and slammed the door, thinking that it would automatically lock. But the latch was free.”

Crowley further described his actions:

“Then I dodged around behind my car, pulling my gun from a shoulder holster as I took cover behind the gas tank. At this point one of the bandits opened fire.”

One of the three bad guys managed to pull the bag of money and receipts out of Crowley’s car. The trio of felons escaped, but they would later be busted and brought to justice.

gable_page_crowleyCrowley had distinguished himself many times over the course of his career, in fact he had sixteen commendations!

While the search for his killers continued, the Board of Police Commissioners requested the City Council to allow Crowley’s body to lie in state under the dome of the City Hall. The request read:

“Your honorable body is aware of the tragedy which has befallen the police department and the city of Los Angeles as a whole in the murder of Police Officer Hugh A. Crowley. The board of Police Commissioners approve of the wish of Chief of Police and of the entire police department that the Honorable Council permit the body of the slain officer to lie in state under the dome of the City Hall…”

The request continued:crowley tribute

“In thus honoring the memory of this officer, the city of Los Angeles will give due recognition to the meritorious services rendered by Officer Crowley during the ten years in which he was a member of the Los Angeles police department, during which period he was the recipient of many commendations for actions of efficiency and bravery.”

The request was approved.

City and county officials united with motion picture stars at Loew’s State Theater on January 30, 1932 to stage a beneift to aid Hugh’s widow. All of the proceeds would be turned over to Hugh’s widow because everything had been donated.

Solving Crowley’s murder was of paramount importance to the cops and it took them a couple of weeks before they made their first arrest in the case, twenty-eight year old locksmith, Jack Green. Green promptly confessed to his part in the crime and named as his accomplice twenty-five year old Joseph F. Regan, and ex-merchant marine, amateur boxer, actor, and bootlegger.

crowley killer jack green_resizeFollowing the shooting, Green and Regan had fled to the wounded man’s apartment at 1609 North Normandie where Green summoned a doctor who wasn’t adverse to treating a patient with a serious gunshot wound — and cash. Green told cops that the doctor didn’t give Regan strong odds for survival unless he could find someone to perform surgery on him.

Pictures and a description of Regan were broadcast throughout the state:

“American, 25, years of age; 6 feet 1 inches in height; weight 173 pounds, blond hair, regular nose, blue eyes, ruddy complexion, smooth shaven.”

The law was determined to locate Regan dead or alive.

NEXT TIME: The trial and fates of Hugh Crowley’s killers.

Death of a Detective

stock-crash-1929Between 1924 and 1929 the Dow Jones Industrial Average quadrupled and many Americans thought that the prosperity that had characterized the years since the end of WWI would last forever – they were wrong.

On October 28, 1929 prices began to drop precipitously and even companies thought to be impervious to market fluctuations like U.S. Steel and General Electric had taken huge hits. By the end of the day the Dow had dropped 13%, and the tumble into a financial abyss wasn’t over.

During the first thirty minutes of October 29, 1929, remembered now as Black Tuesday, three million shares were traded and millions of dollars disappeared into thin air. Fistfights broke out on the trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange and one trader fainted from exhaustion.

When the smoke cleared the news was devastating — $25 billion had been lost. The people who borrowed money so that they could invest in the market and join the non-stop party were completely wiped out — they weren’t even grease stains on Wall Street’s pavement.

The Great Depression had begun, and so had a nationwide crime wave.dillingerwantedposter4

While the most notable bandits of the era confined their criminal activities primarily to the Midwest: Bonnie & Clyde, John Dillinger and Baby Face Nelson to name a few, L.A. also suffered at the hands of crooks who terrorized businesses and individual citizens alike.

The Los Angeles Police Daily Bulletins of the 1930s featured a section dedicated to bandits and bandit gangs operating in the city. Whenever possible the Bulletins gave detailed descriptions of the crooks and their names, if known, and the type of weapon or weapons used to commit the offense.

The crime wave in the Midwest may have been getting most of the national press, but L.A. was also dealing with a larger than average number of stick-ups.

00014415_fox wilshireIt was shortly before 10 a.m. on January 11, 1932 when two film collectors, Paul Berry and Dallas Brewer, arrived at the Fox Wilshire Theater in Westwood. They were the guys who picked up the reels for the films that had already been shown, and dropped off the offerings for the next week. They found that the door of the office, located at the rear of the foyer, was locked so they searched for the janitor. The two men found Xoran Soovazian at the back of the stage and asked him if he would use his pass key to let them into the office.

As Berry, Brewer and Soovazian stepped into the office they ran smack into a couple of bandits who had entered through a rear door. The bandits had their pistols drawn. Assuming that Berry was the theater manager one of the crooks ordered him to “Open the safe”. After Berry and Brewer finally convinced the bandits that they were not theater management they were bound and gagged, as was  Soovazian. Then the bandits waited.

About ten minutes later LAPD Detective Hugh Crowley, and his friend R.L. Joyner, drove up in front of the theater. Crowley was acting as a special messenger for Fox and was there to pick-up the weekend box-office receipts on behalf of the head office. Joyner remained in the car. Crowley walked through the foyer to the office and knocked on the door. Just as the three men before him had done he came face to face with the two armed bandits. Crowley was commanded to “Get ’em up”, but of course he didn’t.

Crowley grabbed for the .45 in his shoulder holster. He took one quick step aside, whipped out the weapon and fired. Almost simultaneously Crowley was struck by a couple of rounds. Despite being mortally wounded, Detective Crowley was able to get off a shot injuring one of the bandits.

00049166_death scene

Photo of Detective Crowley courtesy of LAPL.

The cop killers rushed out the rear door of the office, ran across a vacant lot and crossed Braxton Street. They ended up about a block away from the entrance to the theater. During their flight they dropped a gray silk handkerchief, a .32 caliber revolver, a white flannel cap and a silk scarf. The handkerchief had been used as a mask by one of the killers. In front of 10930 Le Conte Street the bandits jumped into a parked car belonging to Mrs. R.W. Smith.

Mrs. Smith was walking up to her car just as the crooks were about to drive away. She later told police she had noticed that the face of one of the bandits was extremely pale and his lips were blue — confirmation that Crowley’s bullet had found its mark.

NEXT TIME: The massive manhunt for Crowley’s killers.