The Department of Water and Power Caper, Conclusion

The investigation into the robbery of the Municipal Bureau of Water and Power was bogged down by dead ends and false leads and it was beginning to look like the crooks were going to get away with the crime that had netted them over $73,000 in cash (the equivalent of nearly $1 million dollars in today’s money) — but then an LAPD officer at the Highland Park station noticed something odd about one of his neighbors, Fern Sadler.

sadler picPatrolman John Kopytek wondered how Sadler, who lived with his mother near Kopytek’s home, could afford three new cars when he was unemployed. Kopytek continued to watch Sadler and as he did he became convinced that there was something hinky going on. He couldn’t find anything to explain Sadler’s sudden good fortune, so he took his suspicions to the higher ups at his station. Detectives kept an eye on Sadler for several weeks and he looked suspicious to them too. They finally took him into custody for questioning but failed to wring a confession out of him even after $7800, for which he had no credible explanation, was found in the apartment he had rented on North Avenue  61.

Sadler finally broke and made a full confession, and he also implicated Frank C. Wagoner, 42, of Pasadena; Harvey Schlagel, 43, of, Pasadena; and Gilman Rankin, 42 of Santa Monica.

Rankin denied any involvement in the robbery and immediately requested an attorney. Harvey Schlagel decided it was in his best interest to confess and try to make a deal.

From what they were told by Sadler and Schlagel the detectives were able to piece together the plot of the robbery and it was quite a story. Sadler resigned from the Water and Power Bureau on November 4th, about three weeks following the robbery, and of course he didn’t have to find another job because he had the $7800 that was found in his apartment and another $15k or so that he had buried following the hold-up. Then there were the three cars he’d purchased valued at approximately $3400 total.

Sadler said that he and Rankin had committed the actual robbery and they’d hired Schlagel and Wagner to kidnap payroll guard Fred Kimple  and detain, but not harm, him. For their part in the robbery the two crooks were paid $1,000 each. Right after the robbery Sadler and Rankin went to a hotel room they’d rented prior to the crime and divied up the reminder of the plunder in a 50/50 split.

The grand jury indicted Sadler, Schlagel, Rankin and Wagoner for the robbery.  And to add to Sadler’s legal woes the City of Los Angeles filed a civil suit to recover as much of the stolen loot as possible. In the complaint it was stated that someone (Sadler and a number of “John Does”) had stolen approximately $75,000 from the bureau office, and that part of the money had been found in various banks to the credit of Fern Sadler, and part had been invested in sues

Sadler made the mistake of believing that successfully committing the robbery meant that he and his accomplices were free and clear. He learned the hard way that the actual crime is just the beginning. It was incredibly arrogant of him to think that nobody in his neighborhood would notice that he was living way beyond his unemployed means — it was his bad luck that the neighbor who noticed was an LAPD officer.

Maybe it’s just me but I believe that declarations like: “The check is in the mail”; “I’ll always love you”; and “I’ll never rat you out” should always be met with a healthy dose of skepticism. If Rankin had a little voice that told him to be leery of Sadler’s promisies, he didn’t listen to it. He was blind-sided, and more than a little pissed-off, when Sadler (said to be the brains of the hold-up) suddenly pleaded guilty and turned State’s evidence. The two men, handcuffed together, were being lead from the courtroom by Bailiff Hammon when Rankin suddenly whirled his arm upward and brought the handcuffs smashing down on Sadler’s head.

“I’ll get you yet, you dirty squealer!” he shouted as Bailiff Hammon tried to insert himself between the two felons. Sadler wasn’t badly hurt by Rankin’s attack, but the co-conspirators were separated and extra guards were assigned to the courtroom for the remainder of the trail.

Sadler testified in detail to the planning and execution of the robbery. He’d connected with Rankin by placing a want ad in a local paper asking for the services of a “courageous man” and promising “big money” as a reward.

For squealing on his accomplices Sadler earned the D.A.’s recommendation to be sentenced on the lesser charge of second-degree robbery charge. He took the deal but it wasn’t a great one, because Sadler was sentenced to from seven years to life for masterminding the crime. Schlagel and Wagoner followed Sadler’s lead and changed their pleas to guilty and were sentenced to from one year to life in prison.

rankin guiltyRankin was the last man standing and would have to face the jury alone. He was found guilty of first degree robbery and sentenced to from seven years to life in prison.

The robbery was a success and  the gang could have gotten away with it but, as is often the case, the bad guys weren’t nearly as smart as they thought they were. This is where I say crime doesn’t pay — but then you already knew that.