In the Line of Duty, Part 3

sodel_house

A search of Tony Adams’ residence yielded a few clues, but not the .32 caliber murder weapon.

While the search for Tony Adams, suspected of the kidnapping and murder of CHP Officer Steve Sodel continued, detectives dug into the background of the wanted man.

Adams had served time in New York for grand larceny and he had been AWOL from Camp Rucker, Alabama, since May 1944.  He was obviously a crook, but was he a killer?

sodel-body

Based on the forensic science evidence there wasn’t much doubt that Adams had pulled the trigger of the gun that ended Patrolman Sodel’s life.  A bullet removed from the dead officer’s body was a match for a slug found in the abandoned, bloodstained sedan discovered near Las Vegas.   Tire impressions taken at the location where Sodel’s patrol car was found corresponded to tire tracks found at the place where his body was hastily buried. The most damning evidence against Adams was verified by the Sheriff’s Department—they said fingerprints taken from the left door of the impounded death car belonged to wanted ex-con and Army deserter.

Twelve days after the murder there were several reported sightings of the fugitive in LA.  Cops thought that Adams had fled the state, but someone answering his description was seen one or two blocks from the West Los Angeles Police Station.  None of the leads panned out.  If Adams was in LA he was proving impossible to find.

sodel_patrol-car_portrait

In the photo on the left, Detective Marty Wynn (left, who would later become a technical advisor for the TV show, DRAGNET, is show with Inspectors Mark Benson (center) and William Yonkin (right) examining Patrol Sodel’s official car. On the right is a photo of fallen officer Steve W. Sodel.

Within a week of the LA sightings of Adams he was busted in New York City. He may have been running home to his mother, Josephine, a resident of the city.  In a bone-headed attempt to evade capture the fugitive jumped from a two-story window and injured himself.

adams-custody

Tony Adams, flanked by an FBI agent and a NYC detective, limps to a waiting patrol car.

He was in a wheel chair when he appeared before a U.S. Commissioner in New York on October 8.  Adams denied everything.  Accompanied by Captain Gordon Bowers, head of the Sheriff’s bureau of investigation and Inspector Mark Benson of the California Highway Patrol, Adams was returned to LA to stand trial.

Adams was also suspected of the June 5, 1946 slaying of CHP Officer Loren Cornwell Roosevelt. The murder had some similarities to Sodel’s murder.  It wasn’t until six months later that Roosevelt’s real killer, Erwin ‘Machine Gun’ Walker, was apprehended. Walker was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Due to some legal twists and turns Walker was released on parole in 1974. He legally changed his name, became employed as a chemist, and vanished from public view. He died in 1982 without ever showing remorse for the cold-blooded murder of Officer Roosevelt.

When Adams arrived at Union Station downtown he was immediately shackled to the aptly named Lieutenant John Law of the Sheriff’s Department.

Adams told detectives that he had run across the country in a panic after he  came to from black-out drunk episode to find Sodel’s patrolman’s cap and service weapon in his hands.  The story was likely a pathetic attempt by the suspect to lessen his responsibility.  And, in my opinion, his tale of being too drunk to recall the murder further unraveled when he managed to  remember enough about the immediate aftermath of the crime to direct a car full of deputies to a vacant lot in which they found a charred fragment of the plaid seat cover from the stolen black Chevy sedan.

The deputies drove Adams around until they reached Alameda Street between Seventh and Third Streets.  It was in that area, the suspect contended, that he had ditched the guns (his and Sodel’s).  Unfortunately no trace of either weapon was found.

On October 23, 1946, Adams told reporters “I have confessed to nothing.  I’m innocent of the charge and with God’s help the world will soon know it.”  His attorneys said “Adams told us that he has been in a daze since his arrest, but that he has admitted nothing to the officers.”

For a dazed man Adams had managed to accomplish a lot. He’d successfully evaded arrest for weeks following the murder, and he had had the presence of mind to dispose of evidence in such a manner that detectives had been unable to locate it some of it.  Imagine what he could do if he wasn’t in a daze.

Next time:  Will a jury believe Tony Adams?

Note:  Watch HE WALKED BY NIGHT, based on the Erwin ‘Machine Gun’ Walker case. It is one of my favorite films noir.

Film Noir Friday: He Walked By Night

he walked_poster

Welcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is HE WALKED BY NIGHT starring Richard Basehart, Scott Brady, and Jack Webb. It was during the making of this film that Jack Webb got the idea for DRAGNET.

The film is based on a true story, the Erwin “Machine Gun” Walker case, which I wrote about a few years ago.

38gunAs of a few months ago I have a personal connection to this movie. I was given the blue steel revolver that belonged to the screenwriter, John C. Higgins — it was a gift from his nephew, Eric, and I’m honored to own it. Higgins wrote the screenplays for T-MEN and RAW DEAL, two terrific films.

Enjoy the movie!

TCM says:

Inspired by the true story of Erwin Walker, a WWII hero who turned to crime and terrorized Los Angeles in 1946, He Walked By Night (1948) is a remarkable low budget, film noir thriller that is often overlooked in film studies of this genre. Besides Richard Basehart’s chilling performance as a meticulous thief of electronics equipment who becomes a wanted cop killer, the film glistens with the stylized black and white cinematography of John Alton whose use of light has been compared to the lighting in Rembrandt paintings. The film could well serve as a primer on how to shoot a film noir since it incorporates all of the familiar elements of the genre so masterfully into the visual design of the film: splintered shadows from Venetian blinds that transform a cozy bedroom into a prison, street lights over patches of wet pavement, a brief pinpoint of light from a hastily lit match in a dark room. Most memorable of all is the chiaroscuro camerawork in the final sequence as Davis Morgan – Richard Basehart’s character – is pursued through the huge drainage canals underneath Los Angeles by the police. This was the first time this unusual locale was used in a film and it would later serve as an equally disturbing setting – the lair of giant mutant ants – for the science fiction thriller, Them! (1954).

 

Film Noir Friday on Saturday: Dragnet [1966]

Harry-Morgan-jack-webbWelcome! The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is DRAGNET 1966, starring Jack Webb and Harry Morgan.

I’ve show this feature before but I thought that since I’m attending the JACK WEBB AWARDS event tonight it would be appropriate to show it again. I’m looking forward to the evening. It will, once again, be hosted by James Ellroy.

Dragnet 1966 is a made-for-TV movie that initiated the return of the Dragnet series to television. It was intended to be the TV pilot of Dragnet 1967 but was not aired as originally planned. It was eventually broadcast in 1969.

The Internet Movie Database says:

Sgt. Joe Friday is called back from vacation to work with his partner, Off. Bill Gannon, on a missing persons case. Two amateur female models and a young war widow have vanished, having been last seen with one J. Johnson. In the course of tracking down Johnson and the young ladies, the detectives wind up with two different descriptions of the suspect, one of which closely resembles a dead body found in a vacant lot. But the dead man, later identified as Charles LeBorg of France, proves not to be J. Johnson, when a third young model disappears.

The story is based on the Harvey Glatman case which I covered in a series of posts.

Policewoman of the Year

attacker killed

I confess, the litany of sweetheart slayings that I have been researching for the Valentine’s Day holiday started getting me down. I was casting a jaundiced eye at my blameless husband wondering if I’d feel a hammer come down on my head and feeling generally off-kilter. So, what better antidote for the blahs than some good old mayhem. I believe this case will lift me out of the doldrums.

***********************************************

Cops at LAPD’s 77th Street station were fed up with the wave of assaults on women in their district; there had been nearly 40 in the few months between April 2nd and late July 1952. The scumbag responsible for the attacks had been targeting lone women as they left street cars late at night.

00011769_77th street station. [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

77th Street Station, LAPD

If they were going to nab the guy the cops figured they would need to bait and set a trap that he couldn’t resist. They couldn’t have found more attractive bait than policewoman Florence Coberly.

Coberly, in her mid-twenties and recently married, had been on the job for fewer than six months when she was tapped for the assignment. Florence and another policewoman, Marie Little, were assigned to act as decoys (cop euphemism for perv bait) while patrol officers and detectives cast a net that extended from Broadway to San Pedro Street and from Manchester Avenue to 67th Street. Officers would be deployed on foot and in squad cars while the two policewomen attempted to lure the reptile out from under his rock.

The massive stake-out began on the evening of July 31st. Coberly, who had dressed in a pencil skirt with a kick-pleat in the front, a short-sleeved white blouse and some sweet little pumps was undeniably an appealing target for a degenerate. She was walking along swinging her white handbag in time with her gait when a man leaped from a dark doorway in front of 8209 South San Pedro Street and snatched the bag from her hand. Florence did exactly as she’d been instructed to do, she reached into her pocket and got out her police whistle, then she put it to her lips and blew as hard as she could. The whistle blast was a signal to Detectives concealed nearby that she was in trouble.

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Policewoman Florence Coberly flanked by two LAPD detectives. [Photo courtesy of USC digital archive]

The man who had grabbed her demanded to know what in the the hell she thought she was doing–and without waiting for her answer he slugged her on the jaw; Coberly went down and the man continued to beat her. Coberly said later that she wasn’t worried because she knew that someone would be coming to her aid.

Coberly’s trust was rewarded when two detectives, Frank Marz and Walter Clago heard the whistle and screeched up in a squad car just in time to see Florence’s attacker fleeing the scene. The guy wasn’t moving very fast because Florence had managed to reach her weapon and got off a shot which struck the man in one of his lungs. Note the nifty little bandoleer dangling from her skirt with six bullets in it–policewomen knew how to accessorize!

Policewoman Coberly accessorizes for an evening of luring rape suspects. [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

Policewoman Coberly accessorizes for an evening of luring rape suspects. [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

Detective Clago helped Florence to her feet while Detective Marz set off in pursuit of the would-be molester yelling at him to “Stop in the name of the law!”. The man surely heard the cop’s admonition, but he continued to evade capture. He wasn’t moving very fast–it’s tough to sprint with a punctured lung. Marz fired his service revolver five times at the suspect and missed each time.

Contents of a policewoman's handbag c. 1952 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Contents of a policewoman’s handbag c. 1952 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Detective Marz saw the man head toward a car parked on 82nd Street. It was dark but a man was barely visible in the driver’s seat behind the wheel. The man didn’t wait for his passenger, as soon as he saw Parra staggering toward the sedan and heard the crack of gunfire he sped off into the night.

Detective Marz watched as the suspect whirled and dashed, or rather tried to dash, behind a house at 253 East 82nd Street. With a single round left in his revolver Marz fired and the man collapsed to the ground.

[Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

[Photo courtesy of USC Digital Archive]

The dead man was ID’d as Joe L. Parra who had been residing at 8465 South San Pedro Street. Parra was an ex-con who had recently been paroled out of San Quentin where he had done time for multiple counts of robbery, burglary and morals violations. Parra’s arrest record was extensive, he had been busted on at least 40 occasions. His most recent arrest had been for robbery just one month prior to his death, but he’d been kicked loose for insufficient evidence.

second man capturedAbout an hour after Joe had expired in the dirt near a couple of discarded metal signs cops located the wheel man, the person who had left Joe in the lurch on 82nd Street. It turned out that the getaway driver was seventeen year old Henry P. Parra, Joe’s nephew. Henry ‘fessed up pretty quickly and admitted that he had gone with his uncle several times on late night purse snatching raids. I wonder if the kid knew what else Uncle Joe had been up to on their midnight forays. I think it’s pathetic that Uncle Joe had to be driven from crime to crime by his young nephew, what a low life. The dumb-ass could have taken a street car and left the kid out of his crime spree.

Florence shows off her injuries to colleagues. [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

Florence shows off her injuries to colleagues. [Photo courtesy USC Digital Archive]

Policewoman Florence Coberly was feted for her role in putting an end to Parra’s reign of terror in LAPD’s 77th Street Divison. The newspapers credited Marz with firing the fatal round but I have it on good authority that the autopsy revealed that Florence had delivered the kill shot. Evidently Joe would have died from the wound she inflicted to his lung even if Detective Marz hadn’t finally managed to hit him. But let’s not quibble–Parra needed to be stopped and it was a cop’s bullet that did the trick.

Not only did Florence pose for several newspaper photos (she appears to have been a natural in front of the camera), she was a guest on a local TV show hosted by Johnny Dugan.

Johnny Dugan, local L.A. television celebrity.

Johnny Dugan, local L.A. television celebrity.

In February 1953, Florence was named “Policewoman of the Year” by the Exchange Club, sponsors of that month’s Crime Prevention Week. Florence continued to bask in the limelight and, in June 1954, she was an honored guest at the installation and dinner-dance held by the Los Angeles Policewomen’s Association. Also on the guest list were Sgts. Joe Friday and Frank Smith (Jack Webb and Ben Alexander) of the Dragnet series. The two fictional LAPD cops would share the spotlight with Chief of Police William H. Parker and his wife.

Florence may have been anticipating more star-studded evenings in her future as an L.A. cop. Who knows, with such as auspicious beginning maybe she would end up with an enviable spot in the LAPD hierarchy. With just over 100 women on the force, there wasn’t much female competition in the ranks in those days.

But wait a minute, you know that this is Deranged L.A. Crimes and nobody’s good luck lasts forever. Right?

NEXT TIME: Policewoman of the Year takes a fall.

Film Noir Friday: Dragnet 1966

Harry-Morgan-jack-webbWelcome!  The lobby of the Deranged L.A. Crimes theater is open! Grab a bucket of popcorn, some Milk Duds and a Coke and find a seat. Tonight’s feature is DRAGNET 1966,  starring Jack Webb and Harry Morgan.

Dragnet 1966 is a made-for-TV movie that initiated the return of the Dragnet series to television. It was intended to be the TV pilot of Dragnet 1967 but was not aired as originally planned. It was eventually broadcast in 1969.

The Internet Movie Database says:

Sgt. Joe Friday is called back from vacation to work with his partner, Off. Bill Gannon, on a missing persons case. Two amateur female models and a young war widow have vanished, having been last seen with one J. Johnson. In the course of tracking down Johnson and the young ladies, the detectives wind up with two different descriptions of the suspect, one of which closely resembles a dead body found in a vacant lot. But the dead man, later identified as Charles LeBorg of France, proves not to be J. Johnson, when a third young model disappears.

The story is based on the Harvey Glatman case.

http://youtu.be/ybhNquay6Sk

He Walked By Night — Erwin “Machine Gun” Walker

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The 1948 film HE WALKED BY NIGHT starring Richard Basehart was loosely based on the 1946 crime spree of William Erwin “Machine Gun” Walker.

Jack Webb played a forensics specialist in HE WALKED BY NIGHT, and while filming the movie he had an epiphany — what if there was a radio show based on real life police work? Webb’s brainstorm would become a radio show, TV series, and a film (two films actually, one in 1954 starring Webb, and a comedy remake in 1987 starring Dan Ackroyd). The radio program debuted on June 2, 1949 with an episode entitled ROBBERY.

radio-vintage-ladyEpisode two, HOMICIDE – THE NICKEL PLATED GUN, aired on June 10, 1949. This digitally remastered copy is courtesy of the National Archives.

DRAGNET: Homicide – The Nickel Plated Gun

Who was the real Erwin Walker? He had been a civilian employee of the Glendale Police Department prior to being drafted into the U.S. Army. He was very near-sighted, and would have been classified as unfit for service if not for his remarkable skills in electronics. Walker was sent to the Philippines where his non-combat unit ended up in a three day fight for their lives with a contingent of Japanese army paratroopers.

Walker survived the war physically, but mentally he was broken. His crime spree began even before his release from the army. In August 1945, he entered an Army Ordnance warehouse at night, stealing seven 45-caliber Thompson sub-machine guns, twelve .45-caliber pistols, six .38-caliber revolvers, ammunition, holsters, and magazines.

On April 25, 1946, Walker was on his way to sell some stolen motion picture equipment to a man named William Starr.  Starr had suspected that Walker (who was calling himself Paul C. Norris) had stolen the equipment and he phoned the cops. As Walker approached Starr’s home he was confronted by two LAPD Hollywood Division detectives,  Lt. Colin C. Forbes, and his partner Sgt. Stewart W. Johnson. Walker opened fire — he wounded both cops and then he disappeared into the subterranean storm drains  of Los Angeles.

Walker managed to evade capture, and early on Wednesday, June 5, 1946, he drove to a meat market at the corner of Los Feliz Boulevard and Brunswick Avenue in Glendale, where he was rousted by a suspicious California Highway patrolman, Loren Cornwell Roosevelt.  Instead of producing his I.D when Roosevelt asked to see it, Walker pulled out a weapon and fired. Then the cop killer once again vanished into the storm drains of the city.

Walker would later testify that he’d fired at Roosevelt only after the cop had shot at him first. It was a lie. Walker also stated that he fired twice — but Roosevelt had died in  the hospital with nine slugs in him. The investigation revealed that the fatal rounds had likely been fired from one of the Thompson sub-machine guns Walker kept with him.

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A psychopath, his dog, and a gun — from HE WALKED BY NIGHT

LAPD was tipped off that Walker was living in a duplex at 1831 1/2 N. Argyle Avenue. In the early morning hours of December 20, 1946, using a key provided by the landlord, detectives Wynn, Donahue, and Rombeau entered Walker’s apartment.

Walker came up quick and reached for the Thompson he kept on the bed beside him. He struggled with the cops, but they shot him twice in the shoulder and finally subdued him by cracking his skull with the butt of a pistol. Walker was in custody at last.

walkertodie

Walker entered a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity, but the trial judge found him sane. Walker was tried and convicted for Officer Roosevelt’s murder and sentenced to death in the gas chamber.gaschamber

While on death row awaiting execution, a shrink diagnosed Walker with paranoid schizophrenia. Thirty-six hours before his scheduled execution Walker was found unconscious with a length of radio headphone cord wrapped around his neck. He was revived and his execution was postponed indefinitely while he underwent an extensive psych evaluation.

Walker was declared insane and committed to the Mendocino State Hospital where he received electroshock therapy, and spent his free time reading chemistry textbooks.

During the early 1970s Walker attempted to get his conviction overturned, but the courts denied his petitions. However, he did manage to get a ruling that deleted the portion of his life sentence that excluded any possibility of parole.

Walker had managed to successfully work the system and cheat the executioner. The convicted cop killer was paroled in 1974! Upon his release he legally changed his name, got a job as a chemist, and disappeared from public view.

Walker died in 1982. He had never once expressed remorse for the anguish he had caused the victims of his crimes.  If there is a hell, he is certain to burn for eternity.

HE WALKED BY NIGHT is in the public domain and if you have never seen it, here’s your chance.