When I began this blog in December 2012, I arbitrarily chose to examine crime in Los Angeles during the years from 1900 to 1970. Now, however, I think it is time to expand the purview to include the decades of 1970, 1980 and 1990 to encompass all of the last century. In terms of crime in the City of Angels, the last three decades of the 20th Century are enormously interesting.
The 1970s have been called one of the most violent decades in U.S. history. Homicide rates climbed at an alarming rate and people felt increasingly vulnerable.
Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry
Hollywood contributed to popular culture, and helped fuel the debate on crime and punishment, with a slew of vigilante films like Dirty Harry and Death Wish. The films showed bad guys being blown away by impressively large weapons. It was cathartic, but not terribly realistic.
It was during the ’70s that the bogeyman got a new name when FBI Investigator Robert Ressler coined the term “serial killer”.
In 1978 convicted rapist and registered sex offender, Rodney Alcala, appeared on the Dating Game. Why wasn’t he more thoroughly vetted by the show’s producers? I have no idea. Even more astounding than his appearance was the fact that he won! The bachelorette who selected Rodney ultimately declined to go out with him–she found him “creepy”. He’s currently on California’s death row and is believed to have committed as many as 50 murders.
Richard Ramirez aka the Night Stalker, flashes a pentagram on his palm.
Some people joined cults where they banded together with like-minded folks for spiritual comfort and to retreat from the scary world-at-large. But there is not always safety in numbers, and evil can assume many guises. In 1978, over 900 members of the People’s Temple died in a mass suicide commanded by their leader, Jim Jones. The group was living in Guyana when they drank cyanide-laced Kool-Aid. The People’s Temple may have been founded in Indiana, but like so many other cults before them they established a presence in L.A.
Jim Jones of the People’s Temple
A crack cocaine epidemic swept the country in the early 1980s. It decimated communities and cost many people their lives. Crack was inexpensive, easily accessible, and even more addictive than regular cocaine.
The 1980s gave rise to a “satanic panic” which resulted in some of most bizarre prosecutions we’ve seen in this country since the Salem Witch Trials in the 1690s. The McMartin Preschool abuse trial was the most costly ($15 million) ever in the U.S. and resulted, rightfully I believe, in no convictions.
Surprisingly, there was a decline in crime during the 1990s, and it has been attributed to a variety of factors including: increased incarceration; increased numbers of police, growth in income; decreased unemployment, decreased alcohol consumption, and even the unleading of gasoline (due to the Clean Air Act). Despite the decline, there was still enough murder and mayhem to make us uneasy.
Here in L.A. there was the murder trial of O.J. Simpson, the so-called Trial of the Century. If you remove fame, wealth, and race and reduce the crime to its basic elements you end up with nothing more than a tragic domestic homicide–the type of crime which is altogether too common everywhere–yet the case continues to fascinate.
Heidi Fleiss, the Hollywood Madam, made news in 1993. At her pandering trial actor Charlie Sheen divulged that he had spent in excess of $53,000 for services rendered by Heidi’s girls.
Please join me as I explore the entirety of 20th Century crime in Los Angeles.
Because it’s been a few days since we last visited the Stanley Beebe case I think that a brief synopsis is in order.
In December of 1942 Stanley Beebe was arrested for public intoxication. He was taken to LAPD’s Central Station where he later alleged he had been badly beaten. In a death bed statement to his wife, published in the L.A. Times, Beebe reiterated his claim. He died about ten days later of injuries that the coroner had determined were the result of a savage beating.
The Beebe case was a political hot potato–corruption and abuse by the cops terrified and enraged the citizens and just a few years earlier, in 1938, Angelenos had ousted Mayor Frank Shaw in a corruption scandal. Shaw was the first U.S. mayor to be recalled and the city was still reeling from the fallout of that national embarrassment.
The investigation into Beebe’s death was deftly stonewalled by a monumental lack of cooperation from LAPD. Finding the truth was going to be an uphill battle all the way, especially since people were being threatened if they didn’t drop the inquiry.
We’ll pick up the tale from there…
Deputy City Attorney Everett Leighton’s wife received a telephone call threatening her husband with death if he didn’t back-off the Stanley Beebe case. But it wasn’t just high profile city government types who were being threatened. Raymond Henry, 42, of 915 S. Mott Street was in jail when Stanley Beebe was allegedly beaten. If the D.A.’s investigators were looking for more info on Stanley’s case it wasn’t going to come from Raymond Henry. However, Henry did have a story to tell. He said that there had been another case of police brutality in the jail at approximately the same time.
There was an alley leading into the booking office and Raymond said he had seen a man dressed in khaki work clothes lying there and he appeared to have been beaten. Henry received a mysterious telephone call from a man claiming to be a cop; but unlike the call Everett Leighton’s wife had received Henry’s unknown caller made him an offer. The mystery man said he’d like to meet with Henry and offered to “pay all his expenses for a couple of days”. It was clear that someone wanted Raymond out of the way so he couldn’t testify about what he had seen.
In mid-February 1943 Chief Horrall ordered several LAPD officers jailed for their parts in the death of Stanley Beebe: Compton Dixon, James F. Martin, John M. Yates, E.P. Mooradian, McKinley W. Witt and Leo L. Johnson. The case became even uglier when it appeared that the police report had been falsified. A copy of the report showed Beebe’s occupation as machinist, he was an accountant; and his address was “transient” — yet the telephone call he’d been allowed to make had been to his wife at their apartment.
Every politician from Los Angeles to Sacramento sought to make political hay out of the issue of police brutality. Newspapers continued to report on new and increasingly alarming allegations of abuse of authority. One former prisoner said that he had been beaten while handcuffed and that large quantities of water and brandy had been forced down his throat.
It was LAPD officer Compton Dixon who was finally accused of manslaughter in Beebe’s death. Compton didn’t fit Stanley’s description of his attacker, but there were several points on which Stanley had been understandably vague in his death bed statement to his wife. It was very possible he had incorrectly described his assailant.
Compton was indicted for Stanley’s murder on March 4, 1943, but he was immediately released on $10,000 bail when his Defense attorney Samuel Rummel and prosecutors stipulated that even if it was proved that Compton had beaten Beebe to death, it could possibly amount only to second-degree murder.
Because second degree murder carried a penalty of five years to life they decided he could be released on a bond.
Rummel’s reputation as a mouthpiece for crooked cops and local gangsters was well known, and deserved. Sam was friendly with gangster Mickey Cohen among other bad guys, but rubbing elbows with crooks isn’t a smart move. Rummel lived the high life hanging out with Cohen and various corrupt policemen, he was even part owner of a couple of Las Vegas casinos, but it all came to an end when he was shot gunned to death in the driveway of his Laurel Canyon home during the early morning hours of December 11, 1950. His slaying remains unsolved.
Sam Rummel dead in his driveway. Photo courtesy of UCLA Digital Archive.
Two rookie officers had testified at the Grand Jury hearing that they’d witnessed Stanley’s beating. They were quite clear in their statements; but when it came time for them to testify in open court they were both suspiciously vague. In fact each of them said they had seen Stanley and they’d seen a foot on his stomach, but they just couldn’t be sure whose foot it was!
One by one, police officers who had previously admitted that they’d seen Compton Dixon beat Stanley Beebe retracted their statements. One of them, Leo Johnson, said that the statement he’d made at the LAPD training center on February 14th was made under duress:
“That statement is false. It was not prepared by me and not written by me. Words were put in my mouth and the statements are untrue. I don’t ever remember seeing Dixon place his foot on anybody’s stomach.”
Officers with amnesia and revised statements should have been expected in Dixon’s trial, but there was one courtroom shocker that knocked the wind out of some of the observers.
Deputy District Attorney Robert G. Wheeler, who handled the original investigation into the fatal beating, testified that after completing his inquiry he was of the opinion that Mrs. Maxine Beebe, widow of the dead man, could have murdered her husband!
When asked by Rummel on what facts he had based his conclusions, Wheeler responded:
“Only that Beebe was under her control from December 20 to December 27, and her evasiveness during the inquiry”.
I told you Sam Rummel was a mouthpiece for crooks.
Compton Dixon was questioned by Rummel about the alleged crime, quoted here verbatim from the L.A. Times:
“Did you strike Beebe?” Rummel asked.
“I did not,” Dixon replied with a firm voice.
“Did you kick him?”
“Did you jump on him?”
I did not.” Dixon said.
The case went to the jury and they deliberated for seven days before becoming deadlocked: 8 to 4 in favor of acquittal.
It was a disgusting miscarriage of justice. District Attorney Howser issued a statement in which he said the failure of the Los Angeles Police Department to solve the murder of the prisoner was due to:
“…concealed evidence and a misdirected investigation by members of the same department who were afraid disclosure of the truth would involve a member of members of the department.”
Dixon still had to face a police trial board–he had been suspended from duty since February. The LAPD board of rights concluded its investigation in July 1943 and they found Compton Dixon not guilty of conduct unbecoming an officer for refusing to testify before the grand jury. The board said that Dixon had been charged with manslaughter and the natural right of self-preservation, as well as his constitutional rights, superseded the general duty of an officer to testify before inquisitorial bodies.
Dixon was returned to duty and his back pay was restored. He retired in 1946 and because he had spent 20 years or more at a jail duty station he was presented with silver keys (that wouldn’t actually turn the locks) to the main doors of City Jail. It didn’t matter that the keys were phonies–Dixon didn’t need the real thing, he’d been given a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in 1943.
None of the officers implicated in the various brutality cases being investigated at the time were punished, and no one was ever held accountable for Stanley Beebe’s death.
From 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.]
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.
“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.”
“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.
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.
As I’ve said before, cops are only human and as such they are susceptible to all of the same foibles, follies and bad behaviors as are the rest of us.
Have you ever had a few too many and behaved like a jerk? If you answered yes, you should be able to empathize with LAPD Officers Rice and Robinson.
Gideon L. Rice was on duty the morning of March 4, 1940 His shift had ended hours earlier but apparently his drinking had not. He called the station at 1:30 a.m. from his beat at 108th and Main Streets to let the powers that be know that he was still hard at work.
The ungrateful brass were not impressed with Rice’s dedication to duty, particularly since he was obviously shit-faced when he placed the call. The brass were further unimpressed when Officer Rice allegedly made an exhibition of himself in the public view in an 11th Street cafe.
I would love to know how Rice had made an exhibition of himself but, sadly, the newspaper didn’t go into detail.
Gideon felt that his dedication to the job should be rewarded. The fact that he’d been working while inebriated didn’t keep him from demanding to be paid overtime. Unfortunately the Police Commission did not agree with Rice and relived him of duty.
On the same date that Officer Gideon’s contretemps made the news it was reported that Officer R.S. Robinson had gotten himself in to a booze related jam.
Apparently in his cups, Robinson had attempted to collect coins from the bottom of a wishing well in Chinatown. The tipsy officer drew a crowd, but he didn’t appreciate being the center of attention. He pulled his head out of the wishing well long enough to fire two shots from his revolver and then use it to strike a citizen over the head.
Officer Robinson was suspended for 30 days without pay.
Los Angeles has never had the reputation for police corruption that other U.S. cities have had, but that doesn’t mean that L.A. law enforcement has been perfect — far from it. As Chief William H. Parker once said in response to questions about corruption and brutality in the LAPD:
“We’ll always have cases like this because we have one big problem in selecting police officers…we have to recruit from the human race.”
The human race is a problematic gene pool at best, and with this post I’m beginning a series of occasional tales called “Cops Behaving Badly”. First up is Deputy Ted Swift.
On October 7, 1939, Deputy Swift stumbled his way into The Dinner Bell Cafe at 1604-1/2 North Vine Street, adjacent to the Brown Derby in Hollywood. He eyeballed two cute waitresses, Jessie Clark and Cleme Reeves, and in his inebriated condition Swift thought that they would find him irresistible.Ted had seriously miscalculated his sex appeal so when he tried to corner the two young women behind the counter they slipped beyond his reach.
Failing to get his arms around either Jessie or Cleme, Swift turned his attention to Michael Aronson who was seated at the counter washing down an early breakfast with a cup of coffee. Taking an immediate and violent dislike to Aronson’s fedora, Swift began to verbally abuse the startled man and then ordered him, and his hat, out of the cafe.
Aronson hadn’t had enough time to finish his coffee, let alone leave a tip for his waitress, so he tried to re-enter the cafe. Swift caught a glimpse of the hated chapeau and drew his revolver. Rather than turn his weapon on the fedora, and the head on which it was perched, he decided to fire on six helpless custard pies! Flecks of creamy custard and bits of crust flew everywhere, and when the smoke cleared half a dozen innocent pies had been senselessly slaughtered.
As Swift unloaded a volley of rounds into the unarmed pies, patrons of the cafe dove for cover under tables and beneath the counter. It was at this point that Police Officer Monte Sherman arrived — and so did several squad cars filled with detectives.
Ted was quickly, or should that be swiftly, subdued and taken to the Hollywood Receiving Hospital where he was determined to be shit-faced.
Undersheriff Arthur C. Jewell was not happy with Deputy Swift and offered him an opportunity to resign. If he didn’t take the Undersheriff up on his generous offer he would be fired.
Swift was infinitely more popular with his fellow officers than he was with the Undersheriff because they passed a hat (probably NOT a fedora) and collected $75 to pay the costs of the broken crockery, punctured walls and slain pies at the Dinner Bell Cafe.
Swift left the LASD and found his way into the growing SoCal aerospace industry, he owned two charter companies — Desert Skyways, and Swiftair.
On October 24, 1949 two men were injured and three killed on Lake Mead behind Hoover Dam when the amphibian plane they were test landing snagged its landing wheels in the water, slammed over on it back and burst into flames. One of the dead was former deputy Ted Swift.
NOTE: Thanks again to my friend Mike Fratantoni for a great idea.