The Human Fly

human fly comic

On April 2, 1943 Carl Hopper, a 22 year old bandit and kidnapping suspect, made a daring escape from HOJJ (Hall of Justice Jail), and from that day forward he would be known as the “human fly”.

Hall of Justice c. 1939 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Hall of Justice c. 1939 [Photo courtesy of LAPL]

Cops hunted the human fly for several days without success. He finally resurfaced in a shoe store at 4411 W. Slauson. He had entered the store and, simulating a gun, he held up the manager Hans A. Camnizter — getting away with $23.51. A private patrolman, Edward Scheld, heard the ruckus and saw Hopper fleeing the store. Scheld got off a couple of rounds but they went wild. Carl ran to the rear parking lot where he forced Sam Tenn and his wife out of their car and drove away. The Tenn’s car was later found abandoned in the 400 block on E. Fairview Avenue, Inglewood. The human fly had escaped AGAIN!

On April 18th cops answered a prowler call at the home of Mrs. James Lehy, 38 Marion Avenue, Pasadena. Patrolman Gerald Wilson noticed Hopper limping along Harkness Street, a block away. Patrolman Wilson thought the limping man was drunk, he smelled of booze, and approached him with caution. He got the man into his police car and was headed to the Pasadena Police Station when suddenly Hopper struck Wilson in the neck, ripped the broadcasting microphone from the car and leaped shows cast

Wilson recovered quickly and gave chase. He caught up with Hopper in front of 234 N. Molino Avenue. Hopper struggled, but Wilson was able to subdue him and get him to the station.

At first Hopper refused to reveal his identity, but when he was confronted with fingerprint records and his photo in a police bulletin he confessed to being the human fly. Then he wouldn’t shut up. He was boasting, telling any one within earshot how he had eluded police for over two weeks:

“I started for San Francisco, hitchhiking, but learned there was a police blockade on the highway so  headed back here. Things went all right until last Thursday, when some fellows were chasing me, and I broke my leg getting off a little roof.”

The human fly continued to brag that he was under the noses of police every day in Pasadena. He’d taken a room in a house across from Pasadena Junior College, bought some collegiate clothes, and hung around malt shops where he mingled with students, showing off his leg in a plaster case — he said the leg was his excuse for not being in the Army.

fly back picCops were curious about how the human fly had spent his time immediately following his flight from the Hall of Justice. He told them on the day that he’d escaped from HOJJ, he went to the beach, bought a pair of swimming trunks, and lay all day with his face in the sand to avoid recognition.

Carl was booked in Pasadena Jail for drunkenness, resisting arrest, vagrancy, suspicion of burglary and violating the Selective Service Act. He was later taken down to Central Jail where he was booked on suspicion of robbery.

Officers took Carl to his room at 73 N. Harkness Street in Pasadena, but they didn’t find anything of interest except a small bottle filled with water. Hopper said he carried the vial on hold-ups and pretended it was nitroglycerin! He also told cops that he used a cap pistol in his robberies.

Because Hopper was such a slippery character cops weren’t convinced that his leg cast wasn’t being used to store hacksaw blades, a gun or other possible jail breaking equipment. They planned to x-ray the cast to be sure. Just so you know, the only thing inside the cast was Carl’s leg.

Of course everyone wanted to hear the details of the fly’s original escape, and he was happy to give them chapter and verse. He said that he made his way to the 14th floor roof top and then worked his way down a ventilator to the eighth floor, through a window and down the stairs. He said:

“I was scared all the time. I’m darned lucky to be alive.”

He went on to say:

“The worst part was getting over the hump (the rounded top of the ventilator) and down the side of the fire wall. I put one foot inside the ventilator, next to the wall, and started sliding. Every four feet there was a two-inch reinforcing flange, and I grabbed that to slow up. I just about tore my fingers off.”

He told cops that at one time he wanted to go back, but he couldn’t work his way up. When he reached the eighth floor he leaped about six feet sideways into space and caught a narrow window ledge, still six floors above the concrete bottom of a light well!


The great Jesse Owens.

Hopper attempted to plead insanity, but that went nowhere. He ended up pleading guilty to two counts of armed robbery and one count of attempted robbery. Superior Judge Arthur Crum immediately sentenced the human fly to a term of from 15 years to life. He admitted to the judge that he was already on 50 year parole from San Quentin where he had served 26 months on a first-degree robbery charge. He was released in December 1942 and began his life of crime anew.

As the fly was being led away by Bailiffs H.H. Parker and N.C. LeFever he still limped from his leg injury. The injury didn’t stop him from boasting about being an escape artist; however, Judge Crum reminded him that others had escaped from the jail ahead of him but Hopper replied:

“Not in the daytime, Your Honor.”

He went on to say that he could outrun Jesse Owens, handicap or no handicap. He even offered to prove it if the deputies would turn their backs. They declined.

NEXT TIME: Whatever became of the human fly?