The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: 1954

Voices: James Arness, 1923 – 2011

  June 18 1954, Them  

  March 8, 1955, Gunsmoke  

James Arness, from “Them!” to “Gunsmoke” and "How the West Was Won." Times TV critic Howard Rosenberg interviewed Arness (or tried to) in 1981 as he began working on “McClain’s Law.” Arness was thrifty with his comments – except when it came to the environment. 

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Death in Miami

  One Magazine, October 1954  

  One magazine, October 1954

In August 1954, a couple parking at a North Miami “lovers lane” found the body of a 27-year-old man in a pool of blood.  About 500 yards away, police located a 1950 convertible with blood spatters on the seat and a .22-caliber shell on the floor. Investigators traced the car to William T. Simpson, an Eastern Air Lines steward who had just returned on a flight from Detroit. One of his co-workers said Simpson was upbeat on the return to Miami because he was looking forward to a date.

One phase of the investigation began searching for leads on the murder weapon, which was identified as a Beretta. The other phase of the inquiry focused on Simpson’s friends and traced his movements through Miami night spots, determining that Simpson was gay.

In canvassing neighborhoods, detectives learned that for several months, people had noticed a young man hitchhiking on Biscayne Boulevard around 23rd or 24th Street and whenever he was picked up, the car was trailed by another man in a green Chevrolet. As the hitchhiker and the green Chevrolet appeared almost nightly, people began to suspect they were running some kind of racket.

In searching for anyone who owned a Beretta .22, police acting on a tip picked up Charles W. Lawrence, who was identified in a lineup as the Biscayne Boulevard hitchhiker. After 15 minutes of interrogation, Lawrence admitted killing Simpson while “resisting his advances,” according to the Miami Daily News.  Lawrence identified his partner as Lewis Richard Killen, who drove a green Chevrolet.

Killen told police that he and Lawrence had been working a scheme in which Lawrence would be picked up by a gay man while hitchhiking and trailed by Killen to a remote spot where the two would rob their victim. Lawrence claimed he didn’t plan to kill Simpson but just wanted to frighten him.

The gay community that was revealed during the homicide investigation horrified editors at the Miami Daily News, which responded with a three-part series by Jack W. Roberts that is republished in books on gay history. On the jump, the series – which can only be described as appalling beyond belief, even for the 1950s – and news stories about Simpson’s killing. Notice especially Part 2 of the series, which deals with the LAPD’s harassment of gays and quotes Deputy Chief of Detectives Thad Brown

Lawrence and Killen were charged with first-degree murder, but convicted of manslaughter.


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