April 8, 1957
By Larry Harnisch
Off-duty Police Officer Dallas W. Walters, 32, was leaving a Wilmington liquor store at 2 a.m. after visiting the clerk when two young gunmen stepped from the shadows at 1109 W. B St. and ordered: "Back into the store. Both of you."
"Oh no, we won't," Walters replied, and as clerk Albert Estrada, 19, of 1522 Island St., dropped to the pavement, the officer drew his pistol and fired.
In a moment, Walters, of 3250 N. Woodruff Ave., in Lakewood had been shot in both legs and one arm, Lucious Claude Williams, 21, of 150 E. 108th St. was dead and Charles Hawkins, 18, of 4511 Staunton Ave. had been shot in the chest.
The apparent getaway driver, Sonjalee (or Sonjale) Whitmore, 21, of 1192 E. 43rd St., picked up Williams' gun, carried Hawkins to a car and sped to Harbor General Hospital, where he left his wounded companion, The Times said. Whitmore fled from the hospital but ran the car into a ditch at 66th Street and Arlington Avenue. He went to Hawkins' home and told the family that Hawkins was in Harbor General. The family and Whitmore returned to the hospital and while the family was looking for Hawkins, Whitmore hid in the trunk.
Police eventually found Whitmore and took him and Hawkins to the prison ward of General Hospital. In the meantime, doctors at Good Samaritan Hospital grafted an artery into Walters' leg in an attempt to save it. Investigations were planned to determine whether Walters killed Williams or if he had been killed by gunfire from his companions, police said.
My big question was whether Williams, Hawkins and Whitmore were black. In the 1940s, the newspapers referred to African Americans as "John Jones, Negro," so there was never any doubt. But by 1957, this practice seems to have disappeared.
Figuring that other newspapers might shed some light on the question, I looked up the killing in the morning Los Angeles Examiner and the afternoon Herald-Express.
The Examiner had a few more details (Walters had diabetes and was the father of four children: Sharon, Larry, Pamela and Peggy), plus a photo of officers standing next to Williams' body sprawled on the pavement and Bill Brunk's picture of Walters and his wife, Eulyne, at the hospital. Det. Lt. Ralph Weyant told the Examiner that the three men were suspected of other holdups in the Harbor area.
Then, out of curiosity, I pulled the Los Angeles Sentinel, the weekly serving the African American community. Although the Sentinel didn't identify the men as being black, the treatment of the story is a fair indicator that they were. The Sentinel noted that Williams was "still clutching a .25-caliber revolver [probably a semiautomatic-lrh] in his right hand."
Interestingly enough, the Sentinel led its front page with a story about the fatal stabbing of Ola Williams, whose body was found in the offices of Jimmie's Transfer and Storage, 1720 W. Jefferson. And no, The Times didn't even cover it.
Police Chief William Parker presented Walters with the Military Order of the Purple Heart in 1959 for his actions during the botched robbery. Records show he retired from the LAPD on Jan. 3, 1965 and died March 21, 1983. There was no further word in The Times on the fate of Hawkins or Whitmore.
Rest in peace, Lucious Claude Williams, above left, who was born March 11, 1936, in Louisiana, and died in the streets of Wilmington, April 7, 1957, with a gun in his hand. He had just turned 21.