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Check out the Gangster Squad series

October 25, 2008 |  9:06 pm

By Paul Lieberman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

Sgt. Willie Burns had a Tommy gun on the bench in front of him when his 18 handpicked candidates arrived at the 77th Street station on the edge of Watts. It was a cool evening in November 1946, and the men came in topcoats and hats. Burns wore his low, almost over his eyes, like the bad guys.

Years later, he told a grand jury: "My primary duties were to keep down these gangster killings and try to keep some of these rough guys under control." But he hadn't given his fellow LAPD cops any hint of why they'd been summoned that night. Now he laid it out.

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