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Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: December 21, 2008 - December 27, 2008

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Voices -- Christine Collins, May 3, 1929

From the California State Archives

The Christine Collins letters

The woman whose tragedy inspired the Clint Eastwood movie "Changeling" tells her story in her own words.

San Gabriel, Calif.
May 3, 1929

Mr. A Eichoff
San Francisco, Calif.

Dear Sir:

1929_0503_christine_collins02_01 I am writing to you in regard to my husband, Walter J. Collins # 12824 imprisoned at Reprisa, Calif. I would like to make you a personal call and explain matters definitely but I am unable to on account of financial circumstances as well as ill health.

Mr. Collins was convicted of robbery on circumstantial evidence in 1923. I was forced to work to support our boy and myself in spite of my very nervous condition. On March 10, 1928, our poor boy disappeared and has not [illegible] Stewart Northcott on his Wineville ranch.

I am sick and grief-stricken over our son's disappearance. In August 1928 a boy was found in the east who posed as our boy and because I would not accept him as our son I was treated most inhumanly, called a lair, damn fool, crook and almost everything by the police here and finally throw into the psychopathic ward of the General Hospital among the maniacs for five days and nights.

The stigma of being in the insane ward caused me to lose my position that I had held for over five years, consequently I am without means of support.

Mr. Collins (#12824) is to appear for hearing before the board of directors soon and I wish Mr. Eichoff that you will give this your kind consideration. The poor man is not deserving of the terrible sentence meted out to him when he was sentenced. The judge was told to give Mr. Collins the limit because he would not plead guilty to one count of robbery and so Mr. Collins was charged with several which was not fair. And to make matters worse the counts were made to run consecutively instead of concurrently.

1929_0503_christine_collins03_01 Mr. Collins has taken up a course in civil engineering during his incarceration and I am sure he will be qualified to fill a very good position if released, which I hope that he will be thru your kind consideration.

I am under a doctor's care and have been for some time due to a terrible nervous strain.

Hoping you will decide favorably for a release for Mr. Collins so as he may come home to take care of me. I ask this in the name of humanity and sincerely hope you will grant me this request.

Thanking you for your time, which I know is valuable and hoping for a favorable reply, I am

Very sincerely.

Mrs. Walter J. Collins
811 E. Park St.
San Gabriel, Calif.

A very Daily Mirror Christmas


Here at the Daily Mirror HQ, we're watching "Santa Conquers the Martians."  And with a title like that, you don't have to wonder what it's about.

Movie star mystery photo

Los Angeles Times file photo

Our mystery fellow on the right has more than 200 credits in imdb. His lovely and vivacious companion has more than 50. Note: Comments on the Daily Mirror are monitored and must be approved. Be patient if your guess isn't posted immediately.
Update: So far, everybody has guessed correctly. This is a first!
Los Angeles Times file photo
The correct guesses are pouring in.
Dewey Webb was the first to identify our mystery guest and Barbara Klein was the first to identify his lovely and vivacious companion.

Los Angeles Times file photo
Fair enough, everybody has guessed that our mystery fellow is Robert Loggia. So, our question becomes: "What is Robert Loggia doing in this picture?"

Radio station cancels ads as Christmas present to listeners, Dodgers and Phillies swap players, December 24, 1958

As a Christmas gift to its viewers, radio station KPOL is going without ads for 48 hours ... and watch for Santa Claus played by Peter Lorre (with Milton Berle) and Buster Keaton ("The Donna Reed Show")! The plot of The Silent Night" episode of "Pursuit" with Lew Ayres and Patrician Neal sounds intriguing. 

1958_1224_sports The Dodgers traded a future Hall of Fame manager for a guy named Rip.

Sparky Anderson, then a longtime minor league infielder better known as George, was sent to the Phillies for three players. The key for the Dodgers was Rip Repulski, described in The Times story as "one of the more dangerous right-handed hitters in the National League." He had 20 home runs with Philadelphia in 1957 and 13 in 1958, including four pinch-hit homers. The Dodgers also got two minor league pitchers.

Repulski, whose real first name was Eldon, played only 53 games for the Dodgers and hit two home runs. Anderson hit .218 for the Phillies. He won World Series titles managing the Reds and Tigers.

--Keith Thursby

N. Korea frees crew of U.S. spy ship Pueblo, December 23, 1968


Pueblo's Bittersweet Tribute

For Pete Bucher, captain of the spy ship, the years haven't erased the pain of his captivity--or his homecoming. Even medals and a ceremony did not come without a fight.

Saturday May 5, 1990

1968_0124_puebloBy RICHARD E. MEYER

They beat Pete Bucher with gun butts. They kicked him with their boots. They threw him into walls.

"Sonabitchi criminal!" they yelled. "Goddamned liar! Spydog!"

They forced him to his knees. One put a pistol to his ear and cocked it. "Two minutes to sign, sonabitchi!" Quietly, he said: "I love you, Rose." He said it again. "I love you, Rose . . . " The pistol clicked.

A ploy, Pete Bucher realized, and he regained some composure. So they beat, kicked and hit him again with their gun butts, in his stomach, head, neck, groin and kidneys. He retched, urinated blood.

They took him to a cellar room. A South Korean spy hung from the wall by a leather strap, naked to the waist, a jagged bone protruding from one arm, teeth bitten through his lower lip, one eyeball hanging on his cheek and dark liquid running out of its socket. He twitched, frothed at the mouth.

Pete Bucher blacked out. When he came to, they told him they would take his crew, one by one, the youngest first--and they would kill each man in front of him.

"I'll sign," Pete Bucher said. And he put his name to a confession that he was indeed a spy--but a confession full of lies, as well.

Late that night, he broke through the ice on the slop bucket in his cell. He thrust his head inside.

He tried to drown.

Today, in San Diego, Lloyd Mark (Pete) Bucher and his crew from the spy ship Pueblo will get medals. Twenty-two years after their capture and 11-month imprisonment at the hands of North Korea, the Navy that tried to punish Bucher and some of his men after they were released will take part in formal ceremonies honoring them as prisoners of war.

The POW medals have not come easily. It took an act of Congress to get them. Pete Bucher knows well that many in the Navy would rather have seen him killed, shot to death in a battle at sea, than see him today being honored like this--and he knows too well that people still feel uncomfortable about questions reopened by this ceremony, by the capture of the Pueblo and by what happened next.

In a book, in articles and, most recently, in a long and reflective interview with The Times, Pete Bucher, in anger and occasionally in tears, has relived what happened to him and his 82 crewmen on the high seas in January of 1968, what happened while they were being held as American hostages in North Korea--and, finally, what happened when they came home. In the interview, he addressed a number of these difficult, longstanding questions.

Question: Why did you try to kill yourself?

Answer: I did it because when I was in submarines I had done all of the areas then currently in use by the Polaris missile submarines. . . . I worked for weeks on the coordinates of the areas they would be using. . . . Those areas were my product, and I really had sensitive stuff, and I mean a lot of stuff that you can't imagine . There were some lives at stake. . . .

They (the North Koreans) knew that I am a (former) submarine (officer). They've got my goddamn service record there (off the Pueblo), and they are going to start questioning me on stuff in there; and these Russians are going to come in here, and they won't have too much trouble breaking me down . . . . You know, they had shown me this guy, he is not going to live, this (South) Korean spy, and I couldn't believe that I had seen that. It was like a goddamn nightmare.

I thought : "If that happens to me, they are going to find out everything I know". . . I think : "I've got to get the hell out of here, because I won't be able to take what that poor bastard is taking down there (in the cellar.)" . . . So I went to my slop pail and thought : "I've got to get out of here" . . . and I made this attempt, and I could not do it.

He was an orphan from Father Edward J. Flanagan's Boys Town, where he had fallen in love with football, even nicknamed himself "Pete" after Pete Pihos, a college football hero. In time, he went to the University of Nebraska on a football scholarship, where he took to Shakespeare and to martinis and to a bit of hell-raising. And he fell in love again, this time with a lovely farm girl named Rose Rohling.

He and Rose were married and in time had two sons. He graduated with an ROTC commission in the Naval Reserve, became executive officer aboard the Ronquil--and qualified for a submarine of his own. But then he got bumped by a staff officer.

At Submarine Flotilla Seven in Japan, Pete Bucher had helped debrief the spy ship Banner, because its work meshed at times with covert submarine operations; and now the Navy was assigning him to become captain of the Pueblo, one of the Banner's sister ships. These were small surface vessels that steamed to communist countries, parked offshore and watched and listened. Much of the time, they worked for the National Security Agency, the nation's premier watcher and listener.

The Pueblo, too, was an orphan, mothballed after long service as an Army cargo carrier in World War II. The Navy had adopted her and towed her to its Bremerton, Wash., shipyard. As a cover, she had been designated an Auxiliary General Environmental Research ship, and now the Navy was outfitting her with electronic gear. A Navy crane hoisted an oblong shack onto her deck. It had a steel door with three locks. The combinations were changed as often as weekly.

Yard workers had no notion what the shack was. It was called the Special Operations Department--the SOD-Hut. But Lt. Cmdr. Pete Bucher was aware of the electronics it would contain. He knew what he and the Pueblo would be doing, and he realized that his tubby little ship needed more than a new paint job. These urgent needs forced Pete Bucher into a running battle with the U.S. Navy over his new vessel, to wit: Her two gray, six-cylinder diesel engines sounded like rock crushers. To keep them from losing power and letting his ship drift into unfriendly waters, he asked the Navy to overhaul them.

Request denied.

--Equipment for the SOD-Hut included several pieces of classified gear: a Mark 10 IFF transponder, two tuners and various rotors to send data in code. He asked the Navy to install explosives so the gear could be demolished during attack--to keep it out of enemy hands.

Request denied. Instead, the Navy issued fire axes and sledgehammers.

--Dozens of code books and other secret publications destined for the SOD-Hut were unlikely to be needed. He asked if he could leave some of them home.

Request denied.

--The Navy made some weighted bags and said his men could stuff the secret documents into the bags and throw them overboard if necessary to deny them to adversaries. But that was cumbersome. So he asked for a fuel-fed incinerator to burn them if he had to.

Request denied.

--For emergency burning, the Navy offered him half of an empty 50-gallon oil drum. He declined. He located some paper shredders. But shredders would destroy only one sheet at a time. So he took money from his allowance for crew comforts, and he purchased a commercial trash incinerator. The device was not fuel-fed--but it had to be better than an oil drum.

--The Navy ordered him to mount a 3-inch cannon on deck. It would have sunk the ship, or capsized her.

Order withdrawn.

--The Navy ordered him to install a pair of .50-caliber machine guns. He and his superior officer, Rear Adm. Frank L. Johnson, who was commander of U.S. naval forces in Japan, opposed it. The ship's mission was to conduct unarmed surveillance. The weapons would draw hostility; and then if any shooting started, they would hardly be large enough to be of much use.

At first, Johnson told Bucher to stow the guns below. But that would violate the spirit of the order. So he finally said to install them on the deck, but to keep them hidden under tarps.

--Pete Bucher asked the Navy to put a scuttling system on the Pueblo, so he could sink her if necessary to keep her from being captured.

Request denied.

--He tried in vain to find some TNT, primer cord and fuses. He finally located some thermite bombs. But Navy regulations forbade thermite bombs on board.

Instead, the Navy took his engineering officer below decks, pointed to two 15-inch sea valves and handed him, without intending to be funny, another sledgehammer.

Like her sister ship, the Banner, the Pueblo probably would be harassed as it parked on station to spy, the Navy told Pete Bucher. This meant a likelihood of some seagoing games of chicken. But if there was any unusual risk at all, briefers told him, his mission would be canceled. One told him, he recalls, that the Navy would retaliate against any forces that he could not handle by himself before help got there.

Stay at least 12 miles offshore, the internationally recognized boundary for territorial waters, the Navy said. There was unspoken reciprocity: So long as Soviet ships stayed beyond this country's 3-mile limit, they could spy all they wanted. Underlying the mission was an unspoken assumption: that Soviet allies would honor Soviet understandings.

During harassment, mind oceangoing rules of the road, the Navy said. Provoke no incidents. And above all, do not start a war.

The Navy promoted Pete Bucher to commander and said: Don't worry.

In 150 years, nobody had ever seized a U.S. ship on the high seas.

On Jan. 11, 1968, the Pueblo set sail.

Q. When you got to the North Korean coast, off Ung Do Island, and North Korean gunboats attacked the Pueblo, tell me about your dilemma: Surrender or fight? Your ship or your men?

A. No. It was never a question of "surrender or fight." It was never a question of surrender with me. I never outwardly gave any indication that we were surrendering. I never hauled down our colors.

I had already determined by radar that our dead-reckoning position was accurate. We were about 16 miles out from the nearest island, which you know, is another 25 miles from the . . . mainland. . . . I was taking a perpendicular exit from the coast. I am keeping everybody (in Japan) informed of what is going on. I told everybody (on the Pueblo) to prepare to initiate emergency destruction (of classified material), and I am thinking : "This is going to be a good (harassment) drill for our guys, and we'll get together at dinner time tonight and evaluate how well our people responded."

Bam! Bam! Bam! Bam! . . . And I got hit! . . . I thought : "Jesus Christ, (they're) serious!"

And I said : "Destroy classified material! All ahead full!"

I told Skip Schumacher (his operations officer) : "Get a message off, 'We are under attack . . . I need help, and I need it immediately!' "

Our .50-caliber machine guns were no match for their 57-millimeter cannons. Ours were under tarps. The tarps were frozen solid. The only way to get to them was across decks being raked by guns. . . .

We saw a couple of MIGs. One fired. I found out later that there were 25 MIG s up there . . . .

We abandoned the flying bridge and went into the wheelhouse . . . . Tim Harris (his supply officer) was just nervous as hell, and I didn't blame him, but he didn't smoke, you know, and he said : 'How about a cigarette, Captain?' And I said : 'Here, take the whole pack. . . .' Tim was smoking, and he was drawing on that cigarette so fast the ashes were just disappearing. . . . A goddamn shell comes through the port side window, and I could see it in midair, and it comes through the damn wheelhouse, and it goes this far (he indicates 3 inches) from Tim Harris' ear, and this shell explodes through the front window and goes on out and hits the ocean out there and exploded.

Jesus Christ! Tim doesn't even know! . . . He is still smoking!!

I am trying to ring the phone (to the SOD-Hut) to find out how destruction is going . . . but I'd picked up one phone and was ringing another one. . . .

We bring the ship to all stop. The shooting stops.

So I went below and went variously around the ship to see how the destruction was going.

Not well.

And I said: "Goddamnit, Steve (Harris, head of SOD-Hut detachment), get this . . . stuff over the side!"

And old Steve said : "Yes, sir." And he said : "They are shooting at our smoke."

And I said : "What . . . are you talking about?"

Dumb, stupidly, I had the ship ventilation shut down to protect watertight integrity; and having these guys burning stuff, the whole damn ship was filling up with smoke. . . .

Radio says to me : "There are F-105s on the way"

So I thought : "Hell, we are a long ways out here. Let's play like we are going to follow these guys, and our guys will get here in time, and we'll make a run for it." So I put her back up to one-third speed. . . .

I went below again to see (how the sledgehammering, axing, burning and jettisoning was going on--and brought Pueblo to another stop to buy more time.)

Bam! Bam! Bam! And (it) starts again.

And those guys who were down there got the brunt of it doing the destruction.

One guy got killed. He got blown apart. (Several others were wounded, one critically.) . . . When they start banging us, I am thinking, you know : "If my guys are gonna have a chance, there has got to be help from our side. We're going to probably lose some people here, but let's not throw them away by continuing to do something that isn't going to help us.

"It will hurt us in the long run, it'll hurt the country . It'll hurt everything if this whole thing becomes a total disaster and we lose everybody. Then they are going to go to war out here. (Then) what the hell is going to happen?

"These guys (his own men) have no way to defend themselves. And I am not going to have them killed for nothing. . . ."

I knew that we were going to be taken . . . I figured : " . . . they (U.S. planes) ain't never going to get here now." And it's pretty obvious that we were going to get boarded.

I had protest signals flying. There was somebody in the (Korean) boat who spoke English just a little bit, and I said : "I absolutely protest this and demand that you stay off of this ship," and the guy said : "F--- you, buster. We're coming."

And they did.

Overwhelmed by four P-4 torpedo boats, two SO-1 gunboats and a brace of MIGs, the Pueblo was taken into Wonsan harbor. A North Korean hauled her colors down.

By Pete Bucher's account, his crew had managed to smash or to throw overboard all of her secret gear--including the secret rotors used for code. But she carried so many secret documents--and had such poor means of destroying them--that many fell into North Korean hands.

Pete Bucher and his men, including the wounded and the body of Duane Hodges, the crewman killed at the height of the attack, ended up at Pyongyang, in a building with thick concrete walls. They called it The Barn. Bucher and some officers were put into isolation cells. Most crewmen were thrown into four-man cells, some 12. A North Korean doctor operated on the worst of the wounded--beneath a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling, without anesthesia.

For individual and group confessions, the North Koreans beat and kicked the crewmen mercilessly, stripped them to their shorts, then beat and kicked them more, until their shorts were soaked red with blood. Guards put square table legs behind their knees; made them squat until they lost all feeling below their thighs; tied their hands; forced them to hold a chair above their heads--and when they could hold the chair no longer and it fell, the guards clubbed them and made them run across the floor on their knees again and again, until their legs were bloody.

They beat one man until he begged to be shot. One guard liked to place his machine-gun muzzle between the crewmen's eyes and fiddle with the safety.

Some of the men prayed for nuclear retaliation, even though they knew they would be at ground zero.

In addition to their spy confessions, Pete Bucher and his men admitted falsely to intruding into North Korea's territorial waters and said they had tried to provoke war. The North Koreans staged propaganda press conferences, where the crewmen told the world about their "crimes" and "misdeeds."

But they sent signals to discredit what they were doing. Bucher was the inspiration: One day he flashed his middle finger in a guard's face and told him it was "an Hawaiian good luck sign." His crew caught on. They flashed "the Hawaiian good luck sign" in their propaganda performances. They filled their admissions with ridicule about what they were saying:

"I was to be trained by none other than Commander Buzz Sawyer. . . .

"(Before leaving for North Korea) I visited the kingpin of all provocateurs, including spies, none other than Fleet General Barney Google . . .

"(With regards to a friend) Garba Gefollows"--garbage follows.

Bucher's favorite was a confession he wrote, trusting that the North Koreans would find in their English-language dictionaries that an obscure noun he was using as a verb meant nothing more than a song of praise--and that Americans back home would read the word phonetically: "We not only want to paean the North Korean government," Bucher wrote in blissful rhapsody, "but to paean the North Korean people as well."

At last, the North Koreans thought, Bucher and his men seemed to be cooperating. And in return, they eased up on the torture.

They moved Pete Bucher and his crew to better quarters.

But then one day, the North Koreans got back one of their propaganda pictures, published abroad. It showed some of the crewmen offering Hawaiian good luck.

The caption said: "The Navy has made fools of (North Korea)."

So began hell week.

They beat one man for 16 hours, used the chair and the table legs for another five hours and beat him again for 15 hours more.

They broke a second man's jaw.

They beat a third man for 39 hours straight--hundreds of blows with a pole two inches thick. And when it broke, they beat him with the pieces. And when those broke, they came up with still another pole, and it was twice as thick.

Q. What's worst when you're being held hostage?

A. The real problems, I think, are not the beatings so much as the degradation that we went through. Being made to crawl, you know, and being spit on. . . . Hearing people yelling, knowing I'm the commanding officer and I can't do a thing for them, and I just got to thinking : "The goddamn government has forgotten that we're over here. How can that be? Why isn't there some kind of a raid here to get us out of this place? Why isn't something happening?" And I let myself get down. This is your mind kicking you in the butt. . . . You have to let your spirit control your mind. Your soul has to drive you, and you've got to tell your mind to knock it off. . . . And here comes down the passageway, having been beaten to hell, a guy named (Earl) Kisler, and his head is like a basketball, he's been beaten so bad. I looked at him and I just . . . He is on his hands and knees. He's crawling, you know, they've got him crawling, and he turns his face to me. I was just overwhelmed at what they had done to this guy, and he gives me this grin, see, with the blood all in his mouth, and he gives me this thumbs up (tears come to Pete Bucher's eyes and he stops, then tries to continue).

I just can hardly talk about it (he stops again and fights for control).

I just thought . . . (Pete Bucher breaks down , and he cries) .

I thought : "I'll never let the bastards get me down again."

The planes never came: Not from the nuclear carrier Enterprise--whose commander had said four of its F-4s probably could have reached the Pueblo before the North Koreans put her ashore at Wonsan; not from other carriers in the region; not from South Korea nor from U.S. bases there.

Nobody, least of all the Navy, authorized any kind of a mission to save the Pueblo, any attempt to rescue her crew or any effort to retaliate against North Korea for taking an American ship, killing a crewman and torturing 82 other Americans while holding all of them, including the injured, in prison for nearly a year.

The United States finally gained freedom for Pete Bucher and his men by doing exactly what he and his crew had done: confessing--even to lies--then discrediting the admission of any wrongdoing.

The confession was signed by the senior U.S. negotiator at Panmunjom. He was far too formal to offer Hawaiian good luck.

He simply stated that his confession was false.

North Korea accepted it.

When Pete Bucher and his men and the body of Duane Hodges returned home, the Navy ordered Bucher, all of the surviving crewman and others involved in their fate to testify at a Court of Inquiry. For eight weeks, they were questioned about the loss of the Pueblo and whether her captain and crew had violated the U.S. military Code of Conduct, which forbids anyone taken captive to tell more than name, military rank and serial number.

The only admiral in the Pueblo chain of command who was called to account was Frank Johnson, who had told Bucher to cover his guns.

Despite testimony about Pete Bucher's difficulty with the Navy at the Bremerton shipyard, nobody summoned any of the top brass responsible for outfitting his ship. Despite evidence that the Pueblo's mission should have been re-evaluated, perhaps even canceled, nobody summoned the Pacific Fleet commander, or any top officers from the Pentagon, or anybody at the National Security Agency or the State Department.

In the end, the Court of Inquiry said that Pete Bucher and Steve Harris should be court-martialed and that the Pueblo's executive officer admonished--for their roles in permitting the ship to be seized and failing to complete destruction of classified material. Johnson was to be reprimanded, along with a captain subordinate to, among others, the commander of the Pacific Fleet.

But the Pacific Fleet commander, to whom the court reported, ordered that both the Bucher and the Harris court-martials be changed to reprimands. He toned down Johnson's reprimand. And he vetoed action against the captain who was partially under his own command. Finally, on May 9, 1969, the secretary of the Navy stepped in. He said he wanted nobody to be punished.

Everybody, he decided, had suffered enough.

Q. Did the Navy oppose the POW medals?

A. They said attorneys for the Department of Defense (DOD) made the decision that my men were not eligible. Well, attorneys make decisions based on what somebody tells them to do. . . . It may have originated at the Navy side. Who knows? You could never pin that down. . . . It's not just the medals. There are benefits that you are assured, which are associated with medical care in VA hospitals, if you are certified as a POW. . . . You never quite relinquish the responsibility you have for people who had problems created for them while they were in your service, and we've got some of these kids that are 100% disabled. Half of them have some disability. . . . These guys got in that situation by (being beaten) over and over in that goddamn North Korea. . . .

I was furious about (being denied the medals) . . . I wrote to the chief of Naval Operations last year . . . and the chief of Naval Operations sent me back a letter saying they're not going to fight with DOD. . . . I wrote to (Sen. Pete) Wilson (R-Calif.) Never had an answer. I had an answer back from (Sen . Alan) Cranston (D-Calif.), but nothing was ever done.

Q. What about the rest of the California delegation?

A. Nothing got done. It was a congressman from Massachusetts (Rep. Nicholas Mavroules, D-Mass.), who is chairman of an Armed Services subcommittee, who had hearings. I got three guys from the crew, and we testified. The Navy sent over Vice Adm . (J.M.) Boorda, the chief of Naval personnel, and he gave a statement in strong support. Mavroules put in a bill and got it passed, and the President signed it in December.

Then we get this letter from the Navy with a form to fill out for the medal. And I said : "Now these bastards are going to send it out in a plain brown envelope." When they gave it to the rest of the POWs, there was an incredible ceremony, and all. . . .

I don't know why the government doesn't bring the guys out here and pay their expenses. The government has responsibility to these men. I don't give up my responsibility for what happened to these men under my command, and I don't think the government should, either....

But we're getting it done ourselves--a ceremony out here (with contributions from supporters for plane tickets and some free lodging). In some ways, it's best, you know, that way.

You're not having to kiss somebody's ass.

Times researcher Nina Green contributed to this story.

Continue reading »

Retro holiday gift -- 1951 Thomas Bros. Guide

The old Thomas Bros. maps (yes, the Daily Mirror HQ has a motley collection) are handy for anyone interested in Los Angeles history. This one is listed on EBay.

Kidnapping victim meets reporters, December 23, 1968


November 19, 1985

Kidnapper Who Used 'Grave' Accepted at Medical School

'There are some people who have faith in me.'

Associated Press

ATLANTA -- The man convicted of abducting Barbara Jane Mackle and placing her in a "living grave" for 3 1/2 days in 1968 has been accepted at a medical school in Mexico, parole officials say.

Gary Steven Krist, 40, was paroled from a Georgia prison in 1979 after serving 10 years and banished to Alaska. He wrote to the state parole board that he has been accepted at the Autonomous University of Guadalajara in Mexico.

"He said: 'I did it. I finally did it. There are still some people who have faith in me,' " said parole board member Tommy Morris.

Mackle, daughter of a wealthy Miami developer, was kept in a ventilated underground box in Gwinnett County for 3 1/2 days. She was rescued based on directions Krist left in exchange for a $500,000 ransom. Krist was later arrested as he tried to flee from Florida to Texas.

Voices -- Christine Collins, March 7, 1929


Geronimo Pratt case 40 years later

Los Angeles Times file photo

Elmer Gerard  "Geronimo" Pratt in 2000, after his release from prison.

'Lie down and pray'

Gunshots on a Santa Monica tennis court reverberated across legal landscape.

Note: Edward J. Boyer, now retired, covered the Elmer Gerard "Geronimo" Pratt case for The Times.

By Edward J. Boyer

1968_1219_cover1On a clear, chilly December evening 40 years ago, Kenneth Olsen, head of the English department at Belmont High School, and his wife, Caroline, drove to Santa Monica's Lincoln Park tennis courts to meet another couple for a friendly doubles match.

The courts on Wilshire Boulevard at 7th Street were dark when the Olsens arrived about 8 p.m. Caroline went to the light meter to deposit a quarter. When she had trouble getting the meter to work, Kenneth went to help.

Just as the lights came on, the Olsens noticed two men walking toward them. As the pair drew closer, Kenneth Olsen realized both men were carrying pistols.

The men ordered the Olsens to put their hands up.

"We want your bread, man," Kenneth Olsen remembered one saying. "Give us your money. Where is it?"

He directed the robbers to his tennis bag and his wife's purse. They ordered the couple to the ground and started to leave.

Suddenly, they turned and opened fire.

Kenneth Olsen survived the fusillade; his wife did not. And those shots fired on Dec. 18, 1968, reverberated across Los Angeles' legal landscape for nearly three decades.

Just over three years later, former Black Panther Party leader Elmer Gerard "Geronimo" Pratt was sent to prison for the robbery and murder. Pratt had maintained at his trial that he was in Oakland, 341 miles away, attending Black Panther Party meetings when Caroline Olsen was killed.

Even by the standards of those turbulent times, it was a crime remarkable for its chillingly random and wanton character.

Describing the shooting at Pratt's trial, Kenneth Olsen said: "It came as a complete surprise to me that they actually fired. I didn't think they would."

He was hit five times--in the forehead and right hand, little finger, forearm and hip. Caroline Olsen was struck in the back and hip.

Olsen, then 31, checked on his wife as blood poured out of the wound in his forehead.

"Are you OK? Can you move?" he asked his wife.

She could not. And there was no one else around.

"I realized I had to get help for her and that I wouldn't last too long the way blood was flowing," Olsen testified.

He stumbled across Wilshire, barely avoiding an oncoming car, and made his way into the Broken Drum restaurant, where a waitress called for help.

Caroline Olsen, 27, a teacher at Stoner Avenue Elementary School, died later from her wounds.
The thugs who murdered her netted about $18.

Santa Monica police made little headway in their investigation of the coldblooded assault on the Olsens. But events within the Black Panther Party and efforts by a secret FBI counterintelligence program called COINTELPRO intersected in 1969 to change that. Pratt was convicted in what his defenders still call one of the most overtly political trials in Los Angeles' history.

A month after Caroline Olsen's murder, Panthers in Los Angeles themselves were left reeling by violence. Their charismatic leader, Alprentice "Bunchy" Carter, and his close aide, John Huggins, were killed Jan. 17, 1969 in a shootout on the UCLA campus.

Carter's death left a void, and Julius C. "Julio" Butler, a 35-year-old former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy turned Panther, saw himself as Carter's logical successor. But party leaders in Oakland tapped Pratt, 20, a decorated Vietnam veteran, who had been a Panther for only about four months.

A bitter rivalry developed between Pratt and Butler. Pratt and other Panthers accused Butler of being a police informant, while Butler accused them of threatening his life.

By May 1969, Butler had begun talking to the FBI. On Aug. 5, he was expelled from the party, according to former Panthers and FBI documents obtained after Pratt’s conviction. He says he quit.

Five days later, he gave a letter to Los Angeles Police Sgt. DuWayne Rice, naming Pratt as Caroline Olsen's killer.

Butler had written on the outside of the sealed envelope that it should only be opened in the event of his death. He called it his "insurance letter," and prosecutors at Pratt's trial argued that Butler never intended for it to be made public, likening the envelope's contents to a deathbed declaration.

Information disclosed after Pratt's conviction, however, revealed that Butler's insurance letter was anything but a secret. FBI agents approached Rice on the street immediately after Butler gave him the sealed envelope. They demanded that the sergeant turn it over and referred to it as "evidence."

Rice refused, but later recalled that he wondered how the agents knew the envelope contained a letter since it was sealed, and how could they have known it was evidence.
More than a year later, in October 1970, Butler gave Rice permission to give the letter to his LAPD superiors. Butler explained to Rice that the FBI was "jamming" him and that he had told agents about the letter.

Butler's letter said Pratt had told him of a "mission" he was about to undertake on the night the Olsens were shot. The next day, Butler said, he pointed to a front-page story in The Times about the robbery and shooting. Pratt, Butler said, indicated that was the mission he had spoken of. Pratt’s defenders have always dismissed as ludicrous Butler’s contention that Pratt, who was extremely suspicious of Butler, would have confessed to him.

Butler's letter became the tool prosecutors needed in December 1970 to convince a grand jury to indict Pratt for Caroline Olsen's murder. The LAPD's Criminal Conspiracy Section had taken over the investigation from Santa Monica police. Pratt, who was being held on other charges, would be tried in June 1972.

Butler's letter also implicated a "Tyrone," and police arrested William Tyrone Hutchinson in 1970. In a sworn statement given in 1991 to investigators working on Pratt's behalf, Hutchinson said he told police in 1970 that two men, Larry Hatter and Herbert Swilley, had bragged at a Panther office about being present at the tennis court when the Olsens were attacked.

Hutchinson said he had known Swilley and Hatter since childhood and knew them to be Butler's friends. Officers told him not to discuss what he heard Swilley and Hatter say, if he knew what was good for him, Hutchinson said.

Explaining why he had not come forward with the information earlier, Hutchinson said he took the officers' comments "to be a threat on my life, and I still do."

Pratt's defenders maintain that LAPD investigators did not pursue evidence pointing to other suspects because their primary objective was to "neutralize" Pratt and cripple the Panthers.
Friends of Swilley and Hatter have described both as heroin addicts who committed robberies to pay for drugs. Swilley was also known as a particularly violent killer. He was shot to death in 1972 during an argument.

Hatter was found dead in 1978 on the Pacific Tennis Court grounds in Santa Monica. He apparently fell while attempting to enter or leave a building during a burglary, impaling his skull on a fence.

The key evidence against Pratt consisted of Butler's testimony that he had obliquely confessed the crime, Kenneth Olsen's eyewitness testimony, ballistics tests from a .45-caliber pistol and the car allegedly used in the robbery/murder.

Although Butler denied on the witness stand that he had ever been a police informant, FBI files released after Pratt's conviction showed that Butler had been providing information on the Panthers to the bureau for three years before the trial.

Kenneth Olsen identified Pratt as one of the men who committed the murder. He told the Pratt jury that "one of the most distinguishing things about Mr. Pratt is his intensive eyes," calling them "very piercing and very penetrating."

Neither the jury nor Pratt's lawyers knew at the time that Olsen earlier had identified another suspect as his wife's killer. The public defender who had represented that suspect recalled after Pratt's conviction that Olsen had said after that earlier identification: "The voice did it."
In fact, the first man Olsen identified as the assailant had been in jail the night the couple was attacked.

Had the jury known about Olsen's earlier identification, "I think that alone would have changed our mind," said Jeanne Hamilton, a juror at Pratt’s 1972 trial.

LAPD criminalist DeWayne Wolfer testified at Pratt's trial  that firing pin marks on shell casings found on the tennis court matched those on shells fired from a .45-caliber pistol seized from a Panther house. In an earlier trial, a California appellate court ruled that Wolfer had "negligently presented false demonstrative evidence in support of his ballistics testimony." Another forensic scientist has characterized Wolfer's testimony as lacking "credibility in the minds of most forensic scientists."

The only other person to tie Pratt to the .45 was Butler.

The presence of Pratt's car at the murder scene is a point even some of his defenders acknowledge. A witness saw the gunmen flee in a red and white Pontiac GTO convertible with out-of-state plates--a description matching Pratt's 1967 car.

Several witnesses, however, testified that Pratt's car was used not only by other Panthers, but by any number of people associated with the party--including Butler on several occasions. Pratt, his defenders said, had no idea who used his car on the day of the murder because he was in Oakland, where he had gone earlier in the week.

Pratt always has insisted that he was in Oakland attending Black Panther Party meetings when the Olsens were attacked. Years later, retired FBI agent M. Wesley Swearingen said the bureau knew Pratt was in the Bay Area then because the Panthers were under surveillance and phones at their party headquarters were tapped.

Pratt's defense presented several witnesses who placed him in Oakland during the party meetings. But they could not--3 1/2 years later--specifically place Pratt in the Bay Area on Dec. 18, the day of the crime.

What turned out to be one of the most damaging pieces of evidence against Pratt was introduced by the defense. Olsen had described his assailants as clean shaven, but several other witnesses--including Butler--said they always had seen Pratt with facial hair.
Pratt's lawyers introduced a Polaroid photograph, supposedly taken around Christmas 1968, showing Pratt with a goatee, which they argued he could not have grown in the week after the murder.

"We took the word of Pratt's brother, Chuck Pratt, about this picture," Johnnie L. Cochran Jr., one of Pratt's attorneys at his original trial, said. "We didn't consider it really important. We thought it was clear to everybody that Pratt had a goatee, that he was not clean shaven as Mr. Olsen said."

But that photo was more important than Pratt's defense team could have imagined. Prosecutors called a Polaroid representative who testified that the picture could not have been taken in December 1968, because the film used in the photo was not manufactured until May 1969.
That testimony was devastating. One juror said it made him begin to question other parts of the defense case. Another said jurors argued during deliberations that if Pratt had lied about the photo, he could have lied about other events.

The jury deliberated for 10 days before it returned its guilty verdict.

Pratt, who now uses the name Geronimo ji Jaga, served two years in Los Angeles County Jail and 25 years in prison--the first eight in solitary confinement--before Orange County Superior Court Judge Everett W. Dickey overturned his conviction in 1997 and released him on bail.

The case was moved to Orange County after the entire Los Angeles Superior Court bench was recused because one of its members, Judge Richard P. Kalustian, who as a deputy district attorney prosecuted Pratt, was to be called as a witness.

Dickey, by all accounts a conservative, law enforcement-oriented judge, publicly branded Butler, the prosecution's key witness, a liar and ruled that Los Angeles County prosecutors had suppressed evidence favorable to Pratt's defense.

"The importance of Butler to the prosecution cannot be denied," Dickey later wrote in his decision. He noted that Pratt was never a suspect until police learned the content of Butler's letter, and that Kalustian "emphasized Butler's importance in argument both to the trial judge and to the jury."

At Pratt's trial in 1972, Kalustian had summed up just how important a witness Butler was: "Julio Butler has testified in this court under oath and to the jury to a confession that Mr. Pratt made to him that admits all of the elements of the offense. If the jury believes Julio Butler, Mr. Pratt is guilty. The case is over if they believe that."

Butler had denied under oath that he had ever been an informant for law enforcement, saying "the connotation (of) informant means a snitch, and I have never been in the world a snitch."
But in the hearing before Dickey, prosecutors revealed that Butler’s name had turned up in a confidential informant file kept by the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

San Francisco attorney Stuart Hanlon, one of Pratt's lawyers, called the informant card on Butler a "smoking gun," saying the district attorney's office knew during Pratt's trial that Butler was an informant.

"The fact is that he was an actual informant, and no one said anything about it in court," Hanlon said. "The informant status of a main prosecution witness is always reversible error."

Three jurors, including Hamilton, told Jim McCloskey, whose Centurion Ministries independently investigated Pratt’s case, they would never have convicted Pratt had they known Butler—who went on to become a lawyer and chairman of the board at Los Angeles' First African Methodist Episcopal Church--was an informant.

In overturning Pratt's conviction, Dickey ruled that despite Butler's denials, he had been an FBI informant for at least three years before the trial. Dickey also ruled that Butler had been an informant for the LAPD and for the very agency that prosecuted Pratt--the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

A detective in the district attorney’s office gave Butler $200 to buy a gun several months before Pratt's trial, Dickey noted, even though Butler was a convicted felon who could not legally possess a firearm.

Several law enforcement officers knew Butler carried the gun, even though doing so was a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison, Dickey said.

Pratt's defense lawyers, Dickey said, were not given information needed to show Butler's motive for naming Pratt as Caroline Olsen's killer. Had Pratt's lawyers known of Butler's activities, they could have devastated his credibility on cross-examination, the judge said.

After Pratt’s release, then-Los Angeles Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti appealed Dickey’s decision. But one veteran prosecutor said parts of Garcetti's appeal were difficult for experienced trial attorneys to fathom.

"There appears to be a whole bunch of stuff out there that was not turned over to the defense that should have been--like guys buying a guy a gun," he said. "Had this been turned over, would it have affected the outcome? That question doesn't pass the straight-face test."

Photograph by Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times

DROPPING CASE: Dist. Atty. Gil Garcetti said that he will accept an appellate court decision upholding the reversal of the murder conviction of ex-Black Panther Elmer Gerard "Geronimo" Pratt.

Garcetti lost his appeal and Pratt settled a false imprisonment and civil rights lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles and the FBI for $4.5 million. Pratt now splits his time between Morgan City, La., his home town, and east Africa. He has used part of his settlement to support projects for young people in Morgan City and a community founded by former Panthers in Tanzania.

A. Victor Segno -- "How to Live 100 Years"

"Make it a rule never to wear a hat indoors, either in the home, office, store or workshop. If you now suffer from baldness give your head a chance to get the benefit of the air, sunshine and rain. In this way, many people have grown luxuriant heads of hair. Nature is always ready to supply us with renewed youth, when we are ready to place ourselves in harmonious relationship with her laws."

--A. Victor Segno,
"How to Live 100 Years,"
Los Angeles, 1903


Retro holiday gift -- Duesenberg transmission

Duesenberg_transmission Here's something you don't see every day -- unless you're EBay vendor med3021. Imagine your loved one's reaction to find this under the tree (assuming you have a fairly large tree): "Why ... it's a Duesenberg transmission housing. Just what I've always wanted!" And in case your loved one has a machine shop in the basement, you can buy a pallet of unmachined castings for Duesenberg transmissions while you're at it.

... or a Duesenberg radiator shell?

Body found in shallow grave; Rams take off-season jobs, December 22, 1958

I thought I had encountered just about every kind of bizarre Southern California crime imaginable, but the Elizabeth Ann Duncan case is staggering--lrh.

Mother leaves three children
outside orphanage. 
Teenage robbers shoot barber

1958_1222_sports The Rams' season was over, so it was time to go back to work.

Back when athletes needed second jobs when not playing, The Times' Cal Whorton compiled a Rams' employment list. Jon Arnett and Dick Daugherty were headed to local financial firms. Don Burroughs and Duane Putnam would sell beer. Bill Wade went to a television station in Nashville. Even then, the quarterbacks got the TV jobs.

Ron Waller would spend time at his bowling alley in Studio City and his new liquor store. Several others were going back to school and a couple had military service.

But here's my favorite from Whorton's story: "Surprisingly only one Ram, Frank Fuller, has indicated he'll try his hand in the insurance business. Fuller also can be expected to pick up a few stray bucks on the wrestling circuit.'

A wrestling insurance salesman? I'm sold.

--Keith Thursby


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