Blinded by Bullet, Officer Shoots Gunman Who Killed Partner, March 5, 1959
March 6, 2009 | 6:00 am
Through the 1950s, Police Officer Ector A. Garcia became a minor
celebrity for producing sketches of crime suspects that were
astonishingly accurate. But he wanted the excitement of being on the
streets and that's what he got.
Garcia and his partner, Detective Jose L. Castellanos, were working homicide March 5, 1959, when they got a call that a gunman had gone on a deadly rampage at an East Los Angeles restaurant and was probably heading for the home of his estranged wife.
The gunman ambushed the detectives as they escorted the woman and her uncle to safety, killing Castellanos instantly. Although Garcia was struck by a shot that "seared across his eyes," the police artist was able to return fire, killing George J. Arevalo, 2844 Whittier Blvd.
"We always knew he would do something like this," Arevalo's wife said. "He would go crazy every time he drank. Last March 27 we separated because of his drinking. He told me when he left he would come back some day and kill the children and me."
Lying in the hospital, perhaps blinded by a killer's gunfire, was the last thing Garcia must have imagined when he began his career as an artist. Born in El Paso, he graduated from Woodbury College in 1949 and worked briefly as an editorial cartoonist at a Seattle newspaper. After a short time with a Los Angeles printing company, Garcia decided to join the Police Department. He had no idea of becoming a sketch artist, but the job slowly emerged as department officials realized his talent for producing drawings from witnesses' descriptions.
Evidently he was quite talented and in one demonstration for a magazine story, Garcia produced a sketch of "Dragnet's" Joe Friday based on a description given by a woman in the department's Research and Planning Office. One of his most successful drawings was that of Gaylord Hammond, who was being sought in an attempted rape. When Hammond was arrested, officers found that Garcia's sketch was virtually identical to Hammond's mug shot. Garcia also provided sketches of the nonexistent attackers in the Marie "The Body" McDonald case.
But all of that was before he was assigned to homicide; before that night in March 1959 unfolded tragically.
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That evening, Arevalo, 42, had gone to Bill's Place, a restaurant at 506 E. 9th St. where his friend Mary Loera was manager.
"He was drunk," she said. "I told him to get out. He left but returned in a few minutes with a gun. He aimed it at me, said he was going to kill me and fired." She fell to the floor, wounded in the arm, as another customer, Carlos Carranza, wrestled with Arevalo for the gun. Arevalo broke free, went outside and when Carranza followed, Arevalo shot him to death.
Police staked out Arevalo's room on Whittier Boulevard, and Castellanos and Garcia were sent to the home of his estranged wife at 716 N. Bonnie Beach. They were escorting the woman and her uncle, Alex Verdenas, to their police car and planned to take them somewhere safe when Arevalo ambushed them.
Arevalo shot Castellanos in the temple, killing him instantly, then fired again, hitting Garcia in the head and Verdenas in the chest. Garcia, despite being struck in the eyes, killed Arvealo, shooting him once in the head and once in the chest from 50 feet away, The Times said.
Although his right eye was destroyed, the doctors saved his left eye and after that he wore a eye patch. In November 1959, Garcia was honored with a Purple Heart during a ceremony in the City Council Chambers recognizing officers who had been killed or wounded in the line of duty.
Garcia returned to being a police artist and published a book of his work, "Portraits of Crime," in 1977. He retired about 1981 and went to work for a private security firm, but continued doing sketches, including some of fugitive Nazi Dr. Joseph Mengele. Garcia died Sept. 27, 1987.