Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history
Category: May 3, 2009 - May 9, 2009
|I usually don't run the EBay photos this big, but I'm baffled by this one. Take a look at the table: These folks have dinner rolls, glasses of water, silverware, etc. and then these huge buckets of ice
Is this the world's largest shrimp cocktail or what's going on? Bidding on this EBay item starts at $6.
An Eyewitness Can Be High ExecutionerThere's a man in our society I fear.
He's an honest man, conscientious and law-abiding. His intentions are the best.
But because of -- rather than in spite of -- his zeal to be a good citizen, he can destroy the lives of innocent men. Maim them. Even murder them.
Murder them nice and clean and legal.
Our police and courts call him "the eyewitness."
And too often, I'm afraid, they put a little too much faith in the accuracy of his vision.
In the last week, two examples of the destruction that the combination of good intentions and bad memories can cause have hit the news.
A couple of days ago Robert J. Coronado, 27, was freed from Chino Prison after serving six months of a five-year-to-life sentence for a crime he didn't commit.
He was sent there on the testimony of two eyewitnesses who positively identified him as the man who held up a West 3rd street cafe.
Only a freak of fate kept him from serving a full term in prison. The man who committed the robbery happened to be sent to the same prison as Coronado (Doing time for a different crime), happened to meet him in the shower room one day and tell him he did it, and happened to be a decent-enough individual to repeat his confession to the police, even though it meant implicating a friend.
A few days before Coronado was released, Mirror News reporter Jack Searles broke the story of Mrs. Leona Palumbo, a 33-year-old Hawthorne housewife.
Eyewitnesses in two separate armed robberies had identified her as the "gun-moll" involved.
She was sitting in County Jail awaiting prosecution when a minor miracle happened, (A miracle activated by some fine detective work and dedication to justice by Det. Sgt. Charles McPherson of the Lynwood Police Department.)
The real gun-moll was tracked down and arrested. Her confession freed Mrs. Palumbo after the housewife had to spend 33 days in jail, living with the very realistic fear that the honest mistakes of some honest people might send her to prison for the rest of her life.
It would be nice to believe that these two cases of mistaken identification were isolated ones.
But they're not.
The Mirror News reference library has a special file labeled "mistaken identity cases." And it's a fat one.
All local cases. All within the last 10 years.
There's one, dated Sept 11, 1958:
A former Los Angeles police officer, age 37, was positively identified by two victims of kidnap and rape as their assailant.
One of the victims was 17, the other, 22.
The crimes were committed months apart.
Either of them could have sent the ex-policeman to the gas chamber. He had no alibi strong enough to convince a jury, caught up in the emotion of listening to two young women describe their terrifying experiences, that he was innocent. That he was the wrong man.
While be was awaiting trial, the real rapist struck again. But that time he was caught, and he confessed to the other two crimes.
He Who Was About to Die
If he hadn't been caught, I wonder if the state of California might have convicted and executed an innocent man.
And I wonder how many men and women are in prison today, found guilty of crimes they didn't commit, because of the emotion blurred vision of eyewitnesses and the jurors who heard their stories, and because of some highly unprofessional tactics used by some police investigators in "helping" witnesses pick out the "right" suspects.
Tomorrow, I'll examine why "positive" identification so often are wrong ones, and how the power of subtle suggestions by policemen can influence a witness to make a wrong identification.
Shell GameIt is the nature of shell collectors to correspond with each other and, thus, adman Bennett Foster has learned of the fantastic tale of R. Julian Dashwood, the only white man on the island of Mauke, in the Cook group, 1,000 miles from New Zealand.
Thirty years ago Dashwood found himself on the beach in Australia, then in a depression, and he resolved never again to be dependent on errant society. He went to Mauke, married a native girl, and was welcomed into the tribe by the hospitable Polynesians. He built a house of coral and set about indulging his hobby, shell collecting. He worked out a co-operative deal with the natives and they enthusiastically went to work collecting shells for him.
BUT ABOUT a year ago he became bored and left for Auckland, where he opened a little shell store. After three months he knew the dizzy pace of civilization was not for him and returned to the atoll.
Last year the battery went dead on his shortwave radio, his only contact with the outside world, and he was frantic for a while, wondering what the world was up to. Then he found he didn't really care.
Not long ago another crisis arose. The natives got tired of collecting shells, and his trade, carried on by the four ships a year which call at the atoll, came to an end. No matter what he offered them, they refused. After all, what good was money on an island without a store and where everything they ate, drank or wore was in natural abundance.
FINALLY he had an idea. He sent to Auckland for a movie projector and some old films. At the first showing the natives went wild over them. But on the night of the next show he stood at the door and told them the price of admission was a penny. Of course, no one had a penny.
The economic dilemma was quickly solved, he recently wrote Foster. He pays them a penny a week to collect shells and they pay it back to him to see the movies.
ASIDE TO the Detroit boys -- A large lady couldn't get into the low-slung car that was to take her to her husband's funeral, the other day, and she had to ride with the undertaker.
How wise we are; what worthy labor
To note each weakness of our neighbor,
If in the night, like busy elves,
We use the list to test ourselves.
ONLY IN L.A. -- A wife in a downtown bar became increasingly critical as her husband gulped drink after drink long after she had pointed out it was time to go home. Finally she asked sarcastically, "What are you doing, trying for an Oscar?" Her befuddled spouse retorted proudly, "I already got one!" He thought she'd said ulcer.
THOSE WHO felt the full force of Sunday's big wind don't think it received enough attention.
Ray Keplinger hit a full iron shot on the Hesperia course and the ball landed 10 feet in back of him.
Publicist Jim Bishop was playing volleyball at Malibu and a gust of wind caught the ball and it went over his head. He chased it endlessly, and if a little girl hadn't finally stopped it he'd probably have jogged all the way to Manhattan Beach. A car was sent to retrieve him and the ball and the speedometer measured five-eights of a mile.
AT RANDOM -- Sudden thought: How about an added Pulitzer prize for the unknown reporter who had to cover the Clare Luce-Sen. Morse story in Time? ... Morey Gold, the Whittier Blvd. bicycle and key man, swears he heard a KHJ newscaster talk about a "dubbish rump" ... Cartoonist Dave Hall had a live foot-and-a-half-foot-long water snake on his desk yesterday to take home for his youngster's nature study class. OK, so it was in a gunny sack ... Mike Goodman knows a fellow so lazy he has to shake his self-winding watch to make it go. Himself.
Prince Otto I Isn't Even HousebrokenThere is a base canard, perpetrated by the hopelessly sentimental, that a dog is man's best friend.
A dog, I say to you, is a false friend.
He'll make a slobbering, emotional display of licking your hands. But on a whim, he'll leave you without so much as a backward glance.
I had a dog once. As a matter of fact, I had him until just a couple weeks ago.
He's a dachshund puppy, and believe me, I gave him the best years of my life. He dined only on the most exotic creations dreamed up in the fertile, culinary mind of kindly old Doctor Ross. He slept on a pillow that had but recently been confiscated from beneath my head.
When, in a fit of childish pique, he chewed up my bedroom slippers, I didn't whack him on his baby teeth, the way I should have. I just passed it off with a philosophical shrug.
That dog had it made. But a few weeks ago he hopped out of our parked car in the vicinity of Sunset and Laurel, and disappeared in search of some imagined green pastures.
His name, which I gave him in a weak moment of sheer snobbery, is Crown Prince Otto I. But, if you call him by it, he won't answer. It embarrasses him.
Anyway, since this four-month-old delinquent ran away from home, the family plantation hasn't seemed the same. There's a cloud of gloom hanging over us all.
My kids, who usually can't be made to shut up, have hardly spoken. And my wife, in whose care Crown Prince Otto I was at the time he lammed, has deftly managed to transfer the blame for the whole thing over to me.
"If you had the window of the station wagon fixed like I told you to, he never would have been able to get out," she said.
"If you knew the window of the station wagon wouldn't close you never should have left him in the car, I replied. Overwhelmed by the utter logic of my remark, I glanced at the kids for their approval. But they just stared at me with grim accusation in their eyes.
"There's one thing you could do," my wife said after a moment. "You could mention it on your TV program."
"That's impossible," I snapped
"Impossible, impossible," she said, "everything with you is impossible." She glanced at the kids for their approval. And got it.
"If I do a missing person's program about my own dog, everybody in town will want me to do one about their missing dogs," I explained.
She sniffed disparagingly. "Well," she murmured, "if it's too much trouble." The kids turned their backs on me.
"It's not too much trouble," I shouted.
"It's just..." I stalled desperately for a moment. Then, a thoroughly outrageous inspiration hit me. "It's just that I couldn't do it. It's against the FCC regulations."
"The WHAT?" she said suspiciously.
"The Federal Communications Commission. They have a ruling that says no TV commentator can make a plea in his own behalf on his own program. They could cut me off the air, and even fine me if I asked people to bring back my own dog."
It was a low ruse, but it worked. She fell silent, and thoughtful for a while. Finally she looked up brightly.
"Ask George Putnam to mention it on his program," she said.
"I can't do a thing like that," I replied in a shocked voice.
Kith and Kin Gang Up on Me
"Can't, can't," she mimicked. "Everything with you is can't." My children nodded in agreement.
Rather than lose this happy home I've just described to you, I called Putnam and told him the problem. "Gee, kid, I'm sorry to hear that," he said. (He always calls me kid. It has something to do with the difference in our ages.) "I wish I could help you by putting it on my program.
"But," he added, "it's against FCC regulations."
So, if someone out there has found my dog, please bring him back. I'm telling you for you own good. I happen to know he isn't even housebroken.