The Daily Mirror

Larry Harnisch reflects on Los Angeles history

Category: Robberies

LAPD officers accused of beating, August 24, 1938



Above, another editorial in The Times' well-worn tradition of asking: "What's all the fuss I hear about ... recalling the corrupt mayor ... a federal anti-lynching law ... opening up America to the refugees of Europe? We don't need to recall the corrupt mayor ... we don't need a federal anti-lynching law ... we don't need to take in European refugees (they would just go on welfare). Things are fine just the way they are."

The key point, which is buried in the editorial, is mayoral candidate Fletcher Bowron's promise not to use the LAPD as strikebreakers.

At left, business as usual with the LAPD of the 1930s. And yes, they got off. 
At left, Mary Astor is thrown from a horse en route to filming scenes for an MGM movie at the Uplifters' Ranch. According to The Times, the horse was spooked by a passing car. Astor was taken to Santa Monica Hospital to be treated for back injuries.

Max Reinhardt stages a production of "Faust" starring Conrad Nagel at the outdoor Pilgrimage Theater in the Hollywood Hills. The Pilgrimage Theater was renamed the John Anson Ford Amphitheatre in 1976 as a tribute to the longtime county supervisor.

In sports, the Hollywood Stars beat the Los Angeles Angels 10-1 in the Civil War series ... The Giants beat the Cubs 6-2 ... The Pirates and the Boston Bees  split a double-header. Boston takes the first game, 6-0, and Pittsburgh takes the second game, 4-3, after 14 innings.

"Pin smashing" is becoming increasingly popular in Los Angeles, says The Times, noting that "bowling is mighty easy on the eyes when Bette Morris goes into action..." Oh, you sports guys.

And Bob Ray, who has been covering the Pacific Coast League for The Times since 1924, is saluted with "Bob Ray Day" at Wrigley Field.

Dodgers win 8-6, August 4, 1958

The Dodgers split a double-header with the Reds, winning 8-6 and losing 3-1 ... the Braves win a double-header over the Giants ... and gunmen rob a Malibu restaurant.

Two gunmen break into the living quarters above the Malibu Sea Lion Restaurant, 21150 Pacific Coast Highway, gag and bind the owner's wife and children and wait for him to come upstairs with the day's earnings ... Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and China's Mao Tse-tung call for a summit meeting on the Middle East crisis.

Elmer Valo's single scores Carl Furillo in the 10th ... Warren Spahn throws the 43rd shutout of his major league career ... Al Wolf profiles boxing manager Lou Viscusi.

July 10, 1958


April 12, 1938


Above, Yiddish theater in Los Angeles! Below, the Harry Raymond bombing case is about to go to trial. Prosecutors say they plan to seek the death penalty ... The bishop of Los Angeles has a Holy Week message on the front page of the B section ... Youngsters out of school for spring break head to the city's parks ... On the jump, a pair of coati mundis foil a burglar at the San Fernando Valley home of George Palmer Putnam ... And Joseph Grimes strangles himself rather than face charges of molesting a child in the Union Pacific railway yards.

Quote of the Day: "I wish the restaurants would give you one good cup of coffee instead of all what they call coffee you can drink. Oh 'All the Coffee You Can Drink,' what crimes have been committed in your name!" E.V. Durling

1938_0412_kynette 1938_0412_kynette_ro

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Mystery photo


Here's an unusual mystery photo. We know the name of the man on the right. He's James "Jim" Bassett (to his family, he was known as Mike). In 1972, about the time the photo was taken, he was living in Tustin. What we don't know is the story that goes with the photo because, unfortunately, he died in 1993. According to Jim's sister, he was working at a Circle K (note the shirt) and either reported a robbery or stopped a robbery.  He is shown here receiving a reward from a man believed to be a Circle K executive. Jim's family would very much like to know the rest of the story. The Times clips, unfortunately, are most unhelpful.

Any Circle K retirees out there who can help?

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March 12, 1958


Above, a cook goes on a bloody rampage--and no, we didn't follow up on this story. According to California death records, mad cook Andrew Rewal lived to the age of 79, presumably without access to sharp objects  ... Below, the Air Force loses an atomic bomb, but don't worry folks, it wasn't armed. Just go on about your business now. Nothing to see here  ...   Police arrest four suspects in a robbery ring that preyed on people in wealthy neighborhoods ... Racing comes to a close at Santa Anita.


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Feb. 25, 1908


An "instantaneous heater" explodes while a man is taking a bath and the fire destroys much of the home at 1201 W. 7th. ... A fire caused by crossed wires in the attic destroys a home at 2659 Ellendale Place [Recall that in this period, wires were run between porcelain insulators that were nailed into the studs]   ... a man is captured after stealing a suitcase ... And the dramatic tale of the tragic death of Solomon Rey Ramirez.


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Feb. 24, 1908


Above, the first paparazzi ... With a headline in dialect, no less ... Below, a nighttime intruder doesn't suspect the woman of the home sleeps with a .32 under her pillow ... 19 African Americans are arrested in a raid on a "disorderly house" at 3rd and Alameda ... The man who ran the cigar stand at 5th and Wall streets kills himself after writing a note that says "bury me as cheaply as possible and don't make any fuss about the funeral" ... An African American narrowly avoids a lynching after allegedly shooting the police chief of Fayetteville, N.C. ... And the Santa Fe railroad advertises trips to Coronado.



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Family held hostage



Feb. 12-March 29, 1958
Los Angeles

They were such nice boys. Real gentlemen. Having them around the apartment was just like company, except for the guns. They said they weren't guilty of burglarizing that drugstore. They just couldn't prove it and didn't want to go to jail. Why they laughed when the news called them dangerous criminals. They said nobody understood them. Maybe they did steal a few cars and hold up a couple of businesses after they escaped from jail. And shooting that deputy four times? Well, one of their hostages did warn them that something bad might happen if they didn't give themselves up.

Bart, 22, Rhonie, 20, and Thomas, 19,  got a hacksaw blade to cut their way out of the San Luis Obispo County Jail, used bedsheets to lower themselves to the ground and stole a car after finding the keys hidden on the sun visor. In Paso Robles, they broke into a sporting goods store and stole a carload of guns. They took a Lincoln convertible at gunpoint and headed for Los Angeles.

They dumped the Lincoln in Van Nuys and split up. When police found the convertible at 14527 Blythe St., it contained two shotguns, two Winchester rifles and a bucket of ammo. Thomas stole a car near the GM auto plant and headed north to surrender to police. When he ran out of gas, he flagged down another car and hitched to Santa Barbara, where he surrendered.

1958_0215_bart Bart and Rhonie stole a car from the parking lot of a Redondo Beach bowling alley. At 12:30 a.m., they found Tom Garrett, 21, sitting in a car at 102 S. Pacific Coast Highway in Hermosa Beach as he waited to pick up his brother Ray, 18, from his job at the telephone company.

The brothers took Bart and Rhonie back to the apartment at 1664 W. 205th St., Torrance, where they lived with their mother, Lola, 52, and sister Mary, 15.

For the next day, the fugitives stayed with the Garretts.

"I asked, 'What's going on here?' " Lola said.

"I'm sorry ma'am, but we're going to have to stay here until things cool off," Bart said. "We have no intention of hurting anyone, so please don't worry."

"It wasn't like you see in the movies," Lola told the Mirror. "They didn't keep their guns on us all the time. In fact, several times I could have picked up a gun that they left on a table or on the floor. But I didn't feel that they were going to hurt us, so I didn't take the chance."

Bart and Rhonie took turns sleeping while the other one watched the family. They played cards, watched TV or just talked about high school.

"I made breakfast for them," Lola said. "They didn't ask me. I just thought it was the thing to do. I don't like to be rude to my guests. They read the articles in the paper about themselves and watched news broadcasts on TV. When they were described as dangerous criminals they just laughed and said nobody understood them."

As Lola ironed clothes, Rhonie tried to explain how he ended up in jail. "He said he was not guilty, but couldn't prove it and he didn't want to go to jail."

"For supper last night I made them fried chicken. Rhonie and Mary did the dishes when we were through. About 8:30 last night they prepared to leave. They told me they had planned to stay until Saturday but changed their minds when they saw they were inconveniencing us.

"They tied us up, but they apologized. As they left, they turned and looked at me. They said goodbye. They said they were sorry. They had a gag in my mouth so I couldn't answer them. I just waved.

"I can't figure out how they got into trouble. They were real gentlemen. They were careful about their language and did no drinking," Lola said.

"But the last thing I told them was: 'I hope you boys get straightened out. I'd like to see you come out of this all right. This is no way for you to live. Somebody will get hurt sooner or later.' "

And someone did get hurt--badly.

Bart and Rhonie stole a white T-bird from a man who was visiting one of the Garretts' neighbors. They dumped that car on Commonwealth just north of the Hollywood Freeway.

They got to Oakland by bus and bounced from one rooming house to another, then hooked up with William, who bought a car for them. Finally, Bart and Rhonie split up because they couldn't agree on the "techniques of robbery."

Each of them pulled job by himself. Bart got $575 from the Central Theater in downtown Oakland while Rhonie held up a Hayward fish market and stole the owner's car. It was while he was fleeing from this holdup that Rhonie shot Alameda County Sheriff's Deputy Robert Ficken/Fricken four times. The deputy was reported to be in serious condition, but The Times never followed up on the story.

Police arrested Bart and William on Feb. 25, 1958, although the details of their capture weren't published.

A day before the FBI was to put him on its most wanted list, Rhonie was captured March 2, 1958, after robbing a pawnshop on Clark Street in Chicago.

Unfortunately, The Times never followed up on this case, so we don't know the rest of the story.

According to California death records, Bart James Blackburn died May 6, 1996, in Contra Costa County. He was 60. When he was arrested, he was carrying a will that read:

"When I am dead please notify Mrs. R.A. Blackburn of 6515 Agnes Ave., North Hollywood, and give my remains to UCLA Medical Center for their studies. 

"I found that life is like the waves, forever washing itself against an indestructible Being, Death. But they also have fog on their lives and as they must recede into oblivion, so must I."

Records also show that Rhonie "Ronnie" David Rhonemus died Sept. 9, 1988, in San Francisco. According to the FBI, his motto was "Die young and make a good-looking corpse."

And what became of Thomas William Dyball, their companion in the escape? His name never again appears in The Times. He would be 69 years old.

The Times did report, however, that Tom Garrett was ineligible for unemployment benefits that week because being held hostage made him unavailable for work. In sympathy, Gov. Goodwin Knight paid him $40 with a personal check.

[Update: July 13, 2010: A reader e-mails that Alameda County Sheriff's Deputy Robert "Bob" Ficken" survived being shot and died a few years ago.]

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Feb. 13, 1908



The grand jury investigates gambling in Los Angeles ... A determined federal agent captures his quarry after a long chase ... The amusing tale of a plug hat ... A USC medical student files a lawsuit charging that he is due a huge inheritance ... Wedding bells for an 80-year-old retired dentist ... A man attempts suicide because he doesn't have the money to return to his sweetheart in New York ... A 36-year-old attorney, Stanford graduate Walter Rose, dies after surgery to remove his appendix ... Dr. Horace Wing, former instructor at USC Medical School, dies at the age of--well, we don't give his age. Just that he was born in 1858.


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Last Hope



Because adult characters never appear in "Peanuts," many comics readers may wonder what Charles Schulz's grownups looked like. Here's a sample from a short-lived cartoon strip carried in the Mirror.


Feb. 8, 1958
Los Angeles

1958_0208_shoot James Charles Hope, 25, had been out of prison for a little more than a year when he walked into the combination market and liquor store at 9911 S. Hoover St. just before closing time and drew a .32 semiautomatic. 

The last thing he ever did was to hand a paper bag to the manager, Joe Paladino, and tell him to "fill it up."

What Hope didn't know was that two officers were waiting for him in the back room. Someone had tipped off police that there would be a robbery. Officer A.S. Armas stepped from the back and killed Hope with a shotgun blast to the face and neck, The Times said.

Hope's partner, another ex-convict named Edsel F. Broyles, was arrested when he looked in the window. He was "badly shaken by what he saw" but refused to talk to police, the Mirror said.

And that was it as far as The Times was concerned. Broyles was charged with suspicion of robbery, but if there was a trial, nothing was written about it.

The Times has more to say about an Officer Abel Armas (sometimes referring to him as Abel F. Armas, other times Abel S. Armas) who joined the department about 1953.  It's unclear if this is the officer who was involved in the shooting--perhaps yes, perhaps not.

1958_0208_hope_3 However, in 1967, The Times reported that Sgt. Abel F. Armas was justified in shooting a 17-year-old arson suspect in Ramona Gardens. Sgt. Armas was also a member of La Ley, the Latin American Law Enforcement Assn., which was trying to recruit Latinos for law enforcement.

By 1973, The Times was reporting on Lt. Abel Armas, the LAPD liaison with the City Council, over conflicting orders on preventing council members from leaving a meeting if their absence would prevent the lawmakers from having a quorum. Council President John S. Gibson ordered police officers "not to take hold" of councilmen who were trying to leave, but make it clear that "they should not voluntarily let them pass either until they are excused," The Times said.

The next year, Armas was transferred to the 77th Street Division and demoted from Lieutenant 2 to Lieutenant 1 after entering the recall race against Councilman Arthur K. Snyder. Later that year, Armas drew a five-day suspension for insubordination for going to a City Council hearing despite orders that he not attend.

In 1975, Armas unsuccessfully ran against Snyder in the District 14 City Council race. And by 1980, Armas had been moved to the Rampart Division. By 1982, Armas had attained the rank of captain and after retiring, he was appointed to the Youthful Offender Parole Board in 1985.

Were there any more liquor store holdups after Hope was killed in a stakeout? Recall that a liquor store clerk had been fatally wounded during a robbery in December 1957, which might be the reason the LAPD set up such traps. According to The Times' stories of 1958, liquor store clerks were likely to be armed and they shot to kill. In one of the more bizarre cases, an LAPD officer confessed to robbing a liquor store shortly before Christmas because he owed nearly $2,000 in medicals bills for his wife and 2-month-old baby.

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Robber kills self

Here's a headline that says: "Read Me":"Cornered and Bullet-Riddled, Bandit Blows His Brains Out."

I stumbled across this while researching the mysterious noise mentioned in Matt Weinstock's column and it's too good not to share. This is quite a story about a couple of very tough customers. The descriptions are ornate and graphic, especially on the runover. The "death room" for instance. And get a load of the men's hats.


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