Readers' Representative Journal

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Of crimes past

November 28, 2007 |  2:14 pm

From reader Michael McGrorty of Pasadena: "I wonder why it is that The Times publishes photographs and addresses of the sites of murders and other crimes on its Daily Mirror weblog. Those homes are occupied by people who are separated from the gruesome events by half a century, and who may not even know that the crimes occurred there.  The occupants may awaken some morning to find themselves the objects of curious gawkers; perhaps some enterprising entrepreneur will organize a bus tour of the listed sites. It is one thing to publish pictures of homes and other places currently in the news; quite another to dredge up this material to the detriment of the current residents of those homes."

Larry Harnisch, who fills his Daily Mirror blog with news of crime and law enforcement of 50 years ago (he's also been a copy editor at The Times since 1988), responds:

Unfortunately, crime is part of our history and Los Angeles residents (and yes, visitors) are eager to know where terrible things happened. The fact is that for many years, newspapers published addresses of crime scenes and since the invention of newspapers on mircofilm, people have been going through the old papers to find out where terrible things occurred. In many cases, the addresses are already well-known and have been published on the Internet or in crime guidebooks, which are a cottage industry in Los Angeles. There are   several companies that bring tour buses through cemeteries or neighborhoods where crimes have occurred. 

The alternative is to obscure the past and pretend it didn't happen, which lends a certain "once upon a time" quality to history. The law requires sellers to disclose anything that might affect the value of a home--such as old crimes. My experience has been that whenever I talk to the neighbors, they are well aware of the crimes that have occurred at particular homes even if it was 50 years ago.  (Only yesterday, I talked with a neighbor who knew about a murder-suicide that occurred in Pasadena in 1954.) 

I make a point of always writing with compassion for the victims and I always give warnings if it's a particularly graphic, tragic crime.

The history of Los Angeles has its tragic elements. To pretend that they are shrouded in the mists of the past and nobody knows where they occurred is dishonest--and it's censorship, frankly.