What’s in a Picture: 1938 LAPD Shootout

As many of you are familiar with my current book, Guardians of Angels: A History of the Los Angeles Police Department, one can see my historical interest in vintage photographs. For me, they all have a story to tell. As I am currently doing research for my next book, The Protectors: A Photographic History of Local Law Enforcement in the United States, I discovered an amazing photograph of an LAPD shooting in progress captured by photographer Scott Harrison of the Los Angeles Times in 1938. Photographs such as these are extremely rare during this period in law enforcement history.

This amazing image captures a moment in the midst of a standoff between Los Angeles Police and a barricaded suspect, George Farley.

This amazing image captures a moment in the midst of a standoff between Los Angeles Police and a barricaded suspect, George Farley.

The stand-off that is depicted so distinctly in the photograph began on a clear sunny winter day, Thursday, February 17, 1938, when Marshals T. Dwight Crittenden and Leon W. Romer, both 60, were at George Farley’s residence at 1516 E. 22rd Street to serve an eviction order for $67.50 for back rent. Farley, a 55-year-old day laborer, knew they were coming, as just the prior day he received a 24-hour notice to vacate the small-framed residence. But Farley had no plans to voluntarily leave his rented home—and armed with a high-powered rifle, he lay in wait. His wife, sensing trouble, fled the scene.

As the two unsuspecting marshals arrived, there was no indication that Farley was at home. Both men entered the house and started to pack up his effects. At the same time, an 18-year-old witness was standing across the street with his father, who had traveled to the location to watch his friends evict Farley. Then, accordingly to the teenager: “Suddenly there was a shot, and Mr. Romer came staggering down the steps. He sort of twisted and fell, sprawling on the lawn. He lay very still.” Marshal Romer had been shot through the chest and died almost instantly as he collapsed on the front lawn. In the photograph, he can be seen near the walkway in front of the home.

Seeing his partner violently shot, Marshal Crittenden ran from the residence, making it as far as the middle of the street before Farley shot him through the head. His body lay in the street during the subsequent events as depicted in the photograph. Calls quickly poured into communications division. Meanwhile, Farley calmly took a seat in a room near the front door with his rifle across his lap. He waited patiently for the reinforcements he knew were coming—he wasn’t leaving.

Answering the shots-fired radio call were Detective Lieutenants Robert Underwood and Elliott (no first name listed), who were the first to arrive at the location. As Underwood took cover behind the ambulance directly across the street from the house, he yelled for the suspect to come out and surrender. No sooner was the command given than Farley rushed to the front porch and yelled: “Here I is. Come an’ get me,” and fired at the officers, who promptly returned fire, hitting the suspect through his thigh as he was ducking back into the house.

As reinforcments arrived from Newton Street Station, Farley barricaded himself in the house. As Farley fired back, officers took up position around the house, hiding behind trees, cars and the wall of a nearby residence. For the next hour, officers fired volley after volley into the tiny home, blowing out windows and splintering the thin walls. Tear gas was called in and fired into the residence, as can be seen clearly in the photograph.

When the gunfire ceased, several officers broke into the house to find Farley slumped on his face in a rear room, shot five times in his thighs, arm and chest. Farley survived his wounds and was sentenced to 10 to 20 years in San Quentin for two counts of manslaughter. (I was unable to ascertain what happened to Farley after being sentenced.) Through this one frame of film, we get a peek back at 1938 LAPD and the sad circumstances of that bloody Thursday. Lest we never forget the sacrifices of Marshals T. Dwight Crittenden and Leon W. Romer.

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Foreword to “Guardians of Angels” by LAPD Chief Charlie Beck

FOREWORD

chief_beck[1]The Los Angeles Police Department has a long and storied past that is intertwined and entangled with the history of the great city it serves. From a sleepy pueblo by a river that was protected by a force of six officers to America’s second largest city patrolled by ten thousand officers, the City of Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Police Department have grown up together. That growth has resulted in a city that is uniquely situated as a global leader in commerce and entertainment as well as being the pathfinder for cultural trends worldwide. It has also produced a police department that is seen as a world leader in law enforcement. The strategies and practices of the Los Angeles Police Department are emulated by police agencies around the world.

But there is a darker side to the history of both the City and its police department. Just as we have been heralded as leaders in community policing we have also been at the center of the controversy which caused two of the largest riots in our nation’s history. We are well known as being the architects of the professional model of policing under Chief William H. Parker and in contrast have been characterized as America’s most corrupt police force during the reign of his predecessors. Our use of force policies and techniques are copied worldwide but we are still haunted by the specters of brutality raised during the 1990s.

As you can well see we are a Department of deep contrast and that is what is captured so brilliantly in the writings of James Bultema. He’s captured the history of this great organization and brings it to life on the pages of Guardians of Angels – A History of the Los Angeles Police Department. I know because the history of this police department is my history. From the experiences of my father who joined the force in 1950 and rose to the rank of Assistant Chief, to my own time serving in every rank up to and including Chief of Police. I have been a student of this place and lived its history. I now see it through the eyes of my two children who are Los Angeles Police Department officers and you can bet that I will encourage them to read this book so they have a sense of where they have come from and where we need to go. But I think the ultimate praise comes from my Father George Beck. I asked him to read the draft copy I was provided and to give me his comments. He is a direct man who chooses his words well and his comment was “I think he got it right.” Enjoy your reading!

Charlie Beck

National Radio Interview

bill

LAPD Historian James Bultema on Bill Martinez Live – Tuesday, Oct. 29th at 9:47 AM ET
Duration: appoximately 9:47 AM ET to 10:10 AM ET (appoximately 25 minutes)

Topic:  Guardians of Angels-A History of the LA Police Dept. from a police insider on the LAPD including:
  • Frontier Justice – LA Style – when Los Angeles justice dispensed with niceties
  • How a Chief of Police was gunned down by one of his cops over reward money
  • The “Man from Mars” bombing that almost leveled Central Station
  • The Dirty 30´s-gangsters & corruption
  • Christopher Dorner Rampage
  • The Simpson-Goldman Murders
  • Bultema on Mark Fuhrman, the OJ Trial and its effect on the LAPD
  • Rodney King Beating & Riots-20 years later and what needs to be told

What’s In a Picture: Historical Research Using Vintage Photographs

I love old photographs. I relish the stories that emanate from every pixel. It’s a moment in time that can never be duplicated. It allows the viewer to travel back to that instant and share with the people pictured whatever was occurring at that particular second in time. Fortunately for historians, LAPD was very photogenic. Taken by the press or a local photographer and, later, the department’s own photographers, thousands of images record the history of the Los Angeles Police Department from the Wild West era through to today’s digital age.

Photographs contain a treasure-trove of information just waiting to be discovered and used effectively in historical research. I believe these images are underused as a primary historical research tool—yet it’s a resource I enjoyed taking full advantage of through a variety of techniques. In compiling Guardians of Angels: A History of the Los Angeles Police Department, I used historical images to help illustrate the story of the department. As I wrote, I would always strive to locate the precise photograph to support the text. Once discovered, the real work began.

Most photographs from the earlier era of the department have no identifying inscriptions, such as handwritten captions identifying the occasion and the people in the shot. But with a little research, the details captured in the photograph can lead to very precise dating. LAPD has worn six badges since its formation in 1869. Since the time span for each badge is readily available, date ranges can be narrowed down simply by examining the particular badge being worn as well as by the type of uniform. Once I have that information I can look up who was chief of police during that span and narrow it down further by examining the image to see which chief might be pictured. Most made sure to be included in the photograph. By using today’s digital enlargement, fine details barely discernible in the original image can now be brought to life. It might be a close-up of weapons used, the uniform or an individual. Finally, if the image in question is vintage (not a copy), the researcher can date the photograph by the format and type of photograph taken further closing in on the year of the image.

Case in point. In researching for Guardians of Angels, I discovered a very old, unassuming vintage photograph showing two men in suits (above). The image was a carte-de-visite (also known as a CDV), which was a common style of photography from the 1860s to the early 1870s. This fact allowed narrowing down the date of the image. Further research of an old newspaper article accompanying the photo identified one of the individuals pictured as William “Billy” Sands.

sands earlyWilliam Sands, on the right, wearing the earliest known uniform of the Los Angeles Police Department, circa 1870.

In one of the oldest police annual reports of the LAPD, in October 1883, 16 officers were listed as employed, one of whom was: “William Sands, age 57, entered service February, 1870.” Subsequent investigation led to a glimpse into the life of Billy Sands, who posed for this photograph more than 140 years ago. Sands was born in Tennessee in 1826 and grew up in Arkansas. With the discovery of gold in California, the 23-year-old headed west. Briefly involved with the Civil War in 1861, Sands eventually settled in Los Angeles and became one of the earliest known city firemen.

Eight years later in 1869, LAPD hired its first six full-time paid officers. A few months later, Sands was hired as a replacement officer for one of the original six officers. Because LAPD did not adopt an official police uniform until several years later, the photograph of Sands standing with an unidentified individual (almost certainly another officer) is vital to the history of the department. It appears that the clothes worn by these two men are the earliest known example of what the LAPD uniforms resembled, before the official formal uniform was adopted in 1876.

The fact that both men are very similarly dressed, including their hats, jackets and pants, has to be more than a coincidence. Additionally, while most histories of the LAPD credit Chief William Warren with development of the sunburst-designed badge in 1869, I would argue that the first badge was not issued until 1877, under Chief of Police Jacob Gerkens. If these officers took the time to have their photograph taken in uniform, they most definitely would have displayed a metal badge on their lapels.

Officer Billy Sands remained on active duty until his death on November 9, 1885, at the age of 59. At this time, he was the most senior officer in the young department. The photograph, hidden from sight and deliberation for years, represent the founding officers’ uniform of the 1870 LAPD.

Over the next few months, I want to share just “What’s in a Picture” and several of the photographs I discovered in writing Guardians of Angels. Each one makes for interesting viewing, reading and historical research. Please comment on my blog and share if you have any special interest you would like to see in this column.

Why Guardians of Angels?

John Powers, while waiting for an ambulance to arrive, describes the details of the shooting to a detective, his wounded partner next to him.

  • John Powers, while waiting for an ambulance to arrive, describes the details of the shooting to a detective, his wounded partner next to him.

Everyone and everything has a history. Yet for the Los Angeles Police Department, it has been more than 75 years since the last in-depth historical account was written about—75 years since anyone has chronicled where the department has come from and what makes today’s officers who and what they are. I thought it was time for a new comprehensive examination of the LAPD. Not some boring factual account of its history, but engaging stories told by the men and women who lived them.

Guardians of Angels: A History of the Los Angeles Police Department details how the department started with just six hard-fighting, Wild West cops transformed over the next 160 years into the modern, technologically advanced LAPD of today. With the use of hundreds of rare photographs and scores of interviews, the book brings the history of the department to life—turning readers into time-traveling witnesses into the very essence of what makes LAPD such a major player in the world of law enforcement. When Chief of Police William Warren is gunned down in the dirt streets of Los Angeles by another officer over reward money, you can almost smell the smoke in the air from the gunfire. It’s the stories that make history so fascinating.

Guardians of Angels uses many first-hand accounts taken from either the person making history or from primary documents of the time. When John “Two Gun” Powers talks in detail on how he earned the nickname of “Two Gun,” he gets your attention:

He [the suspect] fired that .45 and I didn’t even think, my reflexes just took over, and I drew my gun…and I emptied it at the suspect with the .45. He went down—he went down hard—and the .45 skidded out of his hand. I had hit him twice, so he was down and out. So I take a deep breath and I hear shots on the other side of the car….

That’s the power of first-hand accounts. When Powers told me what happened that fateful day, I could visualize the suspect firing his gun and being hit with return fire. I could see him go down and watched as the .45 noisily skidded across the payment. This is want I want the reader to experience throughout the entire book—a 3-diminisional history coming to life right before your eyes. This is what Guardians of Angels is all about.

While its badge has varied—from a tin star of the 1800s to the most recognizable police shield in the world today—the symbol of the LAPD has always carried the same promise, just as the wearer carries the same responsibility. Each officer who has pinned on this badge, holstered a gun and traveled the corridors of history has left behind the rich traditions that are today the Los Angeles Police Department. The chronicle of the LAPD is the story of these men and women who have committed themselves as the guardians of the city of Angels.

In writing a history of LAPD . . .

jim_of_bio.jpgI wanted the reader to experience the look and feel of the department through the treasure trove of photographs available. During my many years of research for this book, I have collected photographs at every turn knowing that I would someday write Guardians of Angels. All photographs used in the book are from this endeavor and carry no caption. For photographs outside the collection, I have listed the appropriate person or institution when known. Every reasonable effort has been made to identify owners of copyrights. Any errors or omissions will be corrected in subsequent editions.