Detail of two bullet holes in car window, 1942
In 2014 Los Angeles-based photographer Merrick Morton (a onetime LAPD reserve officer) spotted a derelict stash of LAPD crime photos dating from the 1920s to 1970s. The cellulose nitrate-based film and negatives were decomposed and deemed as fire hazard. Working with the Fototeka photo digitation service and the US National Film Archive, the pictures were given news leases of live.
Now spruced up, the macabre collection includes photographs of crimes, many of them violent. It’s not all goofing around with marijuana plants for LA’s finest. There’s an unusual photo of Maila Nurmi dressed as Vampira, pictures of comedian Lenny Bruce’s overdose in March of 1966 and images of the Manson Family arriving at their arrangement in 1970. Whilst Weegee was recording murder and mayhem on the east coast in New York City, the LAPD’s camera crew were churning out photograph noir.
Some captions are provided by the author James Ellroy from his book LAPD ’53. “This is a pot pourri of crime,” says Ellroy. “It’s pathetic, it’s transgressive, it’s vile, it’s human.”
The pictures are NSFW.
What me worry? 1952
July 23, 1932. Passer-by shot dead in botched jewellery robbery.
Los Angeles River on February 17, 1955
Bank robbery note, 1965
Chinatown: An assault victim poses for the camera – 1934.
Detectives calculating the trajectory of a bullet – 1934
Onion field reenactment, 1963
Dead body laying on the ground with gun at side – 1926
Detail of bullet holes in screen, 1930
Homicide, El Monte, 6 May.
This is a detective modelling a mask worn by one of Baxter Shorter’s crew. Shorter was in a gang with Emmett Perkins, Jack Santo and Barbara Graham. The three of them murdered an old woman called Mabel Monohan on 9 March 1953. Shorter was appalled by his gang’s violence. He ratted the others out, and Santo and Perkins kidnapped him from his pad on Bunker Hill, took him to the mountains and killed him. Shorter had a sister that lived in El Monte, and they were hunting through it for evidence: this mask was in her pad. – James Ellroy
Crenshaw, 7 August 1953
Buried body parts, San Fernando Valley, 14 April.
James Ellroy: “There were 81 murders in LA in 1953. This was the headline murder of the year – the ‘croquet mallet slayer’. Ruth Hilda Fredericks was tired of her husband Richard’s shit. She was good-looking and young and wanted to go on the party circuit and find a replacement man, so she ratted him out with the head-shrinker at his workplace and he got put away. When he escaped, he beat his wife to death with a mallet, severed her hands with a hatchet and buried them in their backyard, then dumped her body. He was sentenced to one to 10 years in prison.”
Hollywood, 30 July.
Kidnapping and shooting, Hollywood, 4 November. James Ellroy:
This is a bar called the Melody Lane for lonely juiceheads. Some fuckers from out of state – a reform school graduate who did time for killing his dad and a friend of his – decided to heist it. That was a big mistake. Someone called the fuzz, then the men took a couple of police officers hostage when they came outside, and the LAPD surrounding the gin joint shot at them. One was shot in the neck, the other the chest. But the punks didn’t die on the spot. They survived.
Olympic Boulevard and Alvarado, 9 June 1953. James Ellroy: “The liquor store killer was cold-blooded. He killed the owner, a man named Reposo, who was in his 70s. The guy sandbagged him, hit him from behind, and tapped the till for $25 bucks and his pockets for $60. A human being dies from brain damage for less than a hundred bucks. This is Harry Hansen, a pitbull and the premier homicide detective in the LAPD. He worked on the Elizabeth Short/Black Dahlia case till the end of his long life. He was traumatised he never found the killer. Reposo’s killer was never captured either.”
Erwin Street, 12 December, 1953. James Ellroy: “A man named Manuel Vela was pounded by a guy named Joe at this tavern. He returned that night and fired four shots through the front door. A guy called Thomas Castillo was shot three times, almost hit in the heart, but he survived – so Vela dodged the death penalty.”
Abortion, Highland Park, 28 April 1953. James Ellroy:
“George R Davis was a quack. In 1952, he had testified at a trial of a woman accused of having illegal surgical equipment. He got her acquitted, but it alerted the cops to the fact that he was hinky. They surveilled him for six months, and found his secret abortion clinic behind a full-length mirror in his bedroom. Detectives found his surgical instruments in his stove. He got significant prison time – and his license to practice medicine was revoked.”
Vandals, 29 November. 1953. James Ellroy:
“Some punks lug huge blocks of concrete over to the large windows of this high-end women’s store one night, and hurl them through. The police thought it was vandalism at first, because the mannequins, who were all female, had been posed in sexual postures. If these young punks wanted to have sex with them, they wouldn’t move around very much … but you never know. Later, the LAPD discovered some missing furs. Turns out the punks were fur heisters.”
Homicide, Foothill Boulevard, 22 February.
James Ellroy: “See those hands? They’re the hands of a killer. Clarence E Vickery, aged 33, killed his friend Paul M Kenney at a gas station. They’d been friends for five years. When he woke up out of his alcoholic stupor, this had to be one of the world’s great ‘Oh shit’ moments. Kenney was beaten to death because one was a Scotsman and the other was a Dutchman, and when those paths intersected with a spur-of-the-moment drunk beef, the byproduct was his corpse.”
Detail of two bullet holes in car window, 1942
Shoes, arm, and knife, 1950
Three images telling the story of a suicide Date: 4/9/1950 – 1/3
Morgue, man with floral tattoo, 1945
Demand note. Bank robbery. Case information unavailable Date: 12/21/1961
Female assault victim exposes bruising and bandaged fingers. Date: 2/6/1950
Victim’s feet hanging off bed, 1934
Via: The Guardian, Feature Shoot,