Street Stories The Call Box

The Call Box: A Caper Story

By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD

What follows, is a true story as I lived it and remember it.

Nobody ever called me at 3 AM with good news. No one told me I won the lotto, or to take the next few days off and get some rest. No sultry voice ever asked me if I would like to— OK forget that one.

The voice that morning belonged to the Wilshire Division watch commander (WC)where I was assigned as a Detective Sergeant Robbery Squad. A stickup had gone bad, the victim was injured, four were in custody and one was dead as a result of a gunfight with an officer. The WC concluded with, “Oh, and we can’t reach your partner, so you are solo on this one. DHQ is here and got things started.”

NOTE: DHQ or DHD (Detective Headquarters Division) are the people who roll out usually in the middle of the night and hold the fort until the responsible investigators arrive.

I was briefed as follows and later filled in the blanks.

A 30-something ex-con (XC) had “reliable” information regarding an elderly man with a big safe full of money. The information was from a hooker who made house calls and saw the safe and “it just had to be full of money.”

XC recruited some of the local intelligentsia ( ages 16 to 20) with a get rich promise. One was to steal a truck to transport the safe and another to steal a getaway car. The victim was to be out of town so stealing the safe should be a piece of cake. Right? 

Now we have all seen the “caper” movie where a well-organized, intelligent and skilled set of thieves pulls off some improbable job. That however does not describe this bunch.

They had agreed to meet at 1 AM. However, nobody was on time as nobody, repeat, nobody had a watch. One of the group was a no show. The truck turned out to be a large unwieldy flatbed which meant the safe would not only be visible but as conspicuous as a frog in a punch bowl.

The hooker had not provided the address and gave only a description of the house which the XC had not bothered to scout. It is now very early AM, the stolen vehicles are driving the streets looking for the right location while dogs bark, house lights go on and people call the police. All of this while our robber band still looks for the right house.

Finally, locating it, the truck backed into the driveway while the getaway driver found a place to wait—which was not only several blocks away but unknown to any of his cohorts. 

Breaking into the house awakened the owner. Yeah, he was home—and he attempted to resist. One of the group, without sharing the information, had brought a revolver. He used it to pistol whip the victim demanding the combination to the safe which turned out to be an old bank veteran weighing in excess of 600 pounds. It was unlocked and contained 30 or so long-play record albums, which are placed on the truck. One more pistol whipping for good measure and they were off. 

As the police arrived everyone scattered. Speeding around the first corner, the truck turns the albums into frisbees flying off into the dark. The getaway driver left alone while the pistol whipper makes the fatal mistake of firing at the police and pays the ultimate price. 

DHQ had the body transported to the Wilshire station garage where I had the victim ID him. I spent the rest of the day with reports and tying up loose ends. Our juvenile unit agreed to handle the getaway driver who was very thoughtfully driving the stolen car when they got him.

I know this sounds like some wild ass made up tale, but every word is true as near as I can recall.

The Call Box

The Call Box: More Copland Stories

Thepolic-call-box-pedestal-lapd-gamewell-DCAL2786_dt1 1958 TV season gave us a show wherein the narrator intoned, “There are seven million stories in the naked city. This is one.”

I am willing to bet out there in “Copland,” there are at least that many stories just concerning the courts: quirky judges, inept attorneys, naïve victims, witless witnesses and dumb defendants.

Agents from the Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms Agency (ATF) had set up a sting to nab an organized crime figure (also ex-con) in possession of a firearm. They followed him on a hunting trip and after charging him with “ex-con w/a gun,” put on their case in federal court. At this point, the judge admonished the Assistant US Attorney and felt the government was harassing a legitimate sportsman.  

Now, any first-year law student would, at this point, realize he had won his case and would sit down and shut up.

 Not this guy. Oh no. He put his client on the stand to testify regarding the various “sporting” clubs he belonged to. 

 The judge interrupted his testimony to ask a question regarding one particular club. “Is this the place where the birds are kept in a small box and then released so you can shoot them?”

 “Ah yes.”

 The judge was a member of the Audubon Society.



Another of my cases was in progress and the victim on the stand had just been asked what color hat the defendant was wearing during the robbery. The victim answered, “Black.”

I saw the defendant tug on his attorney’s sleeve and whisper in his ear. The attorney, who was a brand new public defender, nodded and asked the victim, “Could the hat possibly have been dark green?”  

 The victim admitted, “It could have been.” On the table in front of the defendant was his hat, dark green. I guess he just wanted to keep the record straight.

With an “assist” from his attorney.


Judge Clarence “Red” Stromwall had been a member of the famous “Hat Squad” [ subject of future story] and was now a Superior Court judge sitting on what were called “long cause cases.”  These were usually murder trials estimated to take weeks or even months.

We had been friends for years and he told me that to fight the boredom and tedium of oft times numbing testimony he kept a “Captain Marvel” coloring book with crayons on the bench to use whenever needed.

I am not telling tales out of school as this had be mentioned in his bio.

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