Street Stories The Call Box

The Call Box: Lady Hamilton

This installment of Ed Meckle’s recollection of this particular case is longer than most, but worth the read, I promise you. Knowing there are policemen and women like him out there who strive for victim’s justice is consoling. –Thonie

By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD

Before I begin let me apologize for the lapses in my story. Time has taken the victim’s and suspect’s name together with the street name. I remembered my partner and (irony) name of the bar. Timewise the best I can do is a hot weekend in 1966/67. 

I thought about this for a long time before sharing. In the past I have begun many of my stories with, “most officers do this” or “a lot of them do that.” But here I tread carefully and can only speak for myself and hope others feel as I do. 

No matter how much time you have on the job, how much experience, or how cynical you think you are I hope that somewhere maybe deep down you did something “special” that stands out in your mind; that you occasionally remember that special thing or things. Maybe you don’t talk of it but there are incidents you can really be proud of, when everything came together, the stars aligned, and luck was in your corner. And you thought “damn, that’s why I became a cop. That’s what it’s all about.” I really hope you have it, because I have one I want to share with you.

I take pride in the fact I never held a staff job. No graphs, no crayons, no colored pencils, no calculators, just street time out where the wild things are.

I am one of approximately forty-five detectives assigned to Wilshire Division and one of six working robbery. About every tenth week I catch weekend duty with three others. If it is a quiet shift you can catch up on your paperwork, watch a game on TV, play cards or just snooze. This was not to be one of those.

It was a hot holiday Sunday and just after noon when a phone call comes in from a radio car at the scene of a homicide. As the senior sergeant I am de facto watch commander. There are no homicide detectives among the four of us. 

I take the call along with Sergeant Jim Horkan. I knew him from Metro, never as a partner but he was a good street cop, former Cleveland P.D. and like myself a former marine (this will become a factor).

The scene is a well-kept, unremarkable, three-story brownstone in the 900 block just north of Olympic. As far as we can determine the entire populous of the building were elderly retired singles and couples. 

Our victim was third floor rear and discovered when a neighbor saw her open door. At this point in my career, I had handled two homicides, both related to street robberies, one successfully and one not.

I remember as a uniform at a homicide scene I watched the detective carefully place a kitchen chair in the crime scene and sit without moving for about ten minutes. Nobody had to tell me was burning every detail into his memory. 

Our victim was female, 80+ and had lived alone. She is in a supine position slightly to the right as you enter. Feet toward the door. Her simple house dress with button front has been ripped open. Her bra pulled above her breasts, panty hose pulled down and inside out still clinging to her right foot. 

Her hands were at her sides palms down, head turned to the left, legs 12-14 inches apart. There appears to be blood and skin under her fingernails. A dime-sized crescent shaped wound was between her eyes. She had been strangled and later tests would show raped. (D.N.A. then stood for “does not apply”) 

The rooms were what I suppose you would call an “efficiency” apartment—one large room doubles as living/bedroom. Bath to left, small kitchen to the right. 

The apartment appears to have been quickly searched, drawers open, items scattered. Notable is an empty watch box, home to a “Lady Hamilton.” Back in the day, watches especially ladies, came in large ornate boxes resembling clam shells. They were so fancy you did not throw it out even though it had no secondary use. 

The watch was gone. 

The residents tell us she was very proud of the watch, receiving it along with a plaque (hanging on the wall) when she retired from the Department of Water and Power in 1949. 

Along with a couple of uniforms we did a canvas and determined a stranger had been in the building not long before she was found. Described as early to mid-20s, husky and appeared intoxicated, he had walked into one apartment and approached a lone woman. Leaving when her husband appeared, he had also knocked on several doors and tried to talk his way inside without being obvious. Here was a promising person of interest. 

I got to thinking about the intoxication angle and told Jim I was going to play a hunch. I walked the 100 or so yards to the corner where stood a bar, the Jade Room. As luck would have it, I had on occasion, enjoyed a cool refreshing beverage or two. 

The only person present was the female owner/bartender with whom I was acquainted. Like waitresses/manicurists/beauticians everywhere bartenders are good witnesses, observant and good listeners.

“Yes, he was here. Drank Oly beer from the ice tub.” The ice water put any chance of prints from the bottle to rest.

Your impression, I asked?

“A sailor from Oklahoma.” 

I shared this with Jim and as former service members we knew where he would be heading on a Sunday afternoon. While I wrapped the scene up Jim took a radio car and went straight to the bus depot downtown. 

Standing in line to board a San Diego-bound bus was a tall husky 20-something sailor. He wore a ring with a crescent shape, had scratches on his face and a Lady Hamilton watch in his pocket. Hello.

At the station he admitted everything except for being in the victim’s apartment. He had no answer for the watch in his pocket. 

I was in before daylight the next day to talk to the Hamilton people at their Pennsylvania H.Q. when they opened.

  • The watch in his pocket had been sent to a local jewelry store in 1949 (good)
  • The store was no longer in business (bad)
  • By noon we had the owner’s phone number in Sun City, Arizona (good)
  • The son answered the phone; dad died some time ago and all sales records, serial numbers, etc. are long gone (bad)

Before hanging up the son actually said, “I thought things like this only happened in the movies.” 

The victim’s fingernail scrapings turned out to be consistent with human skin, beard stubble and blood but were not conclusive. There was trace blood in the ring, not enough to type. The lab however made a nice overlay match with the ring and the head wound. 

We borrowed five watches from Sears next door and did a “show up” with her friends and neighbors.  “It looks like it but I can’t be sure.” “Maybe it could be but…” Not a lot of help. 

We had to go to the D.A. soon for filing and still could not nail the watch down.

Think dammit, think. Ok the neighbors said the watch was a retirement gift from D.W.P. in 1949 right? Longshot but nothing to lose.

At the D.W.P. Personnel counter, her file had been retrieved from the archives and does not, repeat does not, contain the receipt for the purchase of the watch.

Last chance. “Was there a luncheon or some sort of formal presentation?”

“Yes, a luncheon.”

“Was there a photographer?”

“Yes, there was.”

“Thank you, Jesus.” There in the file were at least two photos of her holding her watch up for the camera.

L.A.P.D. Photo lab blew up the negatives as much as possible without losing context. Looked good.

Well folks, that was our case and the District Attorney (DA) filed murder one. We were also assigned a “special DA” Marsh Goldstein, whom I knew and respected. Special DA meant he would shepherd the case personally to conclusion.

We were assigned a liberal female judge who hated cops and would toss a case at the drop of a comma. Normally you would put on a “bare bones case” at the preliminary hearing. just enough to hold the defendant.

We gave them everything and hold him we did. Several months later Marsh called and asked if I had any problem with a murder one plea from the public defender’s office if the DA took the death penalty off the table. I thought it was a fine idea.

The public defender’s office very seldom pleads to murder one.

Somewhere I remember reading or hearing an old homicide cop who said something memorable…

                                                   “We speak for the dead.”

Street Stories The Call Box

The Call Box: Burn Barrels

By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD

During the first half of the 20th Century (through 1957 and who knows how long before) everyone–businesses included, burned their trash in backyard incinerators. Everyone had a burner. The residential ones were what you would imagine a “pueblo” bread oven or a pottery kiln to look like.

Residential burners were usual 4 to 5 feet square and about 5 feet tall. They had a front-door loader and a 5 to 6-foot-tall chimney. Business/commercial ones were monsters the size of a family sedan on end with a 10-12 foot chimney. Even today some still survive.

The many Indian tribes that inhabited the LA basin in centuries past referred to the area as “The Valley of the Smokes” due to the inversion layer holding the smoke close to the ground.

Why have I filled your head with this bit of trivia?

Because after burning was outlawed the incinerators became favorite hiding/disposable spots for stolen items, guns, knives and a good stash spot for narcotics. Even the occasional body.

Modern incinerator-note stack on upper right

I was a detective sergeant working Robbery out of Wilshire Division. We had been inundated with a series of brutal street robberies over a period of several months. Our victims, usually elderly women, were beaten and robbed of their purses. We finally were able to identify our suspect and put together a bulletin for the patrol units. Within a few days a radio car bagged him. Half a dozen of our victims made him in a show-up and after some lengthy conversation he gave it up and admitted to 20-plus robberies.

What about the purses? There was an abandoned and shuttered apartment building on his block. In the rear there was a commercial burner and by stacking boxes up he was able to reach the top and drop the purses down the chimney.

I felt a great deal of satisfaction as I pulled purse after purse after purse out of the burner door, clearing a case with every one. I even thought to keep them in order to match crimes reports by date. 

As I recall there were 24 purses, 3 or 4 not even reported. Our robber was cooperative to the point of showing us where he had sailed several onto rooftops.

I think any officer will admit that when you do something even as simple as this, that you not only make someone’s life a little better but it gives you a sense of satisfaction—a sense of why you do what you do. 

Some of our victims even cried when reunited with items thought gone forever. We always thought of them as “our ladies.”


Don’t forget to check out Thonie’s three thriller/mysteries: By Force or Fear, Intent to Hold and With Malice Aforethought. All three are currently available through She’s putting the last touches on Felony Murder Rule, the fourth in the Nick and Meredith Mystery Series.

By Force or Fear, Intent to Hold, and With Malice Aforethought
Street Stories The Call Box

The Call Box: One Christmas Morning

By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD

There are no elves, nor grinches, no Jacob Marley and no Tiny Tim.This is the tale of one minor incident in the city on any given day.

The Call Box

I was a sergeant working Wilshire Division detectives and with three others were the “Christmas crew.” My hope for a quiet day to work on reports evaporated when a patrol officer called in a “DB” (dead body) call at the far west end of the division, the high rent area.

Homes were well-tended and pricey. I was met by the uniformand the neighbor who is a “Spring Byington” look-alike, both in looks andmannerisms. “Spring” came over to wish Merry Christmas to her friend Abigail. Receiving no answer, she went home and called. Alarmed when there was no reply, she phoned the police. 

The uniform had no trouble gaining entry and found Abigail deceased. 

Dressed in pajamas, quilted robe, and slippers she was seated in an overstuffed arm chair facing the tree. The remnants of a cocktail sat ona low table to her left. 

From all outward appearances she died the night before. After deciding cause of death to be “natural” and thinking that was a pretty good wayof checking out, I released the uniform and turned my attention to “Spring.” 

I covered Abigail’s face with a blanket and asked “Spring” about next of kin. She confirmed her friend like herself was in her 80’s and a long-time widow. 

Spring Byington in Kentucky Jones 1965

Three grown children, a daughter, Ellen, living in Arizona who she spoke to by phone on a weekly basis, and two sons both estranged, whom Abigail never discussed, names unknown.

Kitchen “wall phones” were popular then and usually had a corkboard or message receptacle adjacent. Abigail did not disappoint. In one corner of the board was “E” with an Arizona number. Directly below was “T” and “D”who I hoped were the sons. Neither E nor T answered nor did a machine.

D answered, “Merry Christmas, this is Dick.” Now the crappy part. Anyone who has ever made a death notification can verify there is just no easy way. I couldn’t blurt out, “Merry Christmas, mom’s dead.” So, in my most diplomatic fashion, I gave him the news as gently as possible.

Now, this is a man who, by his later admission, had not spoken to nor made any inquiry regards his mother’s health or well-being for many years. He completely went to pieces. He was an hour away and would be enroute.

“Spring,” bless her heart, had without prompting nor asking has made a pot of coffee. We sat with our coffee sharing the silence, I finally asked about Abigail’s doctor.

“Spring” had driven her friend to the cardiologist on several occasions. He was on Wilshire and although she could not remember his name it started with “W.” 

Abigail came through again when the board yielded Dr W. Department policy stated if a doctor who had seen the deceased within the last thirty days (I think) and was willing to attest to cause of death, he could sign the death certificate. Otherwise it became a coroner’s case.

Dr W’s service stated Dr G was covering for him. I asked Dr G’s service for a call back a.s.a.p.  Ten minutes later, Dr G confirmed his association with Dr W, knew Abigail and was sure Dr W would sign off.

Thank you.

“Spring” left and when Dick arrived, he cried openly and told me of his regrets. It was awkward and there was nothing I could really say. I was finally able to calm him down enough to call a mortuary. I then walked next door responding to “Spring’s” invitation and enjoyed a very good breakfast.

The names Abigail, Ellen, T and D along with the doctors’ are invented for this story as it was long ago. 

The story and of course, “Spring” are both true.

The Call Box

Roll Call: Short Dogs

By Mikey, Retired LAPD

The Yellow Van and the Robbery Suspect


It was late 1990 and I was working Wilshire Division day watch patrol as a new field sergeant. Wilshire Division is bordered on the north by Hollywood Division, on the west by West Los Angeles Division on the east by Rampart Division and on the south by South West Division. At about 1130am I monitored a broadcast of a robbery that had just occurred in South West. The suspect was described as a heavy set male black, driving a yellow van, last seen south bound on La Brea Boulevard. I was stopped for a red light at Washington and La Brea facing south when I spotted a yellow van approach the interaction going north. The South West robbery suspect was last seen proceeding south on La Brea. The lettering on the van identifyed it as rental van. I radioed my location and asked communications to ask the South West unit if the van had writing on the sides. I was told that there was, and they added that it had a number on the back.

LAPD_Bell_206_JetrangerAs the light changed, the van passed me and sure enough the number matched the one given to me by the unit. I communicated that I was following the van NORTH bound on La Brea, requested back-up and settled in for a possible pursuit. I heard an air unit was enroute, so I hung back. The van proceeded into a residential neighborhood, pulled to the curb and the driver exited. I set up a felony stop, shot gun and all, and told the heavy-set driver to prone out. He turned and ran up a drive way into a back yard. The air unit was now over head and the observer told me to start star walking north.

“A little faster, Sarge,” the observer said, so I picked up the pace. I passed three residences and was approaching the last house before the end of the block when I was told to run to the end of the block and take cover facing east, so that’s what I did.

“Wait for it, Sarge.” Looking east I could see a wooden fence paralleling the street, west to east and the sidewalk next to it. This time the observer chucked as he said, “Here they come.”

They, here they come?

hurry-up-2785528_960_720I had my weapon drawn, facing east when the frail wooden fence shattered into pieces as the suspect ran right through. Behind him were a pit bull and a mutt in hot pursuit!

The guy saw at me and began yelling, “Shoot the dogs, shoot the dogs!!”

The aircrew must have been laughing hard because I heard the engine whining down (pilot not paying attention) but my attention was on our robbery suspect. The dogs got alarmed when they saw the vehicle traffic did a 180 and headed for home.

“Shoot the dogs,” ran into a responding black and white and the rest is history.

You know for a heavyset guy, he was running pretty good. Well, he was highly motivated!

Morning Watch and the Flying Badge


It was late 1990 and I was woLAPD sgt badge movie prop etsyrking morning watch at Wilshire as a patrol sergeant. Our end of watch was 0800 but I had a report to finish and didn’t leave the station until 1030. I was on my way home eastbound on the I-10, the Santa Monica portion and this time of the morning the traffic still stinks. My patience is boarding the edge of—well, I’m tired and when I get home I have a couple of “honey do’s” to complete before sleep. Drive time, 45 minutes. Crossing the Harbor freeway, the traffic lightened up, so we picked up the speed. I’m in the #2 lane and a yellow city dump truck is in the #1 lane. As we transition from the east bound I-10 to the north bound I-5, the truck—without signaling—cuts me off! Had I not slammed on the brakes, we’d have had a terrific collision. Now I’m going to catch up to the truck and let the guy know who he just cut off! I take my badge place it into my left hand. The badge pin is between my middle and index finger. I catch up to the truck who is back in the #1 lane and now I’m next to him, I roll down my window and as he looks over at me, I produce my badge out the window…….and my badge is yanked out of my hand by the rush of wind! It’s gone, rolling down the freeway. My almost new sergeant badge is GONE!

Told you I was tired, lacking any judgment and now my badge was gone. I got off the freeway and went back to the location.

Somewhere in badge heaven that badge is telling the story of the first and last knuckle head he was with.

I sure showed that driver, huh?

The Call Box

The Call Box: Every Day’s April Fool’s Day

By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD


Our lieutenant was a very nice, elderly gentleman awaiting retirement who has been with us for a very short time and has no idea of whom he supervises.

He was the “victim” when, while during pistol inspection, he stood with an empty gun pointed at Tom Ferry’s “netherlands,” Sully set off a fire cracker behind him, convincing him for a few seconds he had just shot one of his detectives. Enough background.

This lieutenant and his wife were childless and the love of his life (besides his wife) was the family car. A 1950’s something Oldsmobile 88, red and white, polished to perfection and the object of his affection. In short, he loved his car.

While at home one night, it was stolen. He was almost inconsolable. He nagged the auto theft team every day about the car and talked of nothing else.

On day 4 or 5, I sat at the squad table across from Sully while we both worked on reports. To this day, I will swear I “heard” the idea formulate in his mind. I looked up and he sat there with a faraway look in his eye and the hint of a smile. I gave him the “what’s up” eyebrow and he nodded toward the door. I followed to the records room, teletype section.

Teletype_with_papertape_punch_and_readerTo the very young of you, a teletype was the then police method of reaching a lot of other agencies en masse.

Consulting the code book for proper and convincing numbers, et cetera, he composed something along the following lines:

From Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office, be advised. On [date] 1st National Bank in Cedar City held up by following subjects.
Names of two made up persons with descriptions and CII (California Information and Identification-indicates a person has a rap sheet or criminal history with the state of California) numbers were here inserted.
The teletype went on to recount a gunfight in which bandits’ vehicle was riddled with bullets, a wild chase on back roads, minor collisions, more bullet holes until they were captured.
Particulars were inserted: weapons recovered and where stolen from; attention particular departments, suspects admit crimes your weapons, et cetera. Last: “Attention L.A.P.D. Wilshire dets (detectives) veh (vehicle) is your stolen, 1950′ Olds 88 red/white,” et cetera.
Veh impounded, many bullet holes, and damage. Please advise re: dispo (disposition) Not drivable.

Sully typed it–did not send, naturally, and took the only copy, inserting it into the lieutenant’s daily mail.

We sat back to watch.


1955 Olds 88_LI
1955 Olds 88-wrong color for Sully’s lieutenant but you get the idea.

When his “victim” read it, he stood and tried to walk in 2 or 3 directions at once, sat down, picked up the phone, put it back, stood up, sat down and just stared for a moment or two. The lieutenant suddenly turned and caught Sully and I watching him.
He pointed at us and nodded.


Then smiled. His car was eventually recovered undamaged.




Ramblings by Hal

Ramblings: Lost Again

By Hal Collier, Retired LAPD

In my last Ramblings, I described being assigned radio calls outside your division. I will now describe being loaned to another division and still getting lost. Officers from within the same Bureau would often get loaned to a division to cover for Christmas parties and picnics. Some divisions would have a few division street guides for the loan officers. Loaned officers and sergeants were usually the boot (rookie) sergeants and younger officers—it was a seniority thing. Some officers liked working a different division.

I hated it.


NIH_PoliceDuring my thirty-five years on the LAPD we didn’t have the fancy GPS gadgets that come standard in cars and cell phones today. We sometimes had to ask for directions or depend on our instincts. It helped if you knew which way north was.

Some officers didn’t.


I was loaned to Wilshire Division one cold winter night for their Christmas party (we called it Christmas in the olden days). It was slow. Most crooks didn’t want to spend Christmas in jail. We mostly stayed on busy north/south streets looking for drunk drivers. About 3 A.M., we ran into a couple of Hollywood cops also on loan. We chatted that we only had a few more hours and we could go home to Hollywood.


man with a gunFive minutes later the other Hollywood officer requested a backup on a 415 (peace disturbance) man with a gun. We knew we were close but didn’t recognize the street they were on.

Oh shit, we didn’t have a Wilshire street guide.


As usual, I’m driving and I speed up. I can feel the adrenalin surging through my veins but I don’t know where I’m going. Did the officers turn left or right when they drove off? I’ll make a note of that for officer safety sake next time I’m on loan. I race around north of my location. Common sense says they turned right at the next street. Wrong, they turned left. I found them but it was a lot later than either of us expected or wanted. Thank goodness everything turned out ok. 

I hated being loaned outside my comfort zone.


Next: another loan where I lost the station.