By Ed Meckle, Retired LAPD
Robbery defined: 211 P.C. (California Penal Code):
- 1. Taking money/goods/property
- 2. in possession of another
- 3. from their person or immediate presence
- 4. by use of force or fear.
People are robbed, despite what the press says. Houses and cars are burglarized, not robbed.
Detectives assigned to the Robbery Detail, despite their actual size, seem larger than life. I won’t call it a swagger but more of an aura, an overpowering sense of quiet intimidation, or awe. They project a competence and a message stating, “I am not to be trifled with.”
Job Description: take down the bad guys.
Into this mix in the late 1940’s, we have The Hat Squad, one half-ton of “bad man” hunter.
Now, men wore hats back then, fedoras or flat caps in the winter, straw hats or skimmers in the summer. This group however wore identical fedoras with 3″ brims, and tailored suits. There were 2 teams of 2, all 6’2″ or over. The lightest weighed in at 235.
They were Max Herman and Clarence “Red” Stromwall, Harry Crowder and Eddie Benson. Much has been written about them, all based on interviews and research. I, however, knew them.
They were at least 10 years ahead of me on the job but in later years, I got to know all of them socially. Gentlemen to the letter. But on the job, they were legends.
Stories abound from the stickup men who gave themselves up when they heard the Hats were after them, to the “never mind any damn badge. My ID is on my head.” One story that made the rounds: A witness looked through the door peep hole of his second-floor apartment building and saw two of the Hats. He was so frightened he jumped from his bathroom window. He broke an ankle upon landing. He was a witness, yet.
Truth? Urban legend? Who knows but the Hat Squad were and still are revered.
Now robbers are generally not very nice people. They take things away from defenseless victims sometimes hurting them in the process. They usually are armed which makes them think they are bigger and smarter than they really are.
The Hats always seemed seven feet tall and their bulk would blot out the sun. They were Tonton Macoute, the boogie man, and the thing that goes bump in the night.
They made a bad movie about them, all riding together in a dark blue 1948 Buick convertible. Please. Also, a TV show; thankfully, one season only.
Their era ran from the late 40s through the early 60s.
The photo you are looking at was published with a Los Angeles Times article and now hangs in the current Robbery / Homicide squad room.
All were WWII vets, Eddie a paratrooper, Harry Air Corp, Max and Red Marines. Eddie, who played some pro football with the N.Y. Giants died too young of natural causes. The other three went to law school and became practicing lawyers while Harry and Red went on to become superior court judges.
They are gone now and have become part of the history and lore of the L.A.P.D. We shall never see their like again which is probably just as well in our politically correct world, populated by so many girly-men. Sorry, governor.
They can be found under L.A.P.D. Hat Squad on your computer.