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and LaBianca murders shoc ed L!"! #riter $yron %oberts& search for the connection between drugs, madness, and 'frea y crime()not to mention a handy 'reasonable person*s guide( to self protection)re+eals a city desperate for understanding and a return to order
By Myron Roberts Los Angeles magazine, October 1969
Photogra ph courtesy Denise Philibert
Some murders, like some men, are singled out for fame because they are peculiarly symbolic of their times. In the ‘ !"s it #as the Leopold$Loeb case, #ith its trappings of flaming youth and the %e# Rich produced by a runa#ay stock market. In the ‘&!"s it #as the Black 'ahlia. (he label, affi)ed to a then anonymous young #oman found mutilated in Los Angeles, someho# suggested all those millions of young girls #ho had left home and family to seek #artime *obs and ad+enture in the big city, *ust like in the Betty ,rable mo+ies, only #ith a different ending.
In the ‘-!"s it #as the .inch$(regoff case in /est 0o+ina, #ith its cast and setting of the #ealthy dentist, an aging, e)pensi+e and un#anted #ife, the country club, the suburban ranch home #ith a ne# station #agon parked in the dri+e#ay, and #eekends in Las 1egas #ith a pretty young nurse. And no# #e ha+e the Sharon (ate case, surrounded by a da22ling array of e)3uisite symbols of our time4 drugs, strange se) games, a bi2arre ne# culture, 5rich hippies,6 ritual murder and a poor dumb kid from 7l Monte #ho #andered into the midst of this freaky scene to die. /hy, among the thousands of 5cheap murders6 #hich occur e+ery year in this country 8the current rate is one e+ery &9 minutes: #ere these crimes pounced upon by the press and the public; 0learly the 5celebrated6 murder tells us something about #here the public"s head and heart are at a gi+en moment. <omicides +ery much like the Black 'ahlia case occur #ith depressing regularity these days, for e)ample, and hardly anyone but the police and those close to the +ictim bothers to regard the e+ent. 0learly, too, the Sharon (ate case #ould ha+e been a spectacular e+ent in any era. But it seems to belong to this time and this place. Someho# people identified #ith it, in the #ay people seem to identify these days #ith strange mo+ies like Rosemary’s Baby. /ithin days there #as another, similar murder in Los Angeles #hich police belie+e to ha+e been the #ork of a 5copycat killer.6 A kind of fear ran through the city that #as almost palpable. =ne o+erheard #omen standing in line at the supermarkets comparing, not hair styles or #ashing po#ers, but doorlocks. (ract salesmen in places as far a#ay as >almdale reported they #ere getting in3uiries and actual sales from people #ho said they"d had it #ith li+ing in the city, #here they #ere afraid not only to #alk the streets at night, but to stay at home as #ell. =n a nationally tele+ised talk sho#, originating in %e# ?ork, >eter .onda, himself a sometime symbol of the 5freak6 culture, casually remarked that he #as going home to his family in Los Angeles@if they #ere 5still ali+e6 by the time he got there. In the days follo#ing the (ate case residents of Be+erly <ills and Bel$Air rushed to hire guards and install e)pensi+e alarm systems. Most of the city"s plusher pet shops #ere cleaned out of guard dogs. A Studio 0ity kennel had to airlift ,erman Shepherds in from Io#a to meet the demand. 7+en so they sold e+ery dog they could supply at prices ranging up to AB -! for a full gro#n, attack$trained ,erman Shepherd. /hat seems to be most frightening to people in Los Angeles and else#here is the unpredictability of so much contemporary crime. %ote some of the crimes #hich ha+e happened in Southern 0alifornia recently4 A #oman #as trying to cross a street #hen a car s#er+ed out of its lane, deliberately struck her and knocked her do#n. (he dri+er stopped, sa# her trying to cra#l back to the side#alk, listened to her moaning #ith pain, then backed up and ran o+er her again, killing her. <e then got out of the car, grabbed her purse and fled. A couple stopped to gi+e a ride to t#o young men. (he men raped and beat the #oman to death, knocked the man out and robbed him.
A man #as stalled on the free#ay. Somebody stopped to help him. After trying for se+eral minutes to get the car started, the benefactor turned in disgust upon the stranded motorist, slugged him, robbed him and dro+e off. >asadena police report finding *agged bits of broken bottles carefully but lightly co+ered by sand at the bottom of children"s slides in parks throughout the city. A semi$official document prepared by the LA>' estimates there are C!!,!!! paranoids in the D.S., according to the best psychiatric estimates. (hat means at least C!,!!! in 0alifornia, mostly in large cities. %o one kno#s ho# many of these are potential or actual killers. As for the number of potentially homicidal drug addicts or users, the figure is probably astronomical. Is the sense of public terror real or hoked$up to sell ne#spapers and maga2ines and elect politicians #ho prey on fantasy and fear; Bald figures alone do not tell the story, although the story they do tell is grim enough. In brief, one American in e+ery committed a ma*or crime last year. 8In Los Angeles -!,!!! serious crimes #ere committed last year. (his means that if you ha+e li+ed here for fi+e years or more and ha+e not been a +ictim, statistically, you"re a lucky man.: =n the other hand your chances of being killed in a traffic accident are B- times greater than the probability that you #ill be murdered. And there is no great he# and cry about auto safety #hich e+en remotely compares to the uproar about La# and =rder. .ormer LA>' >olice 0hief (had Bro#n, for BE years 0hief of 'etecti+es, puts it this #ay4 /hen he #as #orking homicide during the early ‘forties, there #ere about C! murders a year. 8%o# there are o+er &!!.: In those days he #as proud of the fact that F!G of the murders he in+estigated #ere sol+ed #ithin a year. (he procedure #as fairly simple4 check out a +ictim"s family, friends and associates. .ind someone #ith a moti+e for killing him and in most cases you had the killer. (oday police are reluctant to di+ulge the proportion of sol+ed to unsol+ed murders. But they admit it"s nothing like F!G. (he problem is that so many of today"s murders seem 5senseless.6 5<omicide used to be a fairly easy crime to sol+e,6 says LA>' Sgt. 'on .erguson. 5But today you ha+e so many cases like those Michigan college girl murders@ #e"+e had many similar cases here in 0alifornia@#here it"s almost impossible to tie the +ictim and a logical suspect together.6 In (had Bro#n"s day, logic, reason, and careful detecti+e #ork almost al#ays brought results. <e likes to tell, for e)ample, about the case of a young #oman homicide +ictim. (he only clue #as a pack of matches found in the room. <e noticed that the matches on the left side of the pack had been used. 'eduction4 find a left$handed male ac3uaintance of the +ictim and he had his killer@and it #orked. =r about ho# he carefully forged a chain of e+idence that sent L. 7#ing Scott to prison for the murder of his #ife despite the absence of a corpus delicti. 8<e has a theory about #here the late Mrs. Scott"s remains are stashed a#ay #hich may be of interest to San 'iego .ree#ay commuters.: =ne difficulty #ith crime today is that #e are beginning to kno# ho# little #e kno#. (he 1ictorians could pontificate #ith great certitude, for e)ample, about 5the criminal mind.6 But Be+erly <ills >olice 0hief Hoseph >aul Iimble, for one, belie+es 5most criminal acts today are committed by so$called normal people #ho react abnormally to a stress situation.6 (o disabuse oursel+es at the outset of some of the most enduring and least credible clichJs held by partisans of the left and right about crime, consider these facts4
B. .or many years, liberals and intellectuals ha+e belie+ed and preached that crime #as the fruit of ignorance, po+erty and social in*ustice. .act4 0rime in America seems to rise and fall during gi+en periods for reasons no one really understands. (he prosperous ‘ !"s, for e)ample, #ere a period of soaring crime rates, as are the affluent ‘K!"s. (he depression decade of the ‘thirties #as generally a time of falling crime rates. (hus crime seems to rise and fall in in+erse ratio to the general prosperity. .inally, in prosperous S#eden #here there are almost no e)tremes of po+erty or teeming slums, crime is rising e+en faster than here in America. . Sociologists, psychologists, etc., often argue that crime is the result of a 5climate of +iolence.6 .act4 (he +iolent /orld /ar II era sa# the lo#est crime rate of this century in America. 9. >olicemen and other e)ponents of the hard line in America insist that the real source of much of today"s crime lies in the increasing 5permissi+eness6 sho#n to the young in this 5Spock$marked generation.6 .act4 (he most crime$ridden part of the D.S. is the South, instates like ,eorge /allace"s Alabama, #here neither 'r. Spock nor the permissi+e$liberal philosophy is in great +ogue. (he last time #e had a great 5crime #a+e6 #as in the ‘t#enties, a heyday of conser+atism, hanging *udges and the III. &. (he ordinary citi2en tends to belie+e that criminals are a class apart #ho prey on basically honest and decent folk 5like oursel+es.6 .act4 >olice ha+e sur+eys #hich demonstrate that, under the right conditions, F!G of the American people admit to ha+ing committed some offense for #hich they might ha+e been *ailed if caught. In an official publication, the LA>' agrees #ith Rapp Bro#n that indeed 5+iolence is as American as cherry pie.6 And 0hief Iimble obser+es, 5crime is an American /ay of Life. .rom the blue collar #orker to the #hite collar e)ecuti+e, it penetrates e+ery strata of our society.6 (o #hich (had Bro#n 8no# doing pri+ate detecti+e #ork for business firms: adds, 5<ell, I thought I kne# something about crime during & years on the force. But most of that #as penny ante compared to the capers these business men pull on each other e+ery day.6 -. 50rime does not pay.6 5(ell that,6 says 0hief Iimble, 5to the slum kid #ho sees the rich pimps and dope pushers dri+ing around to#n in caddies and #earing silk shirts.6 K. 57ducation is the best means of pre+enting crime.6 .act4 Most educators agree that this is the best educated generation of young people in our history. It is also the most prone to crime. =ne in e+ery si) teenage boys #as brought before *u+enile authorities last year alone. (hose peace$lo+ing, gentle, idealistic Dnder (hirties are responsible for fully C!G of the crime in the country, including an unprecedented number of rapes, armed robberies and mass slaughters. Both Iennedys #ere cut do#n by members of the %o# ,eneration. It #as a young man #ho killed fifteen people and #ounded t#enty$fi+e one afternoon in (e)as. It is a young man #ho is charged #ith the murder of the Michigan coeds. (his is not meant to indict an entire generation. But e+en the most +iolent partisan of
the young can hardly deny that this is perhaps the bloodiest and most la#less generation of young people to come along since <itler"s Storm (roopers turned 7urope into a gra+eyard. Incidentally, the ,ermans, too, #ere #ell educated. It is practically impossible to tra+el any#here in the urban D.S. no# #ithout encountering forms of beha+ior #hich #ould ha+e been considered unthinkable e+en fi+e or si) years ago. ,irls as young as B& and B- hitchhiking alone at night as if they"d ne+er heard of rape. Attracti+e kids of apparently comfortable backgrounds begging on the streets. =thers, sitting hollo#$eyed on side#alks or curbs looking like 2ombies. Is there a connection bet#een all this uncon+entional beha+ior and soaring crime rates; (he police, among others, think so. (he common denominator, they belie+e, is drugs. >erhaps they are dra#ing an o+ersimplified picture of the situation, but recent research on the sub*ect doesn"t e)actly pro+e them #rong. All of the kids" rationali2ations not#ithstanding, the fact is, as 'r. 7d#ard R. Bloom3uist documents in his carefully researched recent study entitled Mari*uana 8,lencoe >ress:, that pot 5releases inhibitions and impairs *udgment #ith such predictability that a user #ith criminal tendencies #ill readily commit crimes.6 As e+erything #e kno# about history, psychology and human nature confirms, #ith certain rare and saintly e)ceptions, men, particularly young men, are seldom +ery far from +iolence. (o maintain ci+ili2ation at all, #e usually need all the *udgment #e can get. 5I tend to be e+angelistic about the drug scene6 admits Lt. 7. 7. Iearney of the LA>'. 5(here simply is no 3uestion that there has been a tremendous fallout of +iolence as the result of #idespread use of drugs.6 Moreo+er Iearney belie+es that the +iolence associated #ith drug use is likely to gro# a great deal #orse in the immediate future because of t#o factors4 Relati+ely mild Me)ican pot is being replaced by hashish, a form of mari*uana made in the Middle 7ast #hich is appro)imately t#enty times stronger than the no# familiar Me)ican +ariety. Secondly, the increasing use of amphetamines, 5speed,6 by kids promises some charming ne# de+elopments on the social landscape. In the #ords of 'r. 'onald B. Louria of 0ornell Dni+ersity 8inter+ie#ed by ,ail Sheehy in %e# ?ork maga2ine:, speed is a drug 5taken solely for kicks by a subculture increasingly populated by thrill$seekers, psychopaths, angry sociopaths and young persons incapable of functioning in society.6 After a fe# months of use, obser+es reporter Sheehy, it leads to 5depression, #eight loss, se)ual de+iations and finally paranoid psychosis. Speed simply makes people beha+e as if they #ere cra2y.6 (here is not much doubt that most young people in Southern 0alifornia try some kind of drug at some point in the process of gro#ing up today. Hust as not e+ery young man #ho gets loaded during his adolescence #inds up a drunk, so not e+ery youngster #ho tries pot #inds up a heroin addict, a speed freak or a card$carrying member of the 5drug culture.6 (hat drugs ha+e transformed hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of the young into unpredictable and occasionally criminal personalities is also inescapable, ho#e+er, in the face of current crime statistics and the e)pert testimony of +irtually e+eryone, including those entirely sympathetic to the youth re+olt. And yet our society remains curiously ambi+alent in the face of such a threat. A good many respectable intellectuals, people #ho #ouldn"t dream of shooting speed themsel+es, seem to regard the right to take drugs as one of our 0i+il Liberties
and ha+e confused the drug scene an the crime scene #ith political dissent, opposition to the 1ietnam /ar and impro+ed race relations. (he fact that young %egroes and Me)ican$ Americans #ere the first +ictims of the drug$pushers has led to a number of people to confuse sympathy for the cause of ci+il rights to tolerance of drugs@#hen in fact, as e+en the most militant black leaders themsel+es testify, dope is the enemy of the black man"s struggle for liberation. =f late #e ha+e e+en seen public drug festi+als, such as the much publici2ed /oodstock .esti+al, #here hundreds of thousands of young people, most of them stoned out of their heads, sat listening for days to the drone of rock music. A number of commentators, including Life agazine 8#hich rushed into print a fe# days later #ith a special AB. - supplement de+oted entirely to the festi+al:, ha+e described this as a cultural e+ent of monumental import, *ust behind ,enesis and the landing on the moon. (he fact that these rock fans did not engage in the #idespread +iolence #hich #e ha+e come to e)pect as more or less normal at such gatherings #as also #idely hailed by commentators in the press. %o one stopped to ask #hy the absence of +iolence at a large, public gathering of the young should be considered any more remarkable than the fact that the fans #ho go to a football game e+ery Saturday afternoon in the fall do not, customarily, tear up the stadium or attack one another. Life"s o#n house youth apologist, a young columnist named Barry .arrell, found himself some#hat confused by the mass acceptance of the rite. 5(he press and e+en the police seem content to #rite it off as a +ictory for peace and lo+e,6 pu22les .arrell, #ho had undoubtedly e)pected to adopt that line himself. 5In a #ay, it #as. But I #ould ha+e thought that the significance of a half$million young Americans spontaneously creating a society based on drugs #ould ha+e caused some slight concern.6 <e then proceeds to define his o#n 5bad +ibrations6 to the e+ent4 5As one #ho has belie+ed that the *ustification for using drugs lay some#here in the 2one of psychic freedom, I #as disturbed by the bo+ine passi+ity they induced in this mass of free minds. .or almost e+eryone present, the freedom to get stoned together #as more than freedom enough. 5(he Rubicon #e felt oursel+es crossing #as the line of restraint bet#een the old drug culture of the underground and some ne# authori2ed form, dangerously adaptable to the interests of packagers, promoters, the controllers of cro#ds. It #as a groo+y sho#, all right, but I fear it #ill gro# groo+ier in memory, #hen this market in our madness leads on to sho#s #e"d rather not see.6 .arrell"s misgi+ings are 3uite understandable. (hose #ith some#hat longer memories, in fact, tend to regard the /oodstock syndrome not so much as a ne# social phenomenon but as a contemporary +ariation of another youth festi+al@the %uremberg Rallies@#here <itler, ,oebbels L 0o. #ere the featured group and the multitudes of fans #ere stoned on slogans instead of grass. 5'on"t put on a black *acket and dark glasses unless you are prepared to kill,6 Stokely 0harmichael is reported to ha+e ad+ised some of his young follo#ers. It is sound ad+ice. It demonstrates that Stokely understands symbols and their conse3uences. 0harmichael is saying that those #ho #ish to merely talk about 5re+olution6 and dress up as re+olutionaries #ithout being prepared for +iolence, death and prison, are fools or charlatans. So the educated
middle class youngster #ho plays at 5freaking out6 has, consciously or not, set off along a certain path, and unless he is prepared to go all the #ay, he is simply a fool. (he +ictims in the (ate massacre #ould seem to demonstrate ho# 3uickly and une)pectedly game$playing can turn into something more serious. (he price of membership in the 5drug culture6 is firm and fi)ed4 (o paraphrase (homas <obbes" description of the miserable conditions of factory #orkers in the BFth century, the life of the drug addict is 5nasty, brutish and short.6 (his, of course, is hardly true of the occasional pot smoker, but e+en here some facts tell a much grimmer story than most young people belie+e. .or e)ample, the LA>' recently did a study of F *u+eniles arrested in BFKB for possession of mari*uana. (he department #anted to kno# #hat had happened to these people fi+e years later@in BFKK. (hey found4 9E, or BKG, #ere subse3uently arrested for possession of heroin. CK, or 9EG, #ere arrested again for possession of mari*uana. &K, or !G, #ere arrested for robbery. BC #ere arrested for rape. =f the entire group, almost four in fi+e #ere re$arrested and BKG ser+ed time in a state penitentiary. (he irrationality, the mindless capriciousness of the %e# 1iolence, has inspired a ne# kind of fear among people, #hich in turn breeds its o#n alarming conse3uences. Because people suspect that criminals are often 5dope fiends6 #ho #ill beha+e unpredictably, they fear becoming in+ol+ed in reporting a crime. >olice find themsel+es embattled in an effort to protect themsel+es and a public #hich often beha+es irrationally. 7+ery policeman can tell stories of neighbors #atching someone"s house being broken into, of armed robberies, assaults and e+en murders #ithout anyone e+en going to the phone to call the police, let alone trying to help the +ictim. 1igilante groups and neighborhood 5protecti+e associations6 often #ind up shooting each other and their families. (here are more guns in Los Angeles today than in Saigon. 5Sportsmen"s6 maga2ines suggest sub$machine guns, e+en anti$tank guns 8*ust AFF.-!: as an 5ideal .ather"s 'ay gift.6 0onser+ati+es, such as ,o+ernor Reagan, militantly oppose all efforts to unilaterally disarm the public. 5/<7% ,D%S AR7 =D(LA/7', =%L? =D(LA/S /ILL <A17 ,D%S6 read the bumper stickers on the pickup trucks and campers. But gun nuts are only another kind of freak, and the same grim epitaphs could *ust as easily apply to them4 Li+e +iolently, die +iolently. Li+e freaky, die freaky. Someho#, #hen and if the Sharon (ate case is finally sol+ed, #e are likely to see it not simply as the made act of one or more abberant indi+iduals, but as a symptom of the sickness of our time@*ust as the St. 1alentine"s 'ay Massacre, for e)ample #as not so much the act of cold$blooded killers, as the ine+itable fruit of the #ay it #as in 0hicago in the ‘t#enties. /hate+er its short term benefits, the drug culture at its #orst e3uals madness, crime, +iolence and early death. It seems a disproportionate price to pay for the pleasure of 5freaking out.6
,%OT-.T/01 2O3%4-L5 5%O$ T6- &5%-"72& .%/$-8 " %-"4O0"BL,-%4O0&4 13/9/hat can be done to protect the young@and oursel+es@from the 5freaky,6 drug$related crime; Some steps are being taken, although they admittedly represent only a beginning. (he Sheriff"s 'epartment of Los Angeles 0ounty, for e)ample, has launched an educational program at &B *unior highs, high schools and adult schools throughout Los Angeles. (he program, called (he 0iti2en and the La#, brings officers into the schools, and takes school children on field trips to police stations, courts, etc. in an effort to break do#n some of the barriers bet#een the police and the public. (he Sheriff"s 'epartment, mean#hile, is acti+ely seeking inno+ati+e approaches to crime pre+ention in a radically changing society. >olice generally feel that drugs ha+e become so much a part of the scene among the young today that it is unrealistic to hope for complete eradication. 5(he best #e can hope for is control,6 says Lt. R. 7. Iearney of the LA>'"s 0rime >re+ention Section. 8>sychologists, educators, etc. are generally e+en more pessimistic. 5(he best #e can hope for,6 they belie+e, 5is a re!uce! rate of gro"th in the number of drug$associated crimes.6: Iearney belie+es that control has to begin by isolating kno#n hea+y drug$users #ithin the school or college population, 5the same #ay #e #ould isolate someone carrying a dangerous disease.6 0rimes against property are far easier to guard against than crimes against people, particularly of the 5freaky6 +ariety. 5If someone #ants to kill you,6 the LA>' lamentably concludes, 5and is #illing to take some risk, there probably isn"t much you can do to stop him.6 ?ou can, ho#e+er, a+oid associating #ith freaks. 8Most murders are still committed by someone kno#n to the +ictim.: If attacked, particularly if you are a #oman, scream, resist, fight like hell. /hen dri+ing alone, keep your car #indo#s closed. If stalled on a lonesome stretch of road, stay inside the locked car until the police arri+e. 'on"t open the door or #indo#s to strangers. Ieep your purse out of sight. ?oung girls #earing light, flimsy clothing #hile tra+eling about the city alone at night are still the fa+orite targets of rapists@#ho fre3uently do not set out intending to commit rapeM something about the attracti+eness or +ulnerability of the +ictim gi+es the rapist his clue. 0ountless rapes, of course, go unreported, especially among female hitchhikers. Most criminals are opportunists. (he more opportunities you create for crime, the more likely you are to be +ictimi2ed. Armed robbers are usually +iolent men seeking a bloody confrontation #ith their +ictims as an e)cuse to pro+e their 5manhood.6 Burglars, on the other hand, are more often gentler types #ho simply #ant to steal your stuff and get out. Dsually, if challenged, they run. (he locks on most tract houses are #orthless. =rdinary dime store chain locks are useful chiefly to keep the kids inside the house. .or minimal protection against burglary, police
recommend a good dead bolt lock. Also, a noisy dog is helpful. Burglars ordinarily do not like fuss. If you see someone acting strangely in your neighborhood, call the police and they #ill be glad to come out and in+estigate. (hey can usually tell #ithin minutes #hether the person is engaged in a legitimate acti+ity or not. It"s too bad that 5support your local police6 became a political slogan for the crank. Right since, generally, it"s a damned good idea.
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