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Brutal Vintage Crime Scene Photos from the Los Angeles Police Department Archives



In 2014, Merrick Morton, a photographer residing in Los Angeles and a former LAPD reserve officer, came across a neglected collection of LAPD crime photographs dating from the 1920s to the 1970s. These images were captured on cellulose nitrate-based film and negatives, which had deteriorated and were considered a fire hazard.


Through collaboration with the Fototeka photo digitisation service and the US National Film Archive, these photographs were restored to a renewed lease on life.


Detail of two bullet holes in car window, 1942

After undergoing restoration, the revamped collection features photographs of various crimes, often with a violent nature. It goes beyond the lighthearted moments involving marijuana plants and delves into a striking array of images. Among them are a peculiar photo of Maila Nurmi dressed as Vampira, snapshots capturing comedian Lenny Bruce's overdose in March 1966, and photographs documenting the Manson Family's arrival at their legal proceedings in 1970.


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.”


Unknown lady, 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

1930s




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.”


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


Suicide 1


Suicide 2


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


 



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