Melchior robbers caught

June 22, 1957
Los Angeles

Wayne Burke, Richard McFall and Alfred J. Pope fled into the night in what they thought was a clean getaway.

McFall said: “Burke and I got in my car and J. [Pope] took furs and jewelry and guns and hats, masks and gloves and so forth and we were to meet at Johnny Heath’s apartment or bungalow or motel, whatever it was.

“So we drove–Burke and I drove together and we got there 10 or 15 minutes prior to the time that J. arrived. And I had a few items in my pocket of jewelry. Pill cases. Like a compact, something like that, and I don’t believe Burke had any kind of jewelry. He had the money. So we divided the money up there. He and I divided the money and gave J. some of it. $30 or $40, something like that. Burke and I wound up with around $100 apiece.

“We discussed who was going to try and fence the stuff, or who was going to fence it and everything, and everything that had diamonds in it, plus the  one emerald ring we put it out there, and I was–I wanted to divide the stuff; let it go. Burke to either take and fence it all or I will. I didn’t have any place to fence it and he said he did, so he took every piece that was worth anything. All the diamonds and the emerald.

“Originally [Burke] wanted to sit on it, and wait for, I don’t know, a month or few weeks, or something until it cooled off. He thought he would get a better price. Everybody was pressed for money, so he made an agreement. He would go ahead and contact this fence the next day or same night or something to see what he could do to get rid of most of the stuff.”

McFall said: “Later on I gave Spivak five or 10 bucks or something. That was all he wound up with.” Spivak also apparently got a box of cigars.

But on June 19, 1957, the victims identified Burke’s photograph. He was arrested the next day at 7023 1/2 La Tijera and identified by the victims.

“At first he denied any knowledge of the robbery whatsoever,” Police Chief William H. Parker wrote, “but there were indications that he was involved. He did indicate that if possible he would like to cooperate, mainly to protect his wife and young baby, which was approximately one week old at the time.

“Mr. Manley Bowler, assistant district attorney, county of Los Angeles, was contacted and agreed that if Burke would cooperate fully in the recovery of property and testify as a witness for the prosecution, in return he would be granted immunity for his participation in the robbery.”

At 5 a.m. on June 19, there was a knock at Pope’s door. It was Burke–and a police officer. Burke asked Pope for the furs, which Pope had hidden underneath a sofa. Pope was arrested and Burke began helping officers recover the stolen items, which were spread over Los Angeles.

Later that day, McFall stopped at a liquor store to buy some cigarettes and heard a radio broadcast saying that two men had been arrested in the Melchior holdup. The LAPD’s Inspector Ed Walker mentioned McFall by name as being wanted in the robbery.

Abandoning his Chrysler in the parking lot of the Tyler Hotel, McFall had a friend take him to San Fernando, caught a bus to Bakersfield, then another bus to San Francisco and checked in at the Mentone Hotel.

With his cash running out, McFall began trading some of the jewelry for money. He drifted from San Francisco to Reno, to Ogden, Utah, and eventually ended up in Missoula, Mont.

Spivak, meanwhile, panicked when he saw his picture with the news stories about the Melchior robbery.

Spivak said: “I checked out of the hotel. I rushed out. I figured it was only a matter of time. Now that he [McFall] was mentioned and they knew McFall was in the hotel and they knew McFall had brought me over to the hotel. I said: ‘The cops will be here any minute to grab me,’ so I just ran and besides I had these checks out for the television sets and stuff and I said ‘Gee, I got to get out of here quick.'”

Spivak and Howard “Blackie” Nichols spent a night in a hotel on Flower Street, then moved to the El Rey Hotel. Unable to sleep, Spivak fled, abandoning Nichols at the hotel.

Spivak said: “I was going up to the room and I saw a door open and a head stick out and I thought they were watching for me, that somebody had noticed my picture in the paper because my picture had been there in the paper, but this time–and I figured somebody might have recognized me, so instead of going to my room, I took the first staircase downstairs and checked out. I didn’t even check out, didn’t stop at the desk or anything. I just left.”

He spent a night in a hotel on Alvarado, then two nights in Santa Monica. Finally, Spivak bought a bus ticket to Oakland and got a room at the Harrison Hotel. He bought a Hudson automobile in Oakland and two nights later, he checked into the Lyric Hotel in San Francisco. He stayed a week at the Governor hotel, then spent a night in Reno. The Hudson broke down on the way back from Reno, so he sold it for scrap and bought a bus ticket to San Francisco, where he was arrested Aug. 3, 1957.

Meanwhile, McFall met another addict, Frank Arriola, in San Francisco. Arriola introduced McFall to Shirley Zusa, whose boyfriend, one of McFall’s drug sources, was in prison.  McFall and Zusa went to Reno and then came back to the Bay Area. McFall stayed in Oakland because police had been to his room in San Francisco looking for him. Zusa took off for a rehab clinic in Los Angeles, leaving her car with McFall.

McFall went to Reno, where he spent a week in bed taking prescription drugs and using paregoric, which contains morphine. From there, he spent about 10 days in Ogden, picking apricots, then went to Missoula. He was arrested Aug. 10, 1957.

McFall said of his arrest: “The car had been parked there all night and all during the day or most of the day with the exception of the time I drove over to a doctor…. I was all full of cement. In fact, I didn’t have a change of clothes. I left everything with Shirley in the same bag.

“I went to Penney’s I think it was, and I bought this pair of Levi’s and I had this clean shirt, and I had clean underwear. I bathed at night after coming back from work.

“The next day I went up and bought this. Saturday morning. Bought the Levi’s and what-not, and I went down to Park Hotel Cafe, and had a milkshake, and I talked to the waitress.

“When I came back–I didn’t know exactly what time it was, but I presume there was some time left before time passed where you didn’t have to put money in the meter. I stepped up and put a couple pennies in the meter and Bud Lamaroux L-a-m-a-r-o-u-x, drove up and asked if it was my car. A police sergeant. I knew he was a policeman. I saw the car. And he radioed for some other cars. We stood there and talked–was it my car, and I told him no, it belonged to a friend. By that time a couple other patrol cars, radio cars, had come up and they searched me and handcuffed me. He looked in the car and reached up under the seat; the gun was in the car. He got that out.”

On June 25, 1957, the Los Angeles County Grand Jury indicted Wayne Burke, Richard McFall, Alfred J. Pope and Louis Spivak in the Lauritz Melchior robbery. Pope and McFall pleaded guilty to robbery Nov. 20, 1957. McFall was given five years to life in prison, Pope was given six months in jail.

On Dec. 3, 1957, Spivak was found guilty of  kidnapping as well as robbery. Although he wasn’t present when the crime occurred, Spivak was given the heaviest sentence imposed on any of the men: five years to life in prison, with a minimum term of seven years.

All charges against Burke were dropped because he cooperated with authorities and aided in the return of the property.

Note: I would like to thank retired Police Capt. Ed Jokisch for providing materials on the Melchior case.

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About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in #courts, 1957, LAPD, Robberies, San Fernando Valley and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Melchior robbers caught

  1. Larry,
    Thanks for the gripping story, particularly part I. Naughty of you to make us wait a week for Part II though. But where’s the epilog? What happened to the fink, Wayne Burke? And the other losers?
    –I was unable to find any further trace of these men. If anybody knows, drop me a line.
    Thanks for reading!


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