July 25-31, 1957
Nine minutes after the cyanide pellets were dropped in the gas chamber
at San Quentin, James Lewis Feldkamp, 25, who had once tried to become an
LAPD officer, was dead.
If he hadn’t been turned down by the Police Department, he said, he would have gone straight.
If the FBI hadn’t found his juvenile police record,* he might have been hired.
But because of a burglary committed at the age of 15, James Lewis Feldkamp went to the home of David L. Nagin, 1641 Holt Ave., with a loaded gun. Somehow, this seemed like logical reasoning to him.
It was supposed to be an easy job with a three-way split for Feldkamp,
Ambrose (Bocho) Lucero and Joel Leyva Villas, a truck driver who worked
at the wholesale grocery run by Nagin.
Villas and Lucero met in jail, where Villas was serving a sentence for
forgery and Lucero was serving a term for armed robbery. When Villas
finished his sentence, he contacted Lucero and they began planning the
Nagin holdup. It is unclear when or how Feldkamp became involved.
According to Villas, they failed in two attempts to rob Nagin at his office so they tried his home, knowing that he would have a large amount of cash he planned to deposit the next morning.
On the night of Nov. 12, 1954, Lucero apparently went to the home and asked the Nagins’ housekeeper, Marie Jacobs, about the address. Nagin went out to speak with him, returned and told Jacobs to be sure to lock the back door. “We don’t know who this kid is or whether he really wanted anybody,” Nagin said.
Later that evening, as Nagin, his wife, Maurine, and daughter, Fredericka, watched TV, Feldkamp knocked at the door. Fredericka answered it, thinking it was her boyfriend.
“I didn’t want to kill him or anybody else,” Feldkamp said. “When I rang the doorbell a young girl answered the door and screamed when she saw my gun.
“Shut that door!” Nagin screamed. “Don’t let him in!”
“She shoved the door in my face,” Feldkamp said. “I panicked. I shot myself, the man and somebody I didn’t see.”
Leaving a trail of blood after shooting himself twice in the wrist, Feldkamp went to a nearby car. He and Lucero hid on the floor of the back seat while Feldkamp’s 17-year-old-wife, Lucy, drove them to Mexicali and persuaded a doctor to treat the bullet wounds. (Another woman, possibly
Lucero’s wife, Carmen, may have been with them, police said).
Nagin was killed instantly and Maurine had been wounded in the right arm.
Maurine testified at the inquest: “I remember seeing the man shooting.
The flash blinded me…. I saw my husband was hit–I don’t know where.
“I tried to hold him up but the weight was too much for me. We fell
together and the man was still shooting. I felt I was hit and I cried,
‘Oh my God, we’re both dead.’
“My husband closed his eyes as we were falling. I called, ‘Dave, Dave’ and he never opened his eyes again.”
The investigation turned up some early leads but then went cold. It
wasn’t until July 24, 1957, when Feldkamp was arrested in the robbery of a market at 7132 Sepulveda Blvd., Van Nuys, that the case broke. In an anonymous phone call, a man told detectives to talk to Feldkamp about the Nagin killing. Feldkamp denied any knowledge of the case, but Lucy Feldkamp broke down during questioning and admitted that he had killed Nagin.
Feldkamp and Villas were charged in the killing, but Lucero was tried in Mexico because he had dual citizenship. It is unclear what became of Lucero and Villas, but Feldkamp waived his right to a jury trial and pleaded guilty to first-degree murder.
James Lewis Feldkamp, who almost became an LAPD officer, was executed Feb. 27, 1959.
David L. Nagin’s funeral was conducted by Rabbi Jacob Pressman at Hollywood Cemetery.
* Why wasn’t his juvenile record destroyed? A good question and I don’t have the answer.