A dose of skepticism



Oct. 22, 1957

Los Angeles

And here’s where storytelling trumped skepticism.

Recall the death of Theodore Roosevelt Beckham, who killed Juvenile Officer Robert R. Christensen at 1524 Ingraham St. during
an attempted arrest. The first news accounts said officers killed
Beckham, who was trying to escape. Now, the papers say that according
to the inquest, Beckham shot himself.


In the heart. 

To recap news accounts: Christensen suspected Beckham (note that he was African American, although the papers didn’t say so) of being a
peeping Tom. Wearing civilian clothes and using his personal
vehicle, Christensen stopped in the neighborhood on his way to work. Acting alone,
Christensen detained Beckham and put him in the car without using
handcuffs, which were found on the front seat. As Christensen was
getting into his vehicle, Beckham grabbed the officer’s .38 Colt
Detective Special and shot him. Beckham ran away, then came back and
shot Christensen three more times.

About five hours later, police found Beckham’s car at 99th and Grape
streets and began searching for him. According to The Times, Beckham
ran out of the house at 2049 E. 99th St. The Times account said
Officers J.O. Worden and K.E. Gourley shot him when he failed to halt.
"We hollered at him to stop, Worden said, "but he kept
running," according to The Times.

Now the autopsy, however, finds that Beckham had been shot once with
Christensen’s Colt (photo of a Colt Detective Special, second series, at right, from gunbroker.com). According to The Times, Beckham "apparently
attempted to pull the snub-nosed revolver from his waistband. The
hammer caught in his shirt and he was shot."

Noting that police were 40 to 50 feet away, The Times said: "The
autopsy revealed that the bullet went through his heart from a range
close enough to leave powder burns on the wound."

Unfortunately, neither The Times nor the Mirror examined how this could
occur. The Times, in fact, merely stressed the ironic justice of
Beckham being slain with the murdered officer’s gun.

There’s only one problem.

According to the Mirror’s first story, Beckham was wearing green overalls.

No waistband.


I do believe that Theodore Roosevelt Beckham was shot in the heart. I
do believe the gun was fired close enough to leave powder burns. I may
even believe that he was shot with Christensen’s gun.

The rest of the story as told in the papers? I’m sorry, I don’t buy it.
For the sake of argument, let’s say he changed out of his overalls. The
Colt Detective Special is a double-action revolver and snagging the
hammer on a
shirt should have had no effect, certainly not in the uncocked
position, and shouldn’t have made the gun fire even in the cocked
unless Beckham had his finger on the trigger. It cannot be as simple as the papers made it sound. 

Above, a Mirror photo of the late Theodore Roosevelt Beckham. I
apologize for the poor reproduction. It’s the only one I have found
so far.

Email me

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in Countdown to Watts, Homicide, LAPD and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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