The ‘Onion Field’ Remembered [Update]

March 11, 1963, Onion Field
Photograph by Don Cormier / Los Angeles Times

March 11, 1963: Jimmy Lee Smith returns to the crime scene to reenact the “Onion Field” killing with Sgt. G.H. Bates, left, as Officer Ian Campbell; Sgt. Danny Galindo, center, as Officer Karl Hettinger; and Sgt. Pierce Brooks, right, as Gregory Powell.

March 11, 1963, Onion Field
Photograph by Don Cormier / Los Angeles Times

March 11, 1963: Jimmy Lee Smith, in handcuffs, points to where Officer Ian Campbell was shot after he fell to the ground. Sgt. Pierce Brooks takes the role of Gregory Powell.


Retired Police Lt. Max K. Hurlbut, one of the Daily Mirror’s regular readers, writes:


Ian Campbell There is a "rest of the story" regarding this incident—not known to JOE WAMBAUGH (who graduated the Academy class before me: May 1960)—that you are welcome to print if it is of interest:

IAN CAMPBELL and KARL HETTINGER and I were partners in Hollywood Division in 1960 & '61.  (I was "third man" in the car, so did not work with them every shift).  By 1963 I was assigned to Accident Investigation Division out of PAB (Police Administration Building—Not yet named "Parker Center").

Policeman GARY E. KIRBY and I were assigned 6T91 the Saturday evening of 9 March 1963.  Near end-of-watch, we retreat to the basement Hollywood Division coffee room to complete reports and obtain nickel shoe shines from a trustee. 

IAN & KARL shortly arrive and join us.  The two are working 6Z4 [not an "F-car" (felony car) as commonly reported]. "Z" indicates a divisional special assignments car. A rash of "fruit rolls" (politically incorrect term for the street robberies of gays) was their mission.

March 10, 1963, Inglewood KARL goes upstairs to consult with detectives on an old case.  IAN, GARY, and I discuss an incident this very day.  Two Inglewood officers, DOUGLAS WEBB & ARTHUR FRANZMAN, see a white Corvair run a red light at Manchester Avenue & Crenshaw Boulevard.  Unbeknownst to them, the two occupants have 211'd the "White Elephant Restaurant" at 8420 Crenshaw.

The L.A. Times article of 10 March (“Fleeing Driver Forces Police Into Cemetery,” unknown page) states, “When officer Franzman approached the car, the driver whipped out a .45 caliber automatic and yelled to Webb, “Drop that gun or I’ll blow your friend’s head off.”  The startled officers dropped their gun belts and were marched into the cemetery.  The gunmen left them there, picked up their guns, and fled….”

We conclude the bad guys probably fear the death penalty so do not harm the officers.  This is one of three similar police kidnapping incidents in the Greater L.A. area the previous month.

KARL returns and he & IAN drive off in their unmarked Plymouth to their destiny at Carlos & Gower.  I’ve often wondered if, en route to his execution, IAN reflected upon the irony of events that day.  (He was a philosophy major in college).

The CAMPBELL-HETTINGER shooting changes procedures on LAPD and in the entire law enforcement community.  Commander JOHN “TWO-GUN” POWERS writes Patrol Bureau Order No. 11 six days later which is reflected in today’s officer survival training.

HETTINGER’s surrender of his revolver and subsequent flight (which saves his life) come under intense scrutiny.  KARL is forced to appear before fellow officers at roll calls to describe and answer for his actions. It is not pretty.

I am selected to become Chief WILLIAM H. PARKER’s driver, but he takes KARL instead.  We do not have a Department shrink in these days, but it is an attempt to relieve some of the pressures on poor KARL. 

KARL retires to become a gardener—in Bakersfield near that very same onion field!  (Why isn’t this a red flag, even then?).  KARL dies at 59, a delayed response to the events of some 30 years before….

Forgot to mention a little aside on the IAN CAMPBELL shooting. We used to write F.I. ("Field Interrogation") cards on everyone stopped. If, next morning, a burglary or other crime was discovered nearby, it could be useful info. Sometimes a "hummer" (not well-articulated reason for the stop) would go down as a 211 or 459 suspect, when it was really just a hunch or a feeling (based upon experience) that something was amiss. IAN & KARL probably thought this was just another F.I. card or "shake."

Most officers felt CAMPBELL was not prepared when he walked up to POWELL in the driver's seat. [I.e., IAN should have had his gun out, even if it was held down, out of sight, beside his leg, with flashlight in his left hand. SOP, even then, was to order felony suspects to walk back to you]. POWELL & SMITH had a homosexual relationship, so it is likely that the officers' "fruit roll" patrol found the actual suspects they were looking for. It's also apparent that both officers did not know what they had. I doubt they could initially ascertain the suspects were black, as it's difficult to view the interiors of cars at night with occupants facing forward.*

Anyway…..SMITH was always the passenger and kept his revolver in a paper bag between the two. POWELL, however, practiced a little trick which snagged IAN. (This info. comes from one of his cellmates). Bear with me…..

July 26, 1963, Onion Field
Photograph by Edward Gamer / Los Angeles Times

Dr. Harold Kate [Update: Harold Kade], autopsy surgeon, and Sgt. Pierce Brooks insert rods in a mannequin to show the paths of the bullets that killed Officer Ian Campbell.

LAPD procedure in felony stops was to order the passenger to place his hands up or out the window, so as to be in view of the passenger officer. Driver was ordered to place his hands atop the steering wheel. (Which could be seen by officers with high-beams or spot light).

Driver would then be ordered to place his left hand outside the window (with right remaining on the wheel) and open his door, using the outside button or latch. As he stepped out, he would be told to face forward and slowly back up, hands in the air.

POWELL kept his piece on the floor, just under the seat behind his right foot. He practiced opening the door with his left hand and, as he stepped out, sliding the gun along the floor with his right foot. As he did this, his right arm would momentarily be concealed from officers. He would reach down and emerge with the gun in his right hand.

Following the Onion Field shooting, POWELL stole a car and headed back to L.A. He was stopped over the Grapevine by a CHP officer. Supposedly, he tried this slide-the-gun-with-his-foot trick, but the weapon snagged and somehow bounced back. Probably saved the life of the Chippie.

Rarely a day passes that I do not think of IAN & KARL….Am pleased to be able to shed a little light after so many years.

LAPD Lieutenant’s Badge 1
(Retired) * I queried Max about the statement that both Powell and Smith were African American. He replied:

I realize GREGORY POWELL was depicted by JAMES WOODS in “The Onion Field” (1979).  In his photos POWELL appears Caucasian.  I believe, however,he is of mixed race. 

I have the original “Hollywood Station Log” of 10 March 1963 written by Sergeant JERRY W. RUMMEL (aka: “Aba-Daba,” from a stutter when under stress).  It describes various officers conducting the search for IAN & KARL following the discovery of their abandoned car at 2300 hours on 9 March.  The following entry is from 4:10 AM:

    “Suspect in custody at Bakersfield,  POWELL, Gregory Ulas.  Male Negro,
    8-2-23, 5-10, 150, blk/brn.  Residence – 669 M Avenue, Boulder City,

I suppose this could be in error, but it appears to come from R.& I. Division records.  The race portion would derive from prior booking sheets.

The entry for 4:20 AM notes:

    “Jim Youngblood possible suspect.  M Neg 30, 5-9, 150, blk.  Communications put out broadcast every ten minutes.”

Max also adds: I may have missed your point in my “POWELL is black” documentation.  In fact, he appears white.  For appearances they are a “Salt & Pepper” team……

March 11, 1963, Onion Field Photograph by Don Cormier / Los Angeles Times

A detail of the LAPD reenactment of the “Onion Field” killing with Sgt. G.H. Bates as Officer Ian Campbell and Jimmy Lee Smith.

[Update: In response to a comment, Max writes:]

Do not know if you wish to have me answer the commentary of "Native Angeleno" who says, "…but this obsession with race the  LAPD is well known for, or should i (sic) say one race in particular,  can not be avoided reading Max."   Thanks for your response, “Call Box Sam.”

It is true that LAPD is a social group with its own culture, code of conduct, belief system, shared values, and common goals.  I can remember Chief WILLIAM H. PARKER telling us recruits, "You  come from all segments of society and thus share its attitudes and prejudices.  But if you treat anyone with disrespect or unfairness, your ass will be mine….I cannot change your beliefs, but I can change your employment!”

Chief PARKER deployed us heavily in South Central L.A., because "That is where the crime is."  The Valley and West End complained they were paying for protection that was going elsewhere.

The facts may be difficult for the politically correct to comprehend. Blacks were then about 18 percent of the population in L.A., but committing over 65 percent of Part I crimes (Uniform Crime Reporting: murders, robberies, rapes, arson, etc.).  Why?  Sociological problems, education, dna….who knows?  Most victims were fellow blacks, who appreciated and strongly supported LAPD.  The South End was the only segment of L.A. that regularly voted for police pay raises and benefits.  And we gave them the best service we could.  The team preying on gays, being sought by CAMPBELL & HETTINGER, were black.  So, does “Native A.” think they should be stopping whites?

Starting in 1973, affirmative action & consent decrees changed LAPD culture from aggressively pursuing criminals to laying back in police cars, taking careful and lengthy reports, while gangs ran wild in the streets and portions of L.A. were terrorized by thugs.

When I was in the field in the 1960s, our 3,400 policemen (our Civil Service rank) arrested 100,000 more criminals than do today's  10,000 affirmative action wonders.  (Attorney GARY INGEMUNSON in "Warning Bells," Thin Blue Line, July 2005, p. 13—Also L.A. Times of 13 March 1996, pp. B-1 & 3):  A “distressed Mayor Richard Riordan…said it was vexing to learn that LAPD is now making 100,000 fewer arrests, issuing over 200,000 fewer citations, and conducting over 20,000 fewer field interviews per year.”

There is no “nice” way to arrest a dangerous and combative suspect.  Officers today are more concerned about getting burned and labeled as a rogue officer than being aggressive at confronting suspects.  When were you safer, taxpayers, then or now…?

Police work can be violent and unpleasant to view, per the IAN CAMPBELL shooting.  The California Government Code, sections 821, 845, & 846 state public employees cannot be sued for “failure to provide adequate police protection or service, to prevent the commission of crimes and failure to apprehend criminals.”  The “Protect and to Serve” motto is a statement, not a promise.

When the community fails to support its police in its proper and reasonable enforcement efforts, the police become demoralized and cease proactive enforcement.  Doing nothing or devoting
inordinate attention to minor incidents and thus being unavailable to handle more serious calls has few consequences…..


Retired from the “Golden Era” of LAPD.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in #courts, 1963, books, Crime and Courts, Film, Hollywood, Homicide, LAPD, Photography. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The ‘Onion Field’ Remembered [Update]

  1. Native Angeleno says:

    Man, i know you have a better explanation, but this obsession with race the LAPD is well known for, or should i say one race in particular, can not be avoided reading Max.


  2. Sam Flowers says:

    Mr. Native Angeleno, it is amazing how LAPD can I.D. a person’s race from the back seeing only their heads and shoulders from a distance of 30 or 40 feet. Seems to me that you may possibly have this obsession more than LAPD officers do.


  3. Sam Flowers says:

    The Doctor’s name was Dr. Harold Kade.


  4. Arye Michael Bender says:

    An amazing correspondence. One can hear the Jack Webb-like staccato and POV in each sentence. Sheds much light on the LAPD attitudes of the period.


  5. Jim Mock says:

    This may come as a surprise to many people: booking forms, arrest reports, and various other police forms have a required field identifying a person’s race. Just like birth certificates, college application forms, death certificates, census records, and the list goes on and on.
    If anyone has ever seen a foem with a race described as Mulatto, it is a rare one and not a race designation used by the government or most other parties interested in requiring people to fill out this information.
    When Ian was murdered, the race of the suspect was moot except for the fact it happened to be a common identifier to help describe the suspect.
    The fact we are a nation made up of different races and identify ourselves or one another by race, has nothing to do with prejudice.
    Ian was an American with a Scottish heritage. He also played the bagpipes. He also wore a police uniform. You choose which got him murdered. The fact he was Scottish had nothing to do with it, just as the fact the man who murdered him was black had nothing to do with it.
    Ian died while trying to protect gay men from being robbed, and apprehend the people who were robbing them. It cost him his life. There is no doubt in my mind had some of those gay victims been black, which they may have been, Ian would have been where he was, doing what he did that cost him his life.
    The focus of this page was to remember The Onion Field and what happened. Anyone who extracts race from it and tries to make it the issue instead, either has a complex or a very narrow mind.
    The pipes still play for you Ian, you did the best you could do, it stopped the robberies, and may have saved the lives of others … who never knew it.


  6. gary heidrich says:

    Thank-you Mr. Hurlbut for the very informative and well written “rest of the story”. This tragic case is continues to hold interest 37 years later, and this added info is appreciated.


  7. Am attempting to reach retired police Lt. Max Hurlbut and “call box sam,” for an article I am writing to be published in the Antique Trader, regarding the old L.A. Acme Semaphore Traffic signals.
    Can you put them in touch with me or vice versa?
    Bob Rentzer, Attorney


Leave a Reply. Note: Your IP is logged with your comment so a fake name and email address are useless.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s