Out of the Past: An LAPD Cold Case From 1948


The northwest corner of Central and Manchester avenues, as shown on Google Earth. Notice the alley behind the stores.

In nine years of blogging about Los Angeles, I have learned that families often launder the past and, understandably, murder is rarely mentioned to the younger generations.

I received a note recently from someone who was going through the diary of a deceased relative and was stunned to find an account of a stabbing on a night in 1948. Apparently this individual was being chased by two men, ran up Central Avenue and went into the alley behind some stores on Manchester.


Central Avenue, showing the alley behind stores on Manchester, via Google Street View.


Our subject wrote in his diary that he crouched behind some trash cans and drew a knife. One of the men came down the alley and saw him. Our subject lunged at the man, drove the knife into his side and ran away, leaving the man lying in the alley and groaning.

For years afterward, our subject was apparently haunted by the fear that he had killed this man. He wrote in the diary that he checked the papers for several days afterward, but never saw an account of the incident.

My correspondent wondered if I could shed some light on the matter.

This is a tough one. Our subject noted that the daily papers never reported the incident – and research shows that there’s nothing in The Times – so there are few places to look.

I decided to check the LAPD’s annual report on crime statistics for 1948. The LAPD has kept detailed statistics on crime (and traffic accidents – oh the pages of information on traffic accidents) for many years. I thought there might be a way to see how many fatal stabbings there were in the area – and perhaps how many were unsolved.

The LAPD’s map from 1948 shows that Central and Manchester was in the 77th Street Division, as it is today.


The overall statistics on felony assaults and murders for 1948 show a 20% increase in assaults, but a 26% decrease in murders from 1947

For the 77th Street Division, assaults went up 54% while murders rose slightly, to nine.

So if our subject killed the man in the alley, it would be one of nine murders in the 77th Street Division for 1948.


As an aside, we find that for 1948, 77th Street ranked sixth among the LAPD’s divisions in overall crime (Central was first, followed by University, Newton, Wilshire and Hollywood). 77th Street  led the LAPD in bicycle thefts; ranked third in felony assaults; fourth in robbery and murder; fifth in burglary; sixth in auto theft and petty theft; seventh in theft from a person; and eighth in grand theft.


And here is the breakdown of homicide statistics for 1948: Of the 88 murders, 10 remained unsolved at the end of the year. There were arrests in 53 cases; in 12 cases, the killer committed suicide; and 13 cases were “cleared for other reasons.”  A knife was used in 30 of the killings, surpassed only by a gun (33 killings). The most common case was a black victim and a black suspect (39 murders or 44%), followed by white victim and white suspect (25 or 28%).

And there we come to the end of the trail.  I was hoping that the statistics would list solved/unsolved killings by division, but the results aren’t that “granular,” as we would call them today.

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1948, Cold Cases, Crime and Courts, Homicide, LAPD and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Out of the Past: An LAPD Cold Case From 1948

  1. Eve says:

    Wow! I wonder if the LAPD keeps records back that far? Not if the gentleman recovered, I suppose.


  2. Mary Mallory says:

    Could you check the Herald Examiner or a paper more into scandal around the date to see if there’s a mention?


    • lmharnisch says:

      There isn’t an exact date, but a span of several months, which would require going through lots of old newspapers on microfilm. If the subject said the papers didn’t report anything, then it sounds most unpromising.


  3. Randi says:

    “Race of Victim: White, Black, Red or Yellow.”


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