June 2, 1947: Erwin Walker Pleads Insanity in ‘He Walked by Night’ Killing of CHP Officer

Note: This is an encore post from 2005 and originally appeared on the 1947project.

The Erwin Walker case is the crossroads of several important stories. The victim was Loren Roosevelt, fired in the 1930s as Arcadia’s police chief in an ugly political fight that included an attempt to recall the mayor and allegations of bookie joints near Santa Anita.

The detectives included two famous names from the Black Dahlia case: Capt. Jack Donahoe, head of homicide, and Detective Marty Wynn, who became friends with actor Jack Webb while serving as a technical advisor on “He Walked by Night,” a 1948 film based on the Roosevelt murder.

Richard Basehart in “He Walked by Night,” Courtesy of the Film Noir Foundation.

And finally there’s Walker, whose father committed suicide a few days after visiting him in San Quentin, where he had been sentenced to die in the gas chamber.

On April 14, 1949, the day before his scheduled execution, Walker tried to strangle himself with an electrical cord. He was judged insane the next month and moved to a state mental hospital with the provision that if he ever regained his sanity he would be executed. He escaped from Atascadero State Hospital in 1959, fearing that he was about to be sent back to prison, but surrendered to a quail hunter near Santa Margarita.

In February 1961, a judge ruled that he was sane and Walker was transferred to San Quentin, where Gov. Pat Brown granted him clemency March 28, 1961. According to Internet sources of unverified accuracy, he was released from prison, changed his name, married and earned a living as chemist.

After the success of “He Walked by Night,” Wynn and Donahoe became technical advisors on Webb’s “Dragnet” radio show.

Roosevelt was buried at Forest Lawn. He was survived by his wife, Jessie, and daughter, Joanne.

Detective Stewart Jones, who was wounded by Walker, handled the 1948 slaying of real estate agent Gladys Kern. As of this writing, he is still alive and in his 90s.

Sources: Los Angeles Times, Dec. 26, 1938; Jan. 8, 1939; Feb. 23, 1939; May 23, 1939; May 24, 1939; May 25, 1939; May 28, 1939; Aug. 5, 1939; Aug 21, 1939; Aug. 22, 1939; Aug. 31, 1939; Sept. 2, 1939; Sept. 20, 1939; Oct. 3, 1939; Oct. 9, 1939; Feb. 25, 1940; June 6, 1946; June 11, 1946; Dec. 21, 1946; Dec. 12, 1947; April 1, 1948; April 15, 1949; May 5, 1949; Nov. 4, 1959; March 12, 1961; March 24, 1961; March 29, 1961

About lmharnisch

I am retired from the Los Angeles Times
This entry was posted in 1947, Crime and Courts, Film, Hollywood and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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