This is Kevin Roderick with LA Observed for KCRW.
There must be something in the DNA of Los Angeles that nurtures intriguing mysteries. The noir stories of James M. Cain and James Ellroy make the point on the fiction side – Nick and Nora of “The Postman Always Rings Twice” were classic L.A. characters before the movie version relocated them.
L.A. fiction has always been inspired by real-life crime tales taken out of the news. There’s no shortage of material. After the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson vanished from the beach at Ocean Park, the mystery only became juicier when she stumbled out of the desert in Mexico and reported she had been kidnapped.
No convincing evidence of that ever appeared.
George Palmer Putnam, the husband of the famous aviator Amelia Earhart, called the press to his home in Toluca Lake in about 1939 to report a harrowing tale of being abducted by Nazi sympathizers with German accents.
His story of being left tied up in a new subdivision in Bakersfield disappeared from the news pages right about the time reporters began questioning whether the kidnapping ever happened.
The most storied of all L.A. mysteries, the Black Dahlia murder of 1947, became even more mysterious a few years ago when a retired LAPD homicide detective claimed in a book that he knew the murderer—it was his father. Officially, the murder of Betty Short remains unsolved.
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve been enjoying the makings of another great LA crime yarn.
The Downtown News has been entertaining its readers with stories about a crime ring that seems out of the ordinary – even for LA.
It began when the inhabitants of the Reserve Lofts reported the odor of gasoline coming from unit 701.
That raised alarms since the Reserve Lofts are marketed as an upscale address in the new downtown, close to the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising and LA Live.
Neighbors called the fire department, which was refused entry by the man inside. That led to a forced entry by the LAPD.
Inside the cops found plenty to catch their interest. There were counterfeit hundred dollar bills described as of very high quality, and a stash of assault weapons.
Passports in various names were also found, along with photos of the tenant in unit 701 in various looks.
He had paid a year’s lease in cash – and the cops would really like to talk to him. But he apparently got away, like so many villains have through the years, out the window and down the fire escape.
After a week of hunting for the man, described as of Russian heritage from New Jersey, detectives briefed reporters.
They also served a search warrant on a warehouse in the Downtown area and found more counterfeit money, more weapons and this time drug paraphenalia.
The most intriguing tidbit came later from the Downtown News, which said police in the original loft also found a mosaic likeness of the CIA emblem – that’s the Central Intelligence Agency, not the Culinary Institute of America. It was five feet across and inlaid in the floor, near a portrait of Venezuela’s leftist leader Hugo Chavez.
Investigators tried out a couple of theories on reporters, including that the loft unit looks out at the Federal Reserve. But it sounded like a shot in the dark.
And why not? This is LA. We expect a good story to go with our crimes.
If you have a theory, drop by the KCRW website and let us know what you think is happening.
For KCRW, this has been Kevin Roderick with LA Observed.