Posts filed under ‘stabbing’

Book collectors of old L.A.

Shopkeeper William “Scotty” Manson, 47, lived alone behind Acme Stamp and Hobby, supplying used books and collectable stamps to the passing trade. Any customer was potentially a worthy one in the SRO Land of 1956, as Bunker Hill was crumbling and the detritus of human life washed ever further each morning onto the streets surrounding Skid Row.

When two gents came in together and asked for a quantity of books to be boxed, Manson thought he’d made his grubstake for the day. Alas, the fellows had a further request: could he just be so kind as to place all his money in the box as well? A flash of a long knife accompanied the suggestion.

Like any savvy shopkeeper of his place and era, Manson was armed, with a .45 caliber revolver in his pocket. He stepped back and drew his weapon, but the young man with the knife was quicker, and slashed his chest and belly. The would-be thieves turned and ran as Manson unloaded his weapon, then collapsed in the door of his shop. At General Hospital, where he was taken in serious condition with three deep cuts, he told police what had happened.

But even without Scotty’s report, the scene on the street told the tale. One robber, Charles Brooks, 28, resident of a hotel at 224 Boyd, reached 1st and Broadway, then fell, gushing blood. He survived part of the ride to Georgia Street Receiving Hospital, where he was DOA.

The second miscreant, Eugene Sparkman, resident of a hotel at 534 Wall, made the acquaintance of a motorcycle cop a block from where Brooks went down, and was popped. Taken into evidence was the book he’d kept hold of as he fled, reform-minded prison warden Lewis E. Lawes‘ “20,000 Years in Sing Sing,” with its heartwarming dedication “To those tens of thousands of my former wards who have justified my faith in human nature.” We can only hope he ran into as enlightened a prison manager as Lawes, in his unreported but inevitable next stop.

November 18, 2009 at 4:52 pm Leave a comment

A Rubbish King’s Last Stand

They called Hamayag Saroyan the rubbish king, and like any king, he was jealous of his subjects. When a restaurant canceled his hauling contract, King Hamayag left his Montebello castle and went to Main Street to stake out the place and learn what other potentate dared to pick up his trash.

His majesty, 64, stood watching from a parking lot next to the Jeffries Banknote Co. at 117 Winston Street, just one more set of eyes in the naked city. Then suddenly a man broke away from the crowd, brushed against Saroyan, and left him reeling. The old man cried out, and stumbled across the narrow street, then up the steps of a coffee shop at 128 Winston Street. He looked around at a room full of strangers and croaked, “Help me! I’m hurt. A Negro did it.” Then he fell, dead from two knife wounds in the heart, $49 in his pockets.

Witnesses saw a black man running east on Winston, and said he’d first taken off and neatly folded his bloody coat. Someone gave chase, but lost the fleeing man near 5th and Wall. A month later, J. H. Knox, wanted for a New Orleans stabbing, was picked up on suspicion when he left his Wall Street hotel room for a smoke. But witnesses didn’t think he was the regicide, so cops shipped him back to Louisiana to face justice there.

Hamyag Saroyan’s slaying would go unsolved, and authorities declined to use it as a reason to reopen their year-old grand jury investigation into allegations of a rubbish war between rival contractors.

Those 1955 public hearings, held by Mayor Norris Poulson, had spread some pretty stinky stuff around City Hall, including allegations that large garbage collection agencies were conspiring with dump owners and Teamsters to freeze out independent operators. Trash collectors had to join “the combine” (their local rubbish union plus the Teamsters’ union) or be forced out of business.

One such small fry was William C. Crowder, who picked up 1250 San Fernando Valley customers by offering attractive trash bins with a built-in deodorizer—housewives loved them. But dumps began refusing his loads after he objected to the local union demanding half of his customers as a tithe, and Crowder had to drive all over L.A. until he found a cooperative dump. Then there was Sadie Olive Frank, another Valley trash collector, who testified about harassment, vanishing bins, and sugar in her truck’s gas tank. But it wasn’t just sheeny men who had to toe the line: businesses that hired non-union trash haulers were threatened with picket lines.

Ultimately, Teamsters secretary-treasurer Frank Matula, called the “czar” of west coast trash, was sentenced to prison for his perjured testimony about the rubbish racket he headed. His pal Jimmy Hoffa gave him the going-to-jail present of naming him one of three international trustees of the union, a poke in the eye to the Feds. And Mayor Poulson, stunned by the magnitude of the fraud, ordered his staff to begin work on developing a municipal trash service, which would dump in city-owned ravines.

Muse on all this next time you’re about to complain about the size of your L.A. city trash collection bill.

July 22, 2009 at 1:36 am Leave a comment


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