Don’t Turn Your Back: Real L.A. Murders from the Dawn of Forensic Science

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Join us in the Cal State Los Angeles teaching crime lab for an afternoon’s inquiry into the history of forensic science in Los Angeles, in support of new research coming out of the Criminalistics Department.

Presenters:

Mike Fratantoni, an LASD Deputy who sits on the board of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Museum, makes a return engagement to the crime lab to present two fascinating and complex cases which will explore the development of forensic investigation.

Meiling Cabral is Chair of the California Association of Criminalists’ Historical Committee, and a forensic investigator for the LAPD. Meiling combines a practicing forensic scientist’s experience and an historian’s passion for reconstructing the past. For each of Deputy Fratantoni’s case presentations, she will provide a “Then & Now” forensic overview, highlighting technological breakthroughs, methodological changes and how the cases have influenced the development of modern forensic investigation.

Case One: Poor Little Louise Peete

In 1920, a homeless Louise Peete turned her romantic attentions towards elderly mining executive Jacob Denton, and moved into his house off Wilshire Boulevard. In May, Denton disappeared. When his friends called, Louise claimed that Denton had gone into hiding after being disfigured in a sword fight. For months, she lived and entertained in Denton’s mansion, until the police agreed to search the house. Denton’s murdered body was discovered buried in the basement, but Louise Peete had flown the coop. Captured and tried, she was found guilty of murder and sentenced to life in San Quentin. She served eighteen years, and was once again homeless. Good-hearted Margaret Logan offered Louise a position as paid companion and housekeeper. Five years later, Margaret vanished. Her body was discovered in the backyard of her Pacific Palisades home. Thanks to the forensic evidence gathered and interpreted by Ray Pinker, LAPD chemist and future director of the CSULA Criminalistics Department, Louise was found guilty of murder and executed in the California gas chamber in 1947.

Case Two: The End of Charlie Crawford

Charlie “The Gray Wolf” Crawford and newspaper editor Hebert Spencer were shot, Spencer fatally, in Crawford’s Hollywood office on May 20, 1931. The investigation and trials that followed are the stuff of Los Angeles legend. Crawford was a racketeer who was in with the crooked “City Hall Crowd” during Prohibition. He died in a hospital ward muttering with his last breath that he’d take the name of his killer to his grave. Forensic investigators in the LAPD went to work seeking the answer. Before they found it, David Clark, a former Assistant District Attorney and candidate for a municipal judgeship, walked into the Hall of Justice and confessed. Homicide detectives were incredulous, and the forensic investigation continued. The first trial resulted in a mistrial, the second in acquittal. In his presentation, Deputy Frantantoni will walk us through the landmark forensic analysis and pull back the curtains on this rich and fascinating period of Los Angeles history, and a story so twisted, no less a noir master than Raymond Chandler fictionalized it.