Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center (Cal State L.A.)

1800 Paseo Rancho Castilla LA 90032

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Bombs & Decomp

The Los Angeles Visionaries Association, Esotouric and Professor Donald Johnson invite you to the Cal State Los Angeles teaching crime lab for an afternoon’s inquiry into the history and practice of forensic science in Southern California, in support of new research coming out of the Criminalistics Department.

Presentation #1: Mike Digby on The Bombs, Bombers and Bombings of Los Angeles

Long before the words “suicide bomber” or “IED” were ever mentioned, there were bombs. Certainly, years prior to “al Qaeda” or “ISIS” ever becoming part of our national media lexicon, there were bombers–many of them right here in Southern California. Over the past century, bombing attacks were carried out by extremists and radicals, gangsters and mobsters, thugs and lunatics. You can read about them in Mike Digby’s 2016 book, The Bombs, Bombers and Bombings of Los Angeles, available for purchase after his presentation.

Mike will discuss several of these cases from the perspective of a veteran detective and bomb technician with nearly 41 years of service. His focus will be on the application of basic investigative work with forensic science and how those disciplines have evolved to match wits and guile with the bombers themselves.

Case study #1: Bomber Bill and his Night of Revenge – After nearly five years of debilitating pain caused by an industrial accident in which he battled with the State Industrial Accident Commission for compensation, William Ward had had enough. Wracked with pain and seemingly out of options, he made a kill list of commission members and “shyster” doctors, then set out on a mission to bomb each of them, their families and homes. His plan was devious; purchasing more than 200 pounds of dynamite, renting a home under an assumed name, then concealing his specially-made dynamite bombs along a riverbed. On the night of February 18, 1949, “Bomber Bill” set out in a rental truck and planted bombs at four homes in the Beverly Hills area. But for the vigilance of an attentive Beverly Hills cop, he’d have succeeded. He was caught red-handed, but not before one of his bombs destroyed a home. Disaster… and murder…. was barely averted at the other homes.

Case study #2: Terror in Tinseltown – There was once a time when terrorist bombings in Los Angeles were as commonplace as gang violence is today. These bombings were carried out from the 1960s-1980s by extremist organizations and terrorist groups intent on waging war on America. They fought as the Croatian Liberation Army, Weather Underground, Chicano Liberation Front, Cuban Action Commandos, Justice Commandos of the Armenian Genocide, Symbionese Liberation Army, and more, and were as deadly as any terrorist group today. Our discussion of these attacks will focus on the advancements in forensic sciences and the development of counter-terrorist tactics which ultimately led to the defeat of each of these terrorist organizations.

Case study #3: Wiggins’ Diggins’ – On a windy afternoon in December 1976 in the barren desert west of Lancaster, two children made a remarkable discovery. Blowing across the desert were items of military clothing, some of which had become entangled in the brush. The uniforms were interesting enough, but it was the belted ammunition and mortar rounds which they carried home that generated a fair degree of panic from their parents. Bomb technicians from the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department Bomb Squad were called to the scene to investigate. What they discovered was the largest cache of military weapons and explosives ever uncovered in the United States, all buried in well-built underground bunkers containing several tons of high explosives, an arsenal of military weapons, hazardous chemicals, survival gear and military uniforms. A months-long investigation resulted in the discovery of several hidden caches of explosives and weapons throughout Los Angeles and San Bernardino Counties. One man, the son of auto-paint magnate Earl Schreib, was arrested and convicted of amassing this massive arsenal.

About our presenter: After serving seven years in the United States Army, Mike Digby joined the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department where he served proudly for more than 34 years. For the last seventeen years, he was assigned as a Detective Bomb Technician in the Arson/Bomb Squad where his duties included rendering safe and disassembling improvised explosive devices, examining and disposing of military ordnance and conducting post-blast investigations. A self-proclaimed ‘bomb nerd’ and decorated detective, Mike has spent years studying the motives of bombers, their methods of attack and the bombs that they built. He has served as technical advisor on BBC and Discovery Channel programs. In December 2016, Mike published The Bombs, Bombers and Bombings of Los Angeles, a book which documents several dozen bombing events that took place in the Los Angeles area over the past hundred years. Mike has previously given a LAVA Forensic Science Seminar presentation titled, L.A. Bombings: A Detective’s Casebook, in which he described several lesser-known bombings in the Los Angeles area.

Presentation #2: Dr. Elizabeth Miller on Stages of Decomposition

Dr. Miller’s illustrated lecture about how bodies break down is not for the faint of heart. You’ll see vivid illustrations of the four stages of human decomposition–fresh, bloat, heavy decomp, skeletonization / mummification–then learn about the pig decomp studies done by her students. Through fascinating stories drawing on crime scene investigation and lab research, this presentation will provide the answers to everything you ever wanted to know about the human body and its decomposition, and a few things you never thought to ask.

About our presenter: Dr. Elizabeth Miller has been a faculty member in the Anthropology Dept. at CSULA since 1997. Her research interests include: forensic anthropology, particularly determination of postmortem interval; paleopathology; Contact studies; and repatriation issues. Her previous presentations for LAVA’s Forensic Science Seminars have been on Palo Mayombe and Santa Muerte.