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Officer James L. Beck
(June 24, 1901 – Jan. 28, 1931)

On Jan. 24, 1931, neighbors heard a woman shouting and the sounds of a struggle coming from the home of Esther Hernandez, a laundry worker, in a bungalow court at 2053½ Dayton Ave., just north of the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles. (When the Pasadena Freeway opened in 1940, Dayton Avenue became part of Figueroa Street.)

Hernandez’s common-law husband, a 29-year-old cement worker, had abandoned Hernandez and their young son several months earlier and moved to Fresno. But he returned to demand custody of the 18-month-old boy. When Hernandez refused to allow the father into her home, he broke down the front door, and neighbors called police.

LAPD Officers Harvey J. Kuykendall, 50, and James L. Beck, 29, of the Lincoln Heights Station, responded to the call. As they pulled up in front of the house, the father appeared in the doorway and immediately opened fire on the officers, then ducked back inside.

Beck was hit twice -- the first bullet bruised his side, but the second bullet went into his chest and lodged in his lung. But Beck didn’t tell his partner that he had been hit, and he continued toward the house, exchanging gunfire with the cement worker through a window.

Kuykendall went to the rear of the house to cut off an escape route, and also exchanged shots with the gunman through a window. When Kuykendall looked around a corner of the house to check on his partner, he saw Beck fall to the ground, unconscious. As Kuykendall ran to Beck’s aid, the gunman, who was hit in the head during the gun battle, ran out the back door of the bungalow, jumped a fence, stole a car parked in a driveway on West Avenue 23, and sped off.

Beck was taken to the George Street Receiving Hospital, and more than 100 of his fellow LAPD officers came to the hospital, offering to donate blood. Beck received two transfusions, from Officers J.G. Lukonski and Rudolph A. Selbo.

Roads leading out of the city were placed under tight police surveillance. The gunman went to a friend’s home in Los Angeles two days after the shooting, and told the friend that his head injury was the result of an automobile accident. When the friend noticed a bullet hole in the gunman’s cap, he called police, and the gunman surrendered.

Beck died on Jan. 28, 1931, four days after the shooting, and the charges against his killer included Beck’s murder, the attempted murder of Kuykendall and Hernandez, theft of an automobile, and burglary.

James Beck was born Los Angeles on June 24, 1901, the eldest of two children of James and Lucy Beck. His sister, Margarett, was born the following year. Beck’s father, a British-born laborer, died in 1915, at the age of 45, and his younger sister died in 1921, at the age of 18.

Beck’s widowed mother worked as a housekeeper and ran a rooming house. By 1920, she married Samuel Gilmore, a widowed farmer.

Beck joined the LAPD on April 1, 1925. At the time of his death, he was living with his mother, step-father, and 1-year-old half-sister, Blossom.

Beck was buried at Hollywood Cemetery (now Hollywood Forever), following services attended by LAPD Chief Roy Steckel, and hundreds of police officers, friends, family and other mourners.

Following a jury trial in April 1931, less than three months after Beck’s death, his killer was found guilty of all five felony counts, and was sentenced to life in prison.

Officer Beck’s sign is located in the center median on Burton Way, east of Doheny Drive in Beverly Hills –- nearly 15 miles from the scene of the shooting. It’s likely that whoever selected the location of the sign wasn’t aware that Dayton Avenue had become part of Figueroa Street, so the sign was placed near Dayton Way in Beverly Hills.

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