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Officer William Louis Brett
(Dec. 23, 1882 Dec. 6, 1921)

Officer Levi "Harry" Clester
(Jan. 20, 1891 Dec. 7, 1921)



Officers Harry Clester and William Brett were both born in the Midwest -- Indiana and Kansas, respectively. Both were married, and both had two children. They moved to Los Angeles at about the same time, and they joined the LAPD within about a year of each other. In the early 1920s, they were partners, working together out of the Boyle Heights Station on East 1st Street.

They also died together, killed in a wild shoot-out with five would-be burglars -- the first instance in LAPD history in which more than one officer was killed during the same incident. They are buried side by side, in the Los Angeles Odd Fellows Cemetery, just a few blocks from where they fell.

In the early evening on Tuesday, Dec. 6, 1921, two men climbed into a Ford touring car in Redondo Beach, and drove about 20 miles north to Los Angeles, where they picked up three friends. The five men didn't really have much of a plan for the evening. They just wanted to steal something and make some quick money. One of the men told his accomplices that he needed money to buy Christmas presents for his children.

Most of the men were in their late 30s, and they held a variety of temporary jobs -- carpenter, cook, mechanic, electrician, salesman. They also had multiple aliases and lengthy criminal histories, including arrests and prison time for robbery, burglary and forgery.

The car first stopped in front of a jewelry store in Hollywood, but the men decided against attempting to break in. Next, they stopped at a hardware store, which they thought had a supply of guns they could steal and sell. When they noticed a man watching them from across the street, they continued on, heading to Boyle Heights on Stephenson Avenue (now Whittier Boulevard). One of the men knew of a furniture store in the area that had a supply of expensive rugs.

Shortly after 10 p.m., the Ford turned left from Stephenson Avenue onto Lorena Street, heading north. After traveling for a few blocks on Lorena, the driver noticed a car following them -- a police car. The Ford was pulled over, and Officers William Brett, 38, and Harry Clester, 30, got out of the police car and approached the vehicle.

William Louis Brett was born Dec. 23, 1882, in Kansas. He married Margaret May George, and the couple moved to Denver, Colorado, where Brett worked as a streetcar conductor. Their first child, George M. Brett, was born 1900, and their second child, Walter L. Brett, was born in 1911. The Brett family then moved to Southern California, where Brett worked as a streetcar conductor before he joined the LAPD on May 7, 1917. During World War I, Brett left the department and worked for the Los Angeles Shipbuilding and Dry Dock Co. in San Pedro, returning to the police force at the end of the war.

Levi "Harry" Clester was born Jan. 20, 1891, in West Middleton, Indiana, the youngest of four children of David and Martha Amanda Edwards Clester. (David Clester also had three children with his first wife, Orilla Davis Clester, before she died in 1884, at the age of 30.) Harry Clester married Carrie Mae Sherman in Indiana, where he worked as a painter, and their first child, Roger Dale Clester, was born in 1915. In about 1916, the Clester family moved to Southern California, where Clester worked as a metal polisher at the Pacific Enamel Plating Company. Clester joined the LAPD on Aug. 1, 1918, and their second child, Lois Wanita Clester, was born in 1919.

While on patrol and driving south on Lorena Street, Brett and Clester passed the Ford touring car, headed in the opposite direction with five men inside, and they noticed that one of the car's headlights was out. They turned around and followed the Ford for a few blocks before pulling it over.

Brett and Clester asked the men who they were, and what they were doing in the area. Not satisfied with their answers, the officers decided to take the men back to the Boyle Heights Station, about a mile and a half away, at 2015 E. 1st St., for additional questioning.

Since there wasn't enough room in the smaller police car for the five suspects and the two officers, Brett and Clester ordered the man behind the wheel of the Ford to drive to the police station. Clester squeezed into the back seat of the vehicle with three of the passengers, while Brett stood outside the car on the running board.

After traveling a short distance, the driver said, "I'm not going any farther," and stopped the car near the intersection of Lorena and 5th streets.

The passenger in the front seat pulled a gun and pointed it at Clester. Clester pulled his gun, but it was wrestled away from him by the passenger sitting next to him in the crowded back seat. The back-seat passenger shot Clester several times with the officer's gun, and the front-seat passenger jumped out of the car and ran across a vacant lot. Brett jumped off the running board and chased him, ordering him to stop and firing several shots at him.

The wounded Clester was pushed out of the car, which started heading north on Lorena Street. The front-seat passenger turned and fired at Brett, hitting him twice. When the officer fell on the street, the passenger ran back to the car and jumped in, near Lorena and Eagle streets, and the car sped off. A witness who lived in the neighborhood said the injured Brett rose on his elbows and continued to fire, emptying his gun at the fleeing vehicle.

Nearly two dozen shots were fired in the gun battle. Clester was hit three times -- once in the wrist, once in the chest below his heart, and once in the left temple. Brett was hit twice -- once in the chest and once in the head. Both officers were taken to the Georgia Street Receiving Hospital, where Brett was pronounced dead on arrival. Clester died early the following morning. None of the would-be burglars were hit, although one of the officers' bullets tore a hole in the driver's overcoat sleeve and shirt cuff.

The annual Policeman's Ball, held to raise money for the families of slain officers, was being held that night in a hall at 16th and Flower streets in Los Angeles. About an hour after the shooting, Lt. Howard I. Nicholson, president of the Police Relief Association, announced to the crowd of about 2,000 that two LAPD officers had just been shot. According to the Los Angeles Evening Herald, "Officers deserted their partners and, after obtaining their revolvers, hurried to police headquarters to join in the manhunt."

Within an hour of the shooting, a massive and intense police search was underway. Officers tracked down and arrested potential suspects throughout Southern California, sheriff's deputies searched county roads for the Ford, and an alert was sent to officers at the Mexican border. Bootleggers, drug dealers, burglars, car thieves and any other shady characters known to be in the area were brought in for hard questioning. A pair of burglary suspects were picked up in San Bernardino and subjected to "hours of sweating" to determine if they were involved in the deaths of the two officers. They weren't.

LAPD Chief Charles Jones ordered a search of all public and private garages in the city to look for the bullet-damaged Ford. The City Council approved a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the officers' killers, and also authorized funding for the hiring of an additional 200 officers.

At the time Brett and Clester were killed, the LAPD was still searching for the gunman who killed Det. Sgt. John Fitzgerald less than six months earlier. "The council should act at once," said L.A. Mayor George Cryer. "We cannot sit idly by and do as Nero did while Rome burned. The time for action is now. We must have more policemen to stop this crime wave."

The hunt for the killers of Brett and Clester was called the largest in the city's history, with an estimated 1,500 men, including police officers, sheriff's deputies, special deputies and citizens involved in the search.

Meanwhile, a joint funeral service was held for the two officers at the Bede A. Johnson mortuary on Stephenson Avenue. Brett left his wife and two sons, ages 20 and 10. Clester left his wife, their 6-year-old son, and 2-year-old daughter. The officers were buried together at the Los Angeles Odd Fellows Cemetery.

A major break in the case came when an employee of a restaurant near 8th Street and Grand Avenue overheard a conversation between a woman and several men related to the shooting of the officers. The restaurant employee followed the woman to her apartment near 6th and Hope streets, and gave police her address.

Police officers went to the apartment and questioned the woman, who agreed to tell what she knew in exchange for being eligible to receive the $10,000 reward being offered by the city. Based on her information, on Dec. 22, police arrested five men and two women in connection with the shooting of Brett and Clester. Four of the men, believed to be occupants of the Ford at the time of the shooting, were charged with murder. The fifth man and the two women were held as material witnesses.

The fifth occupant of the car was tracked to a remote shack near Ash Fork, Arizona. As police officers surrounded the shack on Dec. 28, the man shot himself four times in the abdomen. He died while officers were bringing him back to Los Angeles, but not before confessing his role in the shoot-out and naming the two men who fired the fatal shots.

The four remaining occupants of the Ford were all charged with two counts of first-degree murder. All four were convicted in jury trials. The two men who fired the shots which killed the officers were sentenced to death, and both were hanged at San Quentin State Prison on April 21, 1924. The other two both received two consecutive life sentences. One of them died the following year at the Stockton State Mental Asylum. The other died in prison in 1936.

The three detectives who arrested the killers, and who were eligible to receive the $10,000 reward, decided to give the money to the families of the two slain officers.

Brett's wife, Margaret, died in Los Angeles in 1944, at the age of 60, and is buried with her husband, and their two children, George (1900 - 1975) and Walter (1911 - 1957). Clester's wife, Carrie, remarried, and had another child. She died in Riverside, California, in 1979, at the age of 86.

The signs for Brett and Clester are located on the northeast corner of Lorena and Fifth streets.



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