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Det. Sgt. James Edward Browning
(Feb. 26, 1877 Nov. 29, 1915)


"Black Hand" was a term used in newspapers in the early days of the 20th century to describe a type of extortion, often in Italian immigrant neighborhoods. Typically, the victim would receive a letter threatening bodily harm or destruction of their property, and demanding payment. The letters were signed with a threatening symbol, such as a bloody dagger, a smoking gun, a skull, or a black hand displayed as the universal symbol of warning. Police and reporters described these as "Black Hand letters."

In November 1915, Antonio "Tony" Blandino, 33, an Italian-born fruit merchant living on East Damon Street, southeast of downtown Los Angeles, called police to report that he had received a series of threatening "Black Hand letters," demanding payments from $100 to $1,000. LAPD Det. Sgt. James E. Browning and his long-time partner, Det. Sgt. Martin R. Bowe, went to the man's house on the evening of Nov. 29, and examined the letters. The writer of the latest letter threatened to kill Blandino, since the writer knew that the fruit merchant had called the police.

Blandino told the officers that he believed the letters had been sent by his cousin, the owner of a grocery store down the block, at the corner of Damon and Lemon streets. The grocer, a native of Sicily, wore a long, brown overcoat in even the hottest weather, and carried a sawed-off shotgun and a revolver under his coat, Blandino said. Browning and Bowe decided to walk down the street and talk to the grocer.

As they approached, they saw a young boy sitting on the porch outside the store. When the boy saw the officers, he jumped up and ran inside. Browning and Bowe had been told that the grocer might be armed, and now they believed he had been warned that they were coming to talk to him. They walked past the store and stopped down the block to discuss their strategy, and decided that they would arrest the grocer on a charge of carrying a concealed weapon.

As the officers were discussing their plans, the grocer -- wearing his long overcoat -- came out of the store and started to walk across the street. Browning and Bowe shouted at the man to stop, and announced that they were police officers.

In response, the grocer turned toward them, pulled the sawed-off shotgun out from under his overcoat, and fired both barrels. Although Browning was hit in the abdomen by the shotgun blasts, he was able to return fire, as did Bowe. Their shots hit the grocer in the right side and leg before he ran back into his store.

As Bowe tended to his injured partner, a crowd estimated at more than 100, attracted by the shouting and the gunfire, gathered around the officers, with some in the crowd shouting, "Kill 'em both!" Bowe was able to get Browning to his feet and took him down the street and away from the crowd, and found a house with a telephone where he could call for help.

A squad of officers arrived at the scene, and found the grocer hiding in a sleeping room at the rear of his store, where they arrested him. At the house across the street from the grocery store, police found a cache of weapons, dynamite, and an assortment of "Black Hand letters."

Browning was rushed to the Georgia Street Receiving Hospital, where police surgeons attempted to save him, but he died about three hours after the shooting. He was 38 years old.

The scene of the shooting is just north of the current location of the Santa Monica Freeway, and east of the Los Angeles Times' Olympic Boulevard printing plant.

James Edward Browning was born Feb. 26, 1877, in Montgomery, Georgia. In January 1903, Browning, 25, married 20-year-old Nealy Curry, and the couple moved to Los Angeles, into a home on East 39th Street.

Browning joined the LAPD on June 25, 1907, and worked much of the time in plain clothes or undercover as a member of Capt. Charles E. Dixon's "purity squad." Browning and Bowe regularly conducted raids on suspected brothels, illegal gambling locations and other dens of vice in the city. Browning and Bowe were considered one of the LAPD's best police teams.

Browning was promoted to detective under an emergency appointment in May 1911, then made full detective in October 1912. In September 1915, two months before he was killed, he was promoted to detective sergeant.

The grocer who shot Browning was charged with murder and held without bail. He pleaded self-defense, alleging that he had many enemies in the neighborhood and was in constant fear for his life. He claimed that he didn't know that the men who shouted at him in the darkness to stop on the street were police officers, and that they shot at him first. He also alleged that Blandino had accused him of sending the "Black Hand letters" due to a dispute between the cousins. Five months before the shooting, Blandino filed for divorce from his wife, and named the grocer as a co-respondent.

Browning's funeral service, held with full police honors, including color guard, police band and escort, was conducted at Sutch Mortuary on South Figueroa Street.

The service was attended by thousands of mourners and hundreds of uniformed police officers, including LAPD Chief Clarence E. Snively, Assistant Chief George K. Home, and every commanding officer in the department.

Following the service, Browning's body was brought to Inglewood Park Cemetery for burial, where graveside services were conducted by the Mizpah Lodge of Masons.

On Feb. 29, 1916, less than three months after Browning's death and three days before what would have been his 39th birthday, his widow gave birth to their first children -- twin girls named Juanita and Edjuana.

Browning's killer was put on trial, with prosecutors seeking the death penalty. Following the first trial and 30 hours of deliberations, the jury was unable to reach a verdict, with seven voting for guilt on first-degree murder, four voting for manslaughter, and one juror voting for acquittal. According to the jury foreman, the votes were unchanged throughout the deliberations.

A second trial was held, and the grocer was found guilty of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was sent first to Folsom State Prison, then transferred to San Quentin State Prison in February 1918. Despite his life sentence, he was paroled in October 1927, after serving slightly more than 11 years.

Browning's widow, Nealy, remained in Los Angeles with their two daughters. Browning's remains were moved from Inglewood Park Cemetery to the Great Mausoleum at Forest Lawn Memorial-Park in Glendale. He was joined there by his daughter Edjuana, who died in 1965, at the age of 49; his wife, who died in 1972, at the age of 90; and his daughter Juanita, who died in 1988, at the age of 71.

On Oct. 30, 1919, less than four years after Browning's death, his long-time partner, Det. Sgt. Martin Bowe, died at the age of 40, as a result of complications from a cold. He's also buried at Forest Lawn Glendale.

Browning's sign is located on the south side of Olympic Boulevard, west of Lemon Street.



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