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Det. Lt. Hugh Alden Crowley
(Jan. 31, 1895 – Jan. 11, 1932)

In 1929, Det. Lt. Hugh Crowley escaped death in a shootout with bandits in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater on Hollywood Boulevard. Two and a half years later, death caught up with him in a shootout with bandits inside a theater in Westwood.

In addition to his work with the LAPD, Crowley also worked as a special messenger for Fox Theaters – picking up bags of cash from the weekend receipts from their theaters and delivering the money safely to the bank. Just after 9 a.m. on Monday, July 15, 1929, Crowley walked out of Grauman’s Chinese Theater with a bag containing cancelled ticket stubs and the revenue for the previous weekend – about $15,000 in cash, equivalent to more than $220,000 today.

Crowley had been working as a messenger for Fox Theaters for about six years, so he was aware of the risks of carrying such a large sum of money, and also the warning signs that something might be about to go wrong.

“I walked toward my car, which was parked directly in front of the lobby,” Crowley recalled of that day. “I had only taken a few steps when I noticed that three men were closing in on me from both sides. Before I had time to decide what to do, they leveled revolvers and one of them commanded me to hand it over.”

Instead of handing over the bag of cash, Crowley ducked and ran toward his car. He tossed the bag of money inside the car, slammed the door, ran behind the car and pulled his gun from his shoulder holster, ready to shoot it out with the bandits.

As one of the bandits opened fire, sending bullets whizzing past Crowley’s head, another bandit approached the car, opened the door, and grabbed the bag of money. (Crowley mistakenly thought the car door was locked.) The three bandits headed east on Hollywood Boulevard, then north on Orchid Avenue, adjacent to the theater. Crowley gave chase, returning the bandits’ fire until he ran out of bullets. One of his shots wounded one of the bandits, who was found later hiding in bushes near the theater.

Near Franklin Avenue, the other two bandits stopped a car containing two residents of Santa Cruz, ordered them out at gunpoint, took their car and sped off.

Despite the spray of gunfire on a crowded Hollywood street, the only other injury was to 23-year-old James Thorup, who was hit in the right thigh by a stray bullet as he walked past the theater with his wife. He recovered from his injuries.

The three bandits were eventually captured, and charged with robbery and attempt to commit murder.

Two and a half years later, on another Monday morning, Jan. 11, 1932, Crowley headed to another theater to pick up the weekend’s receipts – the Fox West Coast Westwood Village Theater, in west Los Angeles, near the UCLA campus.

Shortly before 10 a.m., before Crowley arrived, two Fox Theaters employees, Paul Berry and Dallas Brewer, arrived at the theater. Their job was to deliver the reels of the new film to be shown at the theater, and pick up the reels of the previous film. But the office of the theater manager was locked, so they tracked down the theater custodian, Xoran Soovazian, and asked him to open the office door.

As they were entering the office, two men followed them in, pointed pistols at them, and demanded that they open the safe. When Berry, Brewer and Soovazian were able to convince the would-be bandits that they couldn’t open the safe, they were bound and gagged, and the two armed men waited until someone arrived at the theater who could give them what they wanted.

About 10 minutes later, Crowley arrived, walked through the foyer of the theater, and knocked on the door of the theater manager’s office. When the door opened, one of the armed men pointed a gun at Crowley and ordered him to put his hands up. As he did during the attempted robbery at Grauman’s, Crowley didn’t comply with the bandit’s orders. Instead, he took a step to the side, pulled his gun from his shoulder holster, and fired. At the same instant, the gunman fired.

Crowley was hit twice in the abdomen and once in the shoulder with dum-dum bullets, which are designed to expand on impact and cause the maximum possible damage. Crowley died at the scene.

Crowley was able to get off one shot, which hit the gunman. After the shootout, the two bandits ran out of the back of the theater, across a vacant lot, crossed Broxton Avenue and ran toward Le Conte Avenue, where they jumped into a parked car. The owner of an electrical shop saw the two bandits, and told police that one of them looked pale and his lips were blue. Investigators believed that Crowley’s shot injured him seriously, perhaps fatally.

The next day, police arrested one of the bandits, a 28-year-old locksmith, who confessed to his role in the attempted robbery, and named his accomplice, the 24-year-old gunman who shot Crowley. The locksmith told police that the gunman was seriously injured with a bullet wound in the abdomen.

The locksmith told police that he met his accomplice – an amateur boxer, actor and bootlegger – about a week before the attempted robbery. The locksmith had a master key that would allow them to enter the theater, and they came up with the plan for the robbery.

After the shootout, the bandits went to the injured man’s apartment, at 1609 North Normandie Ave., where a doctor was called to treat his injuries.

Meanwhile, at the request of the Police Commission, Crowley’s body lay in state under the dome of the L.A. City Hall, attended by an honor guard. Funeral services were held at Patriotic Hall, with burial in the Angelus Abbey Mausoleum. According to a report in the L.A. Times, “In one of the most impressive funerals in the annals of local police history, citizens, bankers, theater magnates, motion-picture producers, prominent merchants and city, county and state officials from the lowest officer on the police force to Gov. (James) Rolph in person, gathered at Patriotic Hall yesterday afternoon to pay their last respects to the slain officer.”

A grand jury returned indictments charging first-degree murder and burglary against both the gunman and the locksmith, while the search continued for the gunman. Based on the information police investigators had about the extent of the gunman’s injuries, however, LAPD Inspector – and future police chief – David A. Davidson said, “We expect to find him dead.”

The slain officer, Hugh Alden Crowley, was born Jan. 31, 1895, in Union City, Oklahoma, the second of seven children born to Robert, the owner of a grocery store, and Sallie Crowley. In about 1915, the family moved to Burleson, Texas, where Hugh Crowley worked as a metallic sign writer. Robert Crowley died in 1918, and Hugh found work selling automobiles in Houston to help support the family.

In the early 1920s, Crowley followed his elder sister, Edna, to Los Angeles, and joined the LAPD. On Aug. 8, 1923, he married Magele Adams, and their daughter, Gloria Ruth, was born Aug. 9, 1924. At the time of Crowley’s death, the family was living at 1943 Ivar Ave., near the current location of the Hollywood Freeway.

While the hunt for Crowley’s killer continued, the Fox West Coast Theaters and the Better Business and Government Club of Los Angeles announced a benefit show at the Loew’s State Theater, with all proceeds going to Crowley’s widow and their 7-year-old daughter. Scheduled performers included Clark Gable, Marie Dressler, Wallace Beery, Robert Montgomery, Barbara Stanwyck, Bela Lugosi, Jimmy Durante, Hoot Gibson, Tom Mix, Robert Armstrong, Sally Eilers, James Gleason, Polly Moran, Anita Page and Frank Fay.

Dozens of police officers continued the search for Crowley’s killer, and the doctor who treated him. The body of a man was found near El Centro, near the Mexico border, dead from gunshot wounds. It was initially thought it could be Crowley’s killer, but the fingerprints didn’t match.

LAPD investigators trailed two people who were believed to have helped Crowley’s killer escape as they traveled to San Francisco. There, on Jan. 21, Crowley’s killer was captured at an apartment, with Crowley’s final bullet still in his chest. The officer’s slug shattered a rib and collapsed his right lung.

After his arrest, Crowley’s killer initially blamed his accomplice for firing the fatal shot. He later admitted that he shot the officer, but only after he was shot first. During their trial, both men laid the blame on a third man, who they said planned the robbery, drove them to the theater, then fled when he heard gunshots.

In March 1932, a jury of seven women and five men found both men guilty of first-degree murder and burglary, and recommended the death penalty. The judge agreed with the verdict, and sent both men to San Quentin State Prison for their sentences to be carried out. The California Supreme Court upheld the verdicts.

After receiving six reprieves, Crowley’s killer was hanged at San Quentin on Aug. 18, 1933. California Gov. James Rolph Jr. commuted the sentence of the killer’s accomplice to life in prison without possibility of parole. Rolph said that, although the accomplice was armed, he didn’t shoot or intend to shoot at Crowley, and he cooperated with police and prosecutors during the trial.

LAPD Chief James Davis said the governor’s decision to commute the sentence “nullifies the effect of the law designed to make all potential killers afraid to join in a hold-up armed to kill anyone who may oppose his will. … The Governor has plainly shown to all criminal types that they may now enter into a crime consummated and even be a party to a killing without fear of immediate and certain justice by action of the courts and the juries in bringing him to the gallows.”

The Los Angeles Times agreed with the police chief, stating in an editorial that the Gov. Rolph, “is wrong when he says that the fact that (the accomplice) fired no shot excuses him. (The accomplice) was armed; he was a joint partner in a felonious criminal enterprise; and by law, logic and precedent, he is entirely responsible for anything that happened.”

“By this action,” the Times said, “the door is opened for all members of a murderous gang to escape the noose when it cannot be definitely established which one did the actual killing. By passing the odium from one to another, if the Governor’s reasoning were sound, they could all go free.”

A California Superior Court Judge agreed with both the LAPD chief and the Times, and ruled that Rolph’s commutation of the death penalty was illegal, based on a law that stated the governor could not commute a sentence for a defendant convicted of two felonies – in this case, burglary and murder.

The California Supreme Court, however, agreed with Rolph, and upheld the locksmith’s sentence of life in prison.

Det. Lt. Crowley's sign is located on the east side of Broxton Avenue, north of Weyburn Avenue, in Westwood Village

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