Hollywood Remains to Be Seen
A Guide to the Movie Stars' Final Homes

LAPD Street Signs

Officer James A. Ellsworth
(Oct. 22, 1886 – Sept. 4, 1917)

Police departments in the United States started using motorcycles in the early 20th century, taking advantage of the vehicle's small size, speed and maneuverability. The LAPD was one of the first departments in the country with a motorcycle division when it launched its "speed squad" of motorcycle officers in 1909.

For the motorcycle officers, the job was especially dangerous, beyond the typical dangers of police work. At the time, automobile drivers weren't used to seeing or sharing the road with the smaller and faster vehicles, roads were often bumpy and uneven, and the officers on the "speed squad" didn't wear helmets or any special protective clothing. Instead of a protective helmet, early motorcycle officers typically wore a tweed cap.

In 1918, less than 10 years after the launch of the LAPD "speed squad," the Los Angeles Herald reported that the LAPD's motorcycle officers had "a 100 percent casualty list." The chance of being injured as a speed officer is greater than in any branch of the army or navy service. … Three of the squad have been killed, another had a limb amputated, and two are permanently retired because of severe injuries. All of the others have been injured."

The first three "speed squad" fatalities happened within 16 months of each other – Officer Walter Kreps in March 1916, Officer Thomas Kronschnabel in December 1916, and Officer James Ellsworth in September 1917.

Ellsworth was born in California on Oct. 22, 1886. In about 1908, he married Dolly, who was four years older than her husband, and had a young daughter from her first marriage. Census records through the years list Dolly’s birthplace as North Dakota, South Dakota or Iowa.

When the couple was first married, Ellsworth worked as a blacksmith in Los Angeles, and the family lived at 201 Vermont Ave. On Feb. 8, 1911, Ellsworth joined the LAPD and, a few years later, joined the department’s “speed squad” of motorcycle officers, working out of the department’s University Station.

On the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 4, 1917, Ellsworth, 30, was on patrol with his partner, 35-year-old Sgt. Lynn Blaisdell, watching for speeders at South Alvarado and Sixth streets.

When a large black sedan sped through the intersection at about 60 mph, heading west on Sixth Street, Blaisdell and Ellsworth both gave chase. A few blocks away, on Sixth Street at Benton Way, Ellsworth passed his partner. Blaisdell estimated that he was traveling at about 55 mph at the time, and Ellsworth was going about 65 mph.

At Occidental Boulevard, Sixth Street makes a slight turn to the left. When Ellsworth reached the turn, his motorcycle skidded as he crossed several manhole covers, and he was thrown head-first into a telegraph pole. Ellsworth died at the scene. The speeding car, described as a five-passenger, wire-wheeled Marmon sedan, continued on Sixth, turned left on South Commonwealth Avenue, immediately past the turn on Sixth Street, and disappeared.

Based on witness descriptions of the speeding car, the initial investigation suggested that the vehicle might have contained three members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, who were on their way to a suspected murder call in Venice and passed through the intersection of Alvarado and Sixth at about the same time as Ellsworth’s fatal chase.

Further investigation, however, determined that the sheriff’s vehicle passed the intersection nearly an hour before the chase, and turned left off Sixth onto Western Avenue – more than a mile past Commonwealth Avenue.

Another issue raised in the investigation was the condition of the tires on Ellsworth’s motorcycle, which were worn and unable to hold as Ellsworth passed over the manhole covers.

The driver of the Marmon was never found.

Ellsworth’s funeral service was held at Christ Church, and included his fellow motorcycle officers, the mounted patrol, color guard, and representatives from divisions throughout the LAPD. One of Ellsworth’s honorary pallbearers was Officer Edwin J. La Niece of the department’s “speed squad.” Nine months before Ellsworth’s death, La Niece’s partner, Officer Thomas Kronschnabel, was shot and killed while chasing a motorist on his motorcycle.

Ellsworth left behind his widow, Dolly, 34, and step-daughter LaVerna, 13.

Ellsworth was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Los Angeles, but his grave remained unmarked for more than 100 years. On Jan. 25, 2019, thanks to the work of the LAPD, the Los Angeles Police Memorial Foundation, the Los Angeles Police Protective League and other groups, his grave was finally marked.

Back to main LAPD page