On display: murder-scene photos with a twist

The chief who first sought funding for LAPD cameras is pictured in the department’s oldest crime-scene photos on record.

By Steve Harvey
February 28, 2010

It’s a grim irony tucked away in the files of the Los Angeles Police Department.

The first request for funding to buy photographic equipment for the department was made by Chief Walter Auble in 1905.

And the oldest crime scene photos in the LAPD’s possession are of Auble’s murder Sept. 9, 1908.

Auble, who had resumed his old job as captain after finishing his term as chief, remains L.A.’s highest-ranking officer to be murdered in the line of duty.

He was shot to death by one of two burglary suspects that he and another captain had trailed to the corner of 9th Street and Grand Avenue.

“Just the idea, a couple of captains pounding ground to find burglars — those days are long gone,” said Glynn Martin, executive director of the Los Angeles Police Historical Society.

The Auble murder will be one of many Los Angeles cases exhibited this week at the annual training conference of the California Homicide Investigators Assn. in Las Vegas.

Included will be evidence never seen in public, including the bullet-riddled get-away car from the 1997 North Hollywood shootout between police and two bank robbers wearing body armor.

Also on display: the rifle carried by kidnapped heiress Patty Hearst during a 1974 bank robbery with the Symbionese Liberation Army guerrilla group.

The coat she wore won’t be there, though; it’s at an FBI exhibit in Washington, D.C.

The homicide get-together is a real chance “to figuratively step behind the crime-scene tape,” said Martin, who worked as a police officer for 20 years.

The displays will involve such names as mobsters Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel and Johnny Stompanato, the Manson family, serial killer Richard Ramirez and Elizabeth Short (the murder victim in the Black Dahlia case).

The conference, financed by private donations, will be open and free to the public Wednesday and Thursday at the Palms Casino resort.

But will visiting Angelenos be too nervous to go home after seeing this taste of L.A.?

The historical society’s Martin said gruesome evidence has been omitted.

“It’s not a ghoul show,” he said, “but an effort to show how a homicide detective goes about solving a case.”

One exhibit will spotlight Helen Golay and Olga Rutterschmidt, two septuagenarians who were convicted in 2008 of taking out insurance policies on homeless men whom they later ran over and killed.

Their display includes a check that Golay wrote to the Auto Club for her membership fee. It was pertinent because the Auto Club was summoned for a tow after Golay damaged the car near where one victim was run down. The dead man’s DNA was found on the undercarriage of the car.

A few of the cases, including the Black Dahlia’s, have never been solved.

But the killer of Capt. Auble did not elude capture a century ago.

He was Carl Sutherland, a 26-year-old small-time hood, and he lived in a downtown rooming house on Georgia Street with a cohort, Fred Horning, 21.

Their landlady, suspicious of the duo, contacted police a few days before the murder.

While the men were away, Auble and another captain, Paul Flammer, searched their room and found “a burglar’s kit,” a “dope-fiend outfit,” false whiskers and mustaches, two revolvers and a letter spelling out plans to burglarize two upscale residences, the Times reported.

The next day, the officers followed the men to a shop at 9th and Grand, then decided to arrest them.

Neither officer brandished a firearm, apparently because they believed they had disabled the duo’s weapons during their search of the rooming house.

Flammer grabbed Horning and subdued him as the two fell into the shop.

But Sutherland shot Auble three times. A fourth bullet tore into the hand of the killer as the two men struggled. Sutherland fled.

News of the Auble murder “spread amazingly,” the Times wrote. “Officers from every department in the city and county donated their services.”

There were cries for a posse in Los Angeles, which was not so many years removed from being a frontier town.

“Old cattlemen who have spent recent years of their lives within the city but whose eyes can still squint dangerously down the barrels of a gun came trooping into the station,” The Times said, “their Winchesters resting in the hollows of their arms.”

Exits from the city were sealed. Officers, using bloodhounds, followed the trail of Sutherland’s blood.

The gunman was found “on a lonely country road” near 77th Street about eight hours after the murder. Before he could be arrested, he gulped a bottle of cyanide and died.

His partner Horning was sentenced to 14 years in Folsom State Prison.

Auble, nearing death a few hours before Sutherland’s suicide, regained consciousness long enough to shake the hands of his physicians.

steveharvey9@gmail.com

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