June 24, 1960: Murder at 13944 Valerio St. Van Nuys, CA


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Crime scene photos courtesy of the USC Digital Archives.

Even in 1960, people in Van Nuys were getting gunned down and killed.

As originally reported in the Los Angeles Examiner, on June 24, 1960 police discovered murder victim Shaik Dastagir, 49, dead in front of his home at 13944 Valerio St.

Shaik Dastagir was the owner of a furniture store and two apartment buildings. He often carried large sums of cash.

18-year-old Jim Shields, an employee of Mr. Dastagir’s, later confessed to police that he had tried to rob his boss by gunpoint, but his boss resisted, and in the struggle the killer accidentally shot himself in the arm. Mr. Shields needed money to repair his car and thought he would rob his employer to get the funds. Conscience later caught up and the tearful suspect surrendered.

The dead man, of Indian origin, was also the brother of an actor named Sabu Dastagir.

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Sabu was an actor of some repute. Born in 1924, he was the onetime “Elephant Boy” of the movies, discovered in India by a documentary filmmaker who later brought the boy to Hollywood where he starred in several films, most notably “The Thief of Bagdad (1940) directed by Michael Powell. During WWII, Sabu became an American citizen, joined the Air Force and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery.

Sabu’s career declined after WWII.  He married Marilyn Cooper and had two children, Paul and Jasmine.

Paul Sabu (born January 2, 1960) is a singer, songwriter, producer, and guitarist.

In 1963, Sabu, 39, went for a medical checkup in Chatsworth.

His wife later said that Sabu’s doctor told him, “If all my patients were as healthy as you, I would be out of a job.”

Three days later, on December 2, 1963 Sabu died of a heart attack.

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The Barbara Jean Jepsen Murder: January 31, 1956.


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15050 Victory

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On January 31, 1956, Barbara Jean Jepsen, an 18-year-old married woman, was found stabbed to death by her husband Joe Earl Jepsen inside their unit at 15050 Victory in Van Nuys.

 

The murder of the young woman shocked the city.

 

Photos of the crime scene exteriors are kept in the USC Digital Archives and offer a glimpse of detectives, in long coats and hats, gathering evidence and questioning blond, leather jacketed Mr. Jepsen.

 

As the investigation proceeded, other women in Los Angeles were also mysteriously knifed to death, and the killer or killers remained at large.

 

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One of the suspects was Liberace’s younger brother Rudolph, 24, whose strange (?) behavior in Granada Hills caused neighbors to call police. Rudolph was later released and not charged with any crime.

 

The cottages where Mrs. Jepsen and her husband lived, and she died, have been torn down but are remarkably similar to ones still standing near Lido Pizza on Victory.

 

As far as I can ascertain, the murder of Barbara Jean Jepsen is still unsolved 58 years later.

 

 

Death Ends Police Chase: August 24, 1959.


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From the LAPL files:

“Robert Lee Daily, aka John M. Savage, aka George R. Gibb, was being sought in connection with over 60 burglaries in the Hollywood and Beverly Hills areas. He was shot dead by Investigator James McGrath when Daily tried to flee from McGrath in Encino. Detectives carry body of Robert Lee Daily, burglary suspect, from car in Encino after he was shot by district attorney’s investigator when he assertedly tried to get away. Police found nearly $15,000 in loot in his Woodland Hills home.”

Meanwhile in Los Angeles….


Our nation and the world is horrified and sickened by the bloodshed in Aurora, CO.

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, here are some of the local headlines of what is happening in our neighborhoods over the last four days:

 

  • 15-Year-Old Boy Shot to Death in North Hollywood Identified. The deadly attack occurs on the 11000 block of Tiara Street, according to police.

 

  • Man Shot in Butt at West Hollywood Park

 

  • Second Anaheim officer-involved shooting during weekend kills man

 

  • Man holding knife to baby’s throat shot by Moreno Valley police

 

  • Suspect in L.A. homeless stabbings linked to two other attacks, police say

 

  • Man killed, woman injured in Boyle Heights shooting

Something to Live For


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photo by Gilda Davidian

“Something to Live For”

A young man without direction idolizes an older man with money and a mysteriously tragic past.

a new short story by Andy Hurvitz

part 2 of the Billy Strayhorn trilogy

Armchair Psychology Nation.


Dad and Son Thanksgiving 2008

The revelation that someone we have known for 31 years, indeed admired, might have killed his wife, is something unbelievable, akin more to science fiction than reality.

In our national narrative, character is destiny, and we tend to believe that the right blend of inner morals and outer achievements will somehow pay off in a life of virtue, happiness and success.

The subject of this essay, who I will not name, possesses all the right stuff and more. He is loyal, brilliant, smart, savvy and funny.

What always amazed me is that he seemed to just have good luck bestowed upon his life. He was raised in a fine town, with good schools, in a Norman Rockwell place. His home was just behind the police station, next to the fire station and the boro hall.

In his youth, he played around with a group of friends and they often produced funny videos. They shot baskets on the hoop at the end of our street. They rode their bikes through the woods, across the lakes and reservoirs and ate pizza in the basement of our house.

He is an only son. And he is close to his mother, a wonderfully articulate and well-spoken woman who writes poems.

In his 38, almost 39 years, he has never been arrested. Never fought. He was not a drug user. I don’t even know if he drank liquor. He liked to work out, but he did it for recreation– not competition.

When he and his parents moved to Florida, he went to school down there on the West Coast of the Sunshine State and I heard it was one of those colleges where the children make up the curriculum: Liberal arts and liberal ideas.

If it were not for the ambitions of others, he might have ended up as a lifeguard on a beach or teaching English in Costa Rica.

After he moved to Los Angeles, he teamed up with a childhood friend, and together they collaborated to build careers producing television. They were well respected as a team not only because they created some hit TV, but because they knew how to work hard and get things done. And they were not ass holes to their staff. As so many in Hollywood are.

I heard he was not happily married. But who really is?   On those occasions when we went to his house for Thanksgiving or other holidays, he was a gracious and kind host. His wife was warm and loving to us.  She was strong, and at least six feet tall, nearly as tall as him.

There must have been times when he, like all of us, just wanted to run away, to get out of those traps and prisons of life: work, family, wife, money.  He had a lot to take care of. And he bought, for some unfathomable reason, a very expensive home in a blandly rich ocean town.  He said he moved away from LA to go somewhere safe to raise his kids. And he was doing what good men do-providing for the welfare of his family.

On many occasions, I saw his goodness and empathy for others.

  • When my father became ill, and had trouble walking, the person of interest took the arm of my dad and helped him to the table.
  • He showed his love to his friends when he helped them move, when he stuck up for them to brutal bosses, when he spoke at weddings and funerals for people I hold dear.
  • He is someone who even the victim’s friends believe is a good person.

This is my armchair psychological analysis of someone who has more good than bad in him, whose life, up to this point, nearing the four decade milestone, has been mostly calm, nearly normal, and not indicating, by any stretch of the imagination, that he might be capable of murder.

But I trust in forensics and evidence, more than intuition and speculation.  And whatever the facts of the case are, those will be the predominant and determining factor in how this man spends the rest of his life on Earth.

Dark Passage.


Dark Passage


Spring this year was thrilling.  After a winter of rain, the sun came out and heated up a fragrant cornucopia of roses, orange blossoms and jasmine.

I went around the old neighborhoods of Los Angeles, with my house-hunting cousin.  I rode up hills, and into scenic valleys, discovering streets and architecture decades old.

There was Passover and family, old relatives I had not seen for a long time, and the traditions of celebrating the rites of Spring and the end of slavery.

I broke two toes at the gym and have spent the last month limping around in a post-op shoe, unable to run or bike. People rush past me now because I move slowly. But I just accept this injury and know it will heal. And I can swim or lift weights as long as I don’t bend my left toes.

For a time I felt very alive in a good way, seeing this poisoned metropolis of deceit, decay and decadence in a virginal way, made anew by my willingness to just live here in the sun and enjoy it.

Then last week, as I was driving down LaBrea, my phone rang. Someone asked if I heard the news about a family friend missing in Mexico.

A day passed and the lost person became the dead person.

And the suspect was someone I loved, respected, admired and trusted.

He was a stand-up man. Someone who stood by my family- always.

He spoke at my father’s funeral service last April.

And if anyone were a rock of intellect, wit and character that you could depend on…it was he.

There was simply nothing in him but conversational gentleness and physical strength. A reserved, private, masculine, educated guy.

He was cynical and smart and apolitical. He used the word “idiots” a lot. To describe people in power: politicians, agents, lawyers.

If you needed someone to help you move, lift heavy furniture, work until all hours of the night-you called him.

I thought of him sometimes as a golden log floating down a green river. He didn’t try too hard, but somehow he managed to amass a career, a wife, a family, money, a big house.

He traveled to South America and Fiji while I walked around Van Nuys. He was an Executive Producer, whatever that BIG title means. And I was saving coins in a glass jar.

And we ate Thanksgiving at his home, and hugged the big, lovely, warm vivacious woman who was his wife.

He had it all. And it all had happened to him. He didn’t seem to go for it. It was bestowed upon him.

I admit I was jealous.

He had a special relationship that I did not with someone I should have.

On April 13th, it will be the one-year anniversary since my father died in a hospital in Santa Monica.

We, as a family had been progressing and healing and trying to heal the wound and gaping hole left by my father’s death.

It was a week of gore and death and the news media circled around like vultures.

And we went to meet the house-hunting cousin at Ginger Grass in Silver Lake this past Saturday night, just to get out of the house and enjoy ourselves.

After dinner, we stood on the sidewalk talking about the future and what we might do for work or investments.

We heard a strange sound, a woman screaming “No, no, no!”

People ran out of a parking lot. A man crouched behind a car.

Another man took off and ran up the hill, full speed, in the darkness.

We stood there, frozen.

“What was that?” someone asked.

“Gunshots?”

We slowly walked around corner.

A young woman was lying on the pavement in a pond of her own blood.  People surrounded her.

“Why did he shoot me? Mom, mom, mom….”