this day in crime history: october 1, 1910

On this date in 1910, a bomb was detonated in an alley next to the Los Angeles Times building in Los Angeles, CA.  The bomb, which was planted by labor union activists who were angry at the paper’s anti-union editorial policies, was set to go off when the building was empty.  A faulty timer resulted in an early detonation.  A faulty placement of the device–right over a gas line–resulted in a fire that ultimately destroyed the entire building, and the building next door.  In all, 21 people were killed.

The police investigation of the bombing quickly hit a dead, leading city officials to hire private investigator William J. Burns to track down the guilty parties.  Burns, who was already investigating other bombings believed to be union-related, incorporated the case into his ongoing investigation.  Based on information from spies that Burns had planted in the unions, as well as eyewitness testimony, Burns identified the guilty parties as brothers J.B. and J.J. McNamara, and Ortie McManigal, who were all labor union officials.  In April 1911, McManigal and J.B. McNamara were arrested in a hotel in Detroit.  They were found in possession of suitcases that contained blasting caps, dynamite, and alarm clocks.  After a grueling (and probably unconstitutional) interrogation, Burns got McManigal to agree to turn state’s evidence.  A warrant was obtained for the arrest of J.J. McNamara.  He was arrested several days later at an executive board meeting of the Iron Workers Union.

National labor leaders condemned the arrests as a frame job.  The union tried to hire famed defense attorney Clarence Darrow to defend the men.  Darrow initially declined due to his failing health, but was eventually convinced to take the case by labor organizer Samuel Gompers.

Darrow quickly realized that the police had a fair amount of evidence against the McNamaras, including the testimony of McManigal, who was not being charged in the case.  He eventually convinced the brothers to plead guilty in order to avoid death sentences.  J.B. McNamara was sentenced to life in prison.  J.J. McNamara got 15 years.  J.B. died in prison in March 1941.  Upon his release, J.J. went back to work for the Iron Workers Union as an organizer.  He died in Butte, MT, two months after his brother’s death.

Further reading:

Bombing of the Los Angeles Times

Wikipedia – Los Angeles Times bombing

Wikipedia – William J. Burns

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6 thoughts on “this day in crime history: october 1, 1910

  1. John D.:
    That some story, and I recall hearing that name (William J.Burns) before…must be the founder of the Burns Detective Agency…
    Bad timing and placement…good recipe for a major FAIL.

    Good call.

    Roll safe out there.

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  2. If I’m not mistaken, this is the case that got Clarence Darrow indicted for jury tampering (which is how he won most of his cases). Allegedly, a private investigator working for Darrow paid a juror several thousand dollars (a fortune back then); the juror had tipped off the Los Angeles DA’s office and the PI was arrested on the scene. After two trials ending in hung juries, the DA told Darrow he would drop the charges if Darrow left California and never came back. Darrow left on a train that afternoon. He also never hired another PI. (I may have the details wrong, but that’s the gist of it.)

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    • They actually did try Darrow, but the trial ended in a hung jury. They decided not to retry Darrow if he agreed to never practice law in California again. In my opinion, he got off easy. As did the McNamara brothers.

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      • I should have been clearer. The two trials I mentioned were of Darrow, not the PI.
        Darrow was quite an interesting character, and not necessarily the legal genius he is usually thought to be. He and Jimmy Hoffa would have got along well in a courtroom.

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