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:

Wikipedia – Los Angeles Times bombing

Wikipedia – William J. Burns


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

  1. This is the case that got Clarence Darrow indicted and tried for bribing a juror. (He was not the legal genius he was cracked up to be; several of his cases were won by bribery and/or jury tampering.) After one acquittal and one mistrial, the LA District Attorney made a deal: He would not be retried if he promised to leave California and never return. Darrow was on a train the next day.
    A good book about the case is American Lightning, by Howard Blum. It tells the story of the investigation and the trial and imparts insight into the characters of Darrow, William J. Burns, and, oddly, D.W. Griffith. I highly recommend it to crime buffs or students of that period of history.


  2. John D:
    Seems they were not at a loss for bombings back in THOSE day as as well, hmm?
    (glad no one blamed “global warming” on that)


    Quite the intriguing good story (I’m familiar w/ the Burns agency), and I also like the comment from Old 1811 – did not know about Darrow and Griffith being involved in the case.
    Now, I want to grab that book mentioned and read up on the whole investigation.

    Very good post.

    Stay safe out there.


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