On May 26, 1950, a tattooed Navy veteran named Glen Johnson held up William Dillehunt at his liquor store on West Washington Boulevard in Los Angeles. A getaway driver, Joseph Harsha, lingered outside. As he entered the store, Johnson asked to buy a bottle of whiskey. Dillehunt placed the whiskey on the counter near the cash register. Showing a gun, Johnson took about $250 from Dillehunt and then, right near the placard advertising Philip Morris as having “no cigarette hangover,” he shot the proprietor in the stomach. William Dillehunt kept a gun at the store, but it was in the back, at his little desk in a dank hallway.
Glen Johnson bought floral shirts and “sports clothing” with his portion of the money before both he and Harsha were apprehended. From his hospital bed, William Dillehunt identified Johnson as the man who had shot him. Dillehunt underwent dozens of blood transfusions, but he did not recover. When he died, Johnson and Harsha were tried for murder, convicted, and imprisoned.
To this day, there is still a liquor store at the site, three miles from the USC campus.
Through the Collections Convergence Initiative, a trove of true-crime material has come to Special Collections at USC Libraries. Made up of the files of newspaper reporter and True Detective editor, Edward S. Sullivan, the files and photographs offer researchers a dark journey into the underbelly of mid-20th century Los Angeles and other parts of California.
Sullivan neatly assigned his files to crimes. Here are the murders, assaults, stick-ups, forgeries, grifts, kidnappings, dog-poisonings, and other tales of crime and depravity, as well as notes on perpetrators, victims, and police investigations. Some are labeled with monikers provided by the police looking to solve their cases -- the “Bouncing Ball Killer,” for instance, a door-to-door Bible salesman and serial killer who preyed on women in South Los Angeles in the 1950s. Given that Sullivan had a decidedly favorable view of police and policing, we can assume he gained special access and information as he drafted stories for the magazine. This would have been an especially difficult era to have a “pro-blue” outlook. William Parker became chief of the LAPD in August 1950 (only days before liquor store owner William Dillehunt succumbed from his wounds). Parker’s controversial run as chief saw the LAPD professionalize its way out of the corruption that had previously been rampant. But Parker’s heavy-handed and militarized approach to policing came alongside countless brutalities meted out against the city’s non-white population.
In addition to Sullivan’s notes and stark photographs, the files include wanted posters and police bulletins. “Did you make these teeth?” a flyer distributed in Riverside County asks, as police searched for the identity of a denture-wearing Jane Doe. In another file, we meet a man on a Halloween night. Expecting trick or treaters, he opened the front door of his home. Instead, he became the victim of a murder-for-hire plot orchestrated by his wife.
The Sullivan/True Detective archive includes over 1000 photographs and about forty case files. It complements other collections relating to policing, noir fiction, crime and punishment, and the social and cultural history of greater Los Angeles.