Treasures of the Valley

True Crime 1954 – ‘Thugs’ on the Loose

The old local newspaper, The Ledger, describes a crime spree that happened in January 1954. Four major crimes occurred in a single week, all perpetrated by “thugs” as the paper called them. Here they are, in order of severity.

Two Glendale policemen were patrolling Foothill Boulevard just past Dunsmore headed west. It was 2:30 in the morning on a Saturday night when they picked up a “suspicious car” with Kansas license plates and two men in the front seat. The police hit their lights but the car didn’t pull over. They advanced to 100 feet from the car and turned on the siren.

At that point the man in the passenger side leaned out the window. The officers assumed it was to throw away an alcohol bottle or evidence of some sort. Instead, the man pointed a .38 pistol at the following police car and fired four quick rounds. The first shot hit the grill but the other three were perfectly placed through the windshield in a 13-inch radius, directly in line with the driver. This was some amazing marksmanship as the cars were traveling at 50 miles per hour in the dark. Fortunately for the driving policeman, with the first shot he ducked down just low enough as three shots and a lot of glass flew over his head. The police car veered out of control but braked before hitting anything. By the time the officers collected themselves the car was gone.

Days later they later found the car parked in Montrose but the registration and plates were gone. Neighborhood kids had been playing in the unlocked car and any fingerprints had been messed up.

Next up, a widow living in La Cañada was headed out to her car at night when she was jumped by two thugs in a home-invasion robbery attempt. They pistol-whipped the old woman as she begged for mercy. They were gagging her and just were about to enter the house where her daughter and granddaughter were sleeping.

Luckily just then, her son-in-law pulled up. With him were four friends, two men and two women. They saw the widow lying on the floor of the garage and rushed to help her. The two hoodlums came out of the shadows with guns drawn and forced the group back into their car. The two criminals squeezed into the back seat and had them drive up Angeles Crest. A couple of miles up the hill they made them pull over, robbed them of cash and took off in their car, leaving them stranded.

More thugs, this time in Tujunga. Two adults, one from Montrose, and two teenagers were cruising around the San Fernando Valley. They picked up a hitchhiker, a Finnish merchant seaman. The thugs pulled a knife on the poor seaman, took his wallet and had him strip off his clothes. They dumped him out half-naked. He managed to call the cops and the police found the thugs cruising in Tujunga. They led the police on a wild 70-mile per hour chase through the streets of Tujunga before they were cornered and caught.

Also in La Cañada, a mother and her daughter were coming home late from a basketball game. A car was following them, no doubt driven by thugs. The pursuing car pulled up next to them and pushed their car into the curb. The woman hit the gas but the pursuing car caught them again and forced them to the curb, this time pinning them. As the assailant got out of his car, the mother leaned on the horn. The blast of sound in a quiet residential neighborhood spooked the pursuers, who took off.

There were three other smaller crimes reported that week – two burglaries and an attempt to poison a dog.

It seems like a lot of crime. It also brings up the idea that although we think of the past as a safer time, the reality is that it was not. Old newspapers are a great window into the realities of the past.

Mike Lawler is the former
president of the Historical
Society of the Crescenta Valley
and loves local history.
Reach him at