Then the state Supreme Court had its say on the Cahan case on April 27, 1955, and found "flagrant violation of the United States Constitution." The ruling named names, starting with Wooters', whose "intelligence unit" had done stuff like breaking and entering, and bugging bedrooms, that "would be almost incredible if it were not admitted."
"From then on you couldn't do it," he said, "supposedly."
Wooters was in one of three LAPD cars at the airport on Oct. 10, 1955, when Mickey Cohen flew home from federal prison in Washington. He'd completed his five-year term for tax evasion with 480 days off for good behavior. He was met by his wife and pet boxer and soon announced he was going into the nursery business. He'd sell and rent out plants, real and plastic, and perhaps open an ice cream parlor. Beauty and sweets, that was the new Mickey.
The squad quickly guessed the deal with "Michael's Tropical Plants" -- a variation on the protection rackets gangsters had run for ages. Mickey would suggest that bars and restaurants carry his fake ferns, at $1,000 a month, or else. But Mickey's probation officer asked the LAPD not to provoke him, to give him a chance, so Wooters and his partner would simply park across South Vermont, watching and waiting.
Their first confrontation was behind the Ambassador Hotel on Wilshire. Wooters followed a mob collector there and was making him empty his pockets when Mickey materialized "in, naturally, a Cadillac. When I turned around he said, 'Come over and shake my hand.' "
Perhaps Jerry was a bit harsh in declining, saying, by his own account, "I don't shake hands with no pimps." Later, Mickey accused him of pulling a gun as the insults escalated. "He comes charging out of the car," was Wooters' version. "I came out with a .38. Unfortunately, he didn't try anything."
Confrontation No. 2 came when Wooters investigated a tip that Mickey had roughed up a manager of Schwab's drugstore to collect a $500 debt. The victim wouldn't talk, so they called everyone before a grand jury, where Mickey saw Wooters in the waiting room and said, "You're the son of a bitch that's trying to kill me."
"The 'killer cop,' that was me," Wooters said. Then he thought: If they couldn't get Mickey for extortion, why not cursing? Cursing before women, to be exact, the district attorney's secretaries.
They actually took Mickey to trial for disturbing the peace, in February 1957. Of course, Mickey's attorney turned it into the trial of someone else. "If Mr. Cohen is found guilty," the defense lawyer said, "it will give Wooters a license to hunt." It took the jury less than two hours to decide this was hardly the case to send the city's celebrity hoodlum back behind bars.
Mickey shook the hand of the foreman and said, "I'll try to live up to your verdict." Soon after, he went on TV and declared, "I killed nobody that didn't deserve killing."
With hindsight, we may decide that Jerry Wooters had no business in police work. But to his partners from the 1950s, he was the best street cop they ever saw. It was as if Jerry had a pipeline into the city's underworld.
"God, for a few years, they thought I was the best detective in town," he said. "As long as you had Jack, you had the world."
That would be Jack Whalen, the Enforcer, his buddy.
Times researcher Maloy Moore and former researcher Tracy Thomas contributed to this series.