Police Have Found No Clues, Motives in Teacher’s Slaying : 4-Month Inquiry Leads to ‘Lots of Dead Ends’
Detectives have questioned more than 150 people, made countless phone calls to places ranging from Sherman Oaks to Amsterdam and filled eight thick binders--so-called “murder books"--with information on the life and death of Hal Arthur.
But four months after the slaying of the popular Grant High School teacher, Los Angeles police acknowledge that they may be no closer to the killer than on the morning they got an emergency call and found Arthur lying on the street in front of his home.
During the exhaustive investigation, detectives have explored whether Arthur had uncovered a drug ring and was subsequently killed, whether his frequent foreign travel had somehow made him a target in some international intrigue, and whether his death was linked to the slayings of two other teachers more than a decade earlier.
Throughout the investigation, detectives said, they have given at least six potential suspects polygraph tests. But each time, the test results were negative.
‘We have hit a lot of dead ends,” said Lt. Dennis Dunn, who is supervising the investigation. “We are at a loss as to a theory on why this happened.”
Arthur, 60, was hit from behind by four bullets from a semiautomatic weapon. It was 6:04 a.m. on March 24 and, as was his routine, Arthur had been about to get into his car and drive to school.
Police said the killing in the 13900 block of Milbank Street in Sherman Oaks was quick and efficient. The gunman, they said, sped away in a car.
Police are still attempting to find a man that a witness saw driving away from the neighborhood just moments after the shooting. He has never been identified. Although police initially thought that he was a suspect, they are no longer sure.
“He could very well be a frightened witness,” Dunn said. “We still want to talk to him.”
Arthur had been a government and history teacher at Grant High in Van Nuys since the early 1960s. Investigators seeking a motive for the slaying have found that he was a gregarious, cheerful man who had few close relationships outside his family. But because he was a teacher and small businessman, he had had thousands of personal contacts.
Each year, more than 3,000 students and teachers were at Grant High. Arthur was an active member of a North Hollywood temple. And, out of his home, he operated a small tour business through which he had taken hundreds of San Fernando Valley students to Europe.
“Every aspect of his life--business, school, friends--has been checked out,” Dunn said. “We checked out everything and anything.”
Initially considered was whether Arthur had been shot randomly or by mistake. But Dunn said the slaying appears to have been too carefully planned and carried out. Robbery was also dropped as a motive. The killer did not approach Arthur or his car.
Detectives have focused much of their attention on Arthur’s role as a teacher.
On the day of the slaying, a former Grant student was taken into custody by police after other students reported that he might have been involved. The 16-year-old was interviewed, given a polygraph test and released. Investigators announced that they had cleared him.
A week later the teen-ager sued the Los Angeles Police Department in U. S. District Court, contending that detectives violated his rights by falsely arresting him. The suit, seeking $10 million in damages, has not been set for trial.
From that initial false start, detectives spent weeks probing for another school connection, particularly any involvement with drugs.
“We thought maybe he had stumbled onto some kind of drug-selling activity at the school that put him in danger,” Dunn said. “We went into that in depth but came to a dead end.”
Dunn said detectives found no gang involvement in the killing, either.
They said they were briefly sidetracked when they learned that two other teachers at the school had been slain, one in 1972 and the other six years later. But after looking into both cases, detectives found that both were solved and both had sprung out of domestic disputes.
Arthur’s small tour business was not lucrative but allowed him to travel, investigators found. By arranging the tours, he was able to travel with the students for free, they said.
Dunn said investigators carefully studied the business’s records, looking for unusual financial transactions or problems. They also investigated a person formerly associated with the tour business who years earlier had had a falling out with Arthur. But nothing came of that, Dunn said.
Police have called Arthur’s travel contacts, some as far away as Amsterdam, hoping for clues to what could have made him a target. They interviewed dozens of students who had been members of the tour groups. Detectives even asked federal authorities if Arthur worked in some secret capacity for the CIA or State Department during his trips abroad.
“There is no reason to believe there was anything going on that was clandestine on those trips,” Dunn said.
Detectives who investigated his life before he became a teacher could find nothing to account for his slaying. They paid some attention to his name change more than 30 years ago. But family members told police that Arthur changed his last name from Solomon to avoid anti-Semitism.
Dunn said detectives are now going over ground already covered.
“We believe we already have a perimeter around everything pertinent to this case,” he said. “Now we are going through a screening process. It is like putting things through a funnel and getting it down to just the pertinent information and seeing how it fits together.”
The scope of the investigation can be measured by the eight murder books containing the reports, interview summaries and other records. Normally, a homicide case will accumulate enough paper work for one or two books.
Dunn said detectives are questioning people for the second and third time. They hope to focus on information from the individuals that may not have seemed important during the early stages of the investigation but may now fit in with other pieces of the puzzle.
Dunn noted that there remains a $30,000 reward offered for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the killer.
Four months after the killing, police are facing the inevitable pressures that accompany an unsolved slaying. Killings continue to occur in the Van Nuys Division, and the Arthur case cannot indefinitely remain a top priority without some kind of progress, such as the identification of a suspect or motive, Dunn said.
Already, one of three detectives originally assigned to the case has been reassigned.
But Dunn said there are no plans to drop the case into the department’s unsolved file, where it would be reviewed once a year.
“I still have high hopes we will solve this one,” Dunn said.