Entertainment & Arts

‘LAPD ’53': Snapshots of L.A.'s dark side

1953 crime scenes

On June 26, 1953, the aftermath of a robbery attempt and fatal shooting at the Roost Cafe at Temple and Rampart.

(Los Angeles Police Museum / Abrams Image)

If you were a Los Angeles Police Department crime scene photographer, 1953 was a very good year. The Los Angeles Police Museum at first thought it would need decades of photos to create a book, but it soon became clear that 1953 had it all: murder, suicide, sad accidents, kinky deaths, malice, mystery, the bloody hands of a man who’d just beaten his friend to oblivion.

“LAPD ’53" (Abrams Image, 208 pp., $24.95) is richly narrated by the bombastic James Ellroy, for whom a bar is “a dank dive and despair den of the determined dipso” (Page 102). It’s a narrative-heavy follow-up to the 2004 book “Scene of the Crime,” also taken from the LAPD archives.

These crime images resemble the work of photographer Weegee, but, Ellroy argues, they’re superior because they resist artistry; they were taken by police officers doing their jobs. Within a single year, there is not just horror but also oddness, even banality. Inside one cafe, the clock shows 1:30 a.m., and a covered body lies on the floor, a table holds burned-out flashbulbs, and photographers linger — all while patrons are left to finish one last drink. It’s true L.A. noir.

Here’s to you, 1953.


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