Newsletter: Here are some of the darkest true-crime stories from California

A Los Angeles police officer stands at the corner of 2nd and South Spring streets in downtown Los Angeles.
A Los Angeles police officer stands at the corner of 2nd and South Spring streets in downtown Los Angeles.
(Francine Orr/ Los Angeles Times)

Good morning, it is Monday, Sept. 5. On this sunny Labor Day, we are taking a detour into noir. There’s been quite a bit of true-crime reporting in the Essential California newsletter the past week because of The Times’ series “Framed,” about a bizarre incident in Irvine.

We’d like to welcome our new readers who have signed up to receive Essential California through “Framed,” and offer a holiday change-up from our usual format for our many longtime readers, with a special edition of the newsletter devoted to California crime. The traditional Essential California will return Tuesday.

Below is a selection of classic true-crime tales published over the years in The Times as well as many other publications. Every story here is tragic in its own way, but each reveals something about the human condition and the state in which we live:


“Nightmare on Elm Drive”: The Menendez Brothers. By Dominick Dunne, Vanity Fair

The Grim Sleeper and the forgotten serial killer of South L.A. By Christine Pelisek, L.A. Weekly

Rape, lies and a nightmare made real. By Christopher Goffard, Los Angeles Times

In the footsteps of a prolific California serial killer. By Michelle MacNamara, Los Angeles Magazine

“Trouble in Lakewood” and the “spur posse.” By Joan Didion, The New Yorker

Charles Manson’s home on the range. By Gay Talese, GQ/The Daily Beast


A group of friends go to the desert. Four don’t return. By J.R. Moehringer, Los Angeles Times

The man in the woods: A manhunt and a hunt for the truth. By Ashley Powers, California Sunday

Four children are murdered, and Koreatown is left asking why. By Mona Gable, Los Angeles Times

The Zankou Chicken Murders. By Marx Arax, Los Angeles Magazine

The Boy in the Chimney and an unspeakable murder in South L.A. By Hector Becerra, Los Angeles Times

Christopher Dorner: A rouge ex-cop goes hunting. By Christopher Goffard, Kurt Streeter, Joel Rubin and Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times


Who killed the gangster’s daughter? Was it Robert Durst? By Lisa DePaulo, New York Magazine

Dying young in Watts. By Jocelyn Y. Stewart, Los Angeles Times

A son errand, gunshots and a quest for justice in South L.A. Jill Leovy. Los Angeles Times

A cold-case murder of a young woman in Valley points to a decorated LAPD cop. By Mathew McGough, The Atlantic

Searching for my father’s murderer. By Mark Arax, Los Angeles Times

The fake Rockefeller of San Marino. By Mark Seal, Vanity Fair


The other school shooting. By Jay Caspian Kang, New York Times Magazine

The LAPD’s gangster squad battled the mob, at a dear price. By Paul Lieberman, Los Angeles Times

A missing persons case in gentrified downtown L.A. By Josh Dean, Medium

The endless fall of Suge Knight. By Matt Diehl, Rolling Stone

The oddity of dying in Los Angeles. By Ben Ehrenreich, Los Angeles Magazine

Finding Marlowe: A detective story takes unexpected twist. By Daniel Miller, Los Angeles Times


The Last Ride of Jesse James Hollywood. By Jesse Katz, Los Angeles Magazine

The Angel of Death stalks a Glendale hospital. By Paul Lieberman, Los Angeles Times

The fractured life of a notorious child killer. By Nora Zamichow, Los Angeles Times

Murder in suburbia: “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream.” By Joan Didion Longform/Saturday Evening Post

A cold case revived, and questions for the LAPD. By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times

Is this man the most corrupt cop in L.A.?. By Edward Humes, Los Angeles Times


The West Hollywood doctor and the (almost) perfect murder. Doug Smith Los Angeles Times

The Hollywood murder house. By Jeff Maysh, Medium

A witness takes a brave stand, and her mother pays the price. By Scott Glover and Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times

Haunted by a distant verdict: The Bruce Lisker story. By Matt Lait and Scott Glover, Los Angeles Times


If you have questions about the “Framed” series, reporter Christopher Goffard will take part in a Facebook Live event on Tuesday at noon. Readers can submit questions on the event’s page or during Tuesday’s live stream.


Please let us know what we can do to make this newsletter more useful to you. Send comments, complaints and ideas to Alice Walton or Shelby Grad.