The Whiteboard Jungle: Hoover High produced an infamous graduate

On March 28, Glendale High School will rename its auditorium the John Wayne Performing Arts Center in honor of its most well-known alumnus.

This led me to wonder if Hoover High had any famous graduates of its own who may qualify for naming rights for its edifices.

The good news is that I did, indeed, find someone famous; the bad news is that it is someone infamous.

First, allow me to flashback to a few weeks ago when I attended a UCLA Film Archive screening at the Hammer Museum in Westwood as part of the director Anthony Mann film retrospective.

The movie was the 1948 film-noir minor classic “He Walked By Night,” the star was budding TV actor Richard Basehart and the locations were in Hollywood, Burbank, and Glendale.

After the opening credits, text appears boldly proclaiming in all caps that “this is a true story,” quite unusual for a movie back then, with the added disclaimer that “only the names are changed to protect the innocent.”

This may have been one of the first uses of such a statement. As a footnote, one of the supporting actors in the film is Jack Webb who later developed the radio and TV series “Dragnet.” It just so happens that Webb made quick friends with the L.A. police officer who was a consultant on the picture, which then gave him the idea for a program based on police cases.

As soon as I got home that night I immediately started researching the real story of Erwin Walker, who grew up in Glendale and worked as a radio dispatcher for the Glendale Police Department in the early 1940s.

After serving in the Army during World War II, he came back a deranged man, killing California Highway Patrolman Lorin Roosevelt near the intersection of Brunswick Avenue and Los Feliz Boulevard. He escaped arrest by traveling through the storm drain system beneath Los Angeles. Due to an arsenal of stolen weapons left behind, he was known as Machine Gun Walker.

After being captured, Walker was found guilty and sent to San Quentin’s Death Row. Thirty-six hours before his scheduled execution in 1949, a botched suicide attempt ended up saving his life. His mental state was a constant matter of discussion, and in 1961, then Gov. Pat G. Brown (the current Brown’s father) commuted Walker’s death sentence to life imprisonment.

In 1974, Walker was granted parole, living freely until his death in 1982, never once expressing remorse for killing the peace officer.

Knowing he was born in 1918 meant that he probably graduated high school in the mid-1930s, so the next day at work I checked the Hoover archives, combed through old yearbooks and, lo and behold, Erwin M. Walker appears on page 53 in the 1935 Scroll annual, a letterman in track.

On the Officer Down Memorial Page website, there is a curious reflection from a Keith Owen from Las Vegas dated March 21, 2005 with “my sincerest apologizes for what Erwin Walker has done to [Roosevelt] and his family.” Walker was Owen’s stepfather.

Another 1935 Hoover graduate was Stirling Siliphant who, like John Wayne, attended USC. Siliphant was a prolific television and film writer, winning an Oscar for Best Screenplay for “In the Heat of the Night.”

However, Walker’s story is more headline-worthy. As I always tell my journalism students, they are the historians of Hoover. The stories they work on today become tomorrow's history. And Walker is part of that history. Just don’t anticipate any Hoover building being named for him anytime soon — unless there is a storm drain running beneath the school property.


BRIAN CROSBY is a teacher in the Glendale Unified School District and the author of "Smart Kids, Bad Schools and The $100,000 Teacher." He can be reached at

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