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FAILURE OF California’s Julian Petroleum Company, aka “Julian Pete,” caught up Charles H. Crawford, Los Angeles politician/saloon owner in 1930. Allegedly, he paid $75,000 to hush up exposure of his criminal activities, bootlegging, gambling, and prostitution among them. The money, in marked cash, went to Morris Lavine, a Los Angeles Examiner reporter, and Leontine Johnson, a Julian Pete private secretary.

At left, Morris Lavine, Los Angeles Examiner reporter; at right, Leontine Johnson, private secretary at Julian Pete. Both were allegedly involved in a Crawford shakedown.

“They came to me,” Crawford later explained, “with their shakedown plan and tried to make me aid their scheme to extort money not only from myself but men that I know, and several others that I never heard of.”

Charles H. Crawford, 1879–1931, American smooth-talking politician and barkeeper, aka the Gray Wolf of Spring Street, aka Good Time Charlie, one of the founders of the Los Angeles City Hall Gang.

A month later, Crawford and two others were indicted on bribery-conspiracy charges related to Julian Pete. On this one, Crawford proclaimed himself the victim of a “political plot.”

In response to this charge, Crawford took the Fifth with regard to that $75 Gs in the Lavine/Johnson matter. The latter initially ended in a hung jury, with a single holdout against conviction. The retrial resulted in Lavine and Johnson each getting a fine of $5000 and a year in County.

This was when Crawford found God. In June 1930, he was baptized at St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church. During the ceremony, he slipped a diamond ring worth $3500 (figure $50,000 in today’s dollar) onto the collection plate and included a note encouraging the Rev. Dr. Gustav A. Briegleb to use the donation to underwrite a Sunday school. Moviegoers might recall the Rev. Briegleb from Changeling, a 2008 Angelina Jolie flick in which the reverend is a good guy.

Changeling, 2008, starring Angelina Jolie and John Malkovich (who plays the Rev. Briegleb).

Crawford, by contrast, still faced that Julian Pete bribery-conspiracy charge. Not to worry: This case got dismissed in October 1930 when the government’s principal witness refused to testify.

Thank the Lord? Or tug down on your cheek, Italian style?

Crawford then donated another $25,000 to St. Paul’s for construction of a new church. Its Sunday school building was named Amelia Crawford Memorial in honor of his mother.

When asked later about receiving filthy lucre from the likes of Crawford, Rev. Briegelb responded, “If you know of any more sinners who have $25,000, send ‘em along; I can use it.”

St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church and (inset) the Rev. Dr. Gustav A. Briegleb.

Dedication at St. Paul’s was on May 17, 1931. Three days later, Charles H. Crawford and business associate journalist Herbert Spencer were gunned down at Crawford’s 6665 Sunset Blvd. office. Spencer died instantly; Crawford perished later at Georgia Street Receiving Hospital (a place familiar to fans of SiriusXM “Radio Classics” Dragnet).

In a scene reminiscent of Dragnet, Crawford briefly regained consciousness at Georgia Street, only to tell police he’d prefer to take his assailant’s name to his grave. He did.

Funeral of Charles H. Crawford, a contingent of Boy Scouts in attendance. Image from

Amazingly, there’s more to the Crawford saga. Three days later, David H. Clark, former Deputy D.A. and candidate for Municipal Judge, turned himself in for the killings. Despite this confession, Debonair Dave, as he was known, beat that rap in a hung jury, 11-1. The juror voting “guilty” reportedly “found a bomb on his front lawn the next day.” Clark was acquitted on retrial.

Above, David H. Clark, aka Debonair Dave, ex-assistant D.A., candidate for municipal judgeship. Below, Clark thanking jury for his acquittal at his 1931 retrial.

Years later, in 1953, Clark was down-and-out, living off friends in Costa Mesa, California. He shot-gunned the wife who nagged him about mooching. Clark got five to life at Chino; he died three weeks later, February 20, 1954.

But wait, there’s still more. In 1936, Crawford’s widow built Crossroads of the World, a Los Angeles shopping center renowned for its innovative appearance.

Crossroads of the World. Images from

The location of this architectural wonder? 6665 Sunset Blvd., the site where Good Time Charlie got his.

It’s said detective noir author Raymond Chandler was influenced by all this. No wonder. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

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