America's most famous cop is Lieutenant Joe Friday of the Los Angeles Police Department. Friday, unlike other celebrated cops, private and public, is not concerned with little gray cells, hothouse orchids or shapely, wise-cracking secretaries. He just wants the facts, ma'am, and within 30 minutes (including breaks for commercials) he's got them and his man. Friday, alas, is but a solemn actor named Jack Webb on a TV show named Dragnet. The Los Angeles Police Department could certainly have used Joe Friday last week to find out what really happened to Jackie Leonard.
Leonard is the boxing promoter at the Hollywood Legion Stadium who said he was slugged in his garage on the night of June 3 because he did not comply with the mob's attempts to cut themselves in on Welterweight Champion Don Jordan (SI, June 15). And on June 4 the Los Angeles chief of police, William H. Parker, emphatically agreed with Leonard. It was, he said, "a blueprint" of a mob job—it proved what he had been saying all along about the Mafia. Then one day last week Chief Parker reversed his script in a fashion that would have made matter-of-fact Joe Friday consider firing his writers.
Without notifying either the U.S. Attorney or the Los Angeles district attorney who had organized grand jury hearings as a result of his previously positive pronouncements about the source of Jackie's predicament, Chief Parker released a statement to the press which would justify use of the melodramatic word "bombshell" to describe its effect on the local scene.
"We have carefully amassed and evaluated all known available facts," Chief Parker announced guardedly. "It is the considered and unanimous opinion of our investigating officers assigned to this case that the physical facts fail to support the probability that Mr. Leonard was subject to assault as originally reported.
June 21, 1959
"It now appears that Mr. Leonard suffered some acute physical incapacitation of a stunning nature that produced an illusion of assault. In light of the known threats to his physical well-being, it is easy to understand the basis for such an erroneous impression.
"Thus, there has been experienced a most amazing coincidence that is literally 'one for the books.' This development will not alter the activities of law enforcement agencies in relation to the other phases of the boxing inquiry."
And thus, with one studiedly elliptical, astonishing, medico-legal statement, the police have, it seems, closed the book on "one for the books." But Jackie Leonard, nevertheless, still says, "I was hit."
The apparent foundation for Chief Parker's new conclusions are as follows:
First, Leonard should have suffered more severe injuries: Leonard's doctors say that their tests showed cerebral damage and partial paralysis of the right side. But five or six days after Leonard was admitted to the hospital, Chief Parker sent Dr. Charles F. Sebastian around to see him. Dr. Sebastian, who for years has been running the police receiving hospital and has seen multitudes of accident cases, was at pains to point out that he did not examine Leonard, merely observed him. "I did not want to violate the privacy of the patient," was his excuse. Dr. Sebastian's conclusion, as reported to the Chief, was that he did not believe there was sufficient visible injury to produce the symptoms complained of by Leonard.
Leonard says that Sebastian talked to him "a maximum of two minutes. He looked at the scratch on my back and my nose and that's all." In addition, Dr. Sebastian, according to Leonard and one of his doctors, did get permission to examine Leonard fully and was offered his neurological records but did not want to see them.
Second, no witnesses that Joe Friday's real-life counterparts could turn up saw any strangers in Leonard's alley: when Leonard left in his pink Thunderbird to buy newspapers, candy bars and cigars on the night of June 3 he had dismissed his police guard but had told the neighborhood prowl car that he would leave two floodlights lit illuminating his backyard and swimming pool; if the lights went out, it would be a signal he needed help.
WITNESS WITH A SPRAY GUN
Detectives located one witness, a neighbor who was painting his fence with a spray gun by the light of a street lamp, who saw Leonard's Thunderbird return. The witness also noticed a yellow Chevrolet and a plumber's red pickup truck, both of which the police have accounted for; nothing else. The witness said he noticed nothing more until the ambulance wailed up to take Leonard to the hospital. But then, a spray gun makes considerable noise, and the witness had to make frequent trips up the alley and through his backyard fence to change the location of his compressor.
Leonard's wife Jeanne said she was out in front watering the lawn when she saw Leonard drive up. She, too, said she saw no one else.
As Leonard garaged his car he said he noticed that the floodlights were off. A young girl who was studying across the alley thinks she saw the reflections of the floods in a tree in Leonard's backyard but does not remember the time.
If Leonard was attacked by hoodlums, they would have had to enter the garage as Leonard left, go into the backyard and turn off the lights and stand at the rear of his garage awaiting his return. When they heard him park his car and get out to pull the garage door down, they would have had to slip into the garage by a small door at the rear, hit Leonard and then stroll out the opposite end of the alley from where the painter was working. Mrs. Leonard said she entered the house when she saw Leonard drive up so she wouldn't have seen them leave.
Although the police found no one who saw them, nor any useful tire tracks or footprints, this does not mean that the hoodlums weren't there. Leonard's house is walled off by two high fences and neighbors cannot see what occurs behind them. It is possible that hoodlums could have parked their car a block or two away, proceeded unnoticed on foot and left the same way.
Third, Leonard's first wife said that Leonard had suffered a coronary thrombosis in 1954 and was hospitalized for a week.
But Leonard says that when he had the heart attack, "I began to get terrible pains in my chest...I had nothing like that this time. No pains in the chest and the EKG showed no heart damage."
"If Jackie had a stroke," said Dr. Dan O. Kilroy, chairman of the California State Athletic Commission and a physician, "all medical history shows that he would slowly slump to the ground. But in this case our evidence shows that his face was scratched and bruised; he had a bad bruise at the back of his head; his lips were puffed out to twice normal size and he had an injured side. In all my experience in the medical profession, I never heard of a man being injured that way from a stroke."
The bump on Leonard's head is less noticeable now, though he still suffers partial facial paralysis. What hit him? Two men, says Leonard, and one of them Leonard remembers hearing say, "Let's go," as Leonard sank.
An illusion, says Chief Parker after studying the haul in his dragnet. But even the chief acknowledges the threats to Leonard's life. Next week a grand jury convenes in Los Angeles to investigate those threats.