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Crime News Accident, Suicide, or Murder

A High-Profile Gang Investigator Dies After Crashing Party Van, Sparking Dozens of Theories

Accident, Suicide, or Murder retraces a mysterious freeway crash that vexed fellow officers for fourteen years: "I never let this go."

By Grace Jidoun
Sgt. George Arthur Worked with Highly Dangerous Prisoners Before Death

When a well-known gang cop died in a freeway crash after his shift ended at the central jail in Los Angeles, the possible whodunnit theories ran off the rails.

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Authorities found beer bottles and a mattress in George Arthur’s “tricked-out party van,” and it seemed like an unfortunate case of DUI. But the 14-year police veteran had a long list of vicious enemies. Arthur had received death threats from gang members, oversaw a “high-powered” section of the prison, and crashed mere steps from a “gang-infested” government housing project downtown. Nearly everyone in his orbit could have been a suspect if it turned out to be murder. Episode 3, Season 5 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder traces the relentless detective work it took to get to the bottom of his mysterious death.

In the 1980s, large swaths of Los Angeles were in the grip of turf wars waged by the most notorious gangs in the country. “The crack epidemic, PCP, and the proliferation of gangs and gang members brought on a crime wave,” stated Sgt. Richard Valdemar of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Dept.

The city averaged 1,100 to 1,200 homicides a year, according to LAPD detective Paul Coulter, “whereas today they have 300 to 400. It’s still a lot, but it’s nothin’ like it was back then.”

George Arthur's Cause of Death

A car from the crime scene on Accident Suicide Murder Episode 503

On the evening of June 1, 1985, George Arthur had rolled out of the prison parking lot after his shift ended at 9:30 pm. By 10:00 pm, he was fighting for his life after his van struck an embankment that divided two freeways. Arthur smashed the windshield with his head, and there was blood everywhere — on the windshield and both the driver and passenger sides. With beer cans tossed around his van, highway patrol officers “conclude right off that bat that it looks as if it’s a DUI,” said Los Angeles reporter Tricia Takasugi.

Arthur died at a local hospital within an hour, and a complete autopsy was ordered, including a toxicology report.

But the autopsy results stunned police: four bullets were lodged in the back of his head. “They think this escaped earlier discovery because of the amount of trauma after the initial crash,” noted Takasugi. “We were all shocked… this changed the whole direction of the investigation," said Valdemar.

Just by the nature of his work, "George made a lot of enemies,” he added. 

Who was George Arthur?

Described as a “hero” in Accident, Suicide, or Murder, Arthur had once barely survived a violent shootout with gang members. He and his partner made a police training video about the experience called A Will to Survive.

“So every new deputy who came into our system knew who George Arthur was,” said detective Shaun McCarthy. “He was kind of a bigger-than-life character within the ranks of the sheriff’s department.”

Arthur was married but amicably separated from his wife, Linda Arthur, who was in Northern California when he died. She also worked for the Sheriff’s office, and the exes were seeing other people, adding a possibility of a jealous lover into the mix.

Police discover another person was in the van

Now that it was a homicide investigation, the LAPD took the lead on the case. “They brought out an entire [Police] Academy class to do a grid search,” said McCarthy, and found a blood trail going down the side of a freeway to an area known to be frequented by gang members.

Gun casings were discovered in the van, and blood from the passenger windshield was sent to the lab. DNA testing was unavailable in 1985, but police could identify blood type, and they soon realized a second person was in the vehicle.

After police canvassed the neighborhood, two witnesses came forward with information. “They saw two people near the accident scene. One person was seen running from the van in the direction of a nearby housing project. The other person was seen kicking out the front windshield of the van and then running down that embankment off the side of the freeway,” said Takasugi.

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A composite drawing led to a man who lived nearby, who later admitted to stealing items from the car, but he was not considered a suspect in the murder.

At this point, Valdemar was turning over several scenarios in his mind: “Was he carjacked? Was some bad guy hiding in the van when he drove away? His problems with his wife.” Of course, someone from the jail could have sneaked into his van.

The Crime Scene on Accident Suicide Murder Episode 503

To add to the confusion, a love triangle was not off the table. A deputy had confronted Arthur a few days before the murder about suspicions that Arthur was having an affair with his wife, but the lead ultimately went nowhere.

The suspect list grows

“In our work, we took down some of the biggest drug dealers in Los Angeles or their crews… [Arthur] knew them by name, and they knew us,” stated Valdemar, who worked with Arthur in a gang unit that targeted the Mexican Mafia and a gang called the Black Guerilla Family.

Two gang members had threatened Arthur’s life in the past, and Valdemar used his connections to track them down. “I had a stable of informants, so I was constantly going up to prison to visit them,” said Valdemar, but that ultimately led nowhere.

After months of dead ends, police contacted the national TV show America’s Most Wanted offering a $10,000 reward, but even then, the case was cold. "For me, this case was not gonna ever go cold. George was my friend; he was a hero in the department,” said Valdemar. “I never let this go.”

Fourteen years later, the case is reopened

Fast-forward to 1999, and DNA technology had advanced signifcantly. The LAPD and Sheriff’s Department jointly reopened the case and tested the old blood samples from the blood trail and inside the van. With all the gang leads exhausted, detectives McCarthy and Coulter took a fresh look at George and Linda’s romantic escapades and began interviewing all their known partners.

While McCarthy was obtaining DNA samples from men connected to Linda, he received a call from a colleague asking to meet. Over lunch, the person passed the detective a post-it note with one name on it: Ted Kirby, a former colleague of George Arthur.

“I never saw this name in any report. In any document. In any notebook. And we were down to one person to get DNA from: Ted Kirby," according to McCarthy.

Kirby was a retired sheriff’s deputy now living in Spokane, Washington, with his wife.

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Investigators struggle to obtain a DNA sample from Ted Kirby

Detectives flew to Spokane to obtain a DNA sample from Kirby, but the suspect became uncooperative and hired a lawyer. What’s more, a local judge refused to grant a court order, citing a lack of probable cause.

But the detectives came up with a clever workaround: they pulled Kirby’s old time card records based on the theory that whoever was in the van with Arthur that night would have taken time off from work after the murder. There was blood from the suspect on the windshield, and that person would have been injured.

It turned out that Kirby had taken off 12 sick days after the murder — the only time in his career he had taken extended sick time.

They also reinterviewed Linda. “That’s when she opened up and started talking about how he was very possessive. He would show up at social events she was invited to, but he wasn’t. He would drive by her house at night,” said McCarthy. Linda claimed she told authorities in 1985 to look at Kirby, but no one saw his name in the original materials.

With this new information, the judge signed the court order for a DNA swab and fingerprints. A match came back first for the trail of blood along the freeway, but the detectives ran into yet another roadblock. “The Chief of LAPD said, ‘Nope, you’re not gonna arrest him. You put him outside the van, but you haven’t put him inside the van yet,’” recalled McCarthy.

In the meantime, they searched Kirby’s Spokane home and discovered he had disappeared, oddly leaving his wedding ring and wallet behind, but without an arrest warrant, the local police wouldn’t search for him.

A few days later, DNA results proved that Kirby was inside the van, but it was too late. His body had been found by local reporter Gary Darigol, who had been closely following the case and learned about his mysterious disappearance. On July 14, 1999, Darigol and a news photographer searched the empty fields near his residence and came upon the gruesome discovery. Darigol remembered, “As we walked around, you don’t look for a body. You smell the body. And we did.”

Ted Kirby died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

“One officer killing another,” said Valdemar solemnly. “It was just unthinkable.”

See new episodes of Accident, Suicide, or Murder, airing Saturdays at 8/7c on Oxygen. 

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