The 6 Biggest Crimes In L.A. History

From brutal celebrity murders to massive riots, Los Angeles is home to some of the most publicized crimes in history. 

By Gina Tron

Los Angeles is known for fame and glamor, but it is equally known for hosting some of the country’s most infamous crime. From celebrity murder cases to televised shoot-outs, here is a compilation of some of the city’s craziest crimes in history.

1. O.J. Simpson Slow-Speed Chase, 1994

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It was a chase that paralyzed L.A. and shocked America. Television networks and cable news channels aired two hours of nonstop coverage of the car chase between the LAPD and O.J. Simpson. 

The chase occurred on Los Angeles freeways shortly after Simpson's ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman were found brutally murdered. The event turned into a spectacle and a parade of sorts. Over a dozen California Highway Patrol units and Los Angeles police squad cars tailed the white bronco while onlookers cheered and waved from overpasses and ramps. Drivers pulled over so they could wave from the roadside. Some held up signs showing support for the football star.

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Al Cowlings - OJ’s friend and former teammate from USC and he Buffalo Bills - drove the Bronco as Simpson sat in the backseat. The chaos and the subsequent arrest at Simpson’s mansion was broadcasted live on national television.

Before the arrest though, Simpson sat in the Bronco for nearly an hour demanding to speak to his mother. According to the Los Angeles Times, this went on as hundreds of supporters swarmed around Simpson’s house chanting "Free O.J." while rocking police cars.

The spectacle didn't end when Simpson surrendered. The nation became obsessed with the televised murder trial to come. According to the Los Angeles Times, the Simpson case helped modernize the criminal justice infrastructure of Los Angeles County and it became a case study for how to handle high-profile cases.

2. The Black Dahlia, 1947

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22-year-old Elizabeth Short, nicknamed The Black Dahlia, was found murdered in Los Angeles’ Leimert Park. Her corpse was drained of blood, scrubbed clean, mutilated and cut in half.  The aspiring actress’ death became highly publicized because of the gruesome way she was killed.

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According to Biography, a Los Angeles Police Department detective who worked on the Dahlia case said, "I just can't imagine someone doing that to another human being." He said Short’s death made front page news in all the local papers for about two months. Police received numerous false murder confessions, but the killer was never found. It remains one of the oldest and most famous cold case files in L.A.. Short’s murder has inspired multiple books, film and television adaptations.

3. The Sharon Tate Murders, 1969

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Actress Sharon Tate and four of her friends were murdered in the house that Tate shared with husband and filmmaker Roman Polanski. Tate was nine months pregnant at the time, just two weeks from her due date.

According to TIME, a cord around her neck joined her body to another victim, Jay Sebring. Tate’s friends Abigail Folger, Steven Parent and Voyteck Frykowski were also murdered in the attack.

Tate was found naked, with one of her breasts were cut off and an X cut into her stomach. According to the report, bullets filled the ceilings while the floors were covered in blood. The coroner's report for Tate stated she was stabbed 16 times, and that "five of the wounds were in and of themselves fatal.”

The word "PIG" was written on the front door of the home in Tate's blood.

Two other bodies found on the front lawn, also stabbed endlessly. Another body was found shot dead in his car parked in the home’s driveway.  

Rumors about witchcraft and cults ensued after the gruesome murders.

[Manson family members:Getty Images]

Later that year the murders were attributed to a cult that the Los Angeles police called "a mystical, semi-religious hippie drug-and-murder cult led by a bearded, demonic Mahdi able to dispatch his zombie-like followers." They were referring to the Manson family, led by the infamous Charles Manson.

4. The North Hollywood Shootout, 1997


Los Angeles residents started off this day in history in quite a jarring way. A little after 9 a.m., a shootout between two bank robbers and police went live on television sets across the city. Both bank robbers were wearing body armor and were heavily armed with Kalashnikov rifles filled with armor-piercing bullets that tore through cement, according to CNN. The pair burst into a bank, shot at the ceiling, and stole about $300,000 before trying to shoot their way out.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the two criminals stood calmly outside a Bank of America firing machine guns at a group of police officers. The police were shooting back with pistols from behind cars and trees.

The shootout is considered one of the longest and bloodiest events in American police history. It was one of the wildest shootouts the country had ever seen according to CNN. The robbers fired approximately 1,100 rounds, while police are estimated to have fired 650 rounds.

One of the officers who was at the scene recounted the event in the Los Angeles Police Protective League’s magazine, The Thin Blue Line.

“I saw my rounds hit his black jacket, and as I shot at him, he kept coming,” said retired Det. Thomas Culotta. “Was this a dream? I wasn’t sure, but as this specter made eye contact with me, he pointed his weapon and fired right at me…. I remember asking God, ‘Is this the day?’ Death was coming.”


As the incident got more intense, it was televised live on national television. Network helicopters circled overhead.

For 44 minutes, police dodged bullets until a SWAT team arrived to match the firepower of the robbers. The event ended with the two perpetrators, 26-year-old Larry Eugene Phillips Jr. and 30-year-old Emil Dechebal Matasareanu, dead in the street. Eleven officers were wounded.

According to the Los Angeles Times, the North Hollywood shootout prompted a widespread trend to beef up police weaponry. Police agencies soon began upgrading weapons, giving their officers high-powered rifles.

5. Rodney King Riots, 1992

[Mick Taylor]

This five-day riot left more than 50 people dead, and more than 2,000 injured according to CNN. The rioting destroyed or damaged over 1,000 buildings in the Los Angeles area and the cost of the damages exceeded a billion dollars. According to CNN, more than 9,800 California National Guard troops were dispatched to restore order. About 12,000 people were arrested during the chaotic event.

It all started in 1991 when Rodney King was beaten by LAPD officers after a high-speed chase through Los Angeles County. A man, George Holliday, videotaped the shocking beating from his apartment balcony. In it, King gets struck by police batons more than 50 times. King, who was African-American, suffered 11 fractures in addition to other injuries from the beating. Over 20 officers were present at the scene, according to CNN.

Holliday gave the tape to local television station KTLA, and the footage led to the indictment of Sergeant Stacey Koon and officers Laurence Michael Powell, Timothy Wind, and Theodore Briseno by a Los Angeles grand jury for the beating. However, a grand jury refused to indict the 17 other officers that stood by and watched the the brutal assualt, according to CNN. A superior court judge ordered the trial of the sergeant and the three officers, all of whom were white.

[Mick Taylor]

In April 1992, the LAPD officers were acquitted of beating King, and the injustice sparked massive riots. The riots began at the intersection of Florence and Normandie in South Central, according to CNNReginald Denny, a white truck driver, was pulled from his truck and beaten. A news helicopter captured his beating on videotape. South Central residents who saw his live beating on television ran out to help the man, according to TIME. One of Denny’s attackers bashed Denny's skull with a cinderblock, fracturing it in 91 places and causing brain damage.

Korean-owned stores in Koreatown were targeted by rioters, according to NBC. 15-year-old Latasha Harlins, an African-American teenager, was fatally shot by L.A. Korean storekeeper Soon Ja Du less than two weeks after the videotaped beating of King. Du thought that Harlins was trying to shoplift, but she actually just had money in her hands. That tragedy contributed to the racial tension. A scene of two Korean merchants firing pistols repeatedly at looters was televised. The New York Times said "that the image seemed to speak of race war, and of vigilantes taking the law into their own hands."

Governor Pete Wilson declared a state of emergency, calling National Guard troops and enforcing curfews in the county of Los Angeles for several days.

[Army Field Artillery School]

King made a public and emotional plea, asking "People, I just want to say, can we all get along? Can we get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids?"

Later that year, a federal grand jury returned indictments against Koon, Powell, Wind, and Briseno on the charge of violating the civil rights of King. According to CNN, the federal jury convicted Koon and Powell on one charge of violating King's civil rights in 1993, and were sentenced to 30 months in prison each. Wind and Briseno were found not guilty. In 1994, the U.S. District Court in Los Angeles awarded King $3.8 million in compensatory damages in a civil lawsuit against the City of Los Angeles.

6. The Freeway Shootings, 1987

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Within a 10-week time span, there were nearly 70 freeway shootings in Los Angeles. According to the Spokesman Review, the shootings left five people dead and 11 wounded.

Some motorists began carrying guns in self-defense, according to the Spokesman Review. Most incidents were fueled by road-rage.

30-year-old motorcyclist Alvin Allen was shot on the Antelope Valley Freeway during one of the incidents, according to the Los Angeles Times. 31-year-old Ramon Santos was charged with assault with a deadly weapon.

24-year-old Rich Lane Bynum died after being shot twice in the neck by a motorist on the Santa Ana Freeway. The gunman fired through the passenger window after flashing his lights when the victim was slow to leave the fast lane, according to the Los Angeles Times. No arrests were made in that incident.

28-year-old Paul Gary Nussbaum was shot in neck on the Costa Mesa Freeway. The shooting resulted in the man becoming paralyzed. 32-year-old Albert Carroll Morgan was arrested on charges of attempted murder. Police claimed the shooting stemmed from a right-of-way argument.

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