LOS ANGELES, May 11. — Carl York, 22-year-old police informer who was shot down by detectives through “mistake,” died today in General hospital. He succumbed to five bullet wounds while police sought to link him with a series of recent filling station robberies. They claimed nine attendants identified the youth as one of two bandits who staged a series of recent spectacular raids in which attendants were kidnapped.
York denied any complicity in the robberies.
— San Bernardino Sun, May 12, 1935
Carl York, a police informer, and W.L. Lanier, a narcotics squad detective with the LAPD, mounted the rickety stairs to the second floor door of a cheap Los Angeles rooming house during the early hours of the morning on May 8, 1935. Carl and Lanier didn’t know it, but three LAPD robbery squad detectives were staked out in a “bandit trap” near the bottom of the stairs outside the house, waiting for the occupants to return. The detectives had already searched inside the house, where they’d found a handgun and a small amount of narcotics.
“We’re police officers, hands up!” came the command from below as Carl and Lanier moved towards the door. Carl’s hand moved towards his hip pocket and the officers on the ground floor opened fire. Lanier wasn’t hit but Carl slumped over, seriously wounded. Lanier shone his flashlight in the direction of the gunfire. Recognizing one of the shooters as a fellow officer, he identified himself and ordered them to stop firing.
Carl didn’t have a weapon. He was taken to the prison ward of Los Angeles General Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries three days later. He left a wife and small daughter in Denver, Colorado.
News reports described Carl as both an “undercover agent” and a “police informer” who was engaged in a narcotics investigation when he was shot by mistake. Both the LAPD narcotics and robbery squads were involved in separate investigations that brought them to the rooming house on the morning that Carl was shot. Each squad was unaware of what the other was doing.
The police claimed witnesses identified Carl as one of two men who carried out a series of raids in which parking lot attendants and vehicle owners were carjacked at gunpoint, robbed of small amounts of cash and kidnapped. Over the course of four days in April 1935, the bandits struck 12 times. The culprits drove the stolen cars, sometimes with the victim inside, through the city at high speeds. They’d abandon one car and steal another one. The victims were frightened, but not injured, though one man was thrown from his vehicle while it was moving and another was forced to hand over most of his clothing before being released from his car semi-nude.
The L.A. coroner ordered an inquest into Carl’s death. The verdict was “justifiable homicide” — an accidental and unintentional shooting by the officers. The Municipal League demanded an inquiry into Carl’s shooting, but nothing came of that.
After Carl’s death, four men reported to be Carl’s criminal associates were charged with robbery and conspiracy to rob but there’s no evidence that they were ever tried or sentenced to prison.
Then in June 1937, a series of kidnap robberies that were eerily similar to the crimes of April 1935 occurred in Bakersfield, California, 115 miles north of Los Angeles. Los Angeles residents Moran Pierce and Charles W. Taylor, both aged 23, committed the crimes.
Armed with automatic pistols, Pierce and Taylor staged their first holdup at El Tejon garage. They stopped E.W. Stevenson of Burlingame, as he drove into the garage in a big Packard, and subsequently held up Henry Lopez, garage attendant. Both Stevenson and Lopez were taken out on the Edison Highway, obliged to get out of the car and were strapped to the fence with belts.
Pierce and Taylor returned to Bakersfield and held up H.R. Thompson, operator of a Richfield service station, at Twenty-first Street and Golden State Highway. They abandoned their stolen automobile after this holdup and returned to their hotel.
—The Bakersfield Californian, June 15, 1937
Pierce and Taylor were captured in their flophouse the morning after the crime spree during a search of all the rooming houses in the vicinity. The two men admitted to the Bakersfield kidnap robberies, along with some other burglaries. They also told police they pulled two service station kidnap robberies in Los Angeles a few days before the Bakersfield crimes. Both got life sentences, with Pierce heading to Folsom State Prison and Taylor going to San Quentin.
No photo of Taylor was located, however Pierce and Carl bear a resemblance to each other. It’s plausible that Carl was mistaken for Pierce who, along with Taylor, committed the Los Angeles kidnap robberies in April 1935. Then the pair laid low for a while only to reappear and commit similar crimes in Bakersfield. If so, Carl was telling the truth when he said he had nothing to do with the kidnap robberies. After death he was vilified as a criminal when perhaps all he’d done was help the police with their narcotics investigation.
Featured photo: Moran Pierce (left) in his Folsom prison photo, collection of the California State Archives. Carl York (right) in a news photo mugshot, collection of the author.