THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN BY JACK WEBB: TELEVISION SERIES DRAGNET
“Killings are cheap. They cost about $1.35 or $1.40…It’s like being
on a quiz show … When you get 10, you go for 20 … You always want more …
“When I was in Quentin, I borrowed books from the prison library. I was
studying the operation of railroads. I. panned to run a whole train off
a bridge and watch them monkeys go swimming. I’d lie on the river bank
and enjoy myself laughing at them.”
How can you read any man’s mind? Especially that of a grunt,
toothless, six-foot-three drifter who dreams such monstrous thought as
these? How can you believe that in less than a year a man would
perpetrate five senseless murders with knife and lead pipe (and perhaps
half a dozen more)?
Sergeant Larry Scarborough was just a slow talking rookie in Homicide
Division at the time. His background was the Narcotics detail where he
had worked the previous five years. You couldn’t reasonably expect that
he yet would have developed that intuition, smell of blood, call-it-what-you-will,
which sets the Homicide detective apart.
Yet the very first day he heard of Stephen Nash he knew instinctively
that he was touching something evil. Something especially that would
have to be stopped fast. At the time, Nash wasn’t even wanted for murder,
but Scarborough suspected a little of the monstrous truth.
All that dull November day, from morning until late afternoon, two
men, one boyish twenty-four-year-old the other an older sullen man,
stood together on the skid-Row corner in the slave belt, hoping for a
It was Friday, a bad day for the kind of jobs that are doled out on
Skid Row, and they had no luck.
The younger man, Denis Butler, had a few dollars. He offered to buy
his new friend a beer or two, and they went to a nearby saloon. For an
hour, the sullen, older, bitter man did the talking, and Butler did the
The older man, it seemed, had a grievance against society that had
begun in infancy and never had been assuaged. As a baby, he had been
abandoned, and from that first, unfair stigma, life had continued to
He was still talking when they left the bar and walked up Third
Street toward a cafeteria where the food was cheap but good. He was
talking louder and more bitterly, and waving his arms in a rage, as they
entered the Third Street tunnel. Butler began to feel uneasy about his
new friend who hated anything, everything, with such black, consuming
Midway through the tunnel, the tall, gaunt man stopped and glared at
Butler. Not a word was said, but the younger, smaller man tried
desperately to back away.
It was too late. A hunting knife with a four-inch blade drove into his
Butler screamed, and his terror gave him the strength to run despite
the burning wound. He fled out of the tunnel and into the lobby of a
Knife upraised for the kill, his assailant followed him, trapping him
in the lobby.
For some reason, perhaps because it would have been more merciful, he
withheld the fatal thrust, Instead, deliberately, viciously, he stomped
on his prostrate victim until he had broken Butler’s collarbone. Then he
Somehow, Butler survived the attack, and in the hospital he whispered
to a radio car patrolman the name of his assailant had given. It was
Stephen Nash, all right, and the records down in R. and I. flashed out
At the age of thirty-three, Nash had already done half a dozen years
in San Quentin for strong-arm robberies. He had brawled at a cannery
where he was working, and done six months on a sheriffs honor farm at
In the stupid, senseless way of some Skid Row characters, he was bad,
but there was nothing to suggest that he was monstrous. Yet something
clicked right then for Sergeant Scarborough. Wasn’t it four or five
weeks earlier in Sacramento that it had happened?
Scarborough checked the file of All Points Bulletins. Yes here it was:
Floyd Leroy Barnett, 27, cannery worker, body found in Sacramento River,
Bludgeon and knife wounds.
Scarborough wired the Sacramento police for full details. Standup
mugs of Nash were printed up and distributed. All commands were briefed
on his physical description, habits, and known haunts. To police in
other cities, LAPD put out a “want” on Nash for assault with a deadly
Privately, Scarborough knew the charge was an understatement. Ten
days later, the gaunt, toothless man is in Long Beach, twenty miles
south of Skid Row hangouts. He meets John William Berg, twenty-seven,
and the young hairdresser invites him up to his apartment.
There is an argument, or is it one of Nash’s tirades against society
that can be satisfied only by blood and death? He fatally stabs the
hairdresser. The next day, he has Berg’s new clothes altered to fit him,
sells his own shabby garments and disappears.
Back in LAPD Homicide, Sergeant Scarborough notes the modus operand i
and adds a second murder to the case he is already building against Nash.
Now it is three days after the Berg killing, and ten-year-old Larry
Rice is listlessly playing near the pier in the beach area at Venice.
Now and then, he glumly kicks a stone, but mostly he just stares out at
the water, blinking occasionally.
Larry doesn’t want to play with the other kids or go home to his
empty house. He is just killing time in a lonely, inarticulate, small
boy way until his father comes home from his job as an aircraft
assembler. Larry is an only child; and, eight days ago, his mother died
A gaunt man with a funny, toothless smile gets Larry to talking a
little. They drift over to a food stand, and he treats the boy to a
hamburger and pop. Then they go under the pier and talk some more.
There’s one nice thing ahead, Larry suddenly confides to his new
friend. His face brightens in anticipation.
After it, well, happened—he blinks quickly and goes on—his daddy
talked to him. Look, kid these things happen, and it’s better for her
this way. Now, you be brave, and we’re going on all the rides in the
amusement park. How’s that! All the rides.
Larry likes that, he tells his friend under the pier. He likes his
daddy. His daddy says there are going to be lots of more nice things,
He looks up smilingly at the gaunt man and wonders, in sudden panic,
what did he say wrong? Larry tries to yell, but it comes out a small
boys squeak. He tries to run, but the gaunt man grabs him and slashes
viciously with a knife.
When they find Larry a little later, there are twenty-eight knife
wounds all over his body. He dies the same day.
He added a third murder to his private “want” on the killer.
Next day, when Nash was bagged by the Santa Monica cops in a roundup
of vagrant, Scarborough was on his way there.
In a show up of the suspects, several small boys recognized the gaunt,
toothless man with his funny smile as the one they had seen with Larry
Rice. An hour later, as Scarborough listened to his confession—a
boastful, triumphant story the way Nash told it—the sergeant knew beyond
all doubt that he had been right about this monster.
“He was a kid,” Nash said without a flicker of remorse.
“It was all there in front of him. His whole life . . . sex, fun, all
of it! Why should he have it when I never did? I took it all away from
Then toothlessly he smiled at the cops. “Besides, I never killed a
kid before. I wanted to see how it felt.”
Quietly Larry Scarborough snapped the handcuffs on Nash’s thick,
muscled wrists, noticing the cuffs clicked in the first notch ad n ore.
He took him back to LAPD Headquarters for one of the most detailed,
brilliant interrogations in LAPD history, one that was to win for him a
special honor plaque from the California Association of Private
Because he knew so much about his man even before laying eyes on him,
Sergeant Scarborough had little trouble getting Bash to talk.
For two weeks, a tape recorder at his side, Scarborough listened and
prompted as the killer bragged, whined, screamed, joked, wept, and
ranted. Endlessly Nash reviled society and occasionally he laughed—when
he described a murder or his hope to invent a new kind of murder by
spiking whiskey with iodine. Like the train wreck, he just hadn’t had
the opportunity to test it out, he added resentfully.
The story was even worse than Scarborough had suspected. He already
knew about the killings of the cannery worker, the hairdresser, and the
little boy, all in a six-week period stretching from mid-October to late
November. Now Nash filled him in on two more.
Almost a year ago, the previous December, he had beaten William
Clarence Burns to death with a lead pipe. Burns an Oakland merchant
seaman, had a good job, Nash thought, and that was reason enough to
murder. The pipe and body had been thrown into San Francisco Bay near
Richmond just north of Oakland.
Then in August, two months before killing fellow cannery worker,
Barnett, he had murdered Robert Eche, a twenty-three-year-old draftsman
for the Pacific Gas & Electric Company. This was the first time he had
used a knife, but the motive was the same as in all wanton killings—an
Afterwards, he told Sergeant Scarborough, he piled Eche’s corps into
his car and rolled it down a cement ramp into the bay, off Pier 52, in
San Francisco. The tide carried the car out to some oil docks where it
got caught in the pilings.
Scarborough listened to a playback of the tape recording and made
some notes. The murders had occurred in December, August, October, and
then two in November. Had this monster abstained during the long eight-month’
period between December and August? Scarborough put it up to him and
Nash laughed teasingly.
Why, there were another half dozen killings he could talk about if he
wanted to. He was going to sell that information at $200 per body.
Scarborough could believe it. The killer was misery as well as bloody.
He didn’t even drink wine like most of his Skid Row associates
because it cost too much, and he had saved up the prodigious sum of $450
from his cannery wages. But, as it turned out, though he repeated his
$200 offer in court, he made no blood money. Neither the newspaper nor
the authorities would give him the satisfaction.
When Scarborough took Nash into Los Angles County Superior Court, the
case was tight and tidy. Incredible as the quintuple-murder confession
sounded, Scarborough had painstakingly corroborated it. On a week-long
tour through the state with Nash, he had revisited the scenes of the
five slayings, and everything had checked out as the killer told it.
After listening to the tapes, there wasn’t much for the jury to do
except rule that Nash had been sane when he committed the killings.
Since the death sentence was mandatory, there was even less for Judge
Burton Noble to do. Sadly he called the New York founding “the most evil
person who ever appeared in my court” and consigned him to death row at
As Nash stepped into a station wagon for his last ride to San Quentin,
he bragged to newspapermen: “I’m the king of killers! I’ll go to my
death like a king should. I have nothing to die for because I had
nothing to live for.” A reporter asked if he wanted a Christian burial,
and Nash laughed harshly
“Who, me!” he exclaimed in derision.
Sergeant Scarborough had no statement. He was drained and sick at
heart from his long, close association with evil.
• Nash was convicted of murder, and sentenced to death. At this
writing, an appeal is pending due to a question of “Due process” in
connection with his sanity trial.
• Neither did Larry Rice’s father, who in ten days had lost his wife and
only child to two equally monstrous forms of cancer.
• Backbone of the force, my boy
Jeffrey Stanton Santa Monica Pier A History
from 1875 to 1990, Donahue Publishing: Los Angeles, CA, 1990, 1956
Chapter 5: Santa Monica Pier on the Skids
"Santa Monica's beach front, like many
beach fronts elsewhere, attracted numerous drifers, hustlers and petty
criminals. But it was the runaways and perverts that were attracted to
its famed Muscle Beach that worried city officials and the police
department the most. Their worst nightmare occurred on November 21, 1956
when ten year old Larry George Rice's body was found lying in a pool of
blood beneath the Santa Monica Pier. He died three hours later from
thirty stab wounds." p. 121
"Two teenagers identified a tall, bushy
haired, toothless man with arms of a blacksmith as the man seen with the
local lad shortly before the murder. When police found Stephen Nash, a
thirty-three year old drifter and pervert, shortly afterwards, they
discoverd the blood soaked hunting knife on the man. He confessed to the
sadistic knife slaying. and ten other murders in Long Beach and
"When he was taken back to the scene of
the crime the next day, nearly one hundred menacing people gathered and
would have lynched him on the spot. Nash said that he talked to the boy
for five minutes, then pulled a knife. When the boy screamed he stabbed
him in the stomach, then again and again. Nash was convicted and was
executed in the gas chamber in 1959. The city, in an effort to prevent
similar incidents, fenced off the area under the pier."