William Erwin Walker, aka Erwin M. Walker
and Machine Gun Walker (b. 1918 - d. 1982) was a former police
employee and World War II Army veteran best remembered for a violent
series of thefts, burglaries, and shootouts with police in Los Angeles
County, California during 1945 and 1946.
Not much is known about Walker's early life. He was
born in 1918 to Weston and Irene L. Walker, and was raised in Glendale,
California. Walker lived with his parents and a sister. Although
nearsighted, Walker was a good athlete. He would later be described as
"gentle, affectionate, considerate above the ordinary for the welfare
of others, and [giving] no trouble in any way."
Walker's father Weston was a Los Angeles County
flood control engineer, while his uncle Herbert V. Walker was a
prominent Los Angeles lawyer and former Chief Deputy District Attorney.
As a student, Walker graduated from the Hoover School and attended the
California Institute of Technology for one year, where he excelled in
electronics and radio engineering.
Walker took a job as a radio operator and police
dispatcher for the Glendale Police Department. Walker, who wore thick
eyeglasses, was called up by Selective Service because of his radio
and electronics skills. During the war, Walker was posted to
Australia, where he attended the South West Pacific Area (SWPA) U.S.
Army officer candidate school (OCS) at Camp Columbia, Wacol, Brisbane,
After three months, Walker graduated from OCS with
the rank of second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. Lt. Walker was posted
to Wake Island in June 1944. In November 1944 Walker was assigned to
Leyte Island in the Philippines, and was placed in charged of a Signal
Corps radar unit, along with its 85 personnel.
In later testimony, Walker would relate that while
on Leyte, Walker and another officer selected the emplacement for the
radar and took routine security measures, but did not post a day guard
because of prior orders which had been received. Walker was later
ordered to return to his ship. When he returned to the island the
following day, he learned that there had been a surprise Japanese
attack at sunrise, and that his closest friend had been bayoneted to
death in the assault.
Lt. Walker and his group were then subjected to
approximately three days and nights of continuous battle with Japanese
army paratroopers, despite the fact that Walker's men were not
frontline soldiers but rather a Signal Corps detachment. Up to this
time, Walker was apparently well-liked by all the men who worked with
him, and was reputed to be more than usually considerate of them. A
subsequent investigation found no dereliction of duty on the part of
any of the officers in the detachment.
After Leyte, Walker informed his commanding officer
that he could no longer serve as an officer and asked to be permitted
to return to the United States. He was released from active duty in
the South Pacific in December, 1944, but was promoted to first
lieutenant in July, 1945, about three months after his arrival in the
Postwar crime spree
According to his own later statements and those of
his family, Walker returned from overseas duty deeply disturbed,
certain he had caused the death of fellow soldiers in his unit by not
preparing adequately for a surprise attack. He later described his
guilt over his best friendís bayoneting during a Japanese attack on
Leyte Island in the Philippines, a casualty Walker believed might have
been averted had he given an order to dig foxholes. Walker would later
claim his guilt was intensifed by the anger of his fellow soldiers,
who shunned him thereafter. He rejected an offer from the Glendale
Police Department to return to his old job as a radio operator/dispatcher,
citing as a reason the low pay scale then offered.
Early in 1945, while still on active duty as a 1st
Lieutenant with the Army, Walker burglarized a auto repair garage,
taking a set of tools, voltmeter and radio tuner. In August, 1945, he
entered an Army Ordnance warehouse at night, stealing seven .45-caliber
Thompson submachine guns, twelve .45-caliber automatic pistols, six
.38-caliber revolvers, ammunition, holsters, and clips.
his parents, Walker's temperament changed noticeably upon his return
from the Pacific. He never returned to live with his family, but
rented an apartment and lived alone. His family reported that he was
morose, melancholy, taciturn, brooding, rough with small children,
secretive, and difficult. He took several small jobs, but always quit
them. Most ominously, he was frequently seen with a machine gun.
Walker was discharged from the Army in November,
1945. During his first week of terminal leave, Walker stole an
automobile, changed the license plates, and used it to transfer some
of the stolen goods. From a men's store, he stole civilian clothes.
From record and film companies he stole amplifiers, electronic
equipment, records, movie projectors, recording turntables, cameras,
and other equipment. Walker then rented a garage, fitting it out as an
Using the garage as a base of operations,
Walker continued to execute burglaries to pay living expenses as well
as acquire electronic equipment. Walker's criminal spree eventually
totalled more than a dozen armed robberies, safecrackings, and
burglaries, netting him a sum of approximately $70,000.
explained that his crimes were motivated by a desire to gather funds
and equipment to build an electronic radar gun, which by shooting a
beam would disintegrate metal into powder, and by which he could force
the government to pass legislation raising soldiers' pay. This would
in turn increase the cost of war to a point where it could not
profitably be waged.
On April 25, 1946 Walker critically wounded a LAPD
police detective, Lt. Colin C. Forbes, and seriously wounded his
partner, Sergeant Stewart W. Johnson in a shootout. Walker shot Lt.
Forbes and Sergeant Johnson, detectives from the LAPD Hollywood
division, with a .45-caliber automatic pistol after the detectives
sought to arrest him on a charge of selling $40,000 in stolen motion-picture
Walker had represented himself as a salesman named Paul C.
Norris to Willard W. Starr, a sound engineer who bought and sold
motion picture and sound recording equipment out of his home at 1347
Fifth Avenue in Los Angeles. However, Starr suspected the motion-picture
equipment was stolen and had alerted police, who then staked out
Starr's home to await the suspect's arrival with the stolen goods. As
Walker strode down the driveway, the detectives emerged to accost
Walker. In the ensuing gun battle, Lt. Forbes was hit in the abdomen
at point-blank range after his own pistol jammed, but when Walker
turned to fire at the other detective, he was himself wounded in the
stomach and left leg by at least two .38 caliber bullets fired by
Sergeant Johnson. Though wounded, Walker managed to escape on foot
using the labyrinth of storm drains under the city. Lt. Forbes and Sgt.
Johnson were both taken to hospital, where Lt. Forbes was found to
have a .45-caliber bullet lodged against his spine. He recovered,
though doctors were unable to remove the bullet, which was left in
In May, 1946 Walker burglarized another
establishment, stealing a roll of safety and detonating fuse and a
roll of priming cord. In order to open safes and break locks, Walker
made his own explosive - nitroglycerine - out of fuming nitric acid,
sulphuric acid and glycerine. Walker stabilized his nitroglycerine for
vehicle transport by adding a desensitizing agent, probably ethyl
alcohol, then packing the nitro vials in cotton.
In the early hours of Wednesday, June 5, 1946,
Walker drove to a meat market at the corner of Los Feliz Boulevard and
Brunswick Avenue in Glendale. According to Walker's court testimony,
after severing the lock on the store with bolt cutters, he then put on
his own padlock. Walker then hid the bolt cutters in an adjoining area,
got into his car, and drove around the block to see if he had been
observed. Not seeing anyone, he retrieved the bolt cutters and
returned to his car, again driving around the block.
Getting out of
his car, Walker said he saw a person with a flashlight in the vicinity
where he had hidden the bolt cutters. He watched the person with the
flashlight enter a car and drive it toward him. As the car drew
opposite him, Walker recognized the person as a policeman, who turned
out to be State Highway Patrol Officer Loren Cornwell Roosevelt.
Roosevelt, the onetime police chief of Arcadia, California, called
Walker to his car and asked what he was doing in the neighborhood.
Walker responded that he was going to see a girlfriend. The officer,
sitting behind the steering wheel with a flashlight in his left hand
and his right hand on the butt of his gun, asked defendant for his
identification. Walker stated that he slowly eased a loaded .45
automatic pistol from under his belt and pointed it at Officer
Roosevelt, who drew his own police service revolver in response.
Walker testified that he shot Officer Roosevelt twice, then ducked and
ran, abandoning his own car and again escaping via the storm drains.
According to detectives who interviewed him, Walker told a slightly
different version of what happened at the time of his arrest,
declaring that Officer Roosevelt had shot at him first, which forced
Walker to duck and return fire, hitting Roosevelt twice. Walker then
elaborated that Roosevelt had asked him to call an ambulance,
whereupon Walker responded that he would do nothing for him.
The gunfire awoke residents in the area, who called
police. According to later newspaper accounts, Officer Roosevelt did
return fire, but was apparently unable to place a radio call for help
due to his wounds. Hit multiple times by .45-caliber bullets, Officer
Roosevelt was rushed to a nearby hospital. Though badly wounded,
Officer Roosevelt was able to give both a physical description of his
assailant and a different account of his encounter with Walker and the
Roosevelt told investigators that he was
returning to his home in the early morning hours when he began a
pursuit of a speeding vehicle on Los Feliz Boulevard, which slowed to
a crawl after Roosevelt overtook the vehicle, at which time the driver
opened fire without warning. While Walker stated that he shot Officer
Roosevelt twice, later newspaper accounts stated that Roosevelt was
hit by no less than nine .45-caliber bullets. If Officer Roosevelt's
account of the shooting is correct, the fact that he was hit nine
times at night by .45-caliber bullets strongly indicates that Walker
actually shot Roosevelt from his car with a burst of automatic fire
from a Thompson submachine gun. Roosevelt died in hospital a few hours
after the shooting. Walker's abandoned car was found to contain bolt
cutters, a loaded Thompson submachine gun, a bag of tools, sap, sash
cord, bell wire, hacksaw blades, hand drill, electric drill, crescent
wrenches, pry bar, extension cord, hammer, pliers, wire cutters,
nitroglycerine, adhesive tape, a percussion-type dynamite blasting cap
crimped to a white blasting fuse, and a primer cord attached to the
After the fatal shooting of Officer Roosevelt,
Walker abandoned safecracking and briefly worked at several jobs. He
then experimented with making California license plates and drivers'
licenses, which could be used in selling several cars he had
previously stolen. By December 1946, Walker was robbing liquor stores
Arrest and conviction
Acting on a tip, police located Walker living at a
duplex apartment at 1831 Ĺ N. Argyle Avenue. At 2AM on the morning of
December 20, 1946, three detectives - Officers Wynn, Donahue, and
Rombeau - entered Walker's apartment using a key provided by the owner.
Walker, who had been asleep with a .45-caliber pistol at his bedside
table, was caught reaching for a Thompson submachine gun on the bed
beside him when the three detectives burst into the living room. After
a fierce struggle for the submachine gun, in which the arresting
officers twice shot Walker in the shoulder and broke the butt of a
pistol over his head, Walker was finally handcuffed and arrested.
According to the detectives, Walker stated: "All right, now, you have
me. Do a good job." Detective Donahue asked Walker why he killed the
highway patrolman, to which Walker replied that he "had to". When
asked "Did you shoot the two officers in Hollywood?", Walker answered
"Yes." The officers saw that Walker was bleeding badly and attempted
to make him comfortable by covering him and putting a pillow under his
head. Officers testified that Walker stayed conscious throughout the
arrest and transport to the hospital.
Walker's apartment was filled with weapons,
ammunition, and license plates, and three cars stolen by Walker were
found nearby. Walker had apparently been expecting to be stopped by
police again, as one of his stolen cars was fitted with a loaded
Thompson submachine gun set to automatic fire and fixed in position so
as to fire through the driver's door. At the hospital, Walker was
found to have scars from bullet wounds, a souvenir of the April gun
battle with Forbesí partner, Sergeant Stewart Johnson. These Walker
stated he had treated himself. Police later obtained additional
statements from Walker as he lay wounded on an ambulance stretcher on
the way to the Georgia Street Receiving Hospital for emergency
treatment. Despite his wounds, Walker told one of the detectives that
he had been stopped last week by two motorcycle patrolmen on Hollywood
Boulevard for a minor traffic violation, but had only been given a
warning: "Lucky for them they didn't try to make me get out of the
car. I had a submachine gun with me then. You might have had two more
Detective Wynn would later testify at Walker's
trial that on the morning of December 21, 1946, he talked with
petitioner for about an hour at the hospital, where Walker made
statements indicating that he murdered Officer Roosevelt during an
attempt to commit a burglary, that he had committed the attempted
murders of Detectives and Jones in addition to various robberies and
burglaries, and that his statements were freely and voluntarily made.
At that time Wynn testified that a stenographic reporter named Bechtel
came and the conversation was repeated and transcribed in the hospital
room at which a doctor and nurse were also present. The detective
further testified that he visited Walker two days later at the
hospital, where Walker again made admissions. Another LAPD detective,
Officer Forbes, testified that on December 28, 1946, he talked with
Walker at the hospital, and petitioner made various admissions to him
Detective Wynn told the court that on December 30,
1946, he again visited Walker as he was being prepared for transfer
from the hospital to jail. Wynn stated that Walker "kept asking me for
opiates" and asked the detective to request some from the doctor. Wynn
said he tried to do so, but that Walker's doctor refused. In response
to a question about his condition, Walker told Wynn that he was "a
little weak", but did not complain about any discomfort. En route to
jail, Detective Wynn stated that he told Walker that he would like to
film a reenactment of the killing of Highway Patrolman Roosevelt and
asked if Walker had any objection, to which Walker replied he would
like to contact his attorney first, Mr. Gerald Frederick Girard of
Hindin, Weiss & Girard in Los Angeles. Walker then gave Wynn the
attorney's card. Wynn stated that after he tried unsuccessfully to
reach Girard, he asked if Walker had any objection to going to
Griffith Park and Soledad Canyon to recover articles that Walker had
left there. Walker stated "he didn't see anything wrong in that." Wynn,
Walker, and several officers proceeded to Grifffith Park and Soledad
Canyon where the articles were duly recovered, during which time
Walker made additional incriminating statements."
After Walker's arrest, his family revealed to him a
long history of insanity in both branches of the family. A great-great-great-grandfather
went insane for nine months. A great-great-grand-uncle, great-great-grand-father,
and great- grand-aunt also spent time in insane asylums. A great-grandfather
committed suicide, as did a grand-aunt. A grandmother was confined at
Patton State Psychiatric Hospital, while a grand-aunt had
hallucinations. Finally, one of Walker's cousins was mentally retarded,
while the cousin's father was a psycho-neurotic.
Walker later pleaded not guilty by reason of
insanity. At his trial on June 2, 1947, Walker's attorney Gerald
Frederick Girard cited Walker's previous excellent record, his war
experiences, and a family history of mental illness (Walker's paternal
grandfather had been confined to a state mental hospital for 32 years).
Walker's own parents, Weston and Irene L. Walker, testified in his
defense. Ms. Walker stated that Erwin was kind and affectionate while
growing up, but returned from the war as a depressed loner.
However, the trial judge found Walker sane, noting
that Walker himself testified at great length on the trial and
demonstrating a mentality and scientific learning far above the
average: "This is a case in which I feel my responsibility very
greatly...The defendant, of course, in his lengthy time on the witness
stand here showed a high degree of intelligence. I seldom recall a
more intelligent witness, a witness who gave clearer responses to the
questions than did Mr. Walker. It is true that he had a war experience
that, in the vernacular of the service men, might be termed 'rugged',
but without analyzing it or comparing it too much, I would say that
perhaps millions of his fellow Americans had experiences that were
equally rugged during the war...A killing in an attempt to perpetrate
a burglary is murder of the first degree...However, I believe that in
addition to my finding that the killing of Loren Roosevelt was murder
in the first degree as a matter of law, I feel that it was a
deliberate killing, a purposeful killing on the defendant's part."
Walker was sentenced to death in the gas chamber.
After a motion for a new trial and appeal to overturn Walker's
conviction and death sentence were rejected in December 1948, Walker's
father Weston committed suicide by hanging himself with a length of
Walker was sent to death row in San Quentin to
await execution of his sentence. While at San Quentin, he was
diagnosed by a prison psychiatrist as having paranoid schizophrenia.
On April 14, 1949, thirty-six hours before his scheduled execution, a
corrections officer found Walker unconscious after an apparent suicide
attempt in which Walker attempted to hang himself with a radio
headphone cord wrapped around his neck. He was successfully revived,
and the execution was postponed indefinitely while a psychiatric
examination was performed.
He Walked by
In 1948, Eagle Lion Films released a film loosely
based on Walker's 1946 crime spree in Los Angeles, He Walked by
Night. Walker's character, Roy Morgan, was played by the actor
Richard Basehart. The film was shot in a semi-documentary format on
location in and around the city of Los Angeles. In the film, Morgan is
shot dead by police in one of the city's underground drainage tunnels
as he attempts to shoot his way out of the police dragnet.
After his attempted suicide, Walker was examined by
a psychiatric board, which delivered its report in April 1949. The
examining board reported that Walker was agitated by fear of his
impending death, and was "negativistic, mute, fearful and unresponsive,
and possibly reacting to hallucinations", frequently lapsing into semi-unconsciousness.
Most importantly, the psychiatrists found that Walker "does not know
the difference between right and wrong", thus making him insane under
the legal standard of the day, and ineligible for execution. Walker's
execution was postponed indefinitely. At his competency hearing,
Walker was declared insane by a jury and committed to the Mendocino
State Hospital in Talmage, California, where he would remain the next
12 years. When not receiving electroshock therapy and other treatments,
Walker spent most of his time at Mendocino reading, mostly chemistry
textbooks. While at Mendocino, Walker remained aloof from the other
patients, stating that "even dying in the gas chamber might have been
preferable to having to be with these creatures."
In 1961, Walker was declared sane by a newly-convened
panel of psychiatric examiners. On March 28, 1961, in response to a
clemency hearing appeal by Walker, Governor Pat Brown commuted
Walker's death sentence to life imprisonment without possibility of
parole based on the assumption that Walker would simply revert to a
state of insanity again if he once more faced execution. Walker was
sent to the CMF State Prison Facility in Vacaville, California to
serve out his sentence. While at Vacaville, Walker continued studying
chemistry while working in a laboratory on the prison campus.
Habeas Corpus petitions and release on parole
In 1970, Walker filed a habeas corpus petition with
the Supreme Court of California, which was denied without hearing.
Walker then filed a similar petition in the Solano County Superior
Court seeking to have his 1947 trial set aside on several grounds,
including an allegation that his 1946 confession was made
involuntarily. The case made its way on appeal once more to the
Supreme Court of California, which decided the case in February 1974.
While the Supreme Court failed to overturn Walker's conviction or
grant him a new trial, it did instruct the lower court to delete that
portion of Walker's life sentence that excluded any possibility of
parole, allowing him apply to the California Adult Authority for
parole and to have his parole application duly considered. Walker
applied for parole in 1974, which was granted, and he was released
from the California Medical Facility at Vacaville. After a short stay
at a halfway house, Walker was released from further parole
Immediately after leaving prison, Walker legally
changed his name. After obtaining a job as a chemist, he disappeared
from public view. Walker died in 1982, apparently without ever
offering an apology to his family or his victims.
State Highway Patrol Officer Loren Cornwell Roosevelt