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William Erwin WALKER






A.K.A.: "Erwin M. Walker" - "Machine Gun Walker"
Classification: Murderer
Characteristics: Robberies - Former police employee - To avoid arrest
Number of victims: 1
Date of murder: June 5, 1946
Date of arrest: December 20, 1946
Date of birth: 1918
Victim profile: Loren Cornwell Roosevelt, 43 (State Highway Patrol Officer)
Method of murder: Shooting
Location: Los Angeles County, California, USA
Status: Pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity. Sentenced to death in 1947. Declared insane and ineligible for execution in April 1949. Declared sane in 1961. Sentence commuted to life in prison on March 28, 1961. Paroled in 1974, Died in 1982

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.

Early life

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.

Police and military service

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, Australia.

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 United States.

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.

According to 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 experimental workshop.

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.

Walker later 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 equipment.

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 place.

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 subsequent gunfight.

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 percussion cap.

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 at gunpoint.

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 dead cops."

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 as well.

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 rope.

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 Night

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.

Mental health treatment

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 restrictions.

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.


The victim

State Highway Patrol Officer Loren Cornwell Roosevelt



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