These are a selection of violent news stories from just a few months in 1956, mostly related to people in Van Nuys, but also in Canoga Park and Burbank.

It is common to look back at the 1950s, especially in Los Angeles, as a less violent and less chaotic era. Old-time residents of the San Fernando Valley remember it as a verdant, peaceful, fun, and safe place. 

But there was actually a 62% increase in crime in the SFV from 1954-55.[1]

More Police Asked for West Part of Valley

True one could buy a house for $14,000. But the average US household income in 1956 was $5,000 a year or about $96 (before tax) dollars a week.  And nobody drove their children to school in Los Angeles. The kids walked or biked. Affordable houses and children on foot: two extinct attributes of life in Southern California.

Then, as now, the horrors of sudden death were attributable to two beloved things profuse in our city: cars and guns. 

1/9/56: Burbank motorcycle officer, William Catlin, 44, said he owes his life to citizens who helped him subdue youth he said threatened to kill him during questioning. Reginald Lemon, 18 was booked on suspicion of assault with intent to commit murder.

5/14/56: Three persons were shot to death, a fourth critically wounded, at 19859 Saticoy St., Canoga Park. Regis Johnston, 35 went berserk and killed his wife Jean, 30 and Bessie Mungall, 35 and wounded Bessie’s husband John, 40. Regis Johnston then took his own life by shotgun.

6/18/56: Rudolph Liberace, 24, of Van Nuys, brother of pianist Lee Liberace, is shown in jail after his arrest as a burglary suspect.

9/30/56: Protecting the mid 1950s’ 600,000 residents of the San Fernando Valley (2018: 1.75 million) were 418 LAPD officers who were crammed into the 1933 Van Nuys City Hall which was designed to only house 45 cops. The new regional police buildings that were later built around the San Fernando Valley in the late 1950s and early 1960s helped alleviate the primitive conditions of the old headquarters.

10/18/56: In the midst of a strike by laborers at Hydro-Aire, Inc. in Burbank, a striker’s wife in Van Nuys, Mrs. Patricia Laszlo, 21, of 9920 Saticoy St. was cooking dinner when a masked, leather jacketed thug entered the house and beat her and knocked her out. He struck her in the abdomen and threatened to burn her fingers on a stove if her husband, James Laszlo, 22, a machinist, did not return to work. The International Association of Machinists, Lodge 727 is the union picketing the plant at 3000 Winona St. Burbank.

10/23/56: Twenty-one juveniles were arrested for vandalism including Robert E. Farmer, 18 of 15001 Paddock St., Van Nuys who was apprehended by custodians as he and a friend attempted to crack a safe in the student store at San Fernando High School, 11133 O’Melveny St. Both were booked on suspicion of burglary.

11/23/56: A 31-year old mother of a 10-year-old boy took a 22-caliber rifle, shot her son to death and then killed herself. Julia McIrvin of 7240 Woodman Ave., Van Nuys, died in the Valley Emergency Hospital along with her son. Twice divorced, she suffered from mental issues.

11/30/56: A Youth Dies, 4 Hurt in 3-Car Smashup on Sepulveda. The youth was a native of Germany, Karl Schmidl, 21, who was driving southbound in his lightweight, imported car when he plowed into a northbound car with four people driven by Leonard W. Kraska, 30, of 14259 Vanowen St. Van Nuys; James Robert Parker, 48 of 9261 Wakefield Ave, Van Nuys; and Earl Schapps, 53, of 8850 Tyrone Ave. Van Nuys.

[1]10/4/1956 LA Times: “More Police Asked For West Part of Valley”

2 thoughts on “1956: Crazy Times

  1. I spent my childhood in Canoga Park and elsewhere in LA. Rededa, Van Nuys, Inglewood, Anaheim… We were working class. Renters. Ever so slightly leaning toward trash at times, but mostly good people. 1960s – 80s. A low level criminality was never far away. But it wasn’t Somalia.


    1. Your experience in the Valley mirrors mine including decamping for Northern California. I left to find a place with a center, something other than miles of undifferentiated sprawl. I left for Hollywood, Wilshire, Echo Park and finally landing in San Francisco, a big little town with comparatively excellent public transit you could be respectably broke in,


Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s