Dahlia Avenger" accuses Detective Thad Brown of taking part in a
cover-up of the Elizabeth Short case. Here's an interview that allows
Brown to speak for himself.
Angeles Times, Jan. 21, 1968
THE CASE OF THE MASTER DETECTIVE
By JOHN DREYFUSS AND HOWARD HERTEL
TIMES STAFF WRITERS
Fable has it that Thaddeus Franklin Brown
once asked a policeman to leap from the top of City Hall, and the
officer was halfway down before bothering to inquire about the reason
for his plunge.
Such is the loyalty inspired by the quiet cop with
the steel-trap mind who retired this month after 42 years with the Los
Angeles Police Department.
Armed with uncanny intuition, boundless optimism and
a snub-nosed revolver, Thad Brown rose from rookie to deputy chief
while fulfilling his pledge to "protect and to serve."
His is a storybook success. At 15, he quit school to
work for 17 1/2 cents an hour in the lead and zinc mines near Joplin,
Four years later, now a married man, Brown drove to
California. He worked on farms, carried hod, and then became a
Working in the San Gabriel Mountains one cold day in
the winter of 1926, the 24-year-old son of a Missouri storekeeper got
disgusted with freezing fingers and lack of job security.
He applied for a Los Angeles Police Department
appointment. On Jan. 11, 1926, Brown pinned on Badge No. 869.
The 65-year-old grandfather has served in many
roles, including seven months as chief after Chief William H. Parker
died in 1966.
But he is best known to colleagues across the nation
and to citizens of Los Angeles as a master detective. He was chief of
the city's detective bureau for 18 years.
Thad Brown has worked the big cases: L. Ewing Scott
(convicted of killing his wife even though no body was found), Albert
Dyer (executed for slaying three little girls), William Edward "The
Fox" Hickman (hanged for killing a child), Elizabeth Short ("The Black
Dahlia," whose killer was not caught), and many more.
But the reasons for his success have never made
headlines. Brown sums up these reasons in a little homily which is also
his favorite saying:
"Treat others as you like to be treated yourself,
provided they merit such treatment."
A bit corny, plagiarized from the Golden Rule, the
maxim happens to work for Brown.
Its success is well illustrated in a sleuthing job
that never hit the papers, but of which Brown is as proud as any that
rated front-page treatment.
"It was in the 1930s, and I saved an innocent man
from a murder trial, and maybe from execution," Brown said.
"This cabdriver lived in a third-floor apartment at
3rd and Columbia. He had a Murphy bed. It pulled down and you couldn't
open the front door without raising the bed.
"No one could get in that room with the bed down.
"The cabbie woke up one morning and found his wife
on the floor. She had fallen out of bed.
"He picked her up. She was cold, and he pulled her
tongue forward to give her artificial resuscitation. It didn't work.
"When he knew she was dead, he carried her to a
couch, lifted the bed, and went to call an ambulance.
"The coroner found she died of suffocation. He found
bruise marks on her neck. He said it was murder.
"Hell, that kid didn't kill his wife, and I had to
prove it. He loved her. There was no motive. It didn't ring true."
Intensive investigation showed Brown the dead woman
had epilepsy, a fact she had hidden from her husband.
She had previously been saved by her sister from
choking to death on her tongue during a seizure.
That accounted for the suffocation, but what about
the bruise marks?
Brown discovered that the dead girl had a friend
training to become a chiropractor. The friend admitted practicing on
the girl and bruising her neck shortly before her death.
"And everyone saw it as a clear-cut murder," Brown
said. "Everyone but me."
The case never came to trial.
Thad Brown used to be an avid mystery novel fan. He
has solved cases with tricks one might expect to find only in such books.
The grisly murder of a girl found shot to death and
with tooth marks on her body ended when Brown grabbed an apple from the
mouth of a suspect.
"Of course I gave him another apple--he was a big
guy. But the tooth marks on the apple I took matched those on the body;
and we had our man," Brown said.
Because the super sleuth "treats others like you
like to be treated yourself..." former criminals come to him with good
He often lends an ex-convict money, finds him a job,
a room, a friend and a new way of life.
Just as often he helps a young policeman in minor
trouble or an officer's widow confused by problems surrounding her
Since his "door is always open" to policemen from
cities across the land, whether they are recruits or chiefs, Brown has
invaluable contacts among law enforcement officers.
"There are few cities in the United States where I
can't pick up a phone and get some policeman on a person-to-person
basis," he said.
But Brown is not all sweetness and light. He
remembers the second half of his favorite saying: "...provided they
merit such treatment."
He can be a tough cop.
Bandits who injure their victims infuriate Brown.
"I'm strongly in favor of stakeouts on those cases
to kill those clowns," he said.
He cited a situation in which a gang led by a
6-foot-4 gunman had been robbing liquor stores and then clubbing
clerks' heads simply to avoid identification.
"We had five guys in the hospital with depressed
skull fractures," Brown said.
"So I staked out 46 detectives with shotguns backed
up by 46 armed rookies.
"We killed 10 holdup men in three weeks and didn't
have another liquor store robbery for three months."
The cigar and pipe-smoking policeman was nearly
chief in 1950 when his qualifying test scores were second only to those
of William H. Parker.
Brown's abrasive relationship with the late Chief
Parker is well known in the Police Department.
He respected Park as an administrator, an attorney
and a public speaker, but not as a detective.
"Parker never worked the detective bureau in all his
years on the force," Brown said.
"As a matter of fact, outside of traffic work, he
never did much police work at all.
"He made it pretty difficult from a detective's
point of view. He took a pessimistic attorney's outlook. He searched
"You've got to be optimistic about your chances in
Perhaps the relationship between the two career
officers can be best seen through a comment Brown said he once made to
"Bill, I'll do the work and you do the talking, and
if I'm half as good at working as you are at talking we'll both be in
They were both in business for many years, and in a
sense Thad Brown remains in the police profession.
"One of my boys has been a Los Angeles policeman for
20 years, my daughter married a policeman and my other son is in
military intelligence work," he said.