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June 21, 2014


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Thanks for a riveting tale.

Always wanted to hear more about this event ever since I first read of it on this blog. Great read, thank you.

Excellent story, Rogue.

In some ways it reminds me of an article I read: Why Aren’t Stories Like ’12 Years a Slave’ Told at Southern Plantation Museums? http://www.collectorsweekly.com/articles/why-arent-stories-like-12-years-a-slave-told-at-southern-plantation-museums/
In this story I learned about something called the Lost Cause movement. “This movement portrayed the cause of the Confederacy as noble and the wealthy, white Southern enslavers as genteel aristocrats, the embodiment of grace and chivalry… . The biggest mouthpiece for the Lost Cause is the 1939 film “Gone With the Wind,” based on Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 Pulitzer-winning novel.”

Thank you Jon Talton for being a truth teller.

Jon thanks for bringing this story back to our attention. It's time Johnson was recognized by the Police Department. My old partner Gordon Hunsacker did an excellent job in his efforts to get state recognition but is not able to proceed now with regard to the Phoenix PD.
However I feel the new Chief Danny Garcia is probably more amenable to recognition than those in the past. Garcia comes from the street and has worked and understood what Johnson and Davis were up against even though its 70 years later.

Cal Lash, SGT. retired 1658
Phoenix PD

A fascinating and exceptionally well-done combination of true-crime / detective story / social history. Local history buffs should be salivating over this. The tombstone photograph is a poignant, concrete detail that connects the past with the present. Outstanding.

I've been reading Jana Bommersbach's book on the Judd debacle this weekend - 30's policing extended into the 40's and beyond I see

There are two books on the "Winne Ruth Judd" story. Neither of which do the bigger historical story justice. Talton probably knows this history as well as most. The last time I saw author Bommersbach was at Jon's house in Willo. I worked at The Arizona State Hospital when Judd was there. To my knowledge, she was a model patient. Probably not insane prior to the homicides but surely driven to the brink by the murderous insanity of those around her who were never brought to justice. Seldom do the rich go to prison, a place reserved for the poor.
clash from my cell phone.

Emil and Soleri check my note # 82 on previous blog.

Terrific real life drama. This is a valuable column. One of the ironies of Frenchy's acquittal for an impromptu homicide is that it could still happen today under "stand your ground" laws.

You are a treasure, Jon. Love Phoenix 101!

Thank you for telling this amazing story.

i am a native Phoenician b. 1937. I remember hearing stories about The corruption and the denizens of the Deuce. I recall that losing your money in the Deuce was optional. Charter Government just took it in taxes (involuntary)

Cal did you ever participate in "elevator or riverbottom intergations"? A friend of mine once swore he would have admitted to killing the President if the elevator would just start moving.

Fascinating well written story. I really like Jon's writing style. Clear,concise and no flowery embellishment.
This would make a great movie. A modern film noir !

Roger Ramjet: No I did not participate.
However I have heard of such tales in my travels particularly in my times in Internal Affairs (Now referred to as the Professional Standards Bureau
These folks handle misconduct complaints, use of force situations and inspections.)
The elevator in question was (and is) located in one of Taltons favorite buildings, the old county court house.
It was a slow elevator and I do recall seeing dents and marks of suspicion. Possibly some may have occurred in a weapon discharge. But I dont really know, you know I am just saying.
River bottom stories were generally limited to loading a Paddy wagon with undesirables and dropping them off at the Salt River bottom. I cant remark on what kind of treatment they may have endured in this removal from downtown.

Star Johnson.
I have been in contact with Retired Officer Gordon Hunsacker. We would both like to see Johnson be recognized.
I have put out such to a few folks I know.

The Deuce is famous for a number of reasons. One of which was the police call box located in Paris Alley is still missing as are some of the brass door knobs from the old city police headquarters located in the old county court house at 17 S 2nd Avenue.

Probably most readers have never been "rolled" Got yourself in a predicament whereas you wake up minus a few valuables.

Paris alley was also where officer Wilbur Tootsie made famous what is now know as the Tootsie Roll. Wilbur would poor a little wine on his clothing, place a shining watch on his wrist and lay down in the alley with his watch arm most prominent. Person or persons attempting to take the watch from Wilbur's arm were charged with strong arm robbery.

Great answer. Tom Horney would be proud of you!

"One of the ironies of Frenchy's acquittal for an impromptu homicide is that it could still happen today under "stand your ground" laws." Tom Zoellner

I think Tom makes a very good point.

The stand-your-ground rule didn't help Davis. Of course, that's how the law is supposed to work.

A couple of points. My comment that Winnie Ruth Judd was a model state hospital patient stands despite the information that she "escaped" a number of times. My sources advised she never escaped; she just walked off campus, which was extremely east to do in the early sixties. Frankly she probably just didn't care to be there and most likely dint need to be a ward of the state.

And in 70 my partner Tony Marks and I were in SEU (old swat- an unmarked police car, two detectives and one shotgun)and worked the Deuce and Paris Alley a few times. Tony got "Maced" in the mouth by a guy trying to rip "the Watch" off Tony's arm. The Deuce today is pretty nonexistent including the Amapola bar where Ernesto Miranda died on the dirt floor as the result of a knife fight. A bar and food place called the Duce currently is in place at Central and Lincoln.

Wilbur Tootsie, an American Indian and a former Marine I believe, went onto ride his police Motorcycle into fame and never gave it up until he retired with honor.

I was just thinking of emailing you to ask about this story and then I find it here! I first heard of this in your novel "South Phoenix Rules". The only mention I could find on the internet is from the Phoenix Police Museum and it's pretty meager.No mention at all of race, you might notice.


Dear Rogue,

Thank you for your excellent contributions.

I see that in your interesting report on the "Star" Johnson incidents you place the old St. Joseph's Hospital at Fourth Street and Van Buren. I believe that it was at Second or Third Avenue near Roosevelt, but I may be wrong. It was on a north-south street car line, and the tracks were in place into the 1960s. I was born at St. Joe's in 1945.

Please keep up the great work.

Joseph Downs

Gilbert C. Blanco was a former Phoenix PD Deputy, and he ran the "El Rancho Buffet and Modern Billiard" at 209 East Jefferson according to the city directory. He would have known all the cops involved... surprised there is not much to his testimony as eyewitness.

What an injustice that Frenchy got away with murder...I really enjoyed the scene setting that paints a vivid picture of downtown Phoenix in that era. Great storytelling, Jon.

Great Article Jon. Tragic but typical. Lt Rob Settembre had mentioned your column to me several years ago and dumb me, I just now checked you out. Joseph (Joe) Island who trained David "Star" Johnson was my Great-Uncle. He only briefly mentioned this incident however. Joe Island talked more about the "Thanksgiving Day Riot', and his challenges in being a black patrolman. He also spoke in depth about his with young boys at Harmon Park, in what he liked to call the "prototype Boys Club" in the 1940/50's. Thanks again for your research!!

That was a gripping story, and, certainly one worth the telling. Phoenix - and the country - have come a long way since then.

On the other hand - though far less dramatic - there are unwritten - significant though not dramatic - stories that were lived out in Phoenix over the years. Like white/black friendships on the sports teams on which I competed and (though no "big deal") my insistence on coaching an inner-city team at Silvestre Herra High School in "The Deuce'" though I was offered similar positions in schools for Phoenix'"privileged" kids.

Also, as a small child my parents took me to te homecoming of (the legless WWII war hero, Silvestre Herrera (for whom the school was named). I remember that warm, summer night. It seemed (at least to a small boy) that the entire city (folks of every color) turned out for the welcoming parade. Side Bar: Sadly, I heard he had died of alcoholism a scant few years later.

But Silvestre will always have a special place in my heart - as will the wonderful opportunity to have coached kids at the school so aptly named in his honor).

BTW- I was born in the "Old St. Joe's Hospital" pictured in your article . . . on a day it snowed in Phoenix (enough for someone to have fashioned a good-sized snowman on the hospital lawn.

Indeed, Phoenix has a pass (mixed at worst) but has always had another face, as well; one of which it can be - at least a little - proud.

Fascinating story. My father worked on the force in 1961-62 timeframes. You made me fill like I was there as it unfolded.

What a fascinating story, I never knew the whole story until now. It’s sad that we were like the Deep South, it’s a shame that the city of Phoenix and Media outlets tried to keep this dirty little secret under the rug for so long . Is there anyway I can share this.

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