By Hal Collier
The following stories are true. These are tidbits of things that happened during my career. I was recently asked why I write these stories. Whenever you get three or more cops together, they talk about the good old days. The more alcohol consumed the better the stories. All cops have stories of their experiences. They love listening to a cop’s story and then tell their version of the incident. Some of the replies I get of an incident confirm that my memory is still good. Hopefully, I can put off having my name and address written in my underwear for a few more years.
These stories are sort of my memoirs of my career. I always said that good police work was 75% luck. That’s being in the right place at the right time. It’s 25% knowing what to do with the luck when it drops in your lap. Being a cop is rewarding as well as frustrating. Cops rely on instincts due to their training and experience. Now days, lawyers call it profiling. The first story still bugs me to this day. I missed a big one.
I’m working A.M. Watch—it’s about 4 A.M. I’m driving in the Whitley Heights area of Hollywood. That’s a nice residential area above Hollywood Boulevard. It’s where movie stars first moved to in the 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s. I see this car driving toward me. It’s a beat up clunker, one head light out. As he passes me, the driver has that ‘oh shit’ look on his face. Even my new probationer partner remarks that guy doesn’t fit this neighborhood.
We stop him to investigate. He identifies himself as Roman Jason Elliott III. He says he’s from New York and begins to compliment us on our professional appearance. Ok, I’ve been snowed before, but most attempts were by a female traffic violator. As I question him, I’m thinking he was in that neighborhood to commit a crime or was leaving after committing a crime. His story has so many holes that even the ACLU would be suspicious. His car was registered to a female—he claimed was his girlfriend’s car registered in Kansas. We checked him and the car for warrants and neither was wanted. He gave me permission to search his car. Nothing in the interior, the trunk was locked and he insisted his girlfriend had the key. I tried to figure out a way to get into the trunk. I’ve got that nagging feeling that something is wrong, but I can’t arrest him on hunches. I sent Roman on his way.
I’m off for the next two days and when I return, I’m sitting in Roll Call. They pass out a wanted flier for a Roman Jason Elliot III. Wanted for murder. It seems Roman strangled his girlfriend when she refused to be a prostitute and put her in the trunk of her car. He was looking for a place to dump her body. I’ve got that sick feeling in my stomach. I had him and let him slip away. He was later arrested in Florida and convicted. His girlfriend was a farm girl from Kansas. Roman convinced her that he would take her to Hollywood and make her a star. Yea, she was in the trunk when we stopped him. Win some, lose some and I lost a big one.
I found an interesting article dated Oct. 25, 1998 in the Lehigh (Pennsylvania) Valley newspaper. This wasn’t the only time Roman met the police. There’s even a line indicating he later had a murder conviction in California. Sadly, this is similar to what happened with Sonoma County Sheriff’s Deputies during the Polly Klaas abduction investigation. It’s one of those times when the law dictates what a cop can do–and can’t. If there was no consent to search the trunk in either case, the officer cannot lawfully do it. this is an example of cops doing their jobs to the best of their ability within the law. Unfortunately, the outcome wasn’t satisfactory in either case, although both men were convicted of murder. –Thonie
OK, on a brighter note, Cliff and I are patrolling a rear parking lot of businesses behind Hollywood Boulevard. As we drive through the parking lot, we see a man come from the back of a business. We grab him and figure we caught us a business burglar. As we question him, I notice a hippy dog with a handkerchief tied around his neck, running around the parking lot. This guy’s story is also full of holes. We handcuff him and put him in the back seat of our patrol car. I leave Cliff to watch over our new friend, while I check which building this guy broke into.
I see that damn dog again.
As I look for a crime, Cliff calls out to me, “Hal, we got a problem.” I return to our car. That dog belonged to our bad guy. He entered our police car through an open front door and jumped into the back seat next to our suspect. The dog is barking at us and showing an impressive set of canines. The dog won’t let us approach our own police car.
I can just hear the guys laughing at us and imagine the comments and practical jokes.
“Hal, why didn’t you just let the dog drive your suspect to the station?”
“Hal, are you applying for a K-9 job?”
I need time to think.
I go back to checking out the businesses for a crime. Nothing, our suspect might have gone back there to pee or we just caught him too soon.
I’ve stalled enough. What do I do with that dog? I get as close as I can to my police car. I tell my suspect if he loves that dog, he had better control him. I even threaten to shoot the dog if he bites me. The guy gets his dog to calm down. We release the guy and the dog, we saved ourselves a bunch of embarrassment. Since then I’ve hated hippy dogs with handkerchiefs tied around their necks.
I grew up in Eagle Rock and we lived in the hills. Our street was on a hill with the top somewhat level. That’s were all the kids played ball, rode our bikes, played freeze tag and dreaded when the street lights come on, because that’s when we had to go home.
At the level spot of our street, lived a man, Mr. Melman, the scrooge of our block. I’ll bet every kid growing up had a Mr. Melman living in their neighborhood. If our ball landed in his yard, he would run out, grab it, and make one of our parents go get it back. If we were just starting a football game he would back his car out of the driveway and park it on our 50-yard line. He just hated kids, but then come to think of it the parents didn’t like him either. Well, growing up you learn to deal with adults.
Flash forward fifteen years, I’m a cop patrolling Hollywood Boulevard. My partner observes this guy who resembles a wanted suspect. We stop him and ask for identification. I look at his driver’s license and my mouth drops open. It’s Mr. Melman from my street. I didn’t recognize him and he didn’t recognize me. He wasn’t our wanted suspect but he did have a bunch of unpaid traffic tickets that had gone to warrant. I don’t think I ever enjoyed booking a warrant suspect more. I just wish I could have shared my joy with the kids I grew up with. Most had moved away and I lost touch with them.
I still get a warm feeling when I think of sweet childhood revenge.