Tag Archives: Los Angeles Magazine

Down and Out in Rancho Santa Margarita

When a reporter asked bank robber Willie Sutton why he robbed banks, the line he uttered became such a popular way of stating the obvious that it became known as Sutton’s Law: “Because that’s where the money is.” In 2015, 70-year old retired California detective Randy Adair landed in prison after robbing his fifth bank, confounding his friends and old coworkers. Why would a respected lawman with a pension and family commit crimes? In Los Angeles Magazine, journalist Jeff Maysh asks that same question and finds out how things went wrong for Adair.

His first was on the afternoon of March 24, 1969, when a silent alarm inside the United California Bank in Mid City signaled a robbery in progress. Exiting the bank with the cash and a loaded revolver when Adair and company arrived, the thief turned and ran back into the building. They found him in a second-floor restroom, where Robert Lee White surrendered. He’d eventually confess to being the Wilshire Bandit, who’d hit nine banks in the area, and to being the Blue Blazer Bandit of Fort Worth, Texas. Adair’s career was in full swing.

As the arrests mounted, the detective earned praise from superiors for his “initiative, his alertness, and his imagination.” He felt proud to wear the badge and enjoyed the perks: Half-price chili burgers at Tommy’s on Beverly and free smokes at Sam’s Corner Liquor Store on 6th left him with enough cash to play the ponies and buy bottles of Jim Beam.

If there’s a point when Randy Adair began edging toward the day that he, too, would begin robbing banks, it’s probably here. The gambling and booze would figure prominently in his life, as would the health problems that he traces back to a January night in 1971. That’s when Adair, cruising through Westlake in an unmarked car, spotted smoke billowing from a fire in the  basement of a rundown apartment building. With no sign of the fire department, Adair dashed into the building. “The place started really filling up with smoke bad,” he said. “They had paint and loads of cables covered in grease and oil. Highly toxic fumes.” He could barely see or breathe as he began to carry residents—some too drunk or disabled to move—over his shoulders to safety.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Charleston County Sheriff's Office via Getty Images

This week, we’re sharing stories from Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Ellen Pao, Henry Wismayer, Taylor Harris, and Jeff Maysh.

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The Surgeon Who Helped Revolutionize Hand Transplants

Dr. Kodi Azari. Azari performed a hand transplant on Emily Fennell, 26, after she lost her hand in a traffic accident. (AP Photo/Reed Saxon)

Dr. Kodi Azari has traveled the U.S. as a lead surgeon in five hand transplants. Hand transplant recipients have usually lost their hands before surgery, but Azari laid the groundwork for a new kind of procedure:

The doctor had some hypotheses he wanted to test, provided he could find a patient with the ideal requirements: excellent health, enormous self-discipline, a positive attitude, and—rarest of all—a limb that needed to be replaced but had not yet been amputated.

Azari knew he was hoping for a long shot. Most hand transplant candidates have been injured in accidents or in battle, when a catastrophic event forces an emergency amputation. These procedures are aimed at minimizing suffering and are usually carried out to facilitate future prosthetic use. Generally that means the arm is severed closer to the elbow than the wrist, and the nerves and tendons are trimmed back and tucked inward to lessen discomfort. That creates challenges, however, if a transplant is attempted later. All those tucked-in nerves and tendons tend to merge over time into a jumble of tissues that is difficult to connect to a new hand with precision.

Wouldn’t it be great, Azari thought, if a transplant recipient’s arm could be amputated in a way that prepped it specifically to receive a new limb? How much more quickly would a patient recover if each tendon, nerve, artery, and vein were left in place and marked—labeled, like so many colored speaker wires, to be hooked up to a matching apparatus? How much more functionality would the patient gain, and how rapidly would he or she gain it? Azari believed this fantasy patient would awaken post-op, look at the new hand, and be able to move the fingers right away.

Azari found the ideal patient in Jonathan Koch, a television executive who experienced full-blown septic shock and needed several limbs amputated. Amy Wallace tells his story in Los Angeles Magazine.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

This week, we’re sharing stories from Amy Wallace, Katherine Laidlaw, Lisa Miller, Porochista Khakpour, and Lauren Schwartzberg.

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Dear New Owners: City Magazines Were Already Great

As the president sucks up the oxygen from the media atmosphere, it’s easy to forget how important local journalism is right now. The regional press—the holy trinity of newspapers, alt-weeklies, and city magazines—is where we can find true stories of friends and neighbors impacted by immigration raids, fights over funding public education, and the frontline of relaxed environmental standards that will impact the water we drink and the air we breathe. We need to support their work. Read more…

Garlic, Grilled Chicken and Murder in Los Angeles

In the April 2008 issue of Los Angeles magazine reporter Mark Arax wrote about Los Angeles’ beloved Zankou Chicken chain, and how one owner tore the founding family apart by murdering two of its members and killing himself. The story is a compelling mix of family dynamics, fast food and the complex American dream. It was republished in Arax’s book West of the West, and in The Best American Crime Reporting 2009. Here’s an excerpt:

This wasn’t Beirut. Mardiros put in long hours. He tweaked the menu; his mother tinkered with the spices. It took a full year to find a groove. The first crowd of regulars brought in a second crowd, and a buzz began to grow among the network of foodies. How did they make the chicken so tender and juicy? The answer was a simple rub of salt and not trusting the rotisserie to do all the work but raising and lowering the heat and shifting each bird as it cooked. What made the garlic paste so fluffy and white and piercing? This was a secret the family intended to keep. Some customers swore it was potatoes, others mayonnaise. At least one fanatic stuck his container in the freezer and examined each part as it congealed. He pronounced the secret ingredient a special kind of olive oil. None guessed right. The ingredients were simple and fresh, Mardiros pledged, no shortcuts. The magic was in his mother’s right hand.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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Inside Scientology: A Reading List

Alex Gibney’s much-talked about new documentary Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Beliefbased on Lawrence Wright’s similarly titled 2013 exposé—has been making headlines since it made its Sundance debut in January. It opened on limited screens across the country last Friday and will premiere on HBO in two weeks. In the meantime, the Church of Scientology has gone into overdrive attacking the film: taking out full page ads in major newspapers to denounce it; buying up Going Clear-related search results on Google; and trying to discredit the filmmakers and their subjects in a series of videos on the Church’s website. Scientology has long been shrouded in mystery—doubtless in large part due to the Church’s secretive practices—but the Church is also notorious for terrorizing critics and defectors. Suffice it to say they are not an easy institution to investigate. In honor of their inscrutable reputation, and with Scientology-talk nearing zenith zeitgeist, I decided to put together a reading list of stories that explore the Church from a variety of angles. Please don’t kill my dog.

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1. “The Apostate” (Lawrence Wright, The New Yorker, 2011)

Wright is nothing short of a master reporter (he won a Pulitzer for The Looming Tower, his 2006 history of al-Qaeda), and his deep investigative skills shine in this epic piece, a profile of Hollywood director and screenwriter Paul Haggis. Haggis was once one of Scientology’s most prominent members; he is now one of the Church’s most prominent defectors. This article eventually became part of Wright’s 2013 book Going Clear.

2. “The Tip of the Spear” (Joel Sappell, Los Angeles Magazine, 2012)

Starting in the mid-1980s, journalists Joel Sappell and Robert Welkos spent five years examining the Church of Scientology for the Los Angeles Times, ultimately producing a six-day, 24-article series (available here in its entirety) that ran in June 1990. Here—more than two decades after the fact—Sappell reflects on his unnerving experiences reporting on the Church.

3. “What Katie Didn’t Know” (Maureen Orth, Vanity Fair, October 2012)

An exquisitely creepy behind-the-scenes look at the Church of Scientology’s 2004 search for the next Mrs. Tom Cruise.

4. “Scientology’s Hollywood Real Estate Empire” (Daniel Miller, The Hollywood Reporter, July 2011)

Little known fact: the Church of Scientology owns more historic buildings in Hollywood than any other entity. Miller’s decision to examine the Church’s relationship to Hollywood in the context of its real estate empire makes for fascinating reading.

5. “Escape from Sea Org” (Astra Woodcraft, as told to Abigail Pesta, The Daily Beast, July 2012)

Astra Woodcraft was seven when she was indoctrinated into the Church of Scientology via an arm of the church known as Sea Org. This is the story of what she endured, and how she escaped.

6. “Are Academics Afraid to Study Scientology?” (Ruth Graham, JSTOR Daily, November 2014)

Scientology attracts an extraordinary amount of media attention, but scholars have been slow to devote time and research to its study—Why?

See Also: “A Scientology Glossary” (David Sessions, The Daily Beast, July 2012)

Don’t know the difference between an engram, an E-meter, and an operating Thetan? Don’t worry, The Daily Beast has your back.

 

How to Friend Request Your Way Into a Cyber Posse of Unwitting Informants

The set-up was like something out of a movie—Four California Highway Patrol officers with little to no undercover experience decide to pose as Vegas players to take down motorcycle thieves in LA. Southern California’s street bike culture had made motorcycle theft a major problem in recent years, and so the officers would need to infiltrate the scene in order to pull off their sting. This is where things got tricky. Writing about the operation in Los Angeles Magazine, Greg Nichols details the creative way one of the officers gained credibility in the biker community:

With the team members in place, they set to work finding a second suspect. Scores of thieves were scooping up sport bikes around Los Angeles, but that didn’t make them easy to locate. Combing through Craigslist and eBay, the investigators scanned for ads containing suspicious language. Watson asked insurance companies to provide bike parts. Looking for leads, he and Clifford wrapped their inventory in cellophane, stepped into character, and went around to local motorcycle shops offering tidbits for sale or trade. Watson, always animated, did most of the talking. Clifford was younger, a good kid from a small town in Northern California. He was stiff at first, and cusswords tumbled out of his mouth with the overenunciated eagerness of a parent using slang. Incredulous shop owners sized up the short-haired white boys bearing gift-wrapped parts and said no thanks. The CHP had sprung for fake business cards, which the investigators passed out all over town, but nobody seemed eager to follow up with them.

Then Watson realized he had a teenager’s gift for social media. His humor and goofiness played well online. Watson joined motorcycle forums and set up a Facebook account to get close to club members. Men were slow to respond, but women seemed happy to accept his friend requests. The more female friends he acquired, the more the male bikers warmed to him. Soon he had a cyberposse of unwitting informants. Using those contacts, and cross-referencing frequent posters on Craigslist and eBay, the team discovered a likely suspect. When Clifford called about a Suzuki GSXR posted on Craigslist, the man introduced himself as Biscuit.

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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

Below, our favorite stories of the week. Kindle users, you can also get them as a Readlist.

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