HUNTER: How Los Angeles cops caught army of 1970’s serial killers

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The veteran detectives who investigated hundreds of homicides — and seen everything — had never seen anything like it.

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These were the guys (and they were guys back then) who busted Charles Manson and his murderous groupies, black widows and a lot of the other horrors visited upon the sun-kissed landscape of the Golden State.

But this was different.

A daily roster of carnage, littering the highways, byways, and back alleys of southern California. Not just one Charles Manson, but many. Each one more maniacal than the last.

In the 1970s, Los Angeles became the serial killer capital of the world. At least 20 homicidal maniacs — including five at one time — turned L.A. into a palm tree-filled killing field.

Now, a new Hulu original series, City of Angels/City of Death , follows LAPD homicide detectives and their hunt for monsters like the Skid Row Slasher, the Hillside Strangler, and the Night Stalker. The six-part series drops Wednesday.

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LOS ANGELES HERALD EXAMINER/ LAPL
LOS ANGELES HERALD EXAMINER/ LAPL

As retired detective Bob Grogan says in the voiceover of the trailer: “There is no question southern California was in a state of panic. We would always say, ‘please God, not another one.’ Forty-four years, later I still have dreams about the victims and I still want to say, ‘don’t open that door.’”

“We were interested in telling this story,” former LAPD homicide detective Tom Lange told The Toronto Sun . “We almost didn’t have time to think about the problem at the time. We had 100 prostitutes murdered in a 10-year stretch.”

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Lange and fellow former detective, Bob Souza, gave the Sun an up-close-and-personal window into those days of horror.

At the time, the 1970s and 1980s, there was no DNA. No cellphones. Few computers that could do anyone any good. And week by week, in the California dreamscape, the terror spread.

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That’s when the LAPD’s Robbery-Homicide Division banded together and began tracking down the killers.

Members of the LAPD’s famed Robbery-Homicide Division who caught the killers. LAPD
Members of the LAPD’s famed Robbery-Homicide Division who caught the killers. LAPD

“It finally all came to a head with the Night Stalker [Richard Ramirez],” Souza said of the Satanic killer’s Aug. 31, 1985 capture. “It was a turning point, it all kind of stopped.”

But before that happened, their was an onslaught of death — hampered by the multi-jurisdictional nature of the murders.

Los Angeles spans about 155 square kilometres, and there is not just the LAPD, but the LA County Sheriffs and numerous smaller police departments.

“The problem was communication and that’s something I worry about today. In the old days, we would meet our colleagues in other departments for a coffee in the morning or a beer in the evening,” Lange said.

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Veteran LAPD homicide detectives Bob Grogan and Frank Garcia. The guys who caught some of the most famous killers in American history. HULU
Veteran LAPD homicide detectives Bob Grogan and Frank Garcia. The guys who caught some of the most famous killers in American history. HULU

“You had a better read what was going on when you met face-to-face rather than a stranger sending an email. Today, they’re well-intentioned but a different breed. We’d have to keep a roll of quarters and keep our eyes peeled for a phone booth.”

But miraculously, through round-the-clock work, teamwork and old-fashioned gut instincts, the detectives got the job done.

At the time, the detectives didn’t realize it, but they were revolutionizing complex investigations.

In the series, the co-star is the city of Los Angeles itself. Almost an accomplice to the evil unfolding on its shores.

The great neo-noir crime writer, James Ellroy, once told me why so many horrific crimes happen in Los Angeles.

“People come out here to be somebody else,” the native Angeleno said in 2006. “When you have that little self-esteem, terrible things are bound to happen.”

bhunter@postmedia.com

@HunterTOSun

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