Updated: Mar 31, 2022
In my less than two years at the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, I wrote several hundred articles, sometimes with more than one story in the paper on the same day. Police drug raids, gang shootings. I covered strikes by high school coaches, Screen Actors Guild and others. Science and celebrity stories, mainly when civil lawsuits were filed. Though a few deaths, like when John Belushi overdosed, or Natalie Wood drowned suspiciously. Or Billie Jean King had an affair. Lots of crime stories. Like the Grandma Mafia or when there was a skirmish with police at the home of Hustler publisher Larry Flynt. And weather stories about mudslides, brushfires, smog and heat waves.
Sometimes it would be a shared byline, where a reporter in the field would phone back notes and I’d write the story based on the information. Sometimes I’d be the reporter in the field, but my bias was to be the writer. Better still to do both. And even more rewarding was doing “News Focus” stories, the in-depth features that could be spun off of a breaking story.
Two colleagues who both were friends, amazing reporters, and died too young: Frank Candida and Dave Palermo. Frank was a top-notch court reporter, seeming to know every judge, cop, prosecutor, defense attorney, and a slew of criminals around the courthouse. He succumbed to a combination of asthma and the flu. Dave Palermo, a reporter who knew how to write compelling features as well as hard news, and went on to become an authority on gambling, died by suicide many years later.
There were other great cityside reporters it was a privilege to work with, and I know I’m going to accidentally leave people out if I list names. But Dan Morain and Patti Klein come to mind. As well as Greg Braxton, Andy Furillo, Paul Wilner, Rich Turner, Marie Denunzio. The Nicoles-Szulc and Yorkin, Merle Wolin, Ann Salisbury, Linda Breakstone, Jon Markman, Lennie Laguire, John Schwada, Mike Qualls, Miles Beller, Rip Rense, and Marty Rabowski. Not counting the columnists like Tony Castro, David Israel, Mitchell Fink, and Ben Stein. Or the style section, sports section, copy desk and photographers. And Ginger, the transcriber.
Riding herd over us were editors Alex Ben Block, Larry Burroughs, Barbara Anderson and Tom Brown. I forgot which one of them chastised me when I was fiddling with a story on a tight deadline, but I still remember the phrase, “It ain’t prose, it’s news.”
One of the bigger stories I covered, with numerous articles, was the quadruple murders on Wonderland Avenue in Laurel Canyon. In July 1981, two men and two women were found beaten to death on Wonderland Avenue in the Laurel Canyon area. People wondered if it was another Manson type killing. It actually stemmed from Adel “Eddie Nash” Nasrallah being robbed. He was a major Los Angeles gangster, with lots of drug dealing and restaurants that tended to catch fire as soon as they became unprofitable. Porn star John Holmes allegedly set up the robbery. Nash quickly figured it out and he and his bodyguard, Gregory DeWitt Dyles, allegedly interrogated Holmes and got the names of the robbers. The two men and their girlfriends were beaten to death.
At one point I was hauled into federal court by Nasrallah’s attorney who wanted to know my sources. Joining me in the docket was Adam Dawson, a tenacious rival from the LA Daily News who became a friend. Our bantering about being cell mates since we both vowed to not divulge sources. Fortunately, Judge Matt Byrne ruled that there were no grounds to compel us to break confidentiality and we never faced contempt charges. Nash and his bodyguard were charged and acquitted. Nash later admitted to jury tampering and pled guilty to federal conspiracy charges. He got a four and a half year sentence plus a $250,000 fine. A small penalty for a vicious criminal.
The Wonderland murders were made into a mediocre movie with a great cast (Val Kilmer, Eric Bogosian, Kate Bosworth, Lisa Kudrow, Christina Applegate, Carrie Fisher, Dylan McDermott). Critics described it as a confusing Rashomon meets Boogie Nights, with a cast of despicable characters.
A murder that was closer to home was the mugging death of Sarai Ribicoff. She was 23, the niece of a U.S. Senator, and working in the Herald’s editorial department. I didn’t know her well, just a “Hi, how are you?” kind of friendship. One night outside a restaurant in Venice, she and her date were waylaid by a young Crips gang member. Yanking the gold chain from her neck, he shot and killed her, simultaneously shooting himself in the wrist. He went to the hospital, which led to his capture, and conviction.
In the months that followed I frequently was tasked with writing the Ribicoff Murder Report update, which documented each step in the case as it moved forward. The update noted we were covering it both because she was “one of our own” and with hopes that focusing on “a single senseless murder” would highlight the growing crime problem in Los Angeles. His attorney complained to the court about excessive publicity, but the First Amendment was stronger. The killer eventually got a life sentence.