March 2009, Harold Crowder, died at age 83. He was the last one left alive of the foursome and fearsome Los Angeles Police Department’s “Hat Squad” assigned to the Robbery Detail during the late 1940s into the 60s. They were distinguished by the trademark white fedoras and tailored suits they all wore. The only exemption was changing the hats to straw ones for the summer months.
The four detectives were Max Herman, Clarence “Red” Stromwall, Harry Crowder and Eddie Benson.
They were all WWII veterans and each measured 6’2” or more. Max and Red were Marines, Eddie a paratrooper and Harry Air Corp. Eddie played pro football at Fordham University and then with the NY Giants. The other three became attorneys. Red and Harry went on to served as superior court judges.
Known as “The Hats”, their trademark struck fear into stickup men and even witnesses. One story told is that a witness looking through a door’s peep hole saw two of the detectives and was so frightened that he jumped from his second-story bathroom window. He broke his ankle when he landed.
In 1987, Lt. Dan Cooke said, “Word went through the underworld that they were tough. No question about it. They were intimidators just by their appearance. The hat was their trademark.”
From time to time, the squad found it necessary to run undesirable people out of Los Angeles, and they usually did it swiftly.
Even the Korean War could not separate them. They all went on active duty with the 40th Infantry Division and served in the same battalion. Benson was a first sergeant. Herman, Crowder and Stromall were company commanders.
Benson died in 1970 from cancer. His other three companions went on to become lawyers. Crowder and Stromwall became judges. All attended night classes at Southwestern University College of Law. Herman died in 1987 and Stromwall in 1996.
Crowder recalled, “The first time I went in to take the bar, my mother and father were out here visiting with me. I got up at 5:30, had breakfast and kissed my folks goodby. They congratulated me and said good luck. And as I walked out the door, I saw my dad sitting on the couch drinking coffee".
In 1967, Clarence “Red” Stromwell told a reporter, “They’d see us coming . . . and put up their hands.”
They were known for being tough on criminals and compassionate with ordinary citizens.
They hunted criminals in the years when Whiskey Bill Parker headed LAPD. He took command in 1950 over a highly corrupt police department and retooled it with an iron fist for the next sixteen years. He was also an attorney.
The Hat Squad also intercepted criminal organizations who wanted to set up shop in Los Angeles.
When Max Herman died in 1987, his funeral was attended by several ex-convicts the squad had sent to prison.
They became the models for television and movie characters, including the four detectives in the 1990s movie “Mulholland Falls.”
Jake Jacoby, a City News Service reporter first assigned to the police beat in 1935 and still covering it for the wire service, lists Stromwall’s father and two others--Claude Thaxter and Slats Henry--as the original “Big Hats.”
The Gangster Squad (later known as the Organized Crime Intelligence Division (OCID) was a special unit created by the LAPD in 1946 to keep the organized crime elements out of Los Angeles. It was an 8-man detail, that besides keeping gangsters out of LA, also spied on corrupt cops. Criminals target were Mickey Cohen, Bugsy Siegal and others.
Characters based on the squad are seen in movies LA Confidential, Gangster Squad and the mini-series Mob City.
“It was very rare you pulled your gun,” Stromwall said. “You only pull your gun when you want to kill somebody.
These men are gone now, and their exploits have been woven into the lore of LAPD. Even though in our politically correct world they would not fit in, the question begs to be asked, "Aren't they exactly what we do need now?"
Source - LATimes
Stranger Than Fiction Stories by M.P. Pellicer