LA confidential: The world's most storied police force opens up its photography archive - and the result is worthy of Hollywood

The photographs have been unearthed for "Unedited!: the LAPD Photo Archives", an exhibition showing at this month's second annual Paris Photo fair in Los Angeles


The photograph shows three men in suits and a fourth in a long coat, standing by a car at the side of a dirt road on a flat plain panelled with fields. Power lines stretch to the grey horizon. The men could be property developers, surveying the site of a new out-of-town supermarket, but for a single detail: one of them has curled his hand into the shape of a pistol, and he is pointing it at his companions.

The picture, taken in 1963, comes from the archive of the Los Angeles Police Department. The three men in suits are cops, there to recreate the climax of the Onion Field kidnappings, one of the more notorious cases in the history of the LAPD – a police force that, in its 145-year history, has seen more notorious cases than any other. The fourth man (on the far right) is Jimmy Lee Smith, one of the suspects.

On the night of 9 March, two LAPD officers had been kidnapped in Hollywood and driven north into California's agricultural heartland. One, Ian Campbell, was shot dead in an onion field; the other, Karl Hettinger, ran off into the dark and escaped. The killers, Gregory Powell and Smith, known as "Jimmy Youngblood", were captured the next day. They received death sentences, but evaded execution when California abolished the death penalty several years later.

The photograph has been unearthed for "Unedited!: the LAPD Photo Archives", an exhibition showing at this month's second annual Paris Photo fair in Los Angeles. The fair takes place on the soundstages of Paramount Studios in Hollywood, where some of the shots are being displayed in the shop façades of the studio's New York backlot – a fake Manhattan street – meaning they are "in" LA and New York simultaneously.

A staple of the French capital's cultural calendar for the past 18 years, Paris Photo is the world's biggest photography fair. An American expansion became inevitable, says its director, Julien Frydman, because the US is the world's biggest market for photography. Though most of the fair is devoted to sales by some 150 galleries, Frydman explains, "We also create some shows to nourish the pleasure of the audience, and their understanding of photography."

Hence "Unedited!", which comprises of images culled from a collection of more than a million photos taken by police officers and criminologists over the decades, now stored in LA's City Records Center. Many were once used as evidence by the LAPD Special Investigations k Division, which was set up during the 1920s, making it the oldest crime lab in the US.


Among the pictures in the exhibition is one from the investigation of the famous "Black Dahlia" case: the gruesome 1947 murder of the young actress Elizabeth Short, whose body had been comprehensively mutilated. Despite (or perhaps even due to) the extensive and sensational newspaper coverage of the case, her killer was never caught. There are images, too, from the investigation of the Manson murders, which brought terror to LA in the summer of 1969.

"The LAPD photographs were originally documents," Frydman says. "But if you select them carefully today, they become a piece of art. Most images we think of when we talk about film noir and the LAPD are images we learnt from the cinema. The images in our mind are not real. So when you look at these photographs, it's hard to decide whether they're real documents or from movies. There's a confusion between fiction and reality. Paramount Studios is a dream location for [the exhibition]: a place that builds images somewhere between fiction and reality."

Thanks to its persistent representation in movies from Chinatown to Beverly Hills Cop (both, incidentally, produced by Paramount), the LAPD is the most famous police force in the world – though at times in its history it has also been infamous. The department suffered for decades from a reputation for institutional racism. The treatment of black civilians by LAPD officers sparked the Watts Riots of 1965 and the Rodney King Riots of 1992. The 1995 prosecution of OJ Simpson fell apart after investigating officer Mark Fuhrman was accused of racism.

The two faces of the LAPD were encapsulated in one man, William H Parker, who served as chief from 1950 to 1966, the longest tenure in the department's history. Parker is credited with modernising the force, but John Buntin, author of the book LA Noir, has described him as "Los Angeles' greatest and most controversial chief of police"; Parker's is the semi-corrupt department portrayed in James Ellroy's LA Confidential.

The relationship between the LAPD and the screen is literalised by one archive image involving Parker on the set of the TV cop series Dragnet in 1963, the same year as the Onion Field incident. Parker, the most famous of all LAPD officers, is seen conversing with Jack Webb, the actor who played Sergeant Joe Friday – the era's most famous fictional cop.

Paris Photo Los Angeles is showing today at Paramount Studios, Hollywood (see for more)

Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little