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Edward S. Sullivan papers

 Collection
Identifier: 7111

Scope and Contents

A photographic and manuscript archive created and compiled by Edward S. Sullivan, a Los Angeles-based correspondent for the seminal crime publication True Detective.

The collection holds approximately 1200 photographic prints containing "evidence" of hundreds of murders, assaults, stick-ups, forgeries, grifts, kidnappings, dog-poisonings, and other criminal acts spanning from the 1930s through the 1960s. The majority of these images were used as illustrations for Sullivan's true-crime articles, either for True Detective or his freelance work for other publications. The material is mostly related to criminal activity in California (Los Angeles, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley, San Diego, etc.) but adjacent western states, as well as Mexico, are also represented. About half of the folders are sorted alphabetically, containing either single photos or groups of related images, and the other half of the folders are related to individual cases.

Many of the photographs were taken by Sullivan himself. His personal law enforcement connections, along with True Detective's positive depictions of police, allowed him a level of access not necessarily available to his colleagues in the trade. Most of the prints have typed labels affixed to the bottom which functioned as notes to the art department or as captions for publication. One example notation accompanies a photograph of the rear entrance to a suburban home, reading: "BACK DOOR OF GRANDMA'S APARTMENT ...HERE HER SON ENTERED TO FIND THE BODY."

The remaining portion of the photographs were either printed by Sullivan from negatives that he sourced, or wire photographs acquired from news agencies such as United Press International (UPI) or Acme. Before his time with True Detective, Sullivan was a copy editor for the Los Angeles Examiner and a reporter from the San Francisco branch of the International News Service before that. It is likely the photographs pertaining to crimes in the 1930s and 1940s were used in conjunction with his work with these or other publications.

The collection includes photographs and files related to many important cases of California's crime history, such as the murder of George Alberts by three merchant seamen in Alameda, a case which was prosecuted by a young Earl Warren and derided by many activists as an anti-union frame-job; Lucille Miller, a woman who gained notoriety for orchestrating a real life "double indemnity" scam; and the trial of David Lamson, a Stanford professor accused of murdering his wife in what is considered to be one of the state's first "trials of the century." These appear alongside many other photographs of crimes and characters such as Florentino "The Cat" Ortega, a burglar and murderer who "bore a puma tattoo and prowled like a cat."

Aside from the photographs, the collection contains 50 case files, presumably used as research or reference for Sullivan's work. All of the files organized by case include newspaper clippings pasted in chronologically. About half of the case files contain a system of manuscript notation by Sullivan, primarily notes from interviews with sources on both sides of the law, and they are composed with the dashed-off, slang-heavy prose of a private "gumshoe" investigator. Notating a police sergeant's initial conclusion about a 1956 murder in Van Nuys, Sullivan writes "CONSENSUS: someone who knew her; no struggle...half dozen partial prints--good nuff to eliminate--strange prints--killer--odd he so careless...no hot suspect at moment."

One of the case files contains the notes of an interview with Ian Hemensely, dubbed "the Hollywood Raffles" (an allusion to a fictional gentleman thief). Hemensely was a burglar from Rhodesia who broke into the Bel-Air homes of celebrities such as Zsa Zsa Gabor and Rosemary Lane, and often wrote apologetic poems on the walls of his victims' homes. Accompanying the file are photographic mugshots of one of Hemensely's associates, Ernie "Casino" Candiottio, and one of Raffles himself, with Sullivan's affixed caption reading, "NOTE YELLOW HAIR DYE WEARING OFF."

Some of the case files contain ephemera such as wanted posters, police bulletins, and--in one case--a flyer circulated to dentists in the Riverside area with images of a Jane Doe's dentures and a caption inquiring, "Did you make these teeth?" Additionally, there are a handful of carbon copies of letters that Sullivan sent to the True Detective editors in New York which further showcase Sullivan's closeness to sources and ability to procure information. One such example involves a story about a woman arrested for arranging the murder of her husband on Halloween night. In a letter about his research for the story, Sullivan writes that the accused wife "admitted to the police in confidence that she had a long standing lesbian affair with [the shooter], but told them she would deny it on the stand."

This note was adapted from the seller's description.

Dates

  • 1930 - 1970

Creator

Conditions Governing Access

Advance notice required for access.

Conditions Governing Use

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in writing to the Department of Special Collections at specol@usc.edu. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Special Collections as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained.

Rights Statement for Archival Description

Finding aid description and metadata are licensed under an Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0) license.

Extent

4.42 Linear Feet (7 boxes)

Language of Materials

English

Abstract

A photographic and manuscript archive created and compiled by Edward S. Sullivan, a Los Angeles-based correspondent for the seminal crime publication True Detective, whose ground-level journalistic techniques often blurred the line between reportage and private investigation. The photo portion of the archive contains "evidence" of hundreds of murders, assaults, stick-ups, forgeries, and other criminal acts spanning from the 1930s through the 1960s. The majority of these images were used as illustrations for Sullivan's true-crime articles, either for True Detective or his freelance work for other publications. The material is mostly related to criminal activity in California, but adjacent western states, as well as Mexico, are also represented. Aside from the photographs, the collection contains Sullivan's case folders, presumably used as research or reference for his work. All of the case files include newspaper clippings and about half contain some sort of manuscript notations by Sullivan, primarily notes from interviews with sources on both sides of the law, and they are composed with the dashed-off, slang-heavy prose of a "gumshoe" detective.

This note was adapted from the seller's description.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchased from Daniel Oliver LLC, February 11, 2021.

Processing Information

The following students from CORE 450: Los Angeles: A Polymathic Inquiry (2022-2023 cohort) processed and described the collection's case files: Xyla Abella, Kendall Damon, Beatrix Heard, Sol Lagos, Gabrielle Latimore, Jared Levine, Tomás Manea, Saniya Patel, Sam Rios, Kristina Shea, Karthik Srinivasan, and Eliana Yeager.

Material grouped under the "Newspaper clippings" and "Photographs" series is unprocessed.

Title
Finding aid for the Edward S. Sullivan papers
Status
Minimally Processed
Author
Bo Doub authored the finding aid -- with some of the collection-level notes adapted from the seller of the material, Daniel Oliver, LLC. The following students from CORE 450: Los Angeles: A Polymathic Inquiry (2022-2023 cohort) processed and described the collection's case files: Xyla Abella, Kendall Damon, Beatrix Heard, Sol Lagos, Gabrielle Latimore, Jared Levine, Tomás Manea, Saniya Patel, Sam Rios, Kristina Shea, Karthik Srinivasan, and Eliana Yeager.
Date
2021 February
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English
Script of description
Latin

Revision Statements

  • 2022 October: Bo Doub and the students of the 2022-2023 cohort of the CORE 450 course (see finding aid author field) processed and described the case files at the folder level.

Repository Details

Part of the USC Libraries Special Collections Repository

Contact:
Doheny Memorial Library 206
3550 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles California 90089-0189 United States