Crime of the Century: The Bombing of the Los Angeles Times Building

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The presses were waiting to roll out the Los Angeles Times’ next edition on October 1, 1910. Night editors smoked cigarettes as they put the final touches on the paper. Telegraph operators watched for late-breaking news to come tapping over the wireless. Upstairs, staff manually set type on massive Linotype machines. Below them all, giant vats of petroleum-based printer’s ink were beached in the basement. Outside the Times building, in a narrow alley known as “Ink Alley,” a bundle of dynamite[1]Luke Grant, National Erectors’ Association and the International Association of Bridge and Structural Ironworkers (1915). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Reports of U.S. Presidential Commissions and Other Advisory Bodies … Continue reading crudely wired to a windup clock sat in silence. Just after one in the morning, the hands on the clock ticked over and triggered a detonator.

The force of the explosion shifted the walls of the building off their foundation. Successive detonations ignited fires that swiftly evolved into a holocaust. As the building burned, the massive Linotype machines crashed through the floors, plummeting into the basement where they smashed into the ink vats and the gas mains running beneath the building. Within minutes, the entire building was consumed by fire. Twenty men were killed and seventeen were injured. In the dawn light, only the hollowed walls of the building remained, its wrecked ruins smoldering within. But the paper’s morning edition arrived at newsstands throughout the city, having been rushed through on a rival paper’s presses. Its modified, one-page format bore an editorial from the paper’s managing editor that read, in part,[2]R. B. C. Howell, Clarence Darrow, 19 TENN. L. REV. 391 (1946). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library. “The Times building was destroyed this morning by the enemies of industrial freedom by dynamite bombs and fire….They can kill our men and can wreck our building, but by the God above they cannot kill the Times.”

The twentieth century had just begun, but the press would quickly christen the bombing of the Times building the “crime of the century.” Make sure you are subscribed to the following resources to follow along as we research the bombing and its aftermath.

Unrest in the Union

To understand how a bomb came to be in Ink Alley that October night, one must step back to examine the bloody and brutal history of America’s labor movement. Twenty-four years prior, workers striking for an eight-hour workday rallied in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. After a day of peaceful demonstrations, police arrived en masse to disperse the crowd. A bomb was thrown. Gunshots were fired between the police and strikers, with seven policemen and four workers killed in what became known as the Haymarket riot.[3]Matthew Worth Pinkerton, Murder in All Ages; Being a History of Homicide from the Earliest Times, with the Most Celebrated Murder Cases Faithfully Reported, Arranged under Controlling Motives and Utilized to Support the Theory of Homicidal Impulse … Continue reading Six years later in 1892, steelworkers at Carnegie Steel’s Homestead,[4]J. Bernard Hogg, Homestead Strike of 1892 (1943). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection. PA factory went on strike demanding better wages, locking out the factory to prevent strikebreakers from continuing operations. Carnegie Steel chairman Henry Clay Frick sent armed Pinkerton agents to break up the strike and reopen the plant; open warfare between the two factions, including an assassination attempt on Frick, went on for two days until the state militia arrived to break up the strike and reopen the plant. Miners in Colorado went on strike throughout 1903 for an eight-hour workday and better working conditions; the year of violence that followed between miners and operators is known as the Colorado Labor Wars,[5]S. Doc. 122, 58th Cong., 3d Sess. (1905). This report can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database. and ended when the National Guard declared martial law to reopen the mines. Upton Sinclair published The Jungle[6]Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (1906). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection. in 1906, exposing the wretched and unsanitary conditions in America’s meatpacking industry as Lewis Hine traveled the country photodocumenting the plight of child workers.  

Senate report on the Colorado Labor Wars. Read it here in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.

In 1896, the International Association of Bridge and Structural Iron Workers[7]Selig Perlman and Philip Taft, History of Labour in the United States (1966). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection. was formed in six cities across America; by 1902 it was the dominant union in the American Bridge Company, a subsidiary of United States Steel, and had 10,000 members. In 1903, the National Association of Manufacturers and Erectors of Structural Steel was formed to represent employers’ interest and weaken the power of the Iron Workers union. In 1906, the Association broke off all ties with the union and the Iron Workers took up a dynamiting campaign[8]Selig Perlman and Philip Taft, History of Labour in the United States (1966). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection. against the Association, targeting iron works and job sites of its members.

The same year the Iron Workers union was formed, the Merchants & Manufacturers Association[9]Selig Perlman and Philip Taft, History of Labour in the United States (1966). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection. was created to promote the interests of manufacturing companies. In 1897, two key men joined the Merchants & Manufacturers: F.J. Zeehandelaar, who became its secretary,[10]Marshall Van Winkle, Sixty Famous Cases (1956). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library. and Harrison Gray Otis, the publisher of the Los Angeles Times. Otis, and by extension his newspaper, were staunchly anti-union,[11]Marshall Van Winkle, Sixty Famous Cases (1956). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library. using the paper’s influence to drive unions from Los Angeles—which the Iron Workers resisted. Under Otis, the Merchants & Manufacturers began aggressively promoting the open shop, or a place of employment where joining a union is not a condition to employment. The issue of the open shop brought the Merchants & Manufacturers and Iron Workers into conflict, with a strike in June 1910 being called across Los Angeles. Five months later, the Los Angeles Times building was bombed.

Dynamite Bombs and Fire

In the aftermath of the bombing, unexploded bombs were found at the homes[12]Marshall Van Winkle, Sixty Famous Cases (1956). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library. of F.J. Zeehandelaar and Harrison Gray Otis. Otis immediately suspected the Iron Workers[13]Alfred Cohn & Joe Chisholm, Take the Witness (1934). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection. was behind the crime, a charge not widely supported[14]Alfred Cohn & Joe Chisholm, Take the Witness (1934). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection. by other large newspapers or city leaders. The Merchants & Manufacturers Association and the City of Los Angeles posted hefty rewards for the perpetrators’ capture, hiring the famous private detective William J. Burns,[15]Selig Perlman and Philip Taft, History of Labour in the United States (1966). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection. who would eventually serve as the Director of the FBI’s predecessor from 1921-1924, to track down those responsible. In April, Burns arrested[16]Selig Perlman and Philip Taft, History of Labour in the United States (1966). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection. Ortie McManigal and James Barnabas (J.B.) McNamara in Detroit. J.B. was the brother of John J. (J.J.) McNamara, the Secretary-Treasury of the Iron Workers. On the same day McManigal and J.B. were extradited to California, J.J. McNamara was arrested[17]Selig Perlman and Philip Taft, History of Labour in the United States (1966). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection. in the Iron Workers’ Indianapolis headquarters while at a meeting of the Executive Board; denied the representation of an attorney upon his request, a local judge ordered J.J. McNamara be extradited to California, despite not having the proper jurisdiction to do so.[18]Selig Perlman and Philip Taft, History of Labour in the United States (1966). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection.

The less-than-legal tactics used to apprehend the McNamaras, two well-connected union men, prompted an outcry from the labor movement. The Iron Workers was a member of the American Federation of Labor,[19]George Gorham Groat, Introduction to the Study of Organized Labor in America (1916). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection. the largest union federation then in operation in the United States. Its founder, Samuel Gompers,[20]Bernard Mandel, Samuel Gompers: A Biography (1963). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Spinelli’s Law Library Reference Shelf. used the power of the AFL to come to the full-throated defense[21]Marshall Van Winkle, Sixty Famous Cases (1956). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library. of the McNamara brothers, arguing they had been framed in “a tragedy contemplating the assassination of organized labor[22]Marshall Van Winkle, Sixty Famous Cases (1956). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library. and that the fatal explosion at the Times building had been the result of a gas leak[23]Alfred Cohn & Joe Chisholm, Take the Witness (1934). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection. rather than nefarious malfeasance. When Ortie McManigal confessed[24]Luke Grant, National Erectors’ Association and the International Association of Bridge and Structural Ironworkers (1915). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Reports of U.S. Presidential Commissions and Other Advisory Bodies … Continue reading to the dynamiting plot, the McNamaras were indicted,[25]Alfred Cohn & Joe Chisholm, Take the Witness (1934). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection. J.B. for doing the actual dynamiting and J.J. for orchestrating the plot. Gompers and the unions denounced McManigal’s confession, with Gompers putting out a call for every union man to contribute 25 cents[26]History of Organized Felony and Folly: The Record of Union Labor in Crime and Economics (1923). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection. to the brothers’ defense fund, eventually raising $200,000, the equivalent of $6 million today.

Gompers also hired Clarence Darrow[27]This search shows all items written by Clarence Darrow across HeinOnline. to represent the brothers. Darrow was perhaps the most famous lawyer in America[28]Edward J. Larson, Law and Society in the Courtroom: Introducing the Trials of the Century, 68 UMKC L. REV. 543 (2000). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library. at the time; he had gained notoriety both nationwide and particularly within the labor movement for his successful 1908 defense of William “Big Bill” Haywood,[29]Abe C. Ravitz & James N. Primm, The Haywood Case (1960). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library. the leader of the Western Federation of Miners, who was charged with murdering Idaho’s governor. Darrow, however, initially resisted[30]R. B. C. Howell, Clarence Darrow, 19 TENN. L. REV. 391 (1946). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library. taking the case. With twenty indictments[31]R. B. C. Howell, Clarence Darrow, 19 TENN. L. REV. 391 (1946). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library. against them, the brothers’ trial would be difficult and drawn out, and Darrow’s health was poor.[32]R. B. C. Howell, Clarence Darrow, 19 TENN. L. REV. 391 (1946). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library. But, persuaded by Gompers, Darrow agreed to defend the McNamaras, joining a legal team that also included Joseph Scott and LeCompte Davis.

Darrow on the Defensive

Ortie McManigal had turned state’s evidence,[33]Luke Grant, National Erectors’ Association and the International Association of Bridge and Structural Ironworkers (1915). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Reports of U.S. Presidential Commissions and Other Advisory Bodies … Continue reading detailing a wide dynamiting campaign by the Iron Workers against the National Association of Manufacturers and Erectors of Structural Steel: of the 70 explosions[34]Luke Grant, National Erectors’ Association and the International Association of Bridge and Structural Ironworkers (1915). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Reports of U.S. Presidential Commissions and Other Advisory Bodies … Continue reading that took place between 1908-1911, McManigal confessed to setting the charges in twenty-one, and claimed J.B. McNamara was responsible for sixteen. Detective Burns claimed that all three men had been arrested with pockets full of dynamite and nitroglycerin.[35]Marshall Van Winkle, Sixty Famous Cases (1956). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library. This did nothing to dampen the labor movement’s support of the McNamaras. Polling by lawyers for the Times found that 30-50% of Angelinos believed the McNamaras were innocent.[36]Laura R. Handman & Adam Liptak, Media Coverage of Trials of the Century, 26 LITIG. 35 (1999). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library. As Darrow and the defense conducted their own pretrial investigation,[37]The Trial of Clarence Darrow, 1 LITIG. 57 (1975). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library. Otis used his political connections to appeal directly to President Taft[38]Alfred Cohn & Joe Chisholm, Take the Witness (1934). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection. for the United States Attorney General to raid the Indianapolis headquarters of the Iron Workers for evidence to support the brothers’ guilt.

This cartoon juxtaposes the violence sometimes used by unions with the apparent “civility” of the courtroom that adjudicates their crimes. Found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection.

Jury selection began[39]R. B. C. Howell, Clarence Darrow, 19 TENN. L. REV. 391 (1946). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library. on October 11, 1911 with six hundred potential jurors intensely investigated[40]R. B. C. Howell, Clarence Darrow, 19 TENN. L. REV. 391 (1946). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library. by both the prosecution and defense for their union sentiments. Darrow’s investigation into the brothers’ guilt employed 100 investigators[41]Melvin M. Belli. Modern Trials (1963). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library. to determine the veracity of McManigal’s story and included a model reconstruction of the Times building that Darrow planned to blow up in the courtroom[42]Melvin M. Belli. Modern Trials (1963). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library. to prove a gas leak, not dynamite, had incited the tragedy. There was just one problem: Darrow’s own evidence overwhelmingly showed the brothers were guilty. Charged with murder, J.B. McNamara faced the death penalty[43]Selig Perlman and Philip Taft, History of Labour in the United States (1966). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection. if convicted. The stakes of proceeding to trial were high.

On December 1, 1912, to the complete shock of the court and the horror of the labor movement, LeCompte Davis rose to announce that the brothers would be changing their plea from “Not Guilty” to “Guilty.”

This article in HeinOnline’s Bar Journal Library recounts Clarence Darrow’s own reaction to the McNamara brothers’ guilty pleas.

The labor movement that had so staunchly defended the brothers promptly turned against them.[44]Marshall Van Winkle, Sixty Famous Cases (1956). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library. At their sentencing on December 5, J.B. McNamara addressed the court, admitting to setting the fatal charge but denying he ever intended to hurt or kill any workers at the Times building; “It was my intention to injure the building and scare the owners. I did not intend to take the life of any one,”[45]George P. Costigan, Jr. Cases and Other Authorities on Legal Ethics (1917). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection. he said. J.B. was sentenced[46]Marshall Van Winkle, Sixty Famous Cases (1956). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library. to life in prison for murder, and J.J. McNamara was sentenced to fifteen years for complicity in a separate dynamiting at the Llewellyn Iron Works. Both were sent to San Quentin Prison to serve their sentences. J.J. was released in 1921 but J.B. remained in San Quentin for the rest of his life. Both brothers died in 1941.

But Darrow was not done with the McNamaras. He was soon back in the courtroom, only this time it was he who was the defendant.

Darrow in the Dock

Darrow’s investigator, Bert Franklin, who had been hired to probe potential jurors, was caught[47]The Trial of Clarence Darrow, 1 LITIG. 57 (1975). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library. by William J. Burns’ detectives—the same man who had apprehended the McNamaras—bribing potential jurors to either bring about a “not guilty” verdict or hang the jury. Three days before the McNamaras entered their guilty pleas, Franklin was arrested while in the act of offering a juryman $4,000[48]John H. Wigmore, The Limits of Counsel’s Legitimate Defense, 17 VA. L. REG. 743 (1912). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library. (about $110,000 today) when Darrow arrived on the scene. Although Darrow claimed his arrival was a mere coincidence,[49]Robert S. Wolfe, Where the Law Was Made in L.A. , 26 L.A. LAW. 18 (2003). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Bar Journal Library Franklin testified that he had been acting on Darrow’s orders.

Darrow’s bribery trial[50]O. W. Powers. Darrow Case: Argument for Defendant (1913). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library. took place over the course of three months, from May to August, 1912; after an impassioned address[51]Clarence Darrow, Plea of Clarence Darrow in His Own Defense to the Jury That Exonerated Him of the Charge of Bribery at Los Angeles, August 1912 (1912). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library. to the court, Darrow was found not guilty. His second trial on a separate charge of bribing the McNamara jury resulted in a hung jury. Although the two trials bankrupted[52]162 J.P.N. 493 (1998). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library. Darrow, they did little to damage his professional reputation. Just over a decade later, Darrow would argue his two most famous cases: yet another “crime of the century,” the murder trial of Nathan Leopold, Jr., and Richard Loeb[53]Maureen McKernan. Amazing Crime and Trial of Leopold and Loeb (1924). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library. in 1924, and the “Scopes Monkey Trial[54]Sheldon Norman Grebstein, Editor. Monkey Trial: The State of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes (1960). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library. in 1925, in which he defended Tennessee teacher John T. Scopes for violating the state’s Butler Act by teaching human evolution in public schools.

The dignity that the labor movement used such extreme measures to win—respectable wages, safe working conditions, an eight-hour workday, a five-day workweek—remain at the forefront of workers’ rights issues today. As for the Los Angeles Times, that once staunch opposition of the union, their staff unionized in 2019.

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HeinOnline Sources

HeinOnline Sources
1, 24, 33, 34 Luke Grant, National Erectors’ Association and the International Association of Bridge and Structural Ironworkers (1915). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Reports of U.S. Presidential Commissions and Other Advisory Bodies collection.
2, 30, 31, 32, 39, 40 R. B. C. Howell, Clarence Darrow, 19 TENN. L. REV. 391 (1946). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library.
3 Matthew Worth Pinkerton, Murder in All Ages; Being a History of Homicide from the Earliest Times, with the Most Celebrated Murder Cases Faithfully Reported, Arranged under Controlling Motives and Utilized to Support the Theory of Homicidal Impulse (1898). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library.
4 J. Bernard Hogg, Homestead Strike of 1892 (1943). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection.
5 S. Doc. 122, 58th Cong., 3d Sess. (1905). This report can be found in HeinOnline’s U.S. Congressional Serial Set database.
6 Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (1906). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection.
7, 8, 9, 15, 16, 17, 18, 43 Selig Perlman and Philip Taft, History of Labour in the United States (1966). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection.
10, 11, 12, 21, 22, 35, 44, 46 Marshall Van Winkle, Sixty Famous Cases (1956). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library.
13, 14, 23, 25, 38 Alfred Cohn & Joe Chisholm, Take the Witness (1934). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection.
19 George Gorham Groat, Introduction to the Study of Organized Labor in America (1916). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection.
20 Bernard Mandel, Samuel Gompers: A Biography (1963). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Spinelli’s Law Library Reference Shelf.
26 History of Organized Felony and Folly: The Record of Union Labor in Crime and Economics (1923). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection.
27 This search shows all items written by Clarence Darrow across HeinOnline.
28 Edward J. Larson, Law and Society in the Courtroom: Introducing the Trials of the Century, 68 UMKC L. REV. 543 (2000). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library.
29 Abe C. Ravitz & James N. Primm, The Haywood Case (1960). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library.
36 Laura R. Handman & Adam Liptak, Media Coverage of Trials of the Century, 26 LITIG. 35 (1999). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library.
37, 47 The Trial of Clarence Darrow, 1 LITIG. 57 (1975). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library.
41, 42 Melvin M. Belli. Modern Trials (1963). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library.
45 George P. Costigan, Jr. Cases and Other Authorities on Legal Ethics (1917). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s Legal Classics collection.
48 John H. Wigmore, The Limits of Counsel’s Legitimate Defense, 17 VA. L. REG. 743 (1912). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library.
49 Robert S. Wolfe, Where the Law Was Made in L.A. , 26 L.A. LAW. 18 (2003). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Bar Journal Library
50 O. W. Powers. Darrow Case: Argument for Defendant (1913). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library.
51 Clarence Darrow, Plea of Clarence Darrow in His Own Defense to the Jury That Exonerated Him of the Charge of Bribery at Los Angeles, August 1912 (1912). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library.
52 162 J.P.N. 493 (1998). This article can be found in HeinOnline’s Law Journal Library.
53 Maureen McKernan. Amazing Crime and Trial of Leopold and Loeb (1924). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library.
54 Sheldon Norman Grebstein, Editor. Monkey Trial: The State of Tennessee vs. John Thomas Scopes (1960). This book can be found in HeinOnline’s World Trials Library.
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