by Susie Hodgson

Burbank is listed as one of America’s safest cities. People flock to our fair city to enjoy our scenic trees and hills, but also because of our outstanding police department, fire department, excellent schools and more.

But it wasn’t always this way.

In the late 1940s, Coronet Magazine dubbed Burbank a “cesspool of crime.” The label hung over Burbank for a while. Why? Frankly, the story is reminiscent of many a film noir.

Picture yourself as a cop – a good cop. You’ve been ordered by your boss, the Chief of Police, to go check out a “hinky” tale of a horse stable (Dincara Farm). You’re told it’s supposed to be housing a Jewish Charity in what we now call the Rancho district. You show up expecting a casual chat. Oh, but you’d be wrong. Dangerously wrong. This was no Jewish Charity. In fact, it was a gambling ring run by none other than Mickey Cohen, infamous gangster and colleague of Bugsy Siegel. You cops got ambushed and you’re lucky to be alive.

This really happened. The cops were Harry Strickland and his partner Sandy McDonald. They’d been set up. Clearly there was a leak from the police to the hoodlums. It didn’t take long to see who the rat was. It turned out to be the police chief himself, Elmer Adams. Adams was taking bribes and helping the “Syndicate” set up all kinds of nefarious enterprises. Mickey Cohen thrived in this world of blood, guts, guns, women of “loose morals,” gambling, and of course murder – and he made an eager Chief Elmer Adams a part of it. Just how else do you think Adams could afford a fancy yacht and expensive car on a police chief’s salary?

Strickland spent his life furious at Elmer Adams. Strickland and McDonald could have been and were supposed to have been killed. Chief Adams was fired, but never served time. Still, funny thing. When he died, Adams was “working” as a golf pro in Newport Beach. And they say crime doesn’t pay!

Meanwhile, Strickland lived to be 100, served as a highly decorated detective for 30 years and even worked on the famous Mabel Monahan murder, which became an Oscar-winning film called I Want to Live! Some years later, he and his wife, Mary Jane, built and created The Burbank Historical Society!

But what about Mickey Cohen? Just how bad a guy was he? Very bad. He helped Bugsy Siegel build The Flamingo Hotel in Las Vegas, but the big boys leading the Mafia decided that Cohen’s close pal, the pretty boy Bugsy Siegel, was doing a lousy job of running the Flamingo. They also thought he was skimming money. So Bugsy was offed.

Cohen was furious when his good friend Bugsy was killed, and in a rage, shot up the interior of the Hotel Roosevelt. Mickey himself got shot point blank on the Sunset Strip in front of cops and reporters -- and no one did anything. Amazingly, Mickey lived.

Under new leadership in the 1950s, the corruption in the Burbank Police Department was cleaned up and the gambling operations at the Dincara Horse Stables was dismantled. Today, that entire area features million and multi-million dollar houses. So you get a house and a story!

As for Mickey Cohen, many attempts were made on his life and police tried to arrest him for various murders, but it never stuck. They did get him on tax evasion, though… just like Al Capone. But Mickey got out after four years, living in a ranch house in the valley, which he had built up like a fortress. He’d already had a house he had lived in before bombed, after all. Cohen lived to the age of 62 and died of stomach cancer.

But, we promise, Burbank today really is one of the safest cities in America!

The Burbank Historical Society/Gordon R. Howard Museum
Located in George Izay Park, right next to the Creative Arts Center
Phone: (818) 841-6333
Web site: www.burbankhistoricalsoc.org
Email: ghowardmuseum@sbcglobal.net

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