The Murder of Paul Crank

1931-4-32-paul

The LAPD’s survey, Gangland Killings 1900-1951, documents five local gang-related murders for the year 1931. Chicago would call that a slow Tuesday. For Los Angeles it was a “bootlegger’s war.” Twenty year-old Paul Crank was its third victim.

Born in New Mexico in 1911 and raised in Texas, Paul Jefferson Crank had settled in Los Angeles by 1929 along with older brothers Richard and Lewis, who was married to Esther Cornero, sister of “bootlegger king” Tony Cornero.

In late 1930, young Crank and Earl G. “Gus” Martin reputedly became co-owners of a $9,000 speedboat to be used for rum-running activities on the shores of Southern California. The partnership soon soured, however, when the pair had a falling out over distribution of a load. By April 12, Martin was complaining to pals that 26 cases of his liquor had been stolen his garage at 6564 S. Arlington Avenue. Martin later alleged that he just happened to run into Crank at a service station at 48th St. & Angeles Mesa Dr. a couple days later, and that Crank attacked him with a pick-handle.

Martin was less forthcoming about another incident that occurred on April 21, but Detective Frank “Lefty” James of the police gangster squad was able to patch together what happened:

Martin heard that Paul, with brother Richard, was bringing a big load of liquor up from the beach near Dana Point. Martin, Harry Hurwitz, and an unidentified third man plotted to hijack it from them. Two men, a night watchman and a café worker, inadvertently passed the trio’s hiding spot on the beach road and were accosted. The men later testified that Martin and company forced them into their sedan and drove them to a house near Dana Point which, James discovered, had been rented by the Cranks. They were breaking in when Paul and Richard drove up. The parties exchanged gunfire and the Cranks fled. Martin et al searched the garage of the house by match-light, and, finding nothing, let the kidnap victims free.

The next morning, April 22, Martin said someone called his house threatened to “get” him if he didn’t “come across.”

Around noon, Paul and Richard Crank and Gus Martin, Harry Hurwitz and the unidentified third man had a confrontation at a garage at 1504 S. Flower Street, Witness accounts of what happened vary. Martin said the Cranks accosted him at the garage and young Crank began shooting. Hurwitz said he returned fire and shot Crank in self-defense. Richard Crank, however, would later testify that the three men pulled guns on him and his brother, ordering them to put their hands up. Police later theorized that they had tried to force Crank into a settlement over the motorboat. Paul got out of his car and started to walk out of the garage. One of the men fired his weapon and Paul crumpled to the floor. The assailants then fled by car.

Crank was rushed to Georgia Street Receiving Hospital with a bullet in his back. He named Martin as the shooter.

georgia street receiving hospital

Georgia Street Police Station & Receiving Hospital, 1335 Georgia St., in 1936. LAPL

Within hours of the crime, Martin and Hurwitz were arrested at Santa Monica & Sunset boulevards and booked for assault with a deadly weapon with intent to commit murder. Paul died of his wounds on April 23. The charge was changed to murder.

Richard Crank, held as a witness in the murder of brother Paul Crank, 1931. .Author's collection.

Richard Crank, held as a witness in the murder of brother Paul Crank, 1931. Author’s collection.

Chief of Detectives Taylor was quick to assure Los Angeles that this was a self contained incident, not a continuation of any ongoing bootlegger’s war.

LAPD detective Frank "Lefty" James in 1931. LAPL.

LAPD detective Frank “Lefty” James in 1931. LAPL.

Martin and Hurwitz declined to testify at the inquest, on the advice of their lawyer S.S. Hahn, who often represented underworld figures. Police recited the pair’s initial statements. The Coroner’s Jury was unmoved by the self-defense story, seeing as how Paul was shot in the back, and recommended that they be held to answer for Crank’s death. The two were indicted for the crime a few days later.

4-25-1931 LAT.

4-25-1931 LAT.

The preliminary hearing began May 5. Lefty James had managed to track down the two men kidnapped on the beach road that night; they testified about their ordeal and identified Hurwitz and Martin. The pair were bound over for trial, to be held in two month’s time.

In the interim, the city turned its attention to the double shooting deaths of onetime crime boss of L.A. Charles Crawford and journalist Herbert Spencer; the LAPD survey does not record their deaths among its gangland killings. An ex-Deputy D.A. David Clark confessed to the murders, claiming self-defense. Elsewhere, in June, Chicago crime boss Al Capone pled guilty to tax evasion charges. 

The trial of Hurwitz and Martin began on July 6 with testimony from Richard. As it turned out, he would be the only witness to take the stand.

7-7-1931. LAT

7-7-1931. LAT

The trial inexplicably ended the following day, after legal council for the defendants struck a deal with Deputy D.A. Robert H. Patton: Martin and Hurwitz pled guilty to manslaughter and were sentenced to 1-10 years in San Quentin.

7-9-1931. LAT

7-9-1931. LAT

A furious D.A. Fitts fired Patton, declaring that Patton had no authority to make the deal and had not consulted him in advance. Patton said that he settled because he believed he had “no chance” of winning a conviction for murder.

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Gus Martin prison mugshot, 1931. California State Archives

harry hurwitz

Harry Hurwitz prison mugshot, 1931. California State Archives

Martin was paroled in 1936. Hurwitz was released in January 1938. Curiously, the LAPD gangland killings survey records that there was “no prosecution” in the case.

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Notes

According to the survey, the first victim of 1931 was Dominic Di Ciolla (aka Dominick De Soto), whose had been found shot to death on the morning of March 19 on a remote stretch of Arleta St. near the town of Van Nuys. Di Ciolla and two others had been tried and acquitted in the 1928 murder of bootlegger August Palombo, said to have been an associate of Albert Marco.

Police discovered the bullet-ridden body of victim number two in a ditch near Downey on March 21, identified as Jimmy Basile. Basile had been shot while riding in a car with Giuseppe Ernesto “Joe” Ardizzone, whom the L.A. Times now called a “wealthy rancher,” forgetting for the time being that Ardizzone, as an “Italian fruit peddler” had once been the prime suspect in the 1906 shooting death of fellow fruit peddler George Maisano (the first gangland murder included in the LAPD’s survey), and was acquitted of the crime in 1915.  Ardizzone had been shot up too, but managed to get help and was taken to Hollywood Hospital where he recovered. On October 15, Ardizzone vanished and was never seen again. The LAPD survey lists him as 1931’s fourth victim. 

The LAPD’s survey, included in the Governor’s Crime Commission final report of 1953, for some reason records Basile’s death having occurred in “February” and Di Ciolla’s on 3/31/1931.

Neither Hurwitz nor Martin ever told their side of the story under oath.

Lewis Crank, who at the time was out on bail while appealing his conviction for federal bootlegging charges along with brother-in-law Frank Cornero, denied that he was related to Paul. Census and death records however show that they both have the same mother and father. Airplane passenger records also show Paul making a number of flights to Baja or Ensenada, Mexico with his sister-in-law, Lewis’ wife Esther (Cornero) Crank. The LAPD gangland killing survey likewise makes a note of the connection.

 

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