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Officer Fred Houston Early
(June 9, 1941 – March 23, 1973)

LAPD Officer Fred Early was off duty and heading home in the early morning hours of Saturday, Sept. 9, 1972, after spending a night out with friends. At about 4:30 a.m., he saw what looked to him like a burglary in progress at the Thrifty Drug Store near the corner of National and Sawtelle boulevards, a block west of the 405 Freeway and a few blocks south of the 10 Freeway.

Even though he was off duty, Early parked his car at a service station across the street from the drug store, and kept an eye on the burglary suspect. He left his car and went to a pay phone to call for police assistance. Perhaps after noticing Early's activity, the burglary suspect ran across National Boulevard, and down an alley. Early dropped the phone, and chased the suspect into a parking lot at the rear of 11316 National Boulevard.

As Early reached the dark parking lot, he was attacked from behind by at least one other man. He was shot twice in the left leg, and beaten and kicked in the head and body until he lost consciousness. His assailants left him for dead.

When Early regained consciousness, he fired his police revolver to attract attention. Although Early survived the attack, for the next several months he was in and out of hospitals, suffering from severe headaches, nausea, seizures, blackouts and other symptoms.

On March 7, 1973, six months after the attack, Early was admitted to UCLA Medical Center. He was undergoing treatment when he suffered irreversible brain damage, slipped into a coma, and was unable to recover. He died on March 23, at the age of 31.

Fred Houston Early was born in Los Angeles on June 9, 1941, the second child of Erroll Houston Early, a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service, and Blanche Wilson Early. His older sister, Vivian, was born a year earlier.

Early attended Morningside High School in Inglewood. In 1959, after graduating high school, he married 16-year-old Cyma Rynberk. The couple had four daughters -- Barbara, Marilyn, Hollie and Michelle -- before divorcing in 1969.

After Early's death, the Los Angeles Fire and Police Protective League offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of his assailants. Five months later, in August 1973, California’s then-Gov. Ronald Reagan added another $10,000 from the state treasury to the reward.

"In my opinion," Reagan said, "there is no criminal offense more despicable or loathsome to society and the rule of law than that of maiming or killing a police officer while in the line of duty."

"Indeed, the murder of any law enforcement officer amounts to nothing less than a cruel offense against society itself and strikes at the very heart of our free way of life," the future president added.

Despite the reward money, no suspects were ever arrested in Early’s murder. The case officially remains unsolved, along with four other unsolved murders of LAPD officers -- Officer David Brooks in 1910, Officer James Carter in 1928, Officer Peter Muller Jr. in 1930, and Officer Michael Edwards in 1974.

In September 1973, Officer Early was awarded the LAPD's Medal of Valor -- the department’s highest honor. Early's four young daughters accepted the award on behalf of their father.

In 1998, on the 25th anniversary of Early's death, the Los Angeles Fire and Police Protective League again offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Early's assailants, and the Los Angeles City Council added another $25,000.

At the announcement of the additional reward money, Early's youngest daughter, Michelle Early Bonnee, who was 5 years old when her father died, said, "I have the burden of looking into my own 5-year-old daughter's eyes and trying to answer the questions she has of her grandfather -- a man I remember well but barely knew and whom she will never know."

Another daughter, Hollie Early Ashworth, who was 10 years old when her father died, said, "Not that (an arrest) would ever make up for my father. But there would be justice in finding the person who did this and some closure for the family. That's the hardest part, knowing there is somebody out there that got away with this at the expense of four little girls."

Officer Early's sign is on the southwest corner of Jefferson and National boulevards

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